By The Rev. Madison Shockley
The National Health and Family Planning Commission of the People’s Republic of China recently tried to alter the country’s infamous “one-child policy.” Currently, both the husband and the wife have to be only children to be allowed to have a second child. The government recently decided that a couple would be allowed to have a second child if either the husband or the wife is an only child. But there was a hitch. According to The New York Times, after three decades of a Chinese policy that limits most families to one child, many families say they will not take advantage of this major change because of the rising cost of child-rearing.
Many anti-choice right-wing conservatives love to bash the one-child policy with righteous indignation. All the while they fully support the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ no-more-child policy. Religious and political conservatives wax on ad nauseum about their commitment to the “life” of the child while doing all they can to restrict and coerce the reproductive lives of poor women. Recently, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., floated the idea of capping government benefits for women who have children out of wedlock. He argued that preventing unplanned pregnancies should be in the hands of communities and families: “Maybe we have to say ‘enough’s enough, you shouldn’t be having kids after a certain amount.’ ”
Ironically, this conservative icon didn’t know that his nemesis, President Bill Clinton, already made this U.S. government policy. When Aid to Families with Dependent Children was replaced with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, it allowed states to deny additional benefits to women who have children after enrolling in the program. Initially, 26 states (or Paul’s “communities”) implemented the no-more-child policy. Fourteen years later, many of these communities, just like the Chinese government, are repealing their policies because they find that there are unintended consequences that do more harm than good.
For the Chinese, after three decades of heavy-handed social engineering, the result is 40 million more men than women and the prospect that by 2020, 30 million eligible bachelors will not be able to find a wife. I shudder to think how the Chinese government will solve that problem. Here in the United States, we find after just 14 years of this policy that cutting off benefits to women who have additional children increases poverty and diminishes the health of these women and children.
What both the Chinese government’s one-child policy and the U.S.’ no-more-child policy have in common is that both totally disregard the intelligence, the moral agency, and the bodily integrity of women. Both of them rely on coercion—physical and economic coercion for China and economic coercion here in the U.S. Unless, that is, you count the physical coercion exerted by members of the religious conservative right as they hassle, confront, shoot and bomb Planned Parenthood clinics and abortion care providers across the country. Both governments’ policies, driven by their most conservative elements, are based on denying women choice—denying women the choice to decide for themselves whether, when and how many children to bear.
What we learn from the Chinese experience is that when women have more economic power, they make intelligent choices about their reproductive lives. They don’t have to be coerced to make sensible decisions. So Chinese women may well choose not to have a second child even when eligible. The U.S. took the other route. It found that by denying economic power to women, it did not deliver them to better economic lives but only more poverty and diminished health. Both governments need to trust women. What a novel idea.
Both governments deny the God-given right women have to control their reproductive lives. God given? Surprised to hear that from a Christian minister? Well, my reading of the text leads me to no other conclusion. For my Bible says:
“And God made them in God’s image. Male and Female God created them.”
“And Adam knew Eve and she bore a son saying, ‘I have born a man with the help of God.’ ”
I believe that God is pro-faith, pro-family and pro-choice. Given that God had created both men and women, when one considers the reproductive process from a biblical perspective, one has to conclude that God, in fact, made the first choice. God chose, between these two humans, to hide the mystery of reproduction inside the woman.
Eve proclaims that what she has done was with the “help of God.” Thus, God and women are partners in the reproductive process and the woman is not a silent partner but a partner with a voice and a vote!
When one considers reproduction from a biological perspective, it is understood that this partnership often does not succeed. Miscarriage (often with the woman unaware) is the fate of the overwhelming number of pregnancies.
We consider that a miscarriage has no moral content because we attribute it to God or nature. We say, “God knew that the fetus would not survive.” Thus we accept that the process of human gestation was interrupted by natural forces. But if women are partners with God then do they not also have moral authority to interrupt the process of human gestation? Do they not have the moral authority to act when they know that the fetus will not survive? Oh but when she does it, we don’t call it a miscarriage—we call it an abortion.
We the 15 denominations and faith traditions that comprise the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice have come together to support women who face this very difficult decision. We aim to empower women with the moral authority they inherently possess and to confer upon them the moral support of their faith communities.
If human beings took anything out of the Garden of Eden, it was free will. Many submit that it is the free will of human beings that most reflects the image of God. We certainly don’t look like God.
When a woman is faced with a medical complication so severe that the choice is between the life of the fetus and her own life, she not only has the moral authority to choose her own life but in regard to her other children who depend on her, her husband who loves her, her family who needs her and her God who created her, she has a moral obligation to choose her life.
When a woman has been robbed of her God given free will by the violence of rape, she not only has the moral authority to reclaim her will by choosing her own life but a moral obligation to determine for herself whether, when and how many children to bear.
And when a government, Chinese or American, seeks to deprive a woman of the free will of her conscience, given to her by God, and legislates that should she fail to bring every pregnancy to full term delivery, she has committed a crime and shall be punished by a levy against her resources and the imprisonment of her body, she and we have a spiritual, moral and civic duty to resist, defy and deny that government’s attempts to convert her womanhood into a means of production for its political economy. We the people of the United States of America must repel those among us who would diminish the humanity of any of our citizens by the coercion of their very persons for purposes alien to their conscience, dangerous to their health and in contradiction to their faith.