Saturday, September 8, 2012

Baby Production Unlimited?

A crack baby
[Note: I wrote this essay a decade ago. My views have not changed. In these pre-election days, I cannot identify with either party’s views—which is why I am a registered Independent.]

            Recently, a lawyer from Illinois wrote in The New York Times about a woman who gave birth to 13 children, six of whom where born with cocaine in their systems, three with syphilis, and four were HIV positive. At least one of the children was beaten to death by the mother’s boyfriend. Others were physically abused and tortured.
            Promptly ruling out sterilization of the mother, the lawyer argued for the need to protect the unborn—two views I do not share. 
            Yet, I curiously found myself siding with him in his outrage that this woman—ill equipped to deal with life, her body, her emotions, and her addictions—is permitted to produce children as long as her body is capable of beginning the process of pregnancy and continues with little awareness on her part until a baby is born.
            Liberals in our society see any imposed meddling in the process of pregnancy a challenge to the woman’s civil rights. Blocking her ovary-production after two, three—or even six—children is unacceptable to them. What I find interesting here is that a conservative man such as the lawyer who wrote the piece joined the liberals in the same conclusion, albeit reaching it from a different angle.
            I believe that these children should not be permitted to be born. By allowing them to come into the world, we as a society midwife them into unimaginable misery. Passively, we stand powerless as more babies are dropped into our arms and become our responsibility via the myriad services they require from us. Helpless, we face staggering costs that devour our resources and trump other priorities. We assume the cost of lifelong medical care, foster care, and special education—all of which fail to raise the needle on their happiness meter.
            If this mother’s children reach maturity—which they often do due to medical care that is denied children of more functional families—they are likely to engage in violence and crime, often against us. We raise them in our midst only to endanger our own safety. We must engage more law enforcement personnel, prisons, security systems, legal defense and social workers. We pay for rehabilitation programs (for the criminals—not the victims) that are most likely to fail.
            While we are busy taking care of this mother’s children, she will continue to send more sick babies our way. She does not mean to do it. It happens to her. It happens to her body. She is ravished by illness. She has no way to control her destiny because her mind is fuzzy in a confused soup of drugs.
            Why not take a stand and say “No more!” Why not sterilize her?
            As a feminist who supports a woman’s right to her body and to choose abortion if she and her doctor agree, as a person disgusted by the notion that any citizen—including a bartender—is allowed to tell a pregnant woman that she may not drink alcohol, my boundaries are clear: Society ends where my skin begins.
            But what about the reverse situation? What about a case when a woman’s body abuses and exploits society? Where do I draw the line between the right of a woman to her body and my right to protect and defend myself and my resources against the consequences of her irresponsible actions?
            Where does liberalism start and conservatism begin?
            There are times we must cross the line, times when we must be allowed to stop the process of pregnancy before it begins. We are not placing a chastity belt on the woman--she can still have sex. We are not tying her down and removing a kidney to be donated to one who needs it. Irreversible sterilization needs not be the first step. We can start with enforcing birth control such as the five-year Norplant II (or its newest version.) It will give the mother a chance to clean her body from drugs, to get her act together, and to show responsibility toward the children she has already borne. Sterilization may be the answer if the first program fails.
            “Three Strikes” has been the buzz word for repeat offenders. We can stand up to other kinds of offenders and in the process save thousands of children the misery of being born.

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Author Talia Carner’s latest novel, JERUSALEM MAIDEN, (HarperCollins, 2011) is set at the end of the Ottoman Empire rule of the Holy Land.