Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Reproductive Freedom

The following is a passionate rant that I composed in response to a raging debate over the following news article. You can imagine the indignation that followed this ruling, with people everywhere demanding to know who the hell he thinks he is.

In the event that the link is no longer available, here is its text, in red italics. Below that is my response to the avalanche of outrage:

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) -- A St. Joseph woman who has three children says she was shocked when a judge ordered her not to have any more children out of wedlock while she is on probation for three years.

Mandy Nelson, 26, was given the unusual requirement by Buchanan County Circuit Judge Daniel Kellogg as part of her probation in a forgery case. Other conditions of her probation include community service hours, paying restitution and obtaining a GED or high school diploma.

"I was shocked," Nelson said. "I only have three kids. He made it seem like I was just having kids, kids, kids."

Nelson already was on probation for a prior forgery count. She is alleged to have tried to use $480 in counterfeit money at Commerce Bank in May 2005, according to a St. Joseph Police Department probable-cause statement.

Nelson mentioned in court that she was having financial difficulties because she had three children whose fathers weren't paying child support.

Kellogg said, "My feeling was that would be to help ensure she wouldn't have any more financial difficulties. It's not a moral judgment. It was just to address what were her legitimate concerns. It was more to give her support than to serve as punishment."

Nelson told the judge that she had undergone surgery to close her fallopian tubes after her third son was born two years ago.

But Kellogg replied, "Frankly, nothing is 100 percent."

He compared his action to restitution, which he includes in probation orders even if it has already been paid.

Nelson's mother, Kelly Metcalf, was in the courtroom when the sentence was imposed.

"I was really surprised when he said that," Metcalf said. "I didn't think that was legal. Mandy has always taken care of her kids. It made it look like she was a welfare bum."

The judge's order angered Constance Monroe, who founded Women of Vision Ministries Inc. ofSt. Joseph. It's a non-profit organization that assists women who are either coming out of the correctional system or who are dealing with drug addiction or teen pregnancy.

"We're in what century?" asked Monroe. "That, to me, is a moral statement, not a judicial statement."

The state doesn't track special probation conditions, but "this is extremely rare," explained Brian Hauswirth, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Probation and Parole.

In a case such as Nelson's, an officer would report to the court only if she gave birth to a child out of wedlock, Hauswirth said. The pregnancy by itself wouldn't be in violation.

Laura Hibbs, a Probation and Parole's administrator, noted that defendants could choose a prison sentence rather than probation. Kellogg suspended Nelson's sentence, which would have been four years in the Missouri Department of Corrections.

Presiding Judge Patrick Robb said that the probation condition was uncommon in Buchanan County but that he'd ordered it several times during his career. He found the condition appropriate in some cases, such as for a defendant attending substance abuse programs.

He said he had never seen anyone's probation revoked because they gave birth.

The words "reproductive freedom" are a classic example of a noble concept gone horribly awry. Before I make my point and piss people off -- which I'm sure I will -- let me say now that I am staunchly pro-choice in matters of abortion, and an avid supporter of women's rights. I don't think there is a single instance in which a woman should be forced to have a child against her will, but I can think of many good reasons to force a woman not to have children.

Americans are obsessed with the notion that procreation is a divine right never to be infringed upon by anyone for any reason. This means that a homeless crack addict should have the inalienable right to bear as many children as biology will allow, and damn the consequences to whatever children are unlucky enough to be conceived under such circumstances. Those eggs shoulda ducked when they saw the sperm coming, so really the impertinent brats brought that misery on themselves, don't you think?

All sarcasm aside, does anyone care about the abject misery in which hundreds of thousands of children are living, simply because no one dares to poke the hornet's nest and question the "reproductive freedom" of irresponsible men and women? I'm not talking about mere poverty -- many a happy child has been raised by loving, responsible parent(s) without two nickels to rub together. In fact, I'd bet that lots of families are brought closer by the lack of material trappings which forces them to (ack!) spend time together instead of retreating to their separate electronic entertainments after a few civil grunts.

No, money is not the issue here, although somebody somewhere will bring up the almighty dollar. (Wait and see.) I'm talking about parents who abuse their children in any of the infinite ways this sacred bond can be profaned. Children are routinely beaten, raped, used as slaves and "cash cows" to manipulate the system, and generally made to feel as if they're worthless. Except for the momentary swell of pity from those who hear of their suffering, they basically are. I mean, really -- who gives a shit? Not the parents, or else a child would think suffering to be nothing more than an early bedtime or loss of TV priveleges. The "system" doesn't care, as evidenced by the appalling state of Child Protective Services and foster care at large. Even the socially conscious only pay lip service, because they're clearly more concerned with the rights of abusers to have as many children as they please. After all, isn't freedom more important than consequence?

The judge at the center of this debate did not take away this woman's right to ever have another child. He merely ordered her to take a three-year vacation from her reproductive frenzy (I think three fatherless children at 26 is very damned excessive.) and perhaps reflect upon the challenges of motherhood. Using her children as an excuse to break the law only adds to my outrage, as now I'm expected to feel sorry for her because she clearly bit off more than she could chew. We should be far more concerned about the children she's having so much trouble supporting. Tubal ligation was an excellent choice, and I commend her for redeeming herself and her children with that decision. I hope she gets the help she needs and turns her life around.

Back to the horse I'm laboriously beating to death here, I think that reproduction is not a right, but a sacred responsibility that (Let's face the ugly truth, folks!) some people are just not ready for and may never be. Some measure should be taken to curtail the breeding of those who have proven themselves to be bad parents. These measures should not be gender-specific, so you feminists can let out that breath you were planning to howl in rage with. Deadbeat dads should be rounded up and herded to the nearest vasectomy clinic. The procedure will cost the taxpayer much less than even one more child raised by the system. Women with three or more children and no legal means of independently supporting them (with or without a partner's help) should be sterilized. Anyone who abuses a child in an unambiguous way (meaning that more specific harm was caused than a dirty house or the lack of a new Gameboy) should have their parental rights revoked. All of them.

Here's where my idea takes a few hits. "If we allow the government the right to decide who gets to have children, before long they'll start restricting the poor, the stupid, the ugly..." Etc. This is a valid concern, but we shouldn't let the potential for corruption overshadow the protection of the innocent. Should we really disregard perfectly humane and logical concepts because someday, somewhere, somebody might take the idea too far? If that's the case, why do we allow the government to make laws at all?

To me, the issue is not about the adults who squabble over freedom and rights. It's about the children who've been afforded neither to appease the idea of the almighty uterus.


Anonymous Cynthia said...

This is a very good blog, but I do admit that I don't entirely agree with everything that you've said.

Namely what I found issue with was the last bit that you wrote, where you said that we shouldn't hesitate to give the government a say as to who is fit to raise children and who isn't just because maybe they'd take it too far someday.

This isn't just a possiblility, it already happens as it is. There have been cases where children were put into the system because someone turned them in for having some whips in their closet or a couple of pornos that were deemed "unacceptable".

When the government is in charge of saying who is "unfit" to raise children, then everyone is in danger of losing their loved ones.

I agree with you that risking the safety of children isn't worth giving the parents extra chances to screw them up, but on the other hand the system is going to muck things up either way and we should be absolutely sure not to condemn any single child to such a fate if it isn't absolutely necessary.

Nonetheless this was a very compelling read, and I enjoyed it very much. I hope to read more from you in the future.

October 26, 2006 at 6:56 AM  
Blogger Damiana Raven said...

Thank you, Cynthia. You're right about the government already going too far in taking away children from parents who've done nothing more than having unusual sexual desires. What's more, they take children away from one family for not having enough money to keep their lights on and give them to another fammily along with a check for 600 dollars a month. I don't pretend to understand this system, but I think that if we start at the source of the misery, we could maybe make some progress.

August 21, 2007 at 5:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this .. though not entirely sure that that could ever be sustained not because of peoples fear that it would go to far but simply that it would include them. I have many radicle beliefs on reproduction myself and believe that all people should have to live up to a standard.. take a test..almost like the drivers ed test ..children are responsibility not a given right.. we as a country will let a nutjob raise a serial killer faster than we will let a working poor person drive a car.. trust me the serial killer is going to do the most damage. anyways .. this is just her crazy sis so I will shut up.. bye for now

February 26, 2008 at 7:39 PM  

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