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Child Killed, Father Conned, Mother Deceived... Middle-Aged Woman Completely Affirmed in Her Choice

Look, I prefer to err on the side of not standing in judgment of others, but John Chamless posted an email on the Dallas Morning News blog (which still has no direct links) that so illustrates the fundamental wrongness of a way of thinking that statements of judgment are the only reasonable response.

Mr. Chamless had suggested that they had "too much talk on this board about abortion with too little input from women." This statement is common enough, particularly among women who support abortion and think the only opposition comes from some distant patriarchy, and it is seldom challenged — merely passed by. But it isn't significantly valid. Sure, gather up every perspective possible for every issue, but privileging opinions about abortion on the basis of gender dismisses the concerns of men who wish to take as large a role in childbirth as possible and removes the demands on men who don't consider it their responsibility in any but the most superficial ways.

Among both genders, there are degrees of experience. What about young girls? What about women who were "lucky" enough to reach marriage, or even menopause, without ever having found themselves in situations in which abortion laws mattered? On the other side, what about fathers of daughters? What about boyfriends and husbands? Look, my daughter is only two, and I intend to foster a relationship that will encourage her to come to me with concerns or even (gasp!) for advice throughout her life. But until she is legally an adult, I assert that I have a right to know the important details of her experience, inasmuch as possible. It's called parenting, which involves guiding a child through the beginning stages of life in such a way as to enable her to live her adult life well.

But what's really — really — got me steamed is the blithe example of perennial adolescence that Mr. Chamless subsequently posted in the form of an email from a woman who is still viewing her relationships through a lens developed at the age of seventeen:

I was a high school senior when I found myself pregnant by my boyfriend of one year. Our birth control failed. My boyfriend offered to marry me but I knew that was not a good way to start a marriage.

Note the language, as if pregnancy is like coming across a babe in the woods. Actually, it was that the birth control actively "failed" — an inanimate object or substance causing the conception. And since her sexual behavior was not indicative of an emotional connection, the young mother decided that neither a potentially unhappy (for her) marriage nor illegitimacy was a better option than death for the human life thereby resulting.

I did not tell my mother, even though we were very close. My reasoning was that although I'm pretty sure she is pro-choice she would never again see me through the same eyes as she always had before. There was never any question that I wouldn't tell my father. He'd have cut off all my college funds and told me that if I could make a decision to sleep with a boy then I could make my own decisions how to pay for college.

Despite her complete innocence, the young woman feared that her mother might "find herself" (to borrow the woman's language from above) unable to maintain her motherly delusions about the purity of her daughter. Meanwhile, not-so-dear old Dad, like the birth control, would have behaved in an active, rather than passive, way. The girl knew that he must be allowed to maintain the same delusions about his daughter in order that she might defraud him of thousands of dollars that were apparently contingent upon her good behavior during her teenage years.

I had my abortion at age 17, and I have never regretted not telling my parents. My father died 4 years after my abortion, but my mother now lives with me and she'll go to her grave believing that her "little girl", now 43 and married 18 years with 3 beautiful children is just as sweet and wonderful as I was the day I was born.

It takes a moment to recover for words in response to the language of the second sentence. She measures her father's death, with some degree of precision, with reference to the abortion. Not "when I was 21," or even "a few years later," or even "four years later," but "4 years after my abortion," the procedure being something of which she is apparently willing to take ownership. (It wasn't "my pregnancy.") Then, rather than simply stating that she sees no reason, at this point, to taint her mother's view of her daughter's adult life, the woman measures the duration of her secret with reference to her mother's death, at which point the daughter will finally be free of the burden of keeping up the deception — a lie that she has carried for 26 years, and that covers an act that she admits makes her somewhat less "sweet and wonderful" than the day that she, through the blessing of her mother's kind permission, was born.

Finally, if my teenage daughter were to find herself pregnant, of course I would hope she'd feel comfortable coming to me for advice. But if she weren't, I'd want her to have access to abortion as a safe medical procedure before I'd want her to try to self-abort, or live with fear, or run away so she wouldn't be forced by law to tell me.

There's something almost sickly humorous about the first sentence. It isn't the suggestion that her daughter might be going about her life one day and "find herself pregnant," although that's telling and makes me wonder how the woman has addressed the topic of sex with her daughter. What I wonder more than that is what sort of "advice" the woman would give to her daughter should the girl admit to being pregnant. Presumably, she wouldn't forbid the abortion of any birth control–induced grandchildren. Therefore, if her daughter wanted to keep the child, there would be no need for a clinic's notification; if her daughter wanted to abort, the mother would offer affirmation, with even a story to unite the two women in experience. Because it ultimately doesn't matter whether a clinic is required to tell this particular parent that her daughter is with child, it seems to me that the woman's perspective, in her current role as a mother, is completely irrelevant to the public debate about parental notification.

Most of all, considering that the woman's fear is that her daughter might pursue dangerous routes, risking her life to avoid having her mother's sunny view of her tainted, it is surely a question why the woman doesn't endeavor to educate her daughter about those dangers of ad hoc abortions and to console the teenager as to the reaction that she would receive should she become pregnant. Would the woman want her daughter to live her whole life deceiving her mother, even as that very same mother would offer nothing but comfort and empathy regarding the difficult decision?

Anyone who thinks a teenage girl's life and emotional well-being are better served by forcing her to tell a parent with foreseeable serious negative consequences over taking steps to stop what she views as something she's seriously not prepared for doesn't know teenage girls. I do. I was one.

The emailer is right that I do not understand her thinking. Were parental notification the law, she would have incentive to communicate her opinion — and advice — to her daughter so that the girl would have a broader, more accurate understanding of her own circumstances in order to make her own informed decisions about abortion, birth control, and sex. In taking her public policy position, the woman isn't affecting her case. She isn't even affecting her daughter's case, because one would hope that she would ensure that her daughter knows that there are no "foreseeable serious negative consequences." She is extrapolating her specific childhood circumstances to all girls everywhere. She is seeking to affect the environments of other people's daughters — mine, for instance. Why should she believe that her opinion, in that light, "might just command a little more weight" than mine?

I, for one, find that her view of sex lightens the "weight" supposedly granted by her experience. That she apparently believes that teenagers cannot be expected to be responsible enough to make their own informed decisions about sex makes truly disturbing her subsequent conclusion that they must be assumed responsible enough to address the repercussions. I intend to make clear to my own daughter what I hope for and expect from her, including the assistance that her mother and I will provide — and the consequences that there will indeed be. It isn't the place of the government, let alone abortionists and activists, let alone some anonymous woman, to undermine the relationship and the environment for which I strive as a parent.

One last thing. All of this, it shouldn't have to be said, leaves as tangential the rights of those who are not given the opportunity ever to be teenage girls (or boys). While those rights may be compartmentalized for the purpose of discussion, they cannot be for the purpose of judgment. We should do all that we can to make ours a society in which the circumstances are not such that a girl can kill her child, deceive her mother, scam her father, and feel that these acts give her the moral weight to dismiss the rights of other parents. To those who believe that elective abortion is evil, this woman is complicit, bringing to the table an obvious incentive to maintain her own delusions about herself.

Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:53 PM EST


I felt the urge to respond since I agree with 97% of your response. The only part I want to respond to is where you wrote:

"There's something almost sickly humorous about the first sentence. It isn't the suggestion that her daughter might be going about her life one day and "find herself pregnant," although that's telling and makes me wonder how the woman has addressed the topic of sex with her daughter. What I wonder more than that is what sort of "advice" the woman would give to her daughter."

It is possible that your daughter may become pregnant beofre she is married (not 'find herself' - which implies lack of responsibility on her part). It happens to women/girls even in the most fundamental devout religious families. It really does.

Unless you plan to be with her 24-7 until her wedding night, it may happen. That is not a referendum on one's parental abilities or is based on how the issue of sex is dealt with in the house.

You can only do the best you can and praying helps. (for both the parents and children). But to say that a pre-marital pregnancy is a result of poor pareting (i.e.: lack of values) is extremely naive.

As a fellow father of a young daughter, I hope you realize this.

Mark Miller @ 12/31/2003 03:18 PM EST

I didn't "say that a pre-marital pregnancy is a result of poor parenting." I wondered what advice the woman would give to her pregnant daughter, a question that I sought to explore in the subsequent paragraph. (I've now done a little bit of editing to clarify this point, combining the paragraphs, for one thing.)

As for wondering about the birds-and-bees talk between that mother and that daughter, what I was getting at was the sense that the woman would seem likely to consider strong words against pre-marital sex to be useless, given her own history and her view of the inevitability of sex.

It is in part because I'm not naive about the pressures and probabilities of teenage sex that I would demand parental notification policies — to begin to chip away at that influence. Having to address the adult consequences of sex, which ought still to be seen as an adult behavior, will necessarily have an effect the decision to have sex in the first place. In all of what she has written, here, that mother doesn't phrase pregnancy as a consequence of sex.

Justin Katz @ 12/31/2003 04:25 PM EST

I fully support the parental notification laws that you refer to. Even further, I can't even fathom a legitimate argument against them. Children could have the right to an abortion withouth parental notification but must notify their parents for the right to get a nose job. Plain insanity.

Mark Miller @ 01/01/2004 03:35 PM EST