Conservative Judge Tells Ohio Man He Can’t Have More Children Until He Catches Up on Child Support Payments

Conservative-run state legislatures across the country have provided a seemingly unending supply of increasingly restrictive anti-abortion measures, but a case out of Ohio is a reminder that government restrictions on access to abortion care represent one piece of a larger attack by conservatives on procreation and family rights generally.

Asim Taylor has four children with four different women, to whom he owes nearly $100,000 in child support payments. Taylor recently pleaded guilty to four charges of felony nonpayment of child support. In connection with his plea, an Ohio judge placed Taylor on probation and, as a condition of that probation, ordered Taylor not to have any more children until he had paid his child support debt. Specifically, Taylor was ordered to “make all reasonable efforts to avoid impregnating a woman during the community control period or until such time that [he] can prove to the Court that he is able to provide support for his children he already has and is in fact supporting the children or until a change in conditions warrant the lifting of this condition.”

At the time of sentencing, Judge James Walther reportedly called his order a “matter of common sense and personal responsibility.” But Taylor’s attorney objected to the probation condition, arguing it violated a host of Taylor’s reproductive privacy and equal protection rights. This month, an Ohio Court of Appeals upheld the order and opened the door for imposing similar restrictions on defendants in the future.

The decision released by the Ohio Court of Appeals did not actually rule on Taylor’s constitutional challenge, but instead said that because the documents before the court were incomplete, it had no choice but to affirm the probation order. Judge Donna Carr, a former prosecutor and Republican, took the opportunity in Taylor’s case to go even further than her colleagues, arguing that the probation condition was both warranted and constitutional. “Taylor has here demonstrated that he is not inclined to support any of his children. There is no reason to believe that he would be inclined to support any future children,” she wrote. Therefore, Carr reasoned, because Taylor “demonstrated a long-term refusal to support multiple children by multiple women notwithstanding his ability to work and contribute something for their care,” an order barring him from having more kids is “reasonably related to future criminality.”

Generally speaking courts have come to mixed conclusions on whether or not procreation limits like the one at issue in Taylor’s case are acceptable, and there’s uncertainty in the law here, not to mention the United States’ atrocious history of forced sterilizations and violations of reproductive autonomy. In 1927, in Buck v. Bell, the Supreme Court infamously and almost unanimously upheld the compulsory eugenic sterilization of the “mentally defective.” And in 1942, in Skinner v. Oklahoma, the Court invalidated an Oklahoma law that involuntarily sterilized some recidivist felons, noting that only the most compelling government interests should support interference with the fundamental constitutional right to procreate. The Supreme Court in Skinner didn’t directly overrule Buck, but it did recognize that procreation is a fundamental constitutional right, setting a high bar for the state to clear should it want to impose limitations on that right. Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, courts have seemed most sympathetic to those government actions and policies that most directly restrict the reproductive rights of the poor and people of color.

With both the expansion of the surveillance state and the explosion of income inequality, the willingness of courts to impose—let alone uphold—the kind of restrictions at issue in the Asim Taylor case should raise some serious concerns for reproductive rights activists. For example, a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision in 2001 upheld a condition of probation that limited a defendant from having any more children during the five-year term of his probation unless he could show that he had the ability to support the new children and that he was supporting the children he already had. The court reasoned that convicted persons don’t enjoy the same liberty interests as non-convicted persons, and therefore the state could more reasonably limit their rights to procreate. And a Texas court ordered a woman not to have any more children while on probation for failing to protect her child from a beating by the child’s father.

Perhaps in cases of extreme neglect or failure to support, it’s easier to stomach the kind of probation condition ordered for Taylor and other convicted persons. And there’s a long line of case law that justifies more state invasions of privacy based on a person’s relationship to the criminal justice system. But as the Buck v. Bell decision makes so clear, it really is a slippery slope from determining who is “fit” by the state’s standards to reproduce and who is not. In Buck v. Bell, the Supreme Court justified the mandatory sterilization law by reasoning that “three generations of imbeciles are enough,” reflecting a disdain for people with developmental disabilities in our culture and enshrining it in our law.

As more and more people fall into the reach of the criminal justice system simply because they are poor, decisions like those made in Taylor’s case threaten to do the same with the cultural disdain for poverty.

Taylor’s attorney reportedly has said he plans to ask the Ohio Supreme Court to review the decision.

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  • Victoria

    I’m unsure how I feel about this case. On the one hand, I definitely don’t think it’s in this guy’s best interest to have another child while he owes that much in child support. It’s definitely not in the best interest of his children or any children that might be produced. I am uncomfortable by the ruling, at the same time, I don’t know that the eugenics comparison is apt. He’s not being forced to have surgery to prevent him from having children and the ruling was not based on the idea that he’s somehow fundamentally unfit to be a parent and if he meets the terms of his probation this condition will be lifted. So, I really don’t know.

    • Shan

      He’s being threatened with jail time if he reproduces again. Which isn’t going to make him in any way able to contribute to the support of the children he already has. It’s an asinine ruling and a raging violation of privacy.

    • JamieHaman

      The eugenics comparison doesn’t seem apt to me. It doesn’t look like he is physically, or mentally disabled, but definitely lacking conscience, and compassion. He isn’t being surgically forced not to have children. This doesn’t seem like a question of “fitness” either. It reads to me like a blatant refusal to be responsible for his children.

      • parkwood1920

        Then the judge should have addressed Taylor’s willful non-support of his children, NOT his ability to procreate. The responsibility of a parent to support their child and the right of a human being to procreate are two separate issues. Yes, Taylor should face legal penalties for failing to support his kids. His neglect of his parenting duties is unconscionable. But the judge should not have imposed legal restrictions on Taylor’s right to use his body as he wishes. As long as Taylor respects the bodily autonomy and consent of his pregnant/birthing partners, and as long as he makes meaningful effort to support and care for the children he creates, he has the right to father as many kids as he wants.

        The ability of a human being to control their reproduction—whether that means having zero kids or a hundred kids—should be absolute.

        • JamieHaman

          The judge did address Taylor’s apparently willful non-support of his children, and this is one response to that. Clearly we don’t have everything the judge said. What we do have is a link to the appeal.

          “as long as he makes meaningful effort to support and care for the children he creates, he has the right to father as many kids as he wants.” Well, that seems to be exactly the problem… He doesn’t seem to be making ANY effort to support his children and care for them does he?
          Which is why I asked all those questions in another posting here. I don’t feel like we have enough info to make an honest judgement. My take on the article, is that he is refusing any financial support to his children. The article does not address whether or not he is dropping by with groceries, or paying a light bill, (which is what I think you mean by “caring for his kids”
          So imo the question is “Does he have the right to have multiple children when he is unwilling or unable to support them? If he was in some type of accident, or lost his job, that’s one thing. Once again, we don’t know.
          I don’t think he or anyone else has a right to refuse to provide financially or emotionally for his or her children. If they have the right to refuse, which is NOT the same as being unable after the fact of the child(ren) then I think as a society WE have the right to say no more children for those people.
          That does NOT automatically allow us to forcibly remove his ability to have children. It does insist HE be responsible for the children he has already brought into the world.
          No, I don’t believe he gets his genetic cake, and gets to keep baking for free.

        • Arekushieru

          Yup, I totally agree with you. I do NOT think that anyone’s right to bodily autonomy should be legally restricted in any way. Perhaps what the judge COULD have done instead is tell the man to inform any sexual partners he may have that he is already in arrears on child support payments and that he may be unable to support any more children that may result from their own relationship, so it may be advisable to use some form of birth control/contraception, whereupon they would have to come to some form of financial agreement over any possible children that may come about prior to engaging in sex. That would not violate his right to bodily autonomy, but would put an obstacle that would have to make them seriously reconsider anything that would put the woman at even the smallest risk of pregnancy.

  • JamieHaman

    I object to any one, male or female having children they refuse to support. It’s undeniably easy to fall behind on child support, (lose your job, you and your child(ren) can be in real trouble). That isn’t how I’m reading this article.

    Here are some questions I have for Ms. Jessica Pieklo. Has he ever made any child support payments? How old are the children in question? How long has it been since he made any child support payments? Did he make partial payments? Did he outright refuse to pay anything? Did he lose his job? Was he unable to have the Court lower his child support? Here in Texas, it takes an average of 6 months (I’m told) to get to go to court, ask for the reduction, have the paperwork go through the judicial system, and then be reduced in actuality. In that 6 or so months, the child support adds up, especially if the parent is unable to make the entire amount.

    How long a period of time is a “long term refusal to support”…? Is it a year, or 15 years? What does the Judge mean when she says that an order barring him from having more kids is “reasonably related to future criminality.” Does that mean he is a criminal if he has more kids?

    I feel like these questions matter a lot. If this man has Never made a child support payment, or has only made a few, while living well, and his children are doing without, I have a problem with that.
    If he decided never to pay, I have a real problem with that. If he lost his job, and is on unemployment, he gets more understanding, but not to the point of more children, when he already isn’t taking care of these four.
    Seems to me the Judge has an excellent point about personal responsibility, and this man doesn’t need to have any more children. It amazes me he isn’t in jail for contempt of court, and refusal to pay child support.
    I find I am not outraged at this Judges’ decision, mainly because I don’t have enough information to decide if it really is a bad decision, or a good one. Personally, I don’t feel biology creates a fundamental right to have children. Every “right” comes with a serious set of responsibilities. That doesn’t mean children should have “everything” their hearts desire, but it does mean they have a right to be supported by both their parents.

  • Alicia Zarycki

    I’m not sure that failing to pay over $100,000 in child support for 4 kids makes him anywhere near poor. You lose your job you are to tell the court right away for a reduction or suspension of child support. It takes a long time even with 4 kids to get that far in arrears even if you have been working minimum wage jobs. This case points to a much larger salary for Taylor to get so radically in debt. Even my ex hasn’t been working better than minimum wage jobs and ditched paying support for about 5 years but he still didn’t get further than $8,000 in arrears. In addition this means that Taylor’s children have suffered while the mothers and likely the state have been having to pick up the slack of that losted income. The state’s interest is to help the children that Taylor’s financial support should be covering and so it’s not just Taylor’s children who have to suffer when he doesn’t pay support.

  • Suba gunawardana

    For once I agree with a conservative judge’s ruling. Once children are born you have a responsibility to take care of them. If you blatantly shirked that responsibly (not once but four times) you have no business making more children.