A License to Breed
Having a child is not a personal decision. Having an abortion is a personal decision but bringing a child to term and having it is not.
It may well be asked what the difference is. An unborn child, fetus, zygote, whatever stage it is and whatever you want to call it, requires the body of the mother to survive. Whether you give the fetus, zygote, whatever rights, does not change the fact that it does not have a right to the mother’s body for survival in the same way that a teenager has no right to her mother’s kidneys, even if we agree that the vast majority of mothers would enthusiastically hand them over.
There is also the simple matter of drawing lines. A line must be drawn somewhere with regard to when that mass of human potential is fully realized as a human being and it seems fitting that it should be only after the journey of gestation has been completed. To do otherwise would necessitate making women a hostage to pregnancy.
All that being said, people do not have a right to children. I actually think this is obvious but it goes without saying that multitudes would disagree and cavil to the point of revolution were ever such a concept enshrined in law. But before you disagree, allow me some time to limn this out.
Let us consider a newly recognized citizen of the United States and the remainder of her family abroad. In order to legally grant her family entry into America she must provide numerous documents, proofs, and pay much in the way of money and time to acquire the approval of the federal government. I myself underwent a similar process in applying for my husband’s greencard.
Not only was I forced to pay approximately two thousand dollars in fees, but I also had to negotiate my way through six or so documents which were inconveniently hidden among hundreds of similarly related applications which could easily have been mistaken for the ones I actually required. There was then the matter of proving my marriage was legitimate and not some sham. This cannot be done in a jiffy. It requires painstaking documentation of your travels, spending habits, living habits, and even social habits. Testimonials from family and friends are requested. Evidence of shared vacations and special occasions must be provided. Receipts, photographs, property, nothing is too big or small.
The greatest barrier may be proof of financial independence. In the United States you have to prove beyond a doubt that you can support the person in question. The standard is an income of 125% of the poverty level for your household size. That would mean for two people, the citizen plus the relative coming over, one would need to show proof of an income of at least 20,000 dollars if we round the poverty level income of two people to 16,000 a year.
In the case of adoption, another situation I have witnessed first-hand (my brother is adopted), even more rigorous stipulations apply. Not only are you stripped of your privacy by social workers but every detail of your existence is tabulated in order to discern if you are a fitting candidate for the ‘lucky’ child.
Since the government sets standards of support for existing family members or children through adoption, why not set a standard for new children by birth? What is the emotional, practical difference? How is one less entitled to their stranded husband, mother, sister, or daughter than to a child they plan on having? A child, I might add, with which no emotional connection exists because they do not exist yet.
Well, the conundrum is really quite apparent. Reproductive rights. In the same way removing the right to abortion holds women hostage to their pregnancies, forcing abortions on women who fail to qualify for parenthood would mean holding them hostage to the vagaries of intercourse; in other words, the same thing.
Just as it is unconscionable to refuse a person a necessary medical procedure, it is equally unconscionable to force an unnecessary one upon them. However, alternatives exist.
Let us imagine a world in which you must apply for parenthood, acquiring a license per child proving that you are financially and psychologically capable of rearing another human being. Now let us imagine that in this world people who have not applied or are obvious failed candidates, occasionally become pregnant, what then?
To begin you have the option to have an abortion, paid for by the state. You may also refuse that offer and bring the child to term so long as you sign a contract stipulating that if you ever fail to provide for your child and require the aid of state coffers, then after that child reaches 18 you must pay back with interest every dime used. I stipulate ‘after 18’ because forcing a beleaguered parent to pay during childhood only further complicates their already floundering status as providers. Fathers, married or not, will of course be legally bound to participate in this bargain with no exceptions and absolutely no legal recourse. If DNA does not exonerate the father he is bound. If the subject in question refuses DNA testing, he is bound. To do otherwise would unfairly burden women.
The argument that having a child is a ‘personal’ decision is a shabby one, as vacuous as it is platitudinous. Personal decisions affect only the person making them, but bringing a child to term affects two parties, not just one. Take the Duggar family. Here is a fundamentalist Christian family who has now produced some 19+ spawn. So incapable are these people of tending to their nidus of biblethumpers, that their eldest son managed to molest his own sisters right under their nose. Further, both parents essentially did everything in their power to avoid taking any sincerely preventative action, instead limiting their responses to ineffectual police reports and flaccid Christian counseling.
What kind of parents are these? How personal a decision was it to allow their son to continue to put their own children and those of others at risk? How personal a decision is it to produce so many children that you are incapable of providing each of them with the individual love and attention they require? This is not medieval Europe. We are not attempting to sire a workforce for the local lord’s estate here. In wealthy western countries it has long been established that we have children for their own sake, not for an ideology, not because we just can, and certainly not because we are too ignorant or lazy to practice safe sex. We don’t allow just anyone to adopt. We don’t allow just anyone to ferry over their family from afar. And we certainly should not let just anyone have children without some minimum level of accountability.
Such a policy would also force people to engage in a real dialogue about what the state owes families. Since under this system people would be forced to reconcile their finances and careers with the requisites of a family, people would be far more likely to demand a greater extension, or any extension, of family services from the government, such as federally mandated maternity leave and company provided or federally funded daycare. It might even get the ball rolling on free healthcare. Who knows. What I do know is not every Joe and Jane on the block should be allowed to pop one out.