Joel Dillard & Associates

Representing Working People

Civil rights and family obligations

For me, civil rights are about protecting the powerless, the voiceless, the oppressed.

My practice is about civil rights at work. Work is how we spend most of our waking hours. Work is how we forge a big part of our identities. Work is the engine of our economy and its inequalities. Strong, radical unions are essential at work. Without them, working people often lack bargaining power with their bosses and they lack an effective voice in workplace decisions.

This is why I focus on unions and workplace rights. I personally feel these rights are paramount.

To be most effective in my area, I've made a conscious choice not to get to involved in criminal, family, and other areas of law. But from time to time I do get drawn into something outside my usual practice. Lately I've been inspired to write here about another important area in the civil rights field: family law.

The entire purpose of courts - of the law itself - is to protect the powerless. Without effective courts, the police convict suspects at gunpoint. Without the rule of law, the wealthy protect their property at gunpoint. In every society, the powerless have only three choices when they come in conflict with those more powerful: somehow become more powerful, lose out, or go to court. Civil rights are empowering.

But every right implies a duty. The rights of one person impose duties on others.

This is most obvious in family law. Children are the most powerless group in our society. Childrens' rights are parents' duties. That is why parents are required to provide their children with food, shelter, and a safe, clean environment - or be prosecuted for criminal neglect. Newborns are completely helpless, able only to cry, sleep and eliminate, and have no higher cognitive functions. And yet, even if the child is catastrophically disabled (effectively a newborn for life) the parent cannot neglect to give them care.

Do parents have rights too? Sure, they can decide how to raise the child. But they have no right to neglect or abuse the child.

It is a burden both parents must carry. If one parent tries to leave all the childcare obligations to another, the law requires that he or she make payments in child support. There are only two early outs: the child dies, or the parents find someone else willing to step in and permanently take on all these duties by formal adoption.

And yet, despite these burdens, it is very uncommon to give a child up for adoption - even among unintended and very reluctant parents - because humans naturally respond to the call of parenthood. Once they see themselves as parents, they want to personally protect, nurture and love their child. It is inevitable: our altricial nature as a species (go ahead, look it up) necessarily means that we carry a powerful instinct to love and care for children.

It's who we are.

Now, there are bad parents, neglectful parents, abusive parents, etc. But it is not because they were forced into parenthood. Giving a child up for adoption is a simple process, and newborns are in high demand. (Birth control is also super easy, and extremely effective - especially for those who use permanent or semi-permanent methods.)

Parental duties begin immediately. A pregnant parent that takes heroin or other drugs knowing they will permanently harm their baby has committed a crime. Fortunately, the burdens of parenthood at this time are light. In fact, the easiest time in a parent's life is typically during pregnancy. All a parent must do is live sorta healthy-ish - do the kind of things we all should be doing to take care of ourselves - for less than a year.

When a pregnant parent deliberately kills their child - usually by taking drugs - it's called abortion. It is a grievous violation of civil rights. Our laws should prohibit it.

The only way people can countenance it at all is by arguing that the unborn child is not a person. That changes the subject and misses the point. Whether your offspring are legal persons or not, they are still your children. That makes you a parent. The parent's duty is to help the child become their own person. We owe many duties to future generations. Certainly that includes existing offspring growing in the womb.

I see this as a progressive stance politically - in fact, the only truly progressive stance.

Are there circumstances in which a total abortion ban would be unfair or unjust? Yes. But we don't build the main rules for society around this. Exceptional circumstances call for exceptions, not throwing out the rules. And make no mistake, most abortions today are not exceptional. They are mundane. They are tragic. They must stop.

It is a matter of civil rights.


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