A Chicago mother is appealing a court order that revoked her parental visiting rights because she declined to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
When Rebecca Firlit and her ex-husband of seven years participated in a child support hearing via video call on Aug. 10 for the purpose of determining the terms of shared custody of their 11-year-old son, Cook County Judge James Shapiro inquired about Firlit’s vaccination status. After Firlit told the judge she did not receive the vaccine because of adverse reactions she has had to other vaccines, he ordered her to be stripped of her parental right to visit her son until she has been vaccinated.
“I think that it’s wrong. I think that it’s dividing families. And I think it’s not in my son’s best interest to be away from his mother,” Firlit told local Fox-affiliate WFLD.
Firlit, who has spoken with her son on the phone and through video calls, hasn’t visited in person in over two weeks in compliance with the judge’s order.
“It had nothing to do with what we were talking about,” she said of her vaccination status. “He was placing his views on me and taking my son away from me.”
Firlit’s attorney, Annette Fernholz, said the issue was not within Shapiro’s purview.
“You have to understand the father did not even bring this issue before the court. So, it’s the judge on his own and making this decision that you can’t see your child until you’re vaccinated,” Fernholz said.
Jeffrey Leving, who represents the boy’s father, expressed surprise by Shapiro’s decision but said they were supportive.
“There are children who have died because of COVID. I think every child should be safe, and I agree that the mother should be vaccinated,” Leving said.
In recent weeks, debates have raged about necessary protocols to prevent transmission of COVID-19 as students throughout the country prepare to return to in-person instruction in the fall. While some states, such as New York, have moved toward mandating masks in schools and implementing vaccine requirements for educators, others, including Florida, have banned the practices, which their leaders say infringe on personal freedoms.
The United States has experienced more than 38 million cases of COVID-19, with 52% of the population fully vaccinated against the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.