On Money for Motherhood
Mon March 26, 2007 7:47 pm

My obsession with babies is a source of amusement among those closest to me. Cruelly, it is my own babies -- who have somehow morphed into hairy-legged, towering young men despite my constant pleas that they stop growing -- who make the most sport of my baby love. Sitting in church, one of them will lean over and whisper (in a voice that turned deep before I was ready), "Mom: Baby at two o'clock." And then, watching my eyes light up, he'll turn and snicker with an accomplice.

Nonetheless, I have been rendered speechless by the bill filed by Sen. Dan Patrick calling for the state to pay any woman $500 if she abandons plans to have an abortion. By creating an "adoption incentive program," the bill provides the state will pay $500 in cold hard cash if an expectant mother approaches an abortion provider, but decides instead to carry her pregnancy to term and put the child up for adoption. Anticipating problems with the felony crime of baby-selling, the bill specifically exempts transactions made for Patrick's new "adoption incentive program" from the state penal code. Oh, and don't even think illegal immigrants are eligible for "adoption incentive." Apparently, abortion is fine if mom's papers aren't in order.

Another clever feature of Patrick's new program is that it would tap into state's appropriation for family planning. Essentially, Patrick would dole out money to prevent abortions instead of doling out money to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Where to begin? I am not sure what troubles me most. Is it that Patrick would trivialize what a woman goes through in nine months of pregnancy and childbirth by putting a $500 price tag on the experience? Or is it that he trivializes the traumatic and emotionally-wrenching decision a woman must make when faced with an unwanted pregnancy?

Let's just get this on the table: if Patrick thinks that $500 would compensate a woman for nine months of pregnancy through a Texas summer, I'd like him to walk a mile in my swollen ankles. Five hundred lousy bucks? I've got one word for you, Senator Patrick: Episiotomy.

Seriously, what bothers me most is that Patrick dehumanizes women by suggesting that $500 would tip the scales in what must be a life-changing and deeply wrenching decision.

"Doesn't this trivialize a woman's decision to get an abortion?" I asked Patrick today. Are we to believe that $500 would resolve all the fears, emotional and financial issues facing a woman with an unplanned pregnancy? Suddenly, she doesn't mind carrying to term a child conceived by date rape or some other monstrous circumstance?

Patrick is nothing if not quick with a retort: Don't I think abortion trivializes life? Here's how he characterized the thought-process of a woman choosing to have an abortion: "I'm going to kill you because it(pregnancy) is an inconvenience in my life."

Inconvenient. It's a word I use for hangnails and running out of milk.

How many women did he figure would take the deal? "I don't know," he said. "It's not about the money. It is going to make her pause and think there is a family some place that might want to have my child... It's a simple concept."

Simple for whom? What if mom goes on a bender for nine months and delivers an alcohol or crack-addicted baby? Who pays for delivery and pre-natal care? What if nobody appears to adopt the baby? Will it join the swelling ranks of children now sleeping in Child Protective Services offices night after night because the state can't find enough foster parents? How will the state prevent a scam?

I'm not certain what Patrick thinks about these questions. My interview with him was conducted as we walked to an interview with CNN; meanwhile, we were being trailed by a documentary film crew. I got the distinct impression he was practicing his soundbites with every question I asked. Suddenly, it became apparent the bill was another segment of the Dan Patrick Show, where faithful listeners get to feel morally superior to their fellow man (and woman). A time-honored recipe for ratings. When I finally said good-bye on Congress Avenue, Patrick shook my hand congenially and strode off, cameras rolling.

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