Todd Erzen, Associated Press
Birth control: Now that's public policy
- Article by: JAC WILDER VERSTEEG
- Palm Beach (Fla.) Post
- February 27, 2012 - 7:24 PM
If we lived in a sane world, the most shocking recent story would not be that President Obama has tried to force Catholic organizations to provide health care insurance that includes birth control. It would be the story revealing that half of new mothers younger than 30 are unwed.
The sane response to the information in that story is to encourage young, unwed women to use birth control, and for society to pursue government policies that make birth control affordable and available.
Part of any effort to limit out-of-wedlock births also must be to encourage men and boys to use condoms. Women's advocates often point out that the male is as responsible for out-of-wedlock births as is the female.
It is a fact that unwed women who become pregnant are more likely to pay the price in poverty and hardship -- emotional and otherwise. Their children, however, pay the highest price.
There are many couples who are committed to each other and to their children but do not wed because they don't want or need official approval from religious or civil authorities. Fine by me.
But that's not the kind of couple behind skyrocketing out-of-wedlock births. Rather, the typical "couple" having a child out of wedlock isn't a couple at all. It's a girl or young woman facing life as a single parent with poor employment prospects.
It is significant that the only group of under-30 women still more likely to get married before having children is college graduates. Those women tend to be more affluent and to have more family support to begin with. Controlling their reproductive lives extends their head start in life.
I want to be clear about the moral judgments I'm making here. Whether a woman is wed or unwed is less important than whether the woman and man who bring a child into the world are capable of properly taking care of that child.
Marriage, however imperfectly, used to signify readiness to proceed into the future as a family. You'd think that actually bearing a child would be a more realistic and reliable sign. But all it is proving to mean is that women can have babies regardless of whether they can care for them.
In some cases and for some women and couples, religion might play a role in reducing the number of out-of-wedlock births. I imagine that across the country ministers and priests are looking for ways to become more effective in that regard.
For some of them, that even will involve actively encouraging family planning to include birth control. That is, after all, also one of the best ways to reduce the number of abortions.
Catholic clergymen can't recommend birth control, so they have the toughest job of all.
I don't know how much good individual pastors can do in this regard preaching to their congregations and counseling individual parishioners. But I know one thing that won't do any good: electing politicians who think their job is to be the country's leading religious figure.
For all the fear that government will intrude on religion, the greater threat is lawmakers who forget they're writing statutes and come to believe they are inscribing stone tablets. This applies to the GOP candidates as well as to Obama, who recently said his faith motivates his policies.
Rick Santorum is the most disconcerting of all of these. He recently ventured that Obama displays a "phony theology."
Enlightened religious leaders I know look for uplifting aspects in all religions. Historically, trouble starts -- often accompanied by bloodshed -- when one religion, or one faction or even one powerful person decides that those adhering to other faiths hold "phony" beliefs.
Perhaps preaching by parents and pastors might keep some young women from having children before they're married. In that regard, education about, and access to, birth control are the first and second commandments.
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