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January 25, 2003
Column #1,117

Marriage & Adoption: Answers for Unwed Mothers

     WASHINGTON - For the first time in 30 years, 50,000 who braved bitter cold to protest the Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, that legalized abortion - were exultant. 

     With good reason. Pro-life activists knew that their support for U.S. Senatorial candidates helped win a number of races. Republicans now run the Senate, which is more likely to ban what President Bush calls the "abhorrent procedure of partial birth abortion." 

     President Bush, whom pro-lifers helped elect, praised them for being "called to value and protect the lives of innocent children waiting to be born." He pledged to sign a partial birth abortion ban. President Clinton vetoed it twice. 

     "This has been a long time coming. Hopefully we'll reverse Roe v. Wade," said Jeanne Nollen, 52, who was carrying an 18 inch statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

     Legislatively, that is unlikely. At least 53 of 100 Senators still support Roe v. Wade. Nor is it likely in the near term on the Supreme Court, where Justices support abortion rights by a 6-3 margin. Two pro-choice Justices would have to be replaced.

     What can be done to reduce the number of abortions? First, the good news is that there were 300,000 fewer abortions in 2000 than the 1.6 million of 1990. The abortion rate is now below that of 1974, the first year after the Supreme Court decision. 

     However, a third of all women have had at least one abortion. This is stunning. 

     One of three American women have killed a life within them. Those women are 30-100 percent more likely to have breast cancer. Subsequent children are twice as likely to be born prematurely and to die, reports Dr. John Thorp of the University of North Carolina. After an abortion women are three times more likely to commit suicide. No wonder 50 women stood at the Supreme Court Wednesday with signs saying "I Regret My Abortion."

     One answer is to pass state laws that make abortion less accessible. Some 33 states now require that girls under age 18 notify their parents if they want an abortion or ask for their consent. Result: teen abortions plunged 31 to 55 percent more in those states than in states without such laws, according to Denise Burke of Americans United for Life. 

     If abortion is not as available as birth control, more women remain chaste. 

     Another 28 states require some level of informed consent. The result in Mississippi has been a drop of abortions from 8,600 in 1991 to 3,700 in 2000, a 59 percent plunge! 

     The best form of informed consent to allow women to see the baby within them with ultrasound. "Approximately 80 percent of women who receive ultrasound who are abortion-minded, have a change of heart," says Jenny Dixon of Care Net, which works with 665 crisis pregnancy counseling centers, 100 of which have the $20,000 imaging machine.

     However, if the woman gives birth, what are the best possible options for that child? 

     The 1.3 million children born out of wedlock are three times as likely as those in intact homes to repeat a grade or to become pregnant out of wedlock, six times as likely to be in poverty and 22 times more apt to be incarcerated.

     One better option is adoption. An adopted child is actually more likely to do well in school and go to college than those from intact homes. However, only 1 percent of babies of unwed mothers are relinquished for adoption. The National Council for Adoption is training those counseling women considering abortion with encouraging initial results.

     However, the best option for older pregnant women is to marry the father. Crisis pregnancy counseling centers often neglect the issue. Heartbeat International, however, has begun to distribute material for counselors on the benefits of marriage to its 800 centers. A woman can be asked, "Did you know that only 12 percent of children in married homes ever get on welfare but 71 percent of never-married mothers will do so?"

     "Or that married women are healthier, happier and live longer?"

     This is helpful, but not enough. I urge pregnancy counselors to be trained to administer a premarital inventory to the mother and the father of the child they conceived, and to talk through the relational issues it surfaces. They can also be trained to teach skills of communication and conflict resolution. 

     My wife and I have trained more than 1000 Mentor Couples to offer this service. One study found that while 18 percent of premarital couples did not marry, only 3 percent divorced in a decade.

     The best options for unwed mothers are adoption or marriage. 

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