"Pay up or zip up" is the message from the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which recently upheld an order that prohibits a "deadbeat" dad from having any more children while he's on probation.
The ruling, which split 4-3 along gender lines (the gals voted against it), sounds sensible on the surface - If you can't support your kids, don't have any. Most responsible people follow that rule voluntarily.
But given that it's impossible to enforce - how do you stop a man from having sex, Mrs. Condit wants to know - it's a bad idea, fundamentally unfair and probably unconstitutional. Do we really want the state deciding who can have children and under what conditions?
Don't get me wrong. The dad in question, David Oakley, is as good a candidate for a date with Lorena Bobbitt as anyone I can imagine. He has nine children by four women and owes $25,000 in child support.
But surely there's a better way to help this guy practice birth control. Legal precedents have a funny way of trickling down in ways we sometimes don't foresee. As Justice Ann Walsh Bradley pointed out in the dissent:
"The majority has essentially authorized a judicially imposed 'credit check' on the right to bear and beget children."
Do we really want the state to require a financial statement before we're allowed to have children?
A century ago, if credit had been a condition of procreation in this country, most of us wouldn't be here. My own paternal grandmother was the youngest of 13 children in an Irish-Catholic family that couldn't afford to feed its last child. She was turned over to the charitable care of a convent at age 4. (Warning: Don't try this at home.)
Arguably, the state might have stepped in a some point and insisted that my great-grandfather stop impregnating his poor wife. My great-grandmother might have viewed this as divine intervention, but we know better. The state has no business making procreative decisions, even for the least of us. Besides, think what you would have missed!
As an issue of simple fairness, imagine the male point of view. As men see it, women may have babies or not; seek and get an abortion, with or without the father's permission; move so far away with their offspring that fathers have no access to their children; demand child support; garnish a man's wages, and get him thrown into prison for failure to pay regardless of his circumstances.
Men, on the other hand - well, you see the difference. This court ruling is just one more message that men are no-count predators while women are hapless victims. Women choose; men lose.
Imagine the outrage if the court had ruled that one of Oakley's four paramours could have no more children until she was employed or married. No court is that stupid. Besides, what punishment would they impose were "Ms. Oakley" to become pregnant? Forced abortion? Sterilization? Prison?
Oakley faces eight years in prison if he accidentally misplaces any of his genetic material, though the order expires at the end of his five-year probation. In the meantime, the male justices reasoned, putting him in jail for failure to pay child support would further punish his children, ages 4 to 16.
Few would disagree with that logic. Too many fathers are languishing behind bars for not paying child support, not always out of choice but because of hard times. Better that they should be working and making some effort toward their children's support than wasting state money on room and board.
If the state really wants this guy to quit making babies, it might order him to spend time with his darling offspring. That works at my house.