This is a persistent one. Besides being chanted by every Planned Parenthood protester with a fetus picture, it got a lot of mileage during the latest presidential campaign. Basically, at a campaign event in March of last year, Obama said the following scandalous statement:
“I’ve got two daughters — 9 years old and 6 years old. I’m going to teach them first of all about values and morals, but if they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby.”
I dislike his equating “values and morals” with abstinence and lack thereof with sex, but I do like that he’s encouraging contraceptive use (this speech was not actually about abortion at all). He also recognizes, as most reasonable people do, that being pregnant when one does not wish to be is distinctly unpleasant, and when this unpleasantness is the result of sex, a pregnancy (particularly a pregnancy that one is unable to get rid of) can reasonably be called “a punishment” for said sex.
Well. I’m sure you can guess how that radical sentiment worked out. The conservative reaction was – how shall I put this? – disgruntled.
Note the way the president-elect wished to describe the killing of his unborn grandchild. His daughters must not be quote, “punished – punished,” by pregnancy. (Media Matters)
And now Obama has oddly claimed that he would not want his daughters to be “punished with a baby” because of a crisis pregnancy — hardly a welcoming attitude toward new life . (The Carpetbagger Report)
Concerned Women for America (CWA) called on Mr. Obama to recant his comment, saying it stigmatizes babies conceived by teenagers and “provides an excuse for aborting them.”
“Our society would take a dangerous step backward from the Judeo-Christian belief that we are all created equal if we were to treat one class of humans — those born to teenagers — as a curse,” CWA President Wendy Wright said. “Senator Obama should clearly recant and not sidestep this issue. No baby is a ‘punishment.’ “(Washington Post)
“It is just shocking to hear it come out of someone’s mouth,” said Charlene Bashore, director of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation PAC. “I can’t say it is surprising since he has a radical stance on abortion. … By all indications, he does consider an unplanned pregnancy to be a punishment.”(Washington Post)
As can be expected, responsible parenting, realistic expectations, and a distinct lack of paternalistic bloviating about a Woman’s Role to Not Have Sex yet Have Babies is cause for great concern. Of course, besides the fact that Obama wasn’t speaking about abortion in the first place, it only stands to reason that if you’re forcing somebody who doesn’t want to be pregnant to remain so, they’re not going to be happy about it. That’s why the operative word in that last sentence is force. If somebody has evaluated her personal situation and decides that she wants to keep the baby, then doing so is not punishment, because it’s what she wants. In the latter case, doing something to prevent the person from carrying their child to term would be punishment. This seems to be more thought than many people are capable of.
That being said, the whole “pro-choice people hate all children” meme is tired, as well as (unsurprisingly) idiotic. One of the main holes in the argument is that in the U.S., a firm majority (59% in one study, 61% in another) of the women who have abortions are already mothers. Whether they chose to become mothers because of their love and desire for children or became mothers through a sense of guilt or “taking responsibility for their actions”, the fact remains that they already have children and are already performing their “motherly duty”, as a social conservative would say. One of the aforementioned studies allowed women to list all of the reasons they wanted to have an abortion (they were allowed to choose all of the reasons applicable, so percentages add up to >100). Some of the reasons were:
- 74% – Having a baby would dramatically change my life (sub-reasons included “would interfere with education”, “would interfere with job/employment/career” and “have other children or dependents”)
- 73% – Can’t afford a baby right now (including “can’t afford a baby and child care”, “can’t afford basic needs of life”, “unemployed”, “can’t leave job to take care of baby”, and “currently on welfare or public assistance”, among others)
- 48% – Don’t want to be a single mother or having relationship problems (including “relationship or marriage may break up soon” and “husband or partner is abusive to me or my children”)
- 38% – Have completed my childbearing
- 32% – Not ready for a(nother) child
- 25% – Don’t want people to know I had sex or got pregnant
- 22% – Don’t feel mature enough to raise a(nother) child
- 13% – Possible problems affecting the health of my fetus
- 12% – Physical problem with my health
Most of these reasons have absolutely nothing to do with negative feelings about children; by contrast, most display a strong respect for the needs of a child and the burdens that motherhood places on a person. Even assuming that nobody who got an abortion was already a mother, anyone who looks at these most common reasons people terminate their pregnancies and gets “hates babies” out of it is seriously deranged. The second study cited found that a significant number of women made the decision to have an abortion specifically out of concern over their children, both future and current (emphasis mine):
The majority (61%) of U.S. women who have abortions are already mothers, more than half of whom have two or more children. In many cases, women choose abortion because they are motivated to be good parents. Women who have no children want the conditions to be right when they do; women who already have children want to be responsible and take care of their existing children.
“We found that consideration of motherhood issues in abortion decision-making falls into two broad areas: responsibilities for existing children and the ‘ideal’ conditions of motherhood,” says Rachel K. Jones, senior researcher with the Guttmacher Institute. “Among those women with children, the most commonly cited reason for choosing to have an abortion was the concern that having another child would compromise the care given to existing children. Women felt that they were already stretched thin financially, emotionally and physically—and they wanted to put the children they already had front and center. Two-thirds of women who gave this answer were at or below the poverty line and received little help from their partners.”
In addition, many of the women surveyed made direct and indirect references to the “ideal” conditions of motherhood, expressing the view that children are entitled to stable and loving families, financial security, and a high level of care and attention. Because the women were unable to provide those conditions at the time, they did not feel they were in a position to have a child or, if they were already mothers, an additional child.
“Many of these women were already raising children in situations that were less than ideal, and when faced with the possibility of bringing another child into this environment, they preferred to wait until they were in a better situation to be good parents,” says Jones. “These women believed that it was more responsible to terminate a pregnancy than to have a child whose health and welfare could be in question.”
Without being asked directly, several of the women indicated that adoption is not a realistic option for them. They reported that the thought of one’s child being out in the world without knowing if it was being taken care of or by whom would induce more guilt than having an abortion.
Creating a false dichotomy between “women who love children” and “women who have abortions” is not only incredibily insulting and misogynistic, it’s just plain inaccurate (and idiotic – can you tell I feel strongly on the issue?). Turning oneself into a baby factory, despite what the Quiverfull movement might say, is not the only (or best) way to express love for one’s children. Vowing to fully meet the emotional and financial needs of each child, viewing each as the investment of time, money, and love that it is – that’s how you show appreciation for babies. Downplaying the needs of pregnancy or parenting is not how one shows respect for women or children. In short, pro-choice people (as a rule) are people that understand what a Big Deal children and childbearing are, and how much of an undertaking they are. If you want to complain about motherhood being trivialized, or children being devalued, don’t look at the pro-choicers. Go talk to a pro-lifer.
I’d just like to briefly mention what will become a full post in the series at a later date: of the reasons that are given for not wanting to continue a pregnancy, many could be rectified by greater infrastructural or governmental support (such as better access to healthcare, child care, and public assistance). Funding these programs would not only greatly help existing families and children, thus bolstering the idea that Children Are Important and Worthy Of Our Sacrifices, but would decrease the need for abortion. It’s a baby-lover’s wet dream!
Of course, given that information, it’s something of a puzzle why the vast majority of social and economic conservatives are dead-set against those aforementioned programs. Maybe I’ll figure it out by the time I write that next post.
“Pro-Life” Myth Series:
3. Pro-Choicers hate babies