The order was for Felicia Salazar, 20, who admitted to failing to provide protection and medical care to her then-19-month-old daughter last year. The girl suffered broken bones and other injuries when she was beaten by her father, Roberto Alvarado, 25, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Alvarado and Salazar relinquished their parental rights, and the child, who has recovered, was placed in foster care.
On Sept. 5, state District Judge Charlie Baird sentenced Salazar, who had no criminal history, to 10 years of probation after she reached a plea bargain with prosecutors. In Texas, judges set conditions of probation. In addition to requiring Salazar to perform 100 hours of community service and to undergo a mental health assessment and setting other typical conditions, Baird told Salazar not to have any more children.
In an interview Wednesday, Baird said Texas law gives judges the discretion to set any conditions of probation deemed reasonable. He also said that neither Salazar nor her lawyer, Kent Anschutz, objected.
“When you look her background, the circumstances of this case,” he said, “a reasonable condition of her probation was that she not conceive or bear any children.”
Anschutz said he is considering his options on behalf of Salazar. He described her as concerned about Baird’s order.
“Although I fully understand the sentiment and perspective of the judge in this matter, I question the enforceability of that particular condition,” he said.
The first thing I notice here is that this is yet another case of a woman being punished for failing to stand up to the actions of an abusive man. While it’s possible that Salazar is a sadist who enjoys the torture of children as much as the child’s father, it’s just as likely if not more so that the child’s father was also abusive to her and/or she was afraid of him.
But I’m going to set that aside. Why? Because it’s not about how sympathetic the woman in question is. It’s about whether or not this is constitutional, and whether or not it is a violation of this woman’s inalienable rights.
Despite what one of the so-called legal experts from the article says, the U.S. government has in fact tried to stop people from becoming parents. Our country has a long history of forcible sterilization and forcible birth control use, particularly for women of color, low-income women, women with disabilities, and women with criminal histories and/or drug addictions. Welfare has at time included conditions that its recipients not have any more children.
Whenever this topic comes up, people want to argue that the right to procreate is not in fact a right, and they want to argue that the rights of children come before the rights of parents. The problem is that there is a difference between the right to procreate and the right to parent. I believe that people have a right to parent, although it is a right that has to be revoked in extreme circumstances (and a right that I feel is revoked far too often for petty, classist, racist and other prejudiced reasons). And I certainly agree that a child’s right to safety comes before a parent’s rights. However, the right to procreate is not the same thing, and if we want our government to have the right to take it from people, we need to consider what that means.
If the government has the right to demand that people stop procreating, it means that the government has the right to control our consensual sex lives. It means that the government has a right to decide who is and is not worthy of the right to control over their own bodies, and who is and is not worthy of the right to give birth. It means the government has a right to decide what medical procedures people undergo — from birth control, to sterilization and/or temporary sterilization, to abortion.
That is not a government that values the lives, choices, rights and health of its women citizens, and it is not a government I wish to live under. And even if you’re one of those people who seem to be commenting everywhere that this woman “shouldn’t be having children” — as I have argued many times before, we don’t have to like a woman’s decisions regarding her reproductive capacity in order to defend her right to make them.