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Friday, August 2, 2013

On Parental Responsibility and Who Qualifies as a Parent

I would like to address an issue I see as rampant in the abortion issue, the question of what a parent is and who qualifies as a parent. This question is an important one because parents have special obligations to their offspring that strangers don't have, including the obligation to provide the basic necessities they need to survive and thrive: food, water, shelter, clothes, etc.

I prefer to give pro-choice people the benefit of the doubt when discussing with them. I don't think pro-choice people are horrible people, or monsters, or anything of that sort, esepcially if their position is reasoned as opposed to based on emotional rhetoric. But the pro-choice position I see as especially repugnant: that parents have no special obligation at all to their children, except ones that are consented to.

It seems to me that there are three different ways someone could be considered a parent.

Biological Parenthood

The first and most basic is biological parenthood. Pro-choice people tend to argue that biology doesn't make you a parent, but I think they're wrong. The child of the union of sperm and egg takes on features of their parents, and has a combination of the parent's DNA. The child even grows up to look and act like one or both of his/her parents. He/she will even pursue the interests of one or both parents. And a mother will naturally bond with her child while the child is yet still in the womb. Children come out of the womb recognizing their parents' voices and trusting their own parents like no one else in the world.

I think this holds even in the case of rape. A rapist is often referred to by the detatched term "sperm donor" when referencing the child he sired, the one he forced on a woman. But if toddler's father ends up raping another woman, that man does not cease to be the child's father. Why would it be the case that if he raped the child's own mother resulting in his own conception, that the father would not be the child's father? In that case, while the father is a father biologically, I think the fact that he conceived the child through an act of violence would mean that the rapist surrenders any and all rights to the child, while maintaining the obligation to provide for him through child support.

Biological parents have special obligations to their children. One is the obvious obligation not to kill the child. Some other obligations are to provide the basic necessities the child needs, such as food/water, shelter, clothes, and education. I think this is true just by virtue of being related.

It seems to me that biological parenthood is the most basic form of parenthood there is, and I think the best situation is for a child to be raised by his/her biological parents. This isn't always possible, however, and if the choice is between killing the child through abortion or gifting the child to a loving couple through adoption, then I think the obvious choice is clear. And that brings me to the second form of parenthood.

Assumed Parenthood

Biological parents can sign their rights and obligations away to another couple willing to take the rights and obligations on. If this happens, then the adoptive parents would have all the normal rights and obligations that the biological parents would have. There are two ways this is done, through adoption or foster care. The two are commonly conflated, which is why many people are so averse to adoption. But the reality is they're two very different things.

In the case of adoption, parents are located through a rigorous process while the mother is still pregnant. The adoptive parents usually pay the medical fees of the pregnant woman, which is why it's so expensive to adopt. The adoption procedure can be either open, in which case the mother, and the father, can be as involved or as uninvolved as they want in the child's life, or closed, in which case the mother will not seek to continue a relationship with the adopted child.

Second is foster care. This is what most people usually think of when they think of adoption, which is made more confusing by the fact that putting a child in a home from foster care is also called adoption. This is where a child is usually taken out of a broken home and place with a foster parent until a suitable adoptive parent can be found. When someone speaks of a child that is "lost in the system," this is usually the child in mind.

So what if a person is not biologically related to a child, and hasn't assumed parenthood rights and responsibilities to a child? Can we still be held responsible for a child in that case? That brings me to the third type of parental relationship.

De Facto Guardianship

This is a term that Stephen Wagner uses in a paper he wrote to tackle the most challenging pro-choice argument. In effect, this states that if a child is in your care you become temporarily responsible for the child. Think of the boy Russell and Carl from the movie Up. Carl become Russell's de facto guardian when he discovered that Russell had found his way onto his porch which was thousands of feet off the ground.

Think also of a real-life case in Japan in which two women were trying to reproduce through IVF, and the doctors, through a mix-up, implanted the wrong embryo into a woman who ended up aborting the child because it wasn't hers. Surprisingly, Salon posted a very well-written article about it, which I'll link to for more information on this case. The situation is made even more tragic because the woman whose child was killed by hospital staff was in her 40's, meaning that this was her last chance at motherhood. The woman became a de facto guardian of the child that wasn't hers and made the wrong choice by having the child aborted.

Carl became Russell's de facto guardian, even though he didn't kidnap Russell and pull him onto his property. He was found with a Boy Scout on his property, through no fault of his own, and did the right thing by taking him in, after a little bit of deliberation, and taking care of him until the house reached the ground again. If you are faced with a situation in which you find yourself with a child who can't fend for himself or generally take care of himself, you have an obligation to care for the child until he is safe. Since the unborn are likewise human beings, a pregnant woman, even one who finds herself pregnant with another woman's child, has an obligation not to have the child killed. Obligations are not chosen, that's why they're called obligations.

The abortion culture has caused us to stop seeing children as blessings and to start seeing them as burdens. Some, like Eileen McDonagh, see them as no more than parasites, or little rapists who impregnate a woman against her will. It's difficult to convince someone that it's wrong to kill an unborn human child when they've convinced themselves of all manner of bizarre things about the youngest members of our species. But human beings in a needy position, especially a naturally needy position, need our love and care, our support, not our killing them because we're "more important" than they are.

The preceding article also appeared on the Secular Pro-Life blog.

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