Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Inalienable Right to Bear Children

Forget life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It strikes me that the most inalienable right of Americans is the right to have children. This right is not delineated by any Amendment to the Constitution. It doesn't need to be, for we accept that it is imbued with unquestioned sanctity.

In a time when more and more states are insisting on official government photo i.d. to exercise the most basic right in a democracy, the right to vote and help choose our country's leaders and policies, you need absolutely no identification to become a parent. When you can't drink in most states until you're 21, can't drive until you're 16, can't join the military until you're 18, you can make and have babies at any age depending only on when your own body allows it.

I just adopted a puppy from a Shelter. To do so, I had to fill out a three-page application and provide the names of three references who would vouch for me, as well as that of my veterinarian. The Shelter wanted to be assured that I would be a responsible pet owner. But to have a child, you need prove nothing at all. Can't provide a drug and alcohol-free body in which to nurture a healthy fetus? No problem. Don't have adequate shelter or income to care for a baby? That's okay. Too immature to remember to feed your hamster; to change the oil in your car, to pay your freaking rent? No big deal.

Brutalize your child and we might make you attend some Parenting Classes before sending the happy little family home to try again. Is your i.q. too low to allow you to be self-sufficient? Have you been diagnosed with one of the more severe conditions outlined in the DSM? Not to worry. None of that disqualifies you from becoming a parent. Have a hereditary illness that might be passed on to your child? It's yours to decide whether to take that risk.

And here's the fun part. There's absolutely no limit to this right. Most cities have restrictions on how many dogs you can keep. In my town, it is three. More than that and you have to apply for a kennel license but there's no such restriction on having children. Give birth to as many babies as you like. OctoMom has had eight without any visible means of support. That other family, I forget their names, can have, what is it now, 23 kids? And many of us admire them for it. As if a woman being in a constant state of pregnancy until her body finally breaks down so that she finally can't sustain a healthy infant is a good thing (sound familiar Santorums?)

We have such faith that giving birth at will is a holy right that you can be convicted of child abuse or neglect and when you get out of jail, you can just go right back to having more kids. You can be a father who has served time for non-payment of child support but your punishment will never include a ban on producing more offspring, from multiple partners, who you also have no intention of supporting.

Not only do we not try to dissuade people from having children they can't afford, either financially or emotionally, many of us, politicians and citizens alike, will go to the mat to insist every child be matter what. Disregard the physical and/or emotional well-being of the mother, the multiple handicaps of the fetus, the circumstances of conception (such as rape or incest), the desperate poverty of the parents, the extreme youth of the girl. Every baby must be born, they insist, end of story.

Of course, many of those same pro-lifers then get ouchy and walk away after the birth has actually taken place. On the one hand, they want to ban abortion altogether and to de-fund Planned Parenthood making it more difficult for poor women to avoid pregnancy but on the other hand, they resent the hell out of providing healthcare to poor families; they scorn those who rely on food stamps; they'd prefer to end subsidized housing. They're are rather like the dog owner who breeds his dog, then throws Mama and puppies onto the street because of the inconvenience and expense of keeping and feeding them.

If you ever want to know where our priorities lie, count the number of Small Claims courts versus the number of Children's Courts in the U.S. You'll soon see that helping landlords and merchants collect their bad debts is of far more importance than the welfare of children.

With many Americans, the inalienable right to have children is grounded in religious conviction. Evidently, we believe that God never changes his mind in response to changing conditions. He told us to go forth and multiply when there were two, count'em, people on this earth (I've never been quite sure how that happened - did Adam and Eve have children together? - was incest approved of then, so maybe God does change his mind sometimes). Now there are billions of us. Does the same edict still apply?

The only other issue that comes close to evoking as much passion among Americans as the right to bear children is the right to bear arms. But a majority of us do believe there should be at least some restrictions on gun ownership. And we do prevent felons from possessing firearms (at least, we try). But the morality of telling people can't have children until they can show proof of responsibility and maturity is a squeamish subject, one we don't want to face. 

So I'll say it. Having babies should be like having a driver's license - a privilege, not a right. You should be old enough to be deemed responsible; you should have to take a test to prove your competence and you should lose that privilege if you screw it up. 

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