Politics & Policy

Clash of the Progressive Pieties

Jennifer Cramblett (WPTV News)
A lesbian couple complains that its baby is the “wrong” race. This should be good.

A couple of weeks ago, I ordered a ribeye, extra rare, and the chef or the waiter or somebody messed it up. I sent it back to the kitchen. A lesbian couple near Uniontown, Ohio, ordered a baby, extra white, and their order got messed up — the sperm bank mistakenly gave them the product of a black man, with the result that their daughter, Payton, is half black. And that’s the problem with treating children as consumer products: You cannot send them back to the kitchen.

Good thing fertility doctors don’t work for tips.

Naturally, there is a lawsuit — for breach of warranty, among other things. The couple say that they are suffering stress from raising their mixed-race daughter in an overwhelmingly white community. I can picture the scene: A mob of angry Ohioans, torches and pitchforks at the ready, menacingly reads a declaration: “We, the town fathers of Obscurity, Ohio, were perfectly ready to be accepting, supportive, and welcoming of this lesbian couple’s test-tube baby. But when that lesbian couple’s test-tube baby turns out to be half black — well, that’s a bridge too far for the decent people of Ohio.” I suppose they might then burn half a cross — Ohio’s pretty weird.

While one must pity the poor little girl who is being treated like a defective Honda Civic, it’s a delicious clash of progressive pieties. The mother — and somehow I suspect that I’ll be informed five minutes from now that it is wicked to call the half of the couple who carried the child and gave birth the “mother” — Jennifer Cramblett, among other things complains that it is difficult to find a place to get her daughter a decent haircut. It should be a hoot watching her make that case in court. I’m a white, conservative guy from Texas, and even I know better than to go skipping merrily into the cultural minefield that is black women’s hair, a subject that calls to mind my favorite cowboy proverb: “Never miss a good chance to shut up.”

Same-sex couples are riding a wave of cultural ascendency, but we should not kid ourselves: This is America, and race still trumps everything. You doubt me? In 2008, I reported in National Review about the case of an adoptive couple who had raised several children with severe disabilities but was denied the opportunity to adopt another disabled child because the authorities doubted their commitment to preserving the girl’s cultural authenticity — they’d said they intended to raise their children to be “colorblind” — and because their community in Alaska was judged to be too white, something that might damage the girl’s self-esteem. The girl in question suffered both from fetal-alcohol syndrome, which had left her mentally disabled, and from Russell-Silver Syndrome, a form of dwarfism that left her with an asymmetrical body, a triangular face, a malfunctioning digestive system, and other problems. It is unlikely that she would ever develop the mental capacity to feel racial alienation, much less that that would ever become a top-ten problem in her life. But race is the alpha and the omega to some people. If only we had a good word for people like that . . . 

The disassembly, now complete, of the triangular linkage of sex, marriage, and procreation is going to present us with even more awkward questions than whether you can sue for breach of warranty if your daughter turns out to be racially other than as originally specified. There is some evidence already of sex-selective abortion in the United States — the opening salvos in an actual war on women — particularly in subcultures that have a strong preference for sons, though data about that is scarce. The reason it is scarce is that we refuse to collect it, and the reason we refuse to collect it is, presumably, that we do not wish to know. If we ever develop a test for a hereditary inclination toward, say, homosexuality, we’ll probably have gay-selective abortions, too. Lawsuits involving byzantine claims and counterclaims by surrogates and those who contract them are common. It is probable that in the near future testing unborn children for such undesirable qualities as merely average IQ or height will be as common as home pregnancy tests. If the near-elimination of people with Down syndrome through abortion is any indication, things are going to get even bloodier than they are.

One feels for same-sex couples who long for children, as one feels for heterosexual couples with fertility problems who likewise long for children. But parenthood is not simply another experience that you purchase, like a vacation, and children are not — not yet — products to be built to your specifications. A model of parenthood dominated by the mandate to satisfy the parents’ needs rather than those of the children will be forever defective. But it is, increasingly, the model we have. It’s a perverse consequence of the times in which we live: Cultural and economic pressures see to it that many young women spend their most fertile years trying desperately to avoid motherhood and then spend their least fertile years trying, with the same desperation, to conceive. It’s cruel.

A strange thing: Nothing in the modern world has contributed to the devaluation of women as pitilessly as has the reduction of motherhood to the status of a take-out order of ovum foo young, and yet nothing is held so sacred by feminists. I cannot imagine that when the early feminists wrote about the “commodification of women” that they ever imagined it would get so literal, with product warranties and all.

— Kevin D. Williamson is roving correspondent for National Review.

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