NORPLANT is a recently approved contraceptive that is inserted under the skin of a woman and prevents pregnancy for up to five years. Recent news has raised fears about its possible misuse.
For example, a California judge ordered a reduced sentence for an abusive mother if she used Norplant, and a Kansas state legislator proposed that welfare mothers be offered $500 as an inducement to use Norplant. Such reports have provoked a chorus of warnings about the inviolability of the right to have children.
Most Americans would agree that this is an important right, but some have begun to wonder if there are not circumstances under which it should be limited. Today, if a teen-ager has a child, she is entitled to welfare. It may be a meager life, but society supports her and her children and asks for nothing in return. If she decides to have more children, her welfare payments increase.
America now has a class of hereditary welfare recipients. Many of these people live in abominable conditions, with essentially no incentive to seek education or find work. Fathers are largely absent, and the habits of dependence are passed on from mother to daughter. Many of these women are overwhelmed by the job of raising their children, many of whom, themselves, are likely to go on welfare or turn to crime.
This pattern creates obvious misery among the poor, but it also places a questionable burden on society. Welfare programs are not something that an individual taxpayer chooses to support. They are obligatory charity, in that government takes away money from those who work and gives it to those who do not.
At the same time, there is a growing feeling among taxpayers that welfare mothers should not be bringing yet more babies into the world for society to feed, clothe, house and medicate. They are beginning to wonder whether people who live on public charity have an unlimited right to add more children to the welfare rolls.
To put the question into perspective, it is useful to play the following mental game: Imagine that you have a brother named George who didn't finish high school and who can't hold a job. He is a well-meaning fellow, but over the years it becomes clear that if your family didn't support him, he would be sleeping under a bridge. Since you are the most responsible person he knows, you are the one he comes to for rent money.
Last month's rent is now past due, and George shows up all smiles. "I've got great news," he says. "My girlfriend Peggy is pregnant. And since she loves children, we want to have three or four. We'll need a bigger apartment, of course, and if you could manage another $300 a month . . ."
If you are like most people, you might have something to say about George's plans. You might think he had no business producing children for you to feed. You might feel even more strongly about it if you knew that Peggy had just discovered crack cocaine. Most people would refuse to support the irresponsible childbearing of complete strangers. This is just not right.
It is entirely proper that society limit the children of people who have shown, by going on welfare, that they do not have the means to support themselves. Moreover, Norplant would mean that a welfare mother would not be tied down by yet more small children. She could devote herself to job training and to the children she already has. She would have a better chance of working her way out of welfare, and once she was independent she could have as many children as she liked. It is perfectly proper and moral for society to require that people be off welfare before they have more children.
Unfortunately, the issue is complicated by race. Blacks are nearly six times more likely to be on welfare than whites, and would therefore be more likely to be using Norplant in exchange for welfare. Black activists would call this racist and genocidal.
Nevertheless, the requirement that people on welfare refrain from childbearing is no more racist than the requirement that citizens refrain from killing each other.
Blacks commit murder at approximately 10 times the rate for whites and are punished in roughly the same proportion. Should America abolish laws against murder because the penalties fall more heavily on blacks than whites? Of course not. Likewise, Americans of all races should be able to support the children they bring into the world.
Jared Taylor is writing a book about race relations called "Black Failure, White Guilt." He lives in Menlo Park, Calif. 6