Nanny state: Conservatives want government in the nursery

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Should the state have a say in how many children a woman can have?

Six members of the House of Representatives said yes by signing on to a bill this month, but when the public got wind of it, they couldn't back off fast enough. But don't think for a minute that the mean-spirited elements in the measure are gone for good.

When Lebanon County Republican RoseMarie Swanger was eliciting support for House Bill 2718 -- which would deny benefits for children born while their parents are receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families -- she wrote that its intention was not to punish families, but to impose a family cap that "seeks to reduce the number of children born on public assistance."

We wonder how a lawmaker who would back such a measure might react if someone from, say, Planned Parenthood, wanted to tell a family they shouldn't have more children. Although 23 states enacted such caps in the 1990s, enlightened lawmakers in six of them recently rescinded their state's measures.

But the notion of limiting the family size of welfare recipients was not what sent HB 2718's onetime sponsors running for cover. That was a provision that would have made an exception for women who bear children as a result of rape or incest. It would have required the mother to prove that she reported the assault to police and, when possible, gave authorities the name of her assailant. That requirement overlooked the reality that more than half of sexual assaults go unreported, often out of fear of retribution by the attacker.

The attempt at a legitimacy test for rape may be gone, but the rest of this measure probably will resurface next year. Ms. Swanger did not repudiate the basics of her proposal.

Such efforts, presumably based on the myth that women on welfare have more children solely to get more money from the state, ignore reality. In the vast majority of cases, families accept government aid because they have no recourse. In doing so, they agree to provide information about their finances and other details necessary to determine their eligibility.

An application for assistance does not give the government permission to participate in family decisions as personal as how many children they have. It's hypocritical for conservative legislators who say they want to get government off people's backs and out of their lives to push a bill that overreaches into women's bedrooms.

Lawmakers should abandon such attempts that punish families and force their children to suffer.



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