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January 31, 2007
Column #1,327
Advance for Feb. 2, 2007
(second of a three-part series)
Marriage: The Achilles Heel of Pro Life
by Michael J. McManus

The Pro-Life Movement has gained strength and sophistication in recent years. For example, many Pregnancy Resource Centers now have ultrasound equipment enabling a pregnant woman to see not a "blob of tissue" in her womb, but a growing baby. That persuades 79 percent to give birth rather than abort.

Nevertheless, the decline in the nation's number of abortions has stalled.  There were 1,609,000 in the peak year of 1990. By 1998 abortions declined to 1,319,000, a significant 18 percent drop.   However, the number for 2002, the latest year with data, was virtually the same, 1,293,000. 

There are puzzling aspects of this trend.

First, most of these abortions are not to teenagers, but mature women. In fact, teen abortions fell by a third since 1990, from 364,000 to 215,000.  Why? Some 34 states now require that parental notification of a possible abortion. That prospect is so devastating that fewer teens are sexually active, which is remarkable given the increased promiscuity of the culture.

Second, 48 percent of women having an abortion have had a previous one. Sixty percent already have children.  Why don't these women practice birth control or remain abstinent?

Third, 238,000 are married.  What is the tragedy of having another child? If it is so important to limit family size, why not practice birth control?

Fourth, while the number of abortions have plateaued, out-of-wedlock births have continued to rise, from 1,254,000 in 1995 to 1,525,000 in 2005.  In fact, there were only 224,000 in 1960, which was a mere 5 percent of all births.  The percentage of births to unwed parents jumped more than 7-fold to 37 percent in 2005.

Most of these births are not to teenagers, but to women old enough to marry. Fortunately,  teen births have actually fallen from 521,000 in 1990 to 415,000 in 2004.  However, unwed births to women in their 20's jumped by a fifth from 758,000 in 2000 to 914,000 in 2005.  In fact,  55 percent of all births to women aged 20-24 were out-of-wedlock, and 28 percent for those aged 25-29. 

Why? "There appears to be a greater shame to getting married while pregnant than there is to have a baby out-of-wedlock," comments Diedre McQuade, spokesperson on pro-life issues for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

This makes no sense.  When high school students were asked if they agree with the proposition "that most people will have fuller and happier lives if they choose legal marriage rather than staying single or just living with someone," less than a third of girls (32%) and only 37.5% of boys agreed.

The kids could not be more wrong. The Case For Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier and Better Off Financially by Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher, cites hundreds of studies providing evidence.  For example, married people are twice as likely to say they are "very happy" compared to those who are single for whatever reason.  Married men earn 10 to 40 percent more than single men. At retirement, married couples have three to four times the wealth of those who are unmarried.  Married couples have more sex and better sex.

The Achilles Heel of the Pro-Life Movement is that no one is attempting to persuade couples expecting a baby, to consider marriage.

I asked National Right To Life, which has chapters in all 50 states, what it was doing to persuade pregnant women to consider marrying the father of the baby in her womb.

"We don't take a position on that," said Randall O'Bannon, director of education and research.  "We are a single issue organization."  The Pro-Life Office of the Catholic Bishops basically said the same thing.

If an organization is Pro-Life, it should be just as interested in the quality of the life of a baby who was spared from abortion - as it is in its survival. 

Therefore, I propose that Pregnancy Resource Center volunteers, who are mostly women - and their husbands - be trained to mentor the pregnant woman and the father who seem to have a solid relationship, and offer a course that might so improve the quality of the couple's  relationship so that they consider marrying.  That's how to give that child - and its parents - a real future. 

A healthy marriage is the answer to abortion and out-of-wedlock births, but it must be built into the counseling of the expectant couple.

Next week's column will explore this proposal in depth.


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