Hastings Law Journal


A prominent target of recent calls to restore personal responsibility through changes in law and public policy is "irresponsible" reproduction: a cluster of reproductive behaviors and choices including "illegitimacy," single-parent families, divorce, abortion, and adolescent sexual activity and parenthood. In this Article, Professor McClain critically evaluates the rhetoric of irresponsible reproduction. She identifies three paradigmatic models of irresponsibility-the single mother, the welfare mother, and the teen mother-and the three corresponding aspects of irresponsibility-immorality, unaccountability, and incapacity. Focusing upon the recent national debates over welfare reform, she argues that the rhetoric of irresponsible reproduction cannot serve as an adequate basis for a serious public conversation about reproduction and responsibility because it relies upon reductive models of the incentive effects of governmental programs and reflects a problematic gender ideology and troublesome stereotypes about people in poverty. She points to the tension between efforts to deter "illegitimacy" through such measures as "family caps" and efforts to encourage childbirth over abortion through restriction of public funding and other steering mechanisms as illustrative of the conflicting messages that the government sends concerning irresponsibility and of the difficulty of agreeing upon the appropriate means to promote the goal of responsibility. She furthers argues that the rhetoric of personal responsibility obscures issues of collective responsibility for poverty and the care of children. Finally, Professor McClain contends that feminist analysis of concepts of responsibility and irresponsibility in the context of women's reproductive and mothering experiences would enrich public conversation about whether and how law and public policy should foster reproductive responsibility. She draws on feminist legal theory to highlight missing dimensions in the current rhetoric of procreative irresponsibility and to offer a continuum model of agency and responsibility as a framework for analyzing reproduction and responsibility.

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