Is The Pro-Life Movement Responsible For Unwed Motherhood?


The debate over the question of values has been a prominent part of American politics since 1968 when the rise of the left-wing counterculture began the process of smothering the authentic voice of the Democratic Party and eventually overran it. The Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973 accelerated the process and another notable benchmark came in 1992 when then-Vice-President Dan Quayle criticized the TV show Murphy Brown for glorifying single parenting. The question of “family values”, or whatever one wants to term it, has always been seen as encompassing more than the right to life and extending to social questions like broken marriages and the rise of unwed motherhood.

Now an article by Naomi Cahn and June Carbone in the left-wing publication Slate targets the right-to-life movement as the real villain in the rise of unwed motherhood. The authors come out point-blank and draw the conclusion—admittedly not illogical—that pro-lifers are to blame for unwed mothers.

It’s here that it would be nice for some consistency from the political Left. On the one hand, the pro-life movement is often portrayed as the modern-day equivalent of the Pharisees, obedient to the law, but lacking in mercy for anyone who dares come up a step short. Now, Cahn and Carbone seem to be pushing the notion that the problem in socially conservative communities is that they, in fact, are too merciful and shouldn’t be embracing these out-of-wedlock births.

Bristol Palin's embrace of her unborn child represented the best values of the pro-life movement.

The authors even cite the pregnancy of then seventeen-year-old Bristol Palin and go on to write—“Democratic women were appalled—mystified why anyone thought having a 17-year-old raise a child was a good idea.” Of course, no one ever said it was a good idea—but my guess is that Bristol’s child prefers being alive under a less-than-ideal arrangement.

The Catholic Church is, of course, the world’s foremost defender of the right to life. For years, left-wing critics seemed to think the Church wanted to brand every unwed mother with a scarlet letter. Now the critics seem to have reversed gears and decided that they’re angry that the pro-life beliefs of Catholics and other religious traditions is getting in the way of preserving the two-parent ideal.

But the reality is that the Church has always been the protector of those who believe in the ideal, even if certain circumstances in life have left us short of the mark. An embracement of the unwed mother is just a prominent example.

The article by Cahn and Carbone concludes with the observation “…a well-funded and influential anti-abortion movement contributed to the growth of single parenthood. Conservatives should at least start to be more open about whether this is a price they are willing to pay.”

Whether it’s Catholic conservatives or pro-life Catholic liberals, they answer must always yes, a thousand times yes, the protection of human life is eminently worth the price.

Dan Flaherty is the author of Fulcrum, an Irish Catholic novel set in postwar Boston with a traditional Democratic mayoral campaign at its heart, and he is the editor-in-chief of

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

Dan Flaherty is a freelance writer living in southeastern Wisconsin with a passion for the Catholic Church, the pre-1968 Democratic Party, the city of Boston and the world of sports. He is the owner of, and the author of Fulcrum, an Irish Catholic novel set in late 1940s Boston.

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