Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Reproductive Freedom is a Two-Way Street: 20 Kids and Counting

I'll start this by stating a few things:

1.  This post isn't in regard to any specific thing I've read on anyone's Facebook or blog (ie: this blog post isn't a passive aggressive response to something anyone I know wrote about this topic)

2.  Everything I know about the Duggar Family is from the Wikipedia aticle I just read today (we don't have cable so I am not up to date on all these reality shows)

This morning I checked my social network feeds on my phone and I was bombarded with tweets, texts, facebook status updates and blog entries all about Michelle Duggar of 19 Kids and Counting.  The news? Michelle is pregnant with her 20th baby.  The Duggar family has been in the spotlight over the last few years because of having 19 children.  In fact, their reality show, "19 Kids and Counting," was originally titled "17 Kids and Counting" and then "18 Kids and Counting."  The Wikipedia article and a simple Google search yield all sorts of interesting facts, such as photos of their giant house and details on how they get by everyday.  Interesting stuff for sure, definitely the sort of thing good reality shows are made of.

So how were people reacting to this news?  Well, in various ways*:

- Michelle Duggar should be fixed
- It's disgusting/selfish/ridiculous for her to have so many kids
- Michelle is irresponsible for having another child when her youngest child was born premature and had many health problems
- It's none of anyone's business how many children people have as long as they aren't asking for "a handout"
- Someone should force birth control on Michelle Duggar
- It's "ok" for her to have more kids because the ones she has are well behaved
- Michelle Duggar should get an abortion
- Michelle Duggar should be forced to get an abortion

*These aren't actual quotes, they are just examples of the types of things I've seen written in response to this pregnancy announcement

First off, let me just state that I will never have 20 kids.  20 kids is not for me and I don't think they'd all fit in my apartment.  My gut reaction to this pregnancy announcement is "wow I'm glad that's not me" and maybe a little of "wow their carbon footprint must be enormous." I'll even admit that some of the comments above appeal to my inner judgmental jerk.  However, I've spent some time today thinking about some of those comments and what it really comes down to for me is that above all, I'm a huge advocate for reproductive freedom:
Reproductive rights rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. They also include the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence.[2]
I'm very pro-choice.  Part of being pro-choice means that I think a woman should have the right to choose that they do not want to continue with a pregnancy and that women should have the right to end an unwanted pregnancy. On the other side of this, I believe that a woman should have the right to choose to continue with a pregnancy, choose to have a child or children if she wants to, and that it is NO ONE'S choice to decide otherwise for her. I'm sure a lot of people think that pro-choice individuals are in love with abortion and birth control, but this simply isn't the case. The reality is being pro-choice is really all about...choice.  The ability to choose EITHER WAY about reproduction. Sometimes that even means accepting that someone may want to fill a 15 passenger van with their own children. 

Now I want to just revisit some of the statements above, and view them from the perspective of not only respecting a woman's reproductive rights but from the perspective of the liberal feminist socialist hippy that I obviously am.

- Michelle Duggar should be fixed/Michelle Duggar should get an abortion/Michelle Duggar should be forced to get an abortion/Someone should force birth control on Michelle Duggar
These statements probably terrify me the most.  The idea that a woman should be forced into using drugs or reproductive methods against their will, be forced into aborting their child or be sterilized against their will absolutely disgusts me.  I'm not sure how many more details I should really need to get into on this topic. 

- It's disgusting/selfish/ridiculous for her to have so many kids
Part of respecting reproductive freedom is respecting the idea that yes, some people are going to have more children than you would choose to have.  The key term here is "choice."  I realize we're at 7 billion people on our planet. I realize there are some environmental criticisms of having multiple (or any) children.  Again: choice. I highly doubt anyone would feel it's their place to tell a friend or family member how many children they should have, so I'm not sure it's very prudent to pass judgment on someone you have never even met.

- Michelle is irresponsible for having another child when her youngest child was born premature and had many health problems
I personally know many people who have given birth to premature infants or infants with health problems, and it would never in a million years occur to me to tell them that they shouldn't have another child because of that.  In fact, as someone who knows how stressful it can be to give birth to full term healthy infant, I can't imagine the strength it must require to have lost a child or have given birth to a premature or ill child and then be able to go forward with another pregnancy.  I personally had to make a choice of whether or not to get an amniocentesis in my pregnancy due to a screening that indicated that Aias had a high chance of having down's syndrome and I went through with the pregnancy not knowing what the outcome would be. I didn't do this haphazardly or with my head in my ass.  Rest assured the Duggars have thought this one through.  Finally, I can't imagine the sting it must feel to parents of premature or unhealthy children when they read a response like this one.

- It's none of anyone's business how many children people have as long as they aren't asking for "a handout"
This bothers me on a political and economic level because I truly believe that all human beings deserve not "handouts" but social services in form of compassion, food, a safe place to live, health care, etc.  Yes it's ideal that the Duggar Family makes enough money to pay for their children, but families with 1+ children that accept social assistance should not have to be made to feel like they are lesser beings or that their children are any less valid.  In short, a person who receives social assistance is not any less valid as a human than a person who never receives it.  To take this a step further, I don't think a person's income should dictate whether or not they are entitled to have a child should they decide they want to.  I don't think a rich person should have freedom to reproduce but a poor person should have to leave that decision up to someone else.

- It's "ok" for her to have more kids because the ones she has are well behaved
Two parts to this: first off, it's no one's role to validate this pregnancy for Michelle Duggar because it's HER body and HER choice to have another child if she wishes.  Whether it's "ok" or not for her to have another child is up to her.  Second, her children are autonomous beings and while it's very impressive how polite and well behaved her children are, their behavior doesn't make them any more or less valid as human beings. 

I realize I may be looking too deeply into some of these comments, and I know that the people I know who have criticized Michelle Duggar meant it 100% tongue in cheek and as a gut reaction and would never actually you know, force abortion or birth control on a human being.  I also know that it's sort of fun news to gossip about at work or with your friends and it does seem a bit outrageous when you hear about it for the first time.  At the same time, I really enjoy thinking about news like this in a different light as it gives me a chance to exercise my mind and really put my values in check and I suggest you do the same. While the idea of someone having 20 kids may seem like a tough pill to swallow for someone concerned about the environment, overpopulation, etc, it's important to remember that reproductive freedom is an important battle to fight for as well.
Image by Keith Freeman

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I've adopted the same commenting policy as seen here at Off Beat Mama ( I won't post comments if they strike me as attacking, judgmental, rude, or unproductive. In general if you are willing to put your name to something, I'll post it, but remember to keep your words sweet, because someday you may have to eat them.