Blame the Babies

In this country, about 31% of teen pregnancies end in abortion. According to a 2008 report by the Guttmacher Institute, The reasons teens most frequently give for having an abortion are that they are concerned about how having a baby would change their lives, cannot afford a baby now and do not feel mature enough to raise a child.

In New York City, where more than 40% of all pregnancies end in abortion (thats almost double the national average), the abortion rate for teen pregnacies in 2010 was 61%. Among Non-Hispanic black teens, its even higher: a gruesome 70%.

One might easily conclude from all this that teens in New York City are quite aware of the costs of parenthoodmonetary and otherwiseand choose abortion at a startling rate for just such reasons.

Which makes it curious that the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA) has just designed a new Teen Pregnancy Prevention campaign to scare kids off having babies by warning them about the costs of parenthood. The campaign features ads with hard-hitting facts about the money and time costs of parenting, and the negative consequences of having a child before you are ready.

Whats troubling isnt so much the fact that NYC wants to combat teen pregnancy; its the way theyve chosen to do it. Take a look at their ads, which will be posted all over the city in subways and on bus shelters.

It would seem that if these ads have any effect at all, it would simply be to aggravate the most common reason for teen abortions: anxiety about the prospects of raising children.

I dont think one necessarily needs to read these ads as pro-abortion propaganda. For one, using adorable kids to promote abortion doesnt make for the most consistent messaging. (As Kathryn Lopez points out, Planned Parenthood has actually slammed the ads for creating stigma, hostility, and negative public opinions about teen pregnancy and parenthood rather than offering alternative aspirations for young people.) Still, in our culture, convincing teens to avoid having babieseven cute onesand convincing teens to avoid pregnancy are two very different things. These ads are pretty clearly aimed at the former.

Which I guess is what I find so strange. It doesnt take takes a genius to see that the problem in NYC isnt babies, per se. Nor is it a problem of baby-crazed teenagers who are ignorant of the demands of parenthood and so rush in head-long. In fact, weve rendered ourselves all but incapable of addressing the real problem. The complete dissolution of any meaningful connection between sex, marriage, and babies has left us with no sensible way of addressing teen pregnancy.

We refuse to tell teenagers not to have sex, because the only thing our culture cherishes more than sexual license is avoiding the appearance of hypocrisy. And we wont tell teenagers that sex belongs in marriage because weve emptied marriage of its significance to the point that its a hollow shell, less than a contract. (And besides, thats totally judgmental, which is almost as bad as hypocrisy.) And so, when the dire social consequences of epidemic teen pregnancy can no longer be ignored, having absolved ourselves of any responsibility for the mess, we lay the blame in the one place it most obviously doesnt belong. By portraying them as little bundles of life-sucking terror, we blame the babies.

Stephen White is a Fellow in the Catholic Studies program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC and coordinator of the Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society. The views expressed here are his own. 


Categories:Abortion Health Care Pro-Life

  • Joe K

    I wonder how kids age 5-10 feel when they see how “awfull” they are.

  • Cindy Morgan

    You have to admit, by showing babies in these ads they are confirming that pregnancy is a life growing in the womb. Maybe that’s why PP is so upset.

  • Nicole

    Looking at their beautiful faces….it’s just weird to see the words next to them as if to say “Don’t you wish I wasn’t here?” If they can’t handle life, they shouldn’t have been under the sheets creating it.

  • Rich Ketter

    It would seem more ethical to tell the truth than to use inuendo to continue to polarize an audience.
    There are many programs aimed at delaying pregnancy until a person is in a stable relationship (not all marriages qualify for this label.)
    Maybe instead of constant attacks on others and the presentation of some vague ability to scold teens into not being sexual, your work could be devoted to more Catholic policy of teaching the value of love in sexuality, and maybe even an unembarrassed understading of the great physical powers of sex that can in the right situation be creative in both love and the production of a family.
    One can love a traditional view of a liturgy and dogmatic understanding of a church institution, while still being a member of the current century in understanding the beauty of God’s gift of sex as understood from Medical Science and Psychology as well as Healthy Spiritual developement of sexuality. Perhaps your poor understanding of human sexuality can be blamed on poor education and training, but that gives no excuse for an ethicist to continue bad sexual education. If nothing else is important, first educate yourself before trying to slay enemies that are friends of the youth in our country and are doing the true Catholic misssion. Catholic studies should allow an understanding of sexuality more contemporary than the nostolgic pretense of the 1950’s Leave it to Beaver fantasy.
    Being Conservative mouthpiece does not limit your abilty to show true Catholic understanding in Human relationships and sexuality.
    It is not blaming babies to tell teens that being a parent is a huge responsibilty. But continuing to blame the other for the failure of Catholic organizations to reach real people is an abidication of theco-responsibilty of institutions like yours. Why not look at this opportunity you have, and find a way to make a real world impact, instead of gaining political points with this confederation of psuedo-catholic thought. Wake up, thank God, and move on. There is much more to be done to build the Kingdom that does not require continuing to insult the other workers in the field. God alone knows that they may be much more effective than you in doing his will.

    • Proteios1

      We do try to teach love and abstinence. But that too is met with great resistance. What I recall from my pre Ctholic days was we used to condemn Christians for protesting abortion and ago dining children once born. Abandoning mothers. Condemning non marital sex rather than teaching love and self control. Ten I became Catholic and saw the myriad groups, programs, centers and institutes to help teen mothers, all mothers, single mothers, babies, adoptions, feeding poor and single parent families and on and on. What I’m saying is. We try and we do and even then we are met with resistance. Bt we march on.

      • Captain America

        What a rude, unseemly, inelegant response by Rich Ketter!

    • maryellen schroeder

      Dear Rich–Please explain what you mean by the statement “Perhaps your poor understanding of human sexuality can be blamed on poor education and training, but that gives no excuse for an ethicist to continue bad sexual education.” What do you refer to regarding bad sexual education? Do you mean to say that sexual relationships exclusive to lifetime traditional marriage are not the healthiest sexual activity for humans? For if you do mean this, then “medical science and psychology” as you invoke would not back you up. In fact, “medical science and psychology” firmly affirm a lifetime monogamous relationship is indeed the healthiest, and this gels with Church teaching and not with popular hype. In recent years brain imaging reveals that, contrary to current secular fashion, humans are actually designed for a lifetime sexual union that is just the type associated with traditional marriage. During intercourse, brain pathways are mapped due to the release of chemicals (oxytocin for females nd vasopressin for males), and with each act of intercourse with a particualr person, the pathway becomes more embedded. The spouses desire each other in a similar way as narcotics, (so that the song “addicted to love” isn’t really that far from the truth. ) Unlike narcotics, though, this “addiction” actually results in healthy endorphin levels and is good for the person. When a breakup occurs, these mapped pathways are disrupted, and that’s why breakups hurt–there is a physical response to the change in brain chemicals. Of course, one can have another relationship, and attempt to make a new pathway, but like so much sticky tape that has been lifted up and repositioned again and again, the tape loses its stick eventually, and someone with multiple sexual relationships under their belt will find it difficult (not impssible, but very, very difficult) to have a meaningful lifetime relationship. Most teens are probably not interested in a lifetime relaionship with their first partner, so they will experience the pain (mental, emotional, psychological and physical) of brain mapping interrruption if they do the popular espoused “experimentation”. So it’s not just moral teaching, but healthy MEDICAL and PSYCHOLOGICAL teaching to not engage in intercourse before lifetime committment. Moreover, again through medical science and psychology we know that the brain’s frontal lobe area of impulse control and decision-making is not fully mature until the mid-twenties, so again, teens really do benefit from some guidance in the form of either parents or other authority to function as an “external frontal lobe” of the brain until that time.

      So you see, Church sexual teaching is not just “moldy oldy” old-fashioned fluff stuff that has no place in the modern world. Humans are what they are, and physiology is what it is. Modern thought might not like it and may rail against it, but that doesn’t change the fact that our brains are designed in a certain way and that way is firmly supported by church teaching.

    • Carol

      I interpreted the ad as something for teen to think about. Some good reasons not to get pregnant. I teach in a suburban high school omg
      Recently, one young woman went into labor during an SAT exam.
      All other test takers in the room must now retake the exam. The fee will be waived.
      If my son were there, he would refuse to retake the exam. I am sorry that so many students were traumatized that way.
      I have seen another pregnant student get suspended for fighting. It never ends.
      When baby arrives, birth announcements go viral. This goes on during instruction, review, and even state exams.
      I wish that I could help these young students more.



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