Unplanned Parenthood

"Every child a wanted child." We've all heard the slogan. And we're sure to hear it a lot more in the days ahead. It's a favorite of President Clinton's nominee for Surgeon General, Dr. Joycelyn Elders. Dr. Elders is passionately concerned about teen pregnancy, and she thinks the way to reduce it is by teaching youngsters to use contraceptives. "If I could ensure that every child born in America is a planned, wanted child, I could cut poverty in half," Dr. Elders boasted recently. She goes so far as to say if she can focus attention on making "every child born in America a planned, wanted child, then I will have done my job as Surgeon General." The idea sounds seductively rational: Just educate teens to use contraceptives when they don't want to get pregnant, and every child will be born to parents mature and stable enough to take care of it. But in real life, it's not so simple. The underlying assumption is that teens don't know enough to avoid pregnancy. But that myth was demolished a few years ago by a reporter named Leon Dash. In lengthy interviews with inner-city teens, Dash discovered that they are not ignorant about the biology of reproduction or about contraception. It was a 16-year-old girl who set him straight. "Mr. Dash, will you please stop asking me about birth control?," she said. "Girls out here know all about birth control. . . . Girls out here get pregnant because they want to have babies!" In other words, these pregnancies are planned. In the ghetto, having a baby raises a girl's social status. And boys brag about how many children they have conceived. So the real problem is not lack of planning, it's not even teen pregnancies. The real problem is pregnancy outside marriage. The rate of teenagers giving birth is about as high today as it's been ever since colonial days—but with this major difference: In the past, the teens were married. Marriage at age 17, 18, or 19 was common, and the children born to these parents experienced no special problems. The pathologies of teen pregnancy we hear so much about today started when it became socially acceptable to get pregnant outside marriage—when girls began raising children without a father or a family income. So the real cause of problem pregnancies is a change in moral climate. Just 30 to 40 years ago, it was considered a severe disgrace to have a child out of wedlock—even in black, inner-city neighborhoods like the one where Leon Dash did his research. Black churches required a reinstatement ceremony for anyone who got pregnant outside marriage. But today marriage is no longer held as a social value. In some inner cities, 80 percent of births are to unmarried teens. So when you hear the slogan, "Every child a wanted child," don't be taken in by it. Inner-city poverty isn't caused by unwanted pregnancies, it's caused by unmarried pregnancies. And the real solution isn't health education and contraceptives. It's a reformation of the moral climate: teaching young people that childbearing belongs in the context of committed marriage. Where God meant it to be.  


Chuck Colson


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