Monday, March 05, 2007

A woman's right to choose?

Today’s Irish Times features the latest in their new “Head 2 Head” pieces, this one on the topic “Should gay and lesbian couples be allowed to adopt children?”.

Quite apart from the usual argument as to whether it’s better for the child to have a father & mother rather than a two fathers or two mothers, a major underlying concern among the straight population is undoubtedly one of uncertainty regarding the “nature or nurture” aspect of this particular topic.

Obviously, the best interests of the child must be paramount, as already decreed by existing adoption law. This shouldn’t be a social experiment, driven in part by the need to be politically correct or overly considerate of the feelings of either side in the debate. Let the science prevail.

It will be interesting to see how this adoption issue intersects with the debate around the proposed constitutional amendment to enshrine the rights of the child in the constitution. Already there are signs that this will create potential conflicts with the rights of parents and protections of the family currently enshrined in the constitution.

When it comes to the “rights of the child”, the real elephant in the room will be the question of whether these should be superseded by the “woman’s right to choose”, as they routinely seem to be at present?

At present, in sexual/reproductive matters, “the woman’s right to choose” seems to broadly cover four main options:

(a) To have sex, or not.
(b) To use contraception, or not.
(c) To have her baby fathered by a long-term partner, or not
(d) To have an abortion, or not.

I’m fully in agreement with a woman’s right to choose for Options (a) & (b) above and, if her rights under those headings have been denied, to have the rights outlined under Options (c) & (d).

However, in the context of the rights of the child being specifically enshrined in the constitution , should the child’s rights be pre-eminent in consideration of Options (c) & (d), other than in the circumstances outlined in the previous paragraph?

According to Treoir, the group representing unmarried parents, over 20,000 babies are born each year in Ireland to unmarried parents (that's about one-third of all babies), and 25% of these have no father's name on the birth certificate. In addition, it's generally accepted that over 5,000 women travel abroad each year for abortions.

Who will argue the case that many of those babies born to unmarried mothers, plus all those babies aborted, would not have better life prospects if adopted by a loving gay couple in a long-term, stable relationship?

This could be a long and heated debate.

Footnote: An edited version published as a letter in the Irish Examiner.

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