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Contemporary Catholic Belief and Action

 

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Parenthood and Procreation
 
by
 
Ray Temmerman STM
 

Ray Temmerman (Catholic) with his wife Fenella (Anglican) are active in the Interchurch Families International Network. He administers the website of the network at https://interchurchfamilies.org

Ray finds life unfolding in ways which increasingly call attention to the interconnectedness of all God’s creation, and the need for all of us to care for that creation, at all levels and instances, as emissaries and icons of God’s love.

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Scott Yenor, in his chapter “Parenthood and Procreation” in American Constitutionalism, Marriage, and the Family: Obergefell v. Hodges and U.S. v. Windsor in Context (Patrick N. Cain and David Ramsey, eds.), posits traditional and revisionist views of marriage and family life. 

In what he posits as the traditional view, family solidarity and communal living between two spouses superseded individual identities and even determined them. Having children and caring for them was deeply connected, inseparable, with laws enacted in support of this view.

In what he posits as the revisionist view, on the other hand, the connection between biological reproduction and caring for the education and nurturing of the child has been separated, through modern reproductive technologies such as artificial insemination, modern legal concepts such as adoption and surrogacy, and modern social developments such as the rise of single-parent families.

For Yenor, procreation has ceased to be a purpose of marriage, education of children as an organizing purpose of marital union also withered. This is all laid at the feet of ‘the spirit of modernity’, an increase in individual autonomy, a more self-centred meaning of human happiness, and the human urge to control the forces of nature.

The move to separate gestation from parenting/education/nurturing (PEN), he says, has done significant damage to the family. I tend to agree. Reducing pregnancy to a simple choice of the mother, with corresponding decision to continue or terminate the pregnancy, diminishes and devalues the whole of life.

And yet I have questions, and differing answers to those he proposes.

As a solution to a declining birthrate, for example, he proposes giving sufficient wages to attract birthgivers. Since the aim is reproduction, these birthgivers could be single or married, giving birth to their own, or as surrogates for others. He then counters his own proposal by rightly saying doing so severs the link between procreation and marriage.

Pointing to the fact such an approach does not appear to have worked successfully anywhere in the world, however, he states that we must conclude we have not proposed such large subsidies because they subvert the moral universe of marriage and family.

I suggest that is a far too vaunted philosophical rationale for the choice to not provide these supports. I offer a far more prosaic one, namely that we have not offered sufficient supports because of the undeniable fact that the wealth needed to do so would have to come from those of us who have it – and we are loathe to share it.

He proposes other options as well, mostly hyperbolic in order to make his point. I don’t have a problem with that, and in fact see some of his points as valid. I can make equally hyperbolic proposals. 

For example, I suggest that, at birth, a DNA sample be taken from each child, that child’s genetic code recorded. Then, in later years, when another child is born, that child’s DNA could also be checked, the father of the child identified. And, if the father is not in partnership with the mother, he could be called to account for the pregnancy, and to provide the parenting and educational support needed until the child reaches the age of majority.

These proposals may be realistic, they may be hyperbolic. And yet, none of them, even if effective and workable, get to what I see as the heart of the matter. And that heart is this:

The separation of gestation from PEN is a significant and serious one. But that separation is made real not only by those who are pro-choice, in favor of abortion if that is the choice of the mother. It is, I suggest, equally made real by those who claim to be pro-life, yet make their political choices on the sole basis of a candidate’s position on abortion. When the position on abortion becomes the litmus test for political consideration, to the exclusion of consideration of support for mothers and couples, for just wages which will enable parents to support their children, for systems which will allow and even encourage proper healthcare for the entire family, then those who make those political choices are, to my mind, as guilty of separating gestation from PEN as those who choose the option for abortion.

This does not automatically justify the option for abortion. Rather, it points to the need for a seamless garment approach to life, where life is sacred (and must be supported through political decision and action) from conception through to natural death. Otherwise, I suggest we face a world where either the right to terminate life (through abortion, capital punishment, war, or food deprivation) is readily and easily chosen without consideration for its ramifications - or life is seen as sacred from conception through to natural birth, after which all bets are off.

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