03/26/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Redefining the Question of Choice

A single mother caring for multiple children on government assistance is facing possible foreclosure and homelessness. She wants to further her education to create an opportunity for a job that will adequately provide for her family. However, living on her own, she has a limited support network. Despite the special needs of at least a few of her babies, she chooses to continue her pregnancies and raise her children to the best of her ability. Even if she had considered an alternative, financial support from funds like Women's Reproductive Rights Assistance Project (WRRAP) is dwindling and may not have covered the cost of her procedure. This is a common story in a world submerged in the current economic crisis.

Yet, we have become consumed with the Nadya Suleman phenomenon. At first, she was hailed for the "achievement" of giving birth to octuplets. Now, she is vilified for her inability to independently cover the costs of birthing those children. Our culture's ridicule of her circumstances surpasses her financial mismanagement of her 15-member family, too. The media has become obsessed with her appearance, even offering Angelina Jolie the opportunity to throw in her two cents about how "totally creeped out" she is by Suleman's likeness to her own. Other critics have gone so far as to say that Suleman ought to face mandated sterilization, a practice we condemn as a human rights atrocity in other nations. We are mesmerized by and beholden to this media circus featuring the proverbial stoning of a woman now responsible for the livelihood of 14 American citizens.

Suleman exercised her right to choose. Why are we not supporting her freedom of choice?

For so long, women's reproductive freedom has been synonymous with abortion rights. The rhetoric of anti-choice activists has focused primarily on one choice -- abortion. Public discourse has often overlooked the choice to have children on one's own terms. Another glaring omission is what is offered to women who cannot afford to raise their children, but who choose (or are forced) to continue their pregnancies. Enter Nadya Suleman.

Despite her struggle to financially care for her existing six children, Suleman chose to seek additional fertility treatment services, which produced her octuplets. Even though she was financially unstable, she chose to give birth to all eight children, which could now cost the State of California around $1.3 million. This is the reality of a world that glorifies a woman's choice to give birth to octuplets, and shames a woman's choice to abort when she lacks the financial means to provide for her children. Perhaps those invested in the battle for and against a woman's "right to choose" have an answer for this looming financial question facing a state that already has critical budgetary concerns. Fiscal consequences of reproductive autonomy -- and who faces these consequences -- are matters of equal importance to the moral considerations regarding conception and abortion.

Some critics have suggested punishing Suleman's doctor for performing these services, but there is no existing legislation to provide standing for such a legal battle. Pro-choice advocates would agree that a doctor ought not be legally culpable for another person's choice to govern her own reproductive health. However, this circumstance does raise the question of instituting some minimum requirements -- i.e. demonstrating financial ability to care for children conceived through fertility treatments -- before receiving authorization to receive such treatments.

In order to truly create a "pro-life" society, we must be willing to support the children who are born into it. In order to truly support a woman's "right to choose," we must be willing to support her choice to have children, even in destitute circumstances. Perhaps instead of being the latest bastion of anti-female sentiment in the media, the phenomenon of Nadya Suleman can be the "common ground" upon which the conversation about reproductive freedom -- and its consequences -- can be built.

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