Until recently, single parenting carried such a stigma that often those who fell into it were embarrassed and withdrew from society. However, society has become more accepting of this form of family. This acceptance, combined with the availability of artificial insemination, has begun to pose problems for the church—and for pastors who must counsel and deal with single female members who want children.
According to Carole Klein, an activist in women's rights, the acceptance of single parenthood has been brought about by the unflinching efforts of those singles who felt that children and marriage should not have to be synonymous terms, that people who believe that they have the capacity to give love should not be locked by a cultural stereotype into the limitations imposed by marriage. In her book, The Single Parent Experience, Klein mentions three routes through which people enter single parenthood:
1. Through adoption. By this means, both single males and single females can become parents.
2. By accident. Here we are talking about singles who participate in sexual activity, conceive unintentionally, and then decide to go through with the pregnancy—often because of strong religious convictions regarding abortion.
3. By deliberate action. This category includes singles who engage in sexual activity for the purpose of becoming pregnant. Often the woman who takes this route severs connections with the father, even refusing to tell him of the pregnancy. 1 We would also include in this third category those single women who become pregnant through artificial insemination.
When artificial insemination first became available, there was much debate about its appropriateness even for married couples. Theologians (particularly Catholic theologians) and medical experts spent a lot of time with questions such as What are the implications of pregnancy without coitus and procreation by donor? What about the transfer of disease?
During this time the women's liberation movement—which was growing in influence—began to suggest alternative lifestyles, such as choosing to live singly (unmarried). But some of those who chose this lifestyle did not want to forgo having children. Consequently, many women began to talk of and experiment with having children without sexual contact. 2 Then they spoke of their success and satisfaction.
Before long, some Seventh-day Adventist women began to toy with this new lifestyle. Peer pressure and a lack of decisive action by pastors and churches have allowed increasing acceptance of this lifestyle; we know of one congregation in which there are two singles who claim to have used this procedure.
The cost of artificial insemination prevents many who otherwise would attempt it from doing so. But medical experts foresee the day when young women will be able to administer this procedure themselves.3
When it is a matter of single parenting by adoption, divorce, or death, the questions are relatively simple, and answers seem to come easily. But when the matter of single parenting by accident or deliberate action is raised, the questions become complex and the answers involve shades of gray.
For her part, the woman engaging in the practice may cite as the reason her need for companionship, her desire for a family and for security in old age, and the fact that she is getting old and has not met Mr. Right.
On its part, the church faces a real quandary. On the one hand, it is concerned for its reputation, fearing that it will be misunderstood, that some will conclude that it condones pregnancies outside of marriage. But on the other hand, how can it charge the woman with committing adultery or fornication when she has not engaged in sexual contact? Further complicating the picture for the church is the question of whether the pregnant single woman has actually undergone artificial insemination. Could her claim that her pregnancy is the result of this procedure merely be an attempt to cover sexual indiscretions? How can the church know, particularly when the procedure may have been self-administered? And what boundaries demarcate the church's right to know from the woman's right to privacy?
What counsel can you give?
So what can a pastor say to a woman who is contemplating artificial insemination? The pastor must begin with the biblical ideal, marriage—an ideal that has withstood the test of time. God's command to humanity to "be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth" came in the context of His creation of two beings who together made up His image, a context that indicates that the tie binding the parents together must be stronger than that which binds them to their children (Gen. 1:27, 28; 2:23, 24).
Even though some single people do a better job of parenting than do some couples, one needs to remember that single parenting is not ideal. In fact, such a lifestyle has concomitant problems that do not affect an ideal couple's family. For example, most single parents must work hard to support themselves and their children. That generally means leaving the children in the hands of a baby-sitter. Having to depend on baby-sitters for the rearing of children does not necessarily augur problems in character development, but all the major studies of child development have found that the best baby-sitter cannot substitute for a caring and loving parent.
While some single-parent families are successful, we cannot deny the link between the increase of human delinquency and the rise in single-parent families here in America. And it is not so much the families that enter the single-parent category by accident that present the problem, but those that do so by deliberate action.
The title of an article in Human Rights on the rights of women to freedom in making reproductive decisions is quite revealing: "My Body, My Life, My Baby, My Rights."4 Singles who want the church to approve of their becoming pregnant by artificial insemination also proclaim their rights to privacy and to reproductive freedom. However, one must wonder if all the arguments do not boil down to one thing—self-centeredness. What of the consequences to their progeny?
In a survey, Carole Klein found that children whose parents have chosen to be single must face many problems. Of ten such a child wonders about his or her father and the social and economic context to which the father belongs. And what of the paternal relatives ? Though loved by the single parent and the maternal relatives, the child who is without answers to these and related questions often faces a crisis of identity that can spearhead many other problems.5
The extended family has much to do with a child's psychological and social stability and with the child's character formation. Does a parent have the right to impose conflict upon a child by deciding upon single parenting through artificial insemination when other members of the family oppose this procedure? Will pursuing such a course deprive the child of an important support network?
No doubt we all have the right to a measure of reproductive freedom. But the questions we have raised point to a larger issue: Does deliberately bringing a child into existence in a single-parent family by artificial insemination violate the child's basic rights and needs?
By means of artificial insemination a young lady may satisfy her desire to bear a child—but more than her own happiness is at stake. Like God, Who always wants that which is best for us, Christians will seek to provide the best for their children.
Problems that develop in the world often take root in the church as well. We How can the church charge the woman with fornication when she has not engaged in sexual contact? cannot afford to dismiss them naively; we must discover and confront them. We can no longer pretend that there is no problem of artificial insemination among single women in the church. And we cannot say it will solve itself. Because even sincere Christians are contemplating it, we must begin at once to deal with it.
1 Carole Klein, The Single Parent Experience
(New York: Walker and Company, 1973).
2 In England, for example, until 1969 artificial
insemination was reserved for married couples
and even among them for only a few who were
willing to be "guinea pigs." But after 1969 any
woman over the age of 16 could validly receive
artificial insemination. The Family Law Reform
Act (1969) reads: "The consent of a minor who has
attained the age of 16 years to any surgical, medical,
or dental treatment which, in the absence of
consent, would constitute a trespass to his person
shall be as effective as it would be if he were of full
age; and where a minor has by virtue of this section
given an effective consent to any treatment it shall
not be necessary to obtain any consent for it from
his parent or guardian" (cited by Olive M. Stone
under "English Law in Relation to AID and Embryo
Transfer" in a Symposium on Legal and Other Aspects
of AID by Donor [New York: Eisenvier, 1973]).
3 When only one member has followed a deviant
path, one may hide the problem and make
private decisions regarding it. But when the problem
becomes an epidemic, then the congregation
or the pastor has to step out and confront it openly.
A 1978 poll showed that 60 percent of Americans
regarded the practice of artificial insemination as
acceptable, 27 percent opposed it, and 13 percent
were undecided (see Peter Singer, "Public Opinion
Polls," in the Ethics Advisory Board report HEW
Support of Research Involving Human In Vitro Fertilization
and Embryo Tranfer [Washington, D.C.:1979], appendix).
4 Rebecca Levine, "My Body, My Life, My
Baby, My Rights," Human Rights 12, No. 1 (Spring
1984): 27-29, 48-50. (Italics in title in text sup
5 While some artificial inseminations involve
the sperm of marriage partners or surrogates who are
known, the majority of semen donors are anonymous
(Klein, pp. 168-172).