Writing in The Atlantic recently, David Frum acknowledges that the abortion rate has come down, and that most Americans now consider themselves to be pro-life. But the magazine’s senior editor manages to find a dark lining in this silver cloud. “Abortion rates are coming down,” he writes, “mostly because the number of unmarried women having babies is going up.”
“This is the fascinating irony of the pro-life movement,” he continues. “The cause originated as a profoundly socially conservative movement. Yet as it grew, it became less sectarian. Women came to the fore as leaders. It found a new language of concern and compassion, rather than condemnation and control. Most radically and decisively, the movement made its peace with unwed parenthood as the inescapable real-world alternative to abortion.”
Well, we have indeed figured out how to frame the issue as one of compassion for mothers and their children. And though allowing a child to live is always more compassionate than abortion, I haven’t made peace with unwed parenthood—at least not in the sense that Frum uses the term—and neither have any of the pro-life leaders that I know.
That’s because we believe that children not only have a right to life; they also have the right to a mom and a dad. Even more, we’d argue they have a right to a married mom and dad. All the social science agrees. As my friend Ryan Anderson and his colleague at the Heritage Foundation, Sarah Torre, recently wrote in The National Review Online, “The best place on average for a child to grow up is with his married biological mom and dad. …[This brings] greater academic success, lower rates of substance abuse, and a significantly decreased risk of childhood poverty.” Yes, kids have a right to a married mother and father.
Now before I go on, let me be clear: Of course we pro-lifers encourage unwed mothers to have their children instead of abort them. This is no great revelation, is it? The right to life is paramount. And churches should do everything to support single mothers, and provide options such as adoption whenever appropriate. As Anderson and Torre write, “It’s far better to allow a child to live, even in less than ideal circumstances, than to kill her simply because she’s inconvenient or might experience hardship.”
And then they clarify why single parenthood is increasing, and it’s not because pro-lifers have “made their peace” with single parenthood. Instead, a whole host of interlocking factors has led to this trend: “A sexual revolution that decoupled sex from marriage, the sustained desire by low-income women to have children (outside even a committed relationship), the crisis of employed law-abiding blue-collar young men, and an ever-growing welfare state that rewards single parenthood and penalizes marriage have all contributed to the rise in unwed childbearing.”
But, they continue, if we can launch campaigns against teen pregnancy—and we have—then we ought to be able to address unwed parenthood, too. They quote welfare expert Robert Rector, who notes, “Young people in low-income communities are never told that having a child outside of marriage will have negative consequences. … or that marriage has beneficial effects.”
So let’s tell them, for heaven’s sake—and for theirs!
And what has driven down the abortion rate? Anderson and Torre point to the establishment of more than 2,000 pregnancy centers nationwide that provide counseling and medical services to women facing unplanned pregnancies, the availability of ultrasounds (which demonstrate the humanity of the unborn), and to legislation that protects women and their unborn children. They quote University of Michigan professor Michael New, who says a “substantial body of peer-reviewed research…finds that public funding restrictions, parental involvement laws, and properly designed informed consent laws all reduce the incidence of abortion.”
But there’s certainly no reason we have to choose between fighting abortion and promoting marriage.
— by John Stonestreet
Stonestreet is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and is heard on Breakpoint, a radio commentary that is broadcast on 400 stations with an audience of eight million. Copyright© 2014 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission.