NationalPost.com, journalist David Frum has
a piece in which he discusses what he perceives to be the transformation
of the pro-life movement. His thesis is that the widespread acceptance
of unwed motherhood – including by pro-lifers – has eliminated
the stigma attached to the state, thereby causing a quarter-century
decrease in the abortion rate.
starts out talking about how the applause for Sarah Palin’s pregnant,
17-year-old daughter at the Republican Convention reflects this sea-change.
Then, contrasting today’s sexual mores and abortion rate with
those of 27 years ago, he writes:
. . the pro-life movement has come to terms with the sexual revolution.
So long as unwed parenthood is considered disgraceful, many unwed mothers
will choose abortion to escape disgrace. And so, step by step, the pro-life
movement has evolved to an accepting — even welcoming —
attitude toward pregnancy outside marriage . . . .
. . . this approach seems to have worked. As the stigma attached to
unwed motherhood has diminished, the United States has seen both a huge
increase in the proportion of babies born out of wedlock – now
reaching almost 37% – and a striking decline in the incidence
of abortions . . . .
. . . In 1981, 29.3 abortions were carried out for every 1,000 women
of childbearing age in the United States. By 2005, that rate had tumbled
to 19.1 per 1,000 women.
is certainly true that the stigma once attached to unwed motherhood
has gone the way of the dodo. As an example, Halle Berry joined other
libertine entertainers in having planned unwed pregnancies. Then, with
life imitating artists, we heard about the 17 girls who allegedly made
pact” at Gloucester High School. And although such planning
still isn’t the norm, I think most of us know an unmarried female
who is or has been “in the family way.”
take issue with Frum, however. His choice of data is tendentious, and
I don’t like the implication that the degrading of sexual mores
is an acceptable – or even effective over the long term –
remedy to the abortion problem. Most significantly, I don’t accept
the premise that we have only two choices: The de-stigmatization of
promiscuity or a high abortion rate (in fact, the former ensures the
latter). There is a third option.
many, Frum’s argument may seem compelling. Women had fewer out-of-wedlock
babies and a higher rate of abortion in 1981, a time when the stigma
against having such children was greater. Today, however, without said
stigma, we have a higher unwed birthrate and lower abortion rate than
in those more judgmental times. Open and shut case, right?
problem is that Frum is not studying history and building a theory based
on it; rather, he is cherry-picking a historical period that just so
happens to support his theory. As it happens, he must do this because
a more conscientious examination of the past would reveal his theory
might wonder why Frum would go back 27 years for his starting point.
It’s a rather odd number, after all; why not a round one such
as 20, 30 or 50? Well, not surprisingly, 1981 just so happens to be
the year with the highest abortion rate in American history.
During earlier times, however, the rate was even lower than now. In
1972, for instance, the
rate was 14 per 1000 women, significantly lower than today. But
how could this be? How could the rate have been so much lower during
a time when the stigma against unwed motherhood was far greater? Clearly,
there are other factors at work.
important, however, to be intellectually honest and acknowledge where
Frum is right. He expresses an obvious truth of human nature when saying
that if you remove the stigma from a behavior, it becomes more common.
Yet also obvious is that the stigma in question didn’t originate
by viewing out-of-wedlock pregnancy as being divorced from the activity
that causes it. Were this the case, believing Christians would have
to hold the Virgin Mary in very low regard. No, the stigma’s true
target is fornication, and this is the problem: The solution Frum speaks
of so cavalierly is nothing more than the mitigation of one flaw with
would label this the embrace of the lesser of two evils, and as a pro-lifer
I agree. Yet this still leaves us with one evil left, and if some would
say it’s an acceptable concession to the age, I profoundly disagree.
It is a point of view that fails to recognize the gravity of the problem
of widespread unwed motherhood.
pondering this, we could dwell on just the obvious. It’s now well-established
that children of single parents have higher rates of criminality, drug
use and alcoholism; suffer academically; and, generally, exhibit a wide
range of social ills to a far greater degree than those from intact
homes. Yet, did you ever ponder what such a thing portends for the growth
of government and loss of freedom?
reality is that Bristol Palin doesn’t fit the profile of the average
single mother, in that she won’t have to forge on singly. She
is soon to be married, and, also important, she has two relatively young
parents of means who are ready, willing and able to provide aid and
support. The average pregnant single mother, however, is much more likely
to be left almost twisting in the wind . . . alone, with child. Individually,
this is often tragic, but collectively, when the number of single mothers
becomes great enough, it is always so – for a civilization.
obvious problem for a single parent is that you cannot work to put bread
on the table and care for children simultaneously; thus, someone else
must perform the role you cannot. Of course, aside from the Bristol
Palins of the world, there are rare cases such as mothers who are financially
independent and can stay at home or those who earn enough to pay for
day care, but, again, what of the rest? The answer is that, sooner or
later, the government will step into the breach; it will institute social
programs and fulfill the traditional father role by providing money
or the traditional mother role and provide day care. And the less the
individuals fulfill their roles – in other words, the greater
the number of single mothers laboring singly – the greater the
government’s role will become.
when there is a large population of dysfunctional youths in society,
there will be impetus for a trove of other programs as well. You can
start with pre-kindergarten, after-school, nutritional, youth-intervention,
drug and anti-violence programs, but the sky is the limit. Virtually
anything a good family would do, Hillary’s village will
is where my libertarian friends will disagree, saying that adherence
to the Constitution and proper principles of governance could forestall
is where I say, you dream.
principles are great, and we should all try to live by them. But no
principle, no matter how valid, trumps the principles of human nature.
And one of the latter was expressed well by Edmund Burke when he said:
is written in the eternal constitution that men of intemperate minds
cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”
it or not, there is a direct relationship between the morality of a
people and the liberty they enjoy. Thus, as people become more collectively
irresponsible, there will be a drumbeat to have the government take
responsibility for them – and authority from them. This is especially
true during the interim period between healthy republic and dictatorship.
understand this, realize that the same thing causing children from broken
homes to exhibit a greater degree of social ills – their relative
lack of virtue – also has other consequences. One of them is that
they are also more likely to have a feeling of entitlement and expect
largesse from the government, and, therefore, support statist candidates.
This is just common sense, but if you’re still not convinced,
consider this research
reported at the liberal web site The Democratic Strategist:
. . young people growing up in ‘non-traditional homes’ are
more likely to support Democratic candidates – 67 percent of young
people growing up in homes with divorced, separated or unmarried parents
voted for John Kerry in 2004, compared to only 49 percent of young people
in homes with married parents. Young people growing up with divorced,
separated or unmarried parents also have more progressive attitudes
on social issues, such as gay marriage: 66 percent of young adults who
grow up in non-traditional homes support gay marriage, compared to only
53 percent who grow up in traditional homes [perhaps leftists have more
incentive to destroy the family than you thought]."
how do we minimize both abortion and single motherhood? There is no
easy answer. But there is an answer: A thorough return to traditional
morality. Of course, its critics may take a page out of Frum’s
article and say it doesn’t work, as they claim that a stigma will
lead to abortion. Or they may say that preaching abstinence is fruitless
because kids will “have sex anyway.” And, in a way, they
may be right – within the context of today’s culture.
And that is the point.
Chesterton once said, “The problem nowadays is that we have Christian
values floating around detached from one another . . . .” A wise
traditionalist understands there must be a healthy “ecosystem
of values,” which exists in a state of equilibrium because it
contains values that balance each other out. Remove a value, and, just
as when a species is eliminated from a balanced food chain, the system
may break down.
instance, when the abortion rate was far lower two generations ago,
we had a strong stigma attached to unwed pregnancy, but it was balanced
by the widely accepted values stating that abortion is murder and human
life is sacred. Thus, this stigma should exist, but it should be attended
by an even greater stigma attached to abortion. And when it isn’t
accompanied by those complementary elements, it’s silly to complain
that traditional morality “doesn’t work.” It’s
like having a match and oxygen but no wood and claiming that fire doesn’t
provide light. It cannot work because, without certain integral constituent
elements, “it” doesn’t exist.
for preaching the value of chastity before marriage, there is the problem
of inconsistency of message. If a parent teaching rightly is contradicted
by his spouse and extended family, we’re not surprised when the
children don’t learn the lesson. Yet we don’t apply this
knowledge to our national family. At one time chastity was encouraged
not just by some churches and organizations, but by the whole culture.
Today, though, preaching such virtue gets you labeled a fringe prude,
making you a voice in the wilderness of lust. Are we to expect the whispers
of an abstinence message rarely heard to inspire chastity in youth whose
hearts and minds and souls are continually bombarded with sexual messages
from popular culture? This is a bit like dousing a conscientious fire-starter’s
wood with water most of the day and then saying his fire doesn’t
all fairness to David Frum, he may understand this. His argument might
simply be that we must deal with the world as it is, “come to
terms” with the sexual revolution, as it were. But a poison pill
doesn’t cease to be a poison pill because it becomes a passion,
and an answer doesn’t cease to be an answer because it’s
viewed as an anachronism. Sometimes, when the question is one of putting
the toothpaste back in the tube, the only real answer is to put
the toothpaste back in the tube. It may not be easy, no, but the
first step is to recognize the ideal, not obscure it.
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is the third option. It’s also a third rail of modern social commentary
because, well, it just might spoil our fun. Of course, different groups
reckon fun differently. So it’s just a question of what we want
to be. Are we to be civilized people whose fun is spoiled by barbarism,
or barbarians whose fun is spoiled by civilization?
Selwyn Duke is a writer, columnist
and public speaker whose work has been published widely online and in
print, on both the local and national levels. He has been featured on
the Rush Limbaugh Show and has been a regular guest on the award-winning
Michael Savage Show. His work has appeared in Pat Buchanan's magazine,
The American Conservative, and he writes regularly for The New American,
and Christian Music Perspective.
how do we minimize both abortion and single motherhood? There is no easy
answer. But there is an answer: A thorough return to traditional morality.
Of course, its critics may take a page out of Frum’s article and
say it doesn’t work, as they claim that a stigma will lead to abortion.