Twenty-five years ago this month, Alan Guttmacher, then president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, hailed the Supreme Court’s just-announced verdict in Roe v. Wade as bringing our nation “A step further toward assuring the birthright of every child to be welcomed by its parents at the time of its birth.”
Guttmacher’s vision of every child a wanted child appeals simultaneously to the noblest and the basest of our instincts. It evokes an image of an America where all children are loved and valued. At the same time, it appeals to the innate selfishness of fallen humanity. It makes parents’ desires paramount as it reduces children to the objects of those desires.
Of course, all children should be wanted by their parents. The problem lies in making parental desire the factor that determines whether children live or die. One person’s desire does not and cannot determine another’s value or his rights.
Even to ask about another human being, “Do I want this child? Is her life convenient for me? Does she mesh with my plans, my goals, my desires?” is arrogant. To believe that an answer of “no” justifies killing her is depraved.
Twenty-five years ago, this arrogant depravity was sanctioned. The slaughter of 36 million children is only one horrific symptom of a society that sees children as the objects of others’ desire. Children born into a society with so vacuous a sense of their rights and value are harmed as well-less brutally but more insidiously.
Today’s children grow up conscious that their mothers could have had them killed before they were born. The understanding that they are here by right, because God wanted them, is tempered by the knowledge that they might not be here if their parents had not wanted them, or not wanted them when they were conceived, or not wanted them if they were disabled, or not wanted them if they were the other sex.
Parents’ belief that their own children belong here only if they mesh with other plans and desires influences not only the message that they communicate to their children about their valuAe to God, to society and to their parents but also the practical, daily decisions that parents must make in rearing children. Parents who have children primarily to bring themselves pleasure are likely to resent the sacrifices that parenthood demands. Children hear this resentment when it is spoke and they sense it when it is unspoken. Moreover, parents feeling this resentment are less willing to do the daily hard work that is required to rear children who will grow up to be happy, healthy, productive adults. The consequences are tragic.
According to one study, 30% of Generation Xers report current significant symptoms of depression and two-thirds report having suffered depression at some time in their lives. The level of happiness reported by high school seniors has been trending down since 1977. the percentage of murders committed by children under 18 has doubled in the same time span. Eating disorders and substance abuse among the young are far more widespread than they were 25 years ago. Themes of death and destruction are popular in their music and literature.
Many of today’s wanted generation report that they feel neglected and think that their parents put their own desires first. Young children are dropped off in day-care centers and teenagers are left alone for hours daily to interact only with the two-dimensional characters of television. Meanwhile, parents pursue careers and the things that money can buy. Discipline is often arbitrary, since consistent, loving discipline, with the goal of building virtuous character, takes time and effort.
Contrary to feminist claims that legalized abortion would end child abuse by eliminating “unwanted” children, the number of reported cases of child abuse and neglect is more than 17 times higher than it was in 1973. None of this should really be surprising. Why should parents sacrifice for children whom they brought into the world to meet their own desires?
English professor Edward Ericson says, “[I]n my long experience with college students, I’ve never known a generation that feels more detached and lonely, or yearns for more intimacy, than this one.” Our wanted children are starving for affection-and they’re trying to get in damaging ways. It is currently estimated that 56% of girls and 73% of boys have had sex before turning 18. Tragically, many have never seen true love-an action, not a feeling, at the heart of which is self-sacrifice, and the abortion Zeitgeist confirms that they don’t deserve such love anyhow. Never having tasted the chateaubriand of real love, they settle for the fast food of illicit sex, and then are only vaguely aware of why they are unfulfilled. Of course, promiscuity leads to its own set of emotional and practical problems, exacerbating the sad plight of our nation’s wanted children.
There is a much better way. Instead of sanctioning selfishness, we should recognize and reflect the inherent, inalienable value, dignity and rights of each child. We should not evaluate children to determine whether or how their lives mesh with our desires. We should give children the unconditional love that they deserve.
Every child is a wanted child. It’s classic political rhetoric. Even as it makes selfishness a virtue, it grabs the moral high ground and evokes the image of a better reality. Unfortunately, the reality that it has created is one of hurting, neglected children and young adults, looking for love in damaging ways.
Leslie Carbone is a writer at Family Research Council, based in Washington, D.C.