Dear Renita,
If a woman was getting older, for whatever reason never married, and wanted children, would it be sinful to go to a sperm bank?

Dear Yearning,
Listen to Renita's Answer
I think it’s safe to say that the ancient moralists who gave us the laws and norms we find in scripture never imagined a time in history when a man’s sperm could be placed into a woman’s uterus through any other means than by natural copulation. The notion of a man selling his semen to aid a woman in achieving pregnancy, or a woman resorting to buying semen to satisfy her desire to have a baby, would have struck even barren women in the Bible like Sarah and Elizabeth as “inconceivable” (forgive the pun). All of which is to say that sperm bank motherhood per se is not a topic that scripture addresses.

There’s no denying, however, that the morality of donor conception stirs lots of heated debate. Despite the issues involved, many people justify sperm donation as morally acceptable because it enables infertile couples who otherwise would not be able to conceive to have children. The moral debate gets complicated when the topic turns to the right or wrong of an unmarried woman using a sperm bank in her quest to have a baby. What do you do when your biological clock can’t hold out waiting much longer for “Mr. Right” to show up, or when the time comes to face the possibility that there’s no such thing as “Mr. Right.”

Let’s face it: the urge to reproduce is not rational to begin with.

My modern heart tells me that a woman who wants children shouldn’t be barred from motherhood just because she never fell in love or doesn’t want to marry. And that choosing a sperm bank to find a donor for your child is no more radical or reprehensible a choice than that of the matriarch Sarah using Hagar as a surrogate (Genesis 16) or Tamar tricking her father-in-law Judah into sex to achieve pregnancy (Genesis 38). But that’s my modern heart speaking.

My old, wizened heart, the one that’s interacted with lots of fatherless children and the one that grew up without my mother in the home, tells me that sperm bank motherhood is not just about a woman’s right nor even a woman’s biological imperative to give birth, but what’s best for the child. Experience tells me that children should be born and raised into families where there is a mother and a father. More importantly, there’s no getting around the many studies that have shown that a mother-father, two-parent family is by far the best for raising well-adjusted children, and that a father-absent household is least beneficial — regardless of income.

Kudos to the many single parents who struggle to raise their children everyday without the emotional, physical, financial, or moral help of the other parent – many of them are doing a fine job of it. But these same parents will tell you that despite their best efforts to make up for the absent parent, there’s no getting around the fact that a child eventually wonders about any parent that’s missing in action. Correction: they don’t just wonder about them, the vast majority of fatherless children eventually crave some sort of connection with their absent father. It’s another one of those biological imperatives—like a woman pining to have a baby: babies who grow up without fathers grow into children who become teens who mature into adults, all the while fighting feelings of rejection, desperate to find that missing part of themselves.

Admittedly, adopting a child does not satisfy the biological desire to reproduce, but it can address your need to nurture and share your love with a child. In the US alone, nearly half a million children — many of them newborns — languish in foster care, waiting for a loving parent. Am I contradicting myself by urging you to adopt and raise a child alone? I don’t think so. Instead of giving birth to yet another child who will grow up without a father, there is a child who is already here, one whose plight as a fatherless and motherless is a fact that has not changed despite our many debates and findings. The real sin, it seems to me, would be for a woman who craves a child to utterly ignore the child here already who’s yearning for a parent to crave him and adopt him.

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