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Mary Beth Whitehead And Husband Separate, Cite Stress From Baby M Case

August 5, 1987

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ A lawyer for the couple who won custody of the girl once known as Baby M said surrogate mother Mary Beth Whitehead’s separation from her husband confirms the Whitehead home was unstable.

Mrs. Whitehead, whose rocky, 13 1/2 -year marriage became an issue in the landmark court battle for the baby, announced her separation in a statement issued Tuesday by her lawyer, Harold Cassidy.

Cassidy said the Whiteheads love each other very much but have no immediate intention of reuniting.

″Mrs. Whitehead believes that the extraordinary stress placed upon her marriage and the public discussion of private matters rendered Mr. and Mrs. Whitehead’s marriage an inevitable casualty of this unusual case,″ Cassidy said.

The state Supreme Court, which is to hear Mrs. Whitehead’s appeal Sept. 14, was notified of the separation, as were the baby’s court-appointed guardian and attorneys for the child’s father, William Stern, and his wife, Elizabeth.

An attorney for the Sterns, Edward O’Donnell, said he was sorry about the separation but that it supported his case.

″During the course of the trial, we submitted proofs indicating that the Whitehead family suffered from instability and particularly marital friction. What we’ve just learned confirmed those proofs,″ he said.

O’Donnell would not comment on whether the separation would affect the appeal, and the baby’s court-appointed guardian was out of her office Tuesday. Cassidy’s statement did not elaborate on the case and he was not in his office.

Mrs. Whitehead, a 30-year-old Brick Township homemaker, had agreed to be artificially inseminated with Stern’s sperm and bear him and his wife a child, but changed her mind after the baby’s birth in 1986. The Sterns sued for custody.

Attorneys for the Sterns had argued that the Sterns could provide a more secure environment for the child. They said that Richard Whitehead, a sanitation worker, was often unemployed and had a drinking problem, and that the Whitehead marriage was characterized by separations and money problems.

The Whiteheads, who have two children, countered that they could offer the girl, now 16 months old, a loving and extended family. They also argued that the bond between mother and child never should be broken.

In March, Superior Court Judge Harvey Sorkow upheld the $10,000 surrogate contract and awarded custody to the Sterns, who call the girl Melissa.

Feminist Betty Friedan, who recently joined a friend-of-the-court brief asking the Supreme Court to overturn Sorkow’s decision, said the separation should not be allowed to affect Mrs. Whitehead basic position.

″The basic principle we’re fighting for remains and that is that her rights and her personhood as a woman have been violated,″ she said. ″She is paying a terrible price.″

She said the separation was ″very sad news″ but added, ″it is very plausible that this would happen under this kind of pressure.″

A spokeswoman for the state Supreme Court, Susanne Lockwood, said the separation would not affect Mrs. Whitehead’s weekly one-hour visits with the child that are allowed while the case is under appeal.