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The Tally Ho

Thursday, October 06, 2005

I repent!

As someone who works with kids, and their sometimes neglectful and stupid parents, I've often made sarcastic comments about licensing people for parenthood. After all, if you have to have a license to drive or to fish, why shouldn't you have to have a license before you take complete responsibility for a helpless human being? "There oughtta be a law," says I, "so that you have to take a test before they let you be a parent."

And good golly, some overzealous state senator in Indiana this week proposed to do just that. (Link opens a pdf to the proposed legislative change.)

Bitch. Ph.D, feministing, and Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon have summarized the issue nicely, so I'll confine myself to a quote from NUVO. (Besides, Wells asked me so politely to cover this story that I couldn't neglect his link.)
According to a draft of the recommended change in state law, every woman in Indiana seeking to become a mother through assisted reproduction therapy such as in vitro fertilization, sperm donation and egg donation must first file for a “petition for parentage” in their local county probate court.

Only women who are married will be considered for the “gestational certificate” that must be presented to any doctor who facilitates the pregnancy. Further, the “gestational certificate” will only be given to married couples that successfully complete the same screening process currently required by law of adoptive parents.

As the draft of the new law reads now, an intended parent “who knowingly or willingly participates in an artificial reproduction procedure” without court approval, “commits unauthorized reproduction, a Class B misdemeanor.” The criminal charges will be the same for physicians who commit “unauthorized practice of artificial reproduction.”

Fortunately, Miller seems to have backed down from this harebrained scheme, due to the controversy it has engendered. The very terms--"gestational certificate"?--are creepy. I can see the scene in the hospital now: A woman in labor staggers into the ER. The attending nurse says, "Excuse me, ma'am, could I see your gestational certificate?" It's like a really bad sitcom.

But don't worry, they wouldn't be regulating old-fashioned reproduction. As long as you're a straight girl with a working reproductive system and know a man who wants to get laid, you can have all the kids you want. The only folks who need to pay attention are:
1) Het couples who are infertile
2) Single women wanting to have a baby
2) Queer folks wanting to gestate.

And gosh, how many of us know anyone in those three categories?? (If you really don't, go do some research. A Little Pregnant is unsparing, and also sidesplittingly funny. The sadly-retired Chez Miscarriage still has a list of hugely informative links. Diary of a Lesbian Stepmother is not written by my friends, but could be.)

Sadly, Miller's idea is not going to go away. Infertility treatments are expensive and chancy. Insurance carriers are doing their damndest not to cover them, particulary for women past a certain age or who have specific types of infertility. Doctors, like adoption agencies, have realized that since they have such control over who becomes parents, they can get away with asking hugely intrusive questions about a person's fitness for parenthood, or passing judgement on what kind of parent they think the candidate might be. So, be on the lookout for state legislation that tries to restrict adoption to two parent families (keeping in mind the DOMA laws and several state laws declaring that GLBT partners cannot co-adopt), or for insurance regulations declaring that women must meet certain social (not medical) criteria before their infertility treatment is covered. Finally, keep an eye on the costs of assisted parenthood: adoption with a reputable private agency runs upwards of $20K nowadays, and assisted reproductive technology is anywhere between $12K (from my friends who are trying to do it as cheaply as possible) and $100K. Pricetags like those make me wonder if Ed and Hi in "Raising Arizona" had the right idea.

As for me? I'm hugely relieved that the bill is withdrawn, and see it as a wake-up call for anyone who wants to have some control over whether and when they parent. I'm still enraged by parents who don't have any parenting skills, families who are on their eighth child because they "just love babies", and women who let their kids wander into my office because they believe that a three-year-old can be left unsupervised in a waiting room for thirty minutes. I still fantasize about getting to have the final say on who gets pregnant and when. But I'm not ready to cede my parental decisions to anyone else, and not naive enough to think that a bureaucracy can decide what is best for me OR my obnoxious neighbor. It's gratifying to see so many people objecting to this bill. And I swear that I will never, ever, EVER make jokes about parenting licenses again.

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