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January 18, 2006
Column #1,273
Advance for January 21, 2006
How to Reduce Out-of-Wedlock Births
by Michael J. McManus

Many children are conceived when neither parent wanted a pregnancy.

Alexander Hamilton, for example, was born out-of-wedlock yet rose to become an aide to George Washington during the American Revolution, his first Secretary of the Treasury and an architect of America's free enterprise system.

When abortion was legalized in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, I anticipated the number of unplanned births would sharply decline. However, births to unwed mothers tripled from 430,000 in 1973 to 1.4 million in 2003, 35 percent of all births.

The very availability of abortion has increased parental irresponsibility.

Children of unwed parents are three times as likely as those from intact homes to be expelled from school or to give birth as a teenager. They are five times as apt to live in poverty, and 22 times as likely to be incarcerated.

Yet pro-life organizations, such as several thousand Pregnancy Resource Centers, are partly responsible for the flood of children being born out-of-wedlock. They are so intent on saving the life of the baby, which is commendable, that the M word (marriage) is never focused upon. I oppose abortion and support the mother giving birth.

Where I part company with Pregnancy Resource Centers is that the result from the child's point of view is invariably the worst of three options. Only about 1% of the children are adopted, though millions of infertile, married couples long to adopt a child. Studies indicate that children who are adopted perform better in school, for example, than those born to married parents!

Very few mothers marry the father, which would be an excellent outcome, for perhaps 60% of pregnant mothers, estimated. Kris Cook of Sycamore House Pregnancy Center in Urbana, Ohio. Sadly, she added,  "In the past year, not a single client got married. It used to happen all the time."

So the child will be reared by a single mom, who is unlikely ever to marry. Only a small percentage of those children will fare well in the world.

Therefore, it is time for Pregnancy Resource Centers to take responsibility for their failure to give the children they help save - a brighter future.

Once a woman has undergone months of pregnancy and given birth, it is almost impossible to persuade her to relinquish the child to adoption.  On the other hand, the best possible future for the child is to be brought up by his/her own married parents.

For many, that is a realistic option. However, if the woman loves the baby's father and is mature enough, she may want to marry him, but he's not asked. In other cases, he may be more interested in marriage, but she is skeptical due to their unresolved differences.

At Marriage Savers, the non-profit group my wife and I lead, we think the answer is to offer to mentor the couple for three-four months of marriage preparation. Who should do so? The female volunteer at a Pregnancy Resource Center (and her husband) - who can be trained to be a Mentor Couple.

If the PRC volunteer tries to talk about marriage with the pregnant woman, the subject can not get very far because the father is uninvolved.  But what if she says, "Do you love David? Would you and he like to be mentored by my husband and me to give marriage serious consideration?  We would not pressure you to marry, but help you to build a healthy relationship. You would take a premarital inventory to assess your strengths as a couple and where you need to grow.  We could also teach you communication and conflict resolution skills.

"Our goal as mentors is to help you increase the quality of your relationship so that you might decide to marry before your baby is born.  That would be the best outcome for everyone."

Care Net, a network of 900 Pregnancy Resource Centers, invited us to train PRC directors and their husbands at a convention in September to offer couple mentoring. In evaluation forms, their observations were very encouraging: "Awesome. Greatly needed," said one. "Something we have been looking for, for quite some time," added another.

However, in calling back half of those we trained four months ago, not one has started mentoring unwed couples, though some plan to do so.

Conclusion: Pregnancy Resource Centers are only focusing on half of their task - saving the life of the baby, but not on giving that baby a viable future.

It is time for reform.

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