Friday, June 26, 2015

Can Bristol Palin Improve Racial Harmony, Bridge the Partisan Divide, AND Lower Abortion Rates?

Bristol Palin at 2011 book signing for Not Afraid of Life / Photo: Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0

Could Bristol Palin's second pregnancy outside of wedlock actually result in more than yet another eruption of culture-warring partisan snarkery?  Maybe.

I'm not interested in ranting about conservative Christian hypocrisy.  Plenty of other folks are already doing that, with the predictable churning up of noisy angst on all sides of the debate.

But it seems to me that this turn of events may actually provide an opportunity for some growth and healing across racial, religious, and political lines.  Heck, it could even get us one teeny step closer to an even more precipitous decline in the abortion rate than we're already experiencing. 

Stay with me here.  There are a number of folks who rant about abortion rates in certain segments of the population.  These are usually the same folks who rail against single mothers and give us the side eye because we're obviously either amoral "Jezebels" or ball-busting feminists who didn't know our place and thus couldn't keep a man - or both - and we're definitely to blame for much of what ails American society in general (and the "inner city poor" in particular.)

But these concerned citizens' commentary does a 360 when the unmarried mom/pregnant lady is a "good Christian [white, politically conservative, middle class or better] girl."  Then she's "choosing life," "accepting responsibility for her mistakes," and nobly shouldering her burden.

I'm not making fun.  I just wish these folks could share the same compassion and generosity of spirit with everyone. 

There's a reason why I feel compelled to tell people I hardly know that I kinship foster/adopted my daughter as a single mom.  I'm not looking for admiration for my "saintliness" - I'm looking to avoid folks' (conscious or unconscious) negative judgment that I'm one of "those" women.  

My mom was a single mother.  She married my biological father after getting pregnant with me early in her freshman year at the University of Idaho.  He was a paranoid schizophrenic Vietnam vet who had a habit of going off his meds - and he was one of the minority of schizophrenics whose illness either coexisted with or resulted in a propensity for physical and sexual violence.  She and I both would have been a whole heck of a lot better off if she'd raised me on her own, with the help of her parents, from the get-go.  But it was 1973, and marry the baby's dad is what you did - you made your bed, now you gotta lie in it.

About four years - and innumerable traumas - later, we left him.  My mom struggled with undiagnosed and untreated depression, bipolar, maybe even 
PTSD, struggled to finish college (she didn't), struggled to keep low-wage jobs when she missed work because she got sick or her most recent crappy car spontaneously gave out, and struggled to keep a roof over our heads.  Really, really struggled.  We were evicted from apartments for non-payment of rent two times that I knew of at the time, and moved many, many more times than that.  

I've been considered white trash.  I know that.  Some friends' parents assumed I must be because I lived  in "that" part of town.  They didn't know (or care to know) that I also consistently earned among the highest grades and standardized test scores in my classes, possessed an iron-clad sense of right and wrong, was an empathetic and loyal friend, and was the sort of kid who'd usually caution against breaking the rules, not encourage it.  

So  I know what it feels like to be part of the underclass, and to be judged a lesser human being as a result.  It is dehumanizing and degrading.  In short, it sucks.  And after having worked my tail off (and borrowing way too much money) to put myself through college, and grad school, and law school, and having earned good grades and honors (even with the occasional set-back thanks to my own then undiagnosed, untreated PTSD and depression), I DON'T WANT TO GO BACK.

So I feel compelled to volunteer that I became a single mom by choice, not by accident.  And since it was because a young relative needed someone to take care of her, you can see that I'm not one of those other types of women this same population likes to complain about, who (they believe) frivolously and selfishly doom their children to a life without male role models.

So yes, this is sorta personal.  But let's get back to the larger issue.

As of 2008, about 9.6% of unmarried American women age 15-44 get pregnant each year.  A little less than a third intentionally terminate their pregnancy - 3.07% of unmarried women of child-bearing age.  The good news for pro-lifers?  Both numbers have been declining pretty steadily for years - 4.77% of unmarried 15-44 year old women had abortions in 1990.  (See CDC National Vital Statistics Report, Table 5 at page 18 - this 2012 report is the most recent I found that also includes abortion and miscarriage data)

If these folks REALLY care about abortion rates, and would like to see them decline, they could cut it out with the constant ridiculing of single moms and unmarried pregnant women whose skin color, socio-economic background, and/or politics differ from their own.  Single motherhood will never be a cake-walk, but it'll be a bit easier to choose life if you don't have to worry that half the population will then label you a harlot, and treat you accordingly.

I'm not asking that we stop examining the effects of single parenthood (and other relevant factors) on kids or communities.  Those questions are important to ask, because the answers can help us figure out what we can do, as a community, to improve outcomes.  But merely using such data to bludgeon/shame entire populations/races, or just using it to bolster your Cassandra-like wailing about the sorry state of the world today ... these seem like wholly unhelpful and unproductive things to do with such important insights.

I'm just asking that y'all start showing unmarried moms who differ from you the same compassion you'd give Bristol Palin or another single mom who looks, acts, and thinks more like you.  The compassion you'd give someone whose humanity you recognize.  That's all.

If enough of y'all do that, I think you'll find that more women, like Bristol, will find themselves empowered to choose life, so that the drop in abortion rates will only accelerate.  And then everyone wins. (I love endings like that - don't you?)

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