Who is allowed to have children, anyway?

(Cross posted from Related Topics)

These thoughts are generated by a confluence of things I’ve been reading/writing about.     Put them all together and I’m troubled.

–If you look back. you’ll see a recent post here about the movement to prevent lesbians and gay men from becoming adoptive and/or foster parents.     The contention, of course, is that lesbians and gay men should not be allowed to be parents.     If you are interested in more extended discussion, you can find a fair amount of discussion on this topic elsewhere on this blog.   But in short I think the objection to lesbians and gay men as parents has to do with an abiding attachment to gendered parenting.

–Then there’s the notable case of the woman who just gave birth to octuplets.   I’ve commented on this a couple of times.   And there’s a rather interesting piece about the case from the Observer (UK) today.   (The view from a distance is often very enlightening.)     Increasingly the discussion in press is focusing on the whether she should have been allowed to have these children.   There are at least two reasons proffered for why the answer might have been “no”–because she already had six children (and enough is enough) or because she lacks (or will lack or might lack) the means to support the fourteen children she will now be raising.

–Finally, in today’s New York Times there’s an extensive article in the magazine section about single mothers by choice.     These single mothers seem to have two significant characteristics in common, characteristics that contrast to those of the suspect parents in the first two stories I’ve noted:   they are heterosexual and they have money.     The combination of the two seems to place them outside the scope of the “should they be allowed to parent” inquiry.

Frankly, I find this juxtaposition disturbing.   It’s not so much that I think   the single women in the NYT article should be subjected to judgmental scrutiny.   Rather, it is the apparent basis on which the other suspect parents are subjected to scrutiny.

We are free to ask whether lesbians and gay men should be allowed to be parents because they are lesbians and gay men.   We are free to ask whether low-income or poor women should be allowed to be parents because they cannot afford to raise their children.   But as the women in the NYT magazine are both affluent and heterosexual, their entitlement to parent is unquestioned.     (Interestingly, the lack of a male role model problem that is often the central argument against lesbian parents is, in the NYT, raised as a logistical difficulty that needs to be thoughtfully addressed.)

I don’t know what I think in the end about whether there is a right to parent.   I don’t know whether we should always ask whether a person should be allowed to parent or whether we should never ask that question.   But I’m pretty sure we shouldn’t only ask people who are (or are suspected of being) poor or low-income lesbian or gay.

Posted by Julie Shapiro, cross posted from Related Topics

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