FIRST-PERSON: Ruling links fatherhood to fiscal responsibility
McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)--The Wisconsin Supreme court opened Pandora's Box with a 4-3 decision upholding a county judge's ruling that a "deadbeat dad" could be ordered not to father anymore children as a condition of probation. If the man, who has had nine children by four women, fails to abide by the condition, he will face 8 years in prison.
I am of the conviction that adults, especially parents who neglect and abuse their children, should be punished severely. The deadbeat dad, as well as his willing partners are extremely irresponsible and must be held accountable. However, the Wisconsin high court's action seems to miss the mark. It is simply a bizarre ruling that sends a variety of messages, and none of them are positive.
The ruling links fatherhood, and ultimately parenting, to fiscal ability. The three dissenting judges -- all female -- agreed the court was limiting "someone's right to procreate based on the ability to pay child support." The Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed the message many in society already accept -- "If you don't think you can pay for a child, don't have it."
How can anyone calculate whether or not they can afford a child? I came across a recent estimate that indicated rearing a child to college age would cost in excess of $200,000. Having four children of my own, I almost hyperventilated. How will I possibly find the funds to provide all they will need in the years to come? I really don't know. Some how, some way, we will make it because my wife and I believe the Biblical statement "Children are a gift from the Lord".
Many do not hold the same view of children that I do. The Alan Guttmacher Institute published a study in 1989 that revealed 66 percent of abortions performed in America are done so because the respondents said they "could not afford a child /additional child". The Wisconsin Supreme Court's recent decision said to these people, "You did the right thing in killing your unborn child."
If economics is to be the major factor in deterring a "fit" parent, how much money is enough and who decides? In Oregon, a "program" will soon go into effect that will have a state worker " visiting" every expectant woman/couple in the state. One of the purposes of these "visits" is to assess whether or not a home constitutes an "at risk" environment.
During a debate concerning what was known as Senate Bill 965, an assertion was made that 60 percent of potential Oregon parents were in some way deficient to properly raise children. As the program begins, the majority of prospective parents in the Beaver State are already suspect. In light of the ruling of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, what if an Oregon state worker deems a child could be at risk because a family is economically deficient? Will the state step in and remove the child?
Irresponsible fathers, and mothers, like the Wisconsin "deadbeat" dad do exist. However, they are the exception and not the rule. In upholding procreation as a condition of probation, the Wisconsin high court has tiptoed out on slippery slope. I don't know where it will lead, but I don't think it will be a fun ride.
Boggs is pastor of Valley Baptist Church, McMinnville, Ore. His column appears each Friday in Baptist Press.