Deterring Irresponsible Reproduction through Welfare Reform
Linda C. McClain
Boston University - School of Law
FEMINISM CONFRONTS HOMO ECONOMICUS: GENDER, LAW, AND SOCIETY, Martha Alberton Fineman and Terence Dougherty, eds., Cornell University Press, 2005
Hofstra Univ. Legal Studies Research Paper No. 05-26
This essay looks back at the rhetoric of irresponsible reproduction as it figured in the congressional debates of the 1990s about welfare reform, leading to passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA). In such debates, proposals to combat rates of nonmarital births and welfare dependency advocated doing so by altering the incentives concerning welfare. The essay examines assumptions about the relationship between the incentive effects of governmental programs and human motivation, agency, and victimization. It contends that the procreation stories told in such public policy discourse are simplistic, reductive, and inadequate, and suggests how feminist conceptions of responsibility and irresponsibility would enrich a public conversation about reproduction and responsibility. The essay notes the prominence in post-PRWORA rhetoric about welfare reform of the idea that governmental efforts to promote responsible fatherhood should be the next phase of implementing the reforms begun by PRWORA.
Keywords: welfare, reproduction, mothers, fatherhood, personal responsibility
Date posted: December 1, 2005