Something has been terribly lost in the story of Maddi Runkles, the 18-year-old who became pregnant and was punished by her Evangelical school for breaking the morality clause she signed when becoming a student.
To begin, I believe it has been a tad unseemly that she has taken to the national airwaves to air her grievances against her school. It is unfortunate that her school has been held up to national ridicule, even if they made the wrong decision, which I do not concede. I do not doubt for one second their good intentions. And now the country has rained down opprobrium on them. I am sure whatever punishment Maddi thinks she received does not come close to what school administrators are undergoing right now.
In fact, it is hard to see that her punishment has been all that severe. She lost her job as student body president and has been told she cannot receive her diploma with her classmates. Her school wanted her to stay home for the rest of the school year but they relented. This hardly measures up to the breathless coverage from Newsbusters who described the “pregnant teenager who refused abortion for her baby boy—no matter the cost.” No matter the cost?
Maddi is now a national celebrity and her story has something for both the pro-abort left and the pro-life right. For the pro-aborts, they have the specter of a Christian school punishing a teen girl for “immorality,” a scene right out of Handmaid’s Tale. For pro-lifers, there is an Evangelical school that in its clumsy moralizing practically forced a girl to kill her unborn child.
And we’ve had to undergo the unfortunate and stomach-churning experience of being lectured to by the likes of oily Charlie Rose who said, “…after all an element of the Christian message is forgiveness…”
To be sure, we are called to a radical solidarity with the woman in this kind of situation. Indeed, data from the Alan Guttmacher Institute, founded by Planned Parenthood, demonstrates that the main reason a young woman chooses to abort is she feels she has no choice. Linger on that for a moment. She feels she cannot have a child because of work or school or family. In a world celebrating choice, she feels she has none.
Except the number one reason she has chosen to abort is not that she has no choice, that those around her have abandoned her; it is because she has chosen to mimic the marital act with someone she’s not married to. Overwhelmingly abortions are committed on single women. There is a predicate to pregnancy and that is intercourse and the predicate to intercourse is marriage. Like so many young women, Maddi chose to forgo that predicate. She chose to participate in that act that is reserved to married couples alone. And the brutal news is we have left her alone in that decision. Society seems fine with that decision. Even the Christian world seems fine with that decision just so long as she doesn’t kill the issue. Then she is a heroine.
In the news coverage ginned up by my fellow pro-life advocates about Maddi’s case, the top-line message is that she did not choose abortion. Yes, she considered it, but “heroically” she chose not to kill her unborn child. But I have not heard anyone ask her, “Did you consider marriage?” All we know is that the father does not go to her school and is out of the picture. Consider that. This baby’s father is out of the picture.
The great immorality of pre-marital and extra-marital sex is that it exposes a potential unborn child to grave danger. A child conceived in such circumstances is exposed to abortion, usually, and if not abortion, she is exposed to a life without a father, or at least without her father. And social science abundantly demonstrates this is a life fraught with troubles and even dangers. This is what Maddi has exposed her child to and this is what all sides seem to be cheering on, if we think about the baby at all as we cheer Maddi’s brave decision and for good measure stomp that poor small-minded school.
But, consider this. Consider that Maddi should have married the father. She still should. That, and not not killing her baby, would be heroic. But sadly, such shotgun weddings are long out of fashion and derided by both left and right.
Nobel Laureate George Akerloff and current Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen plumed this topic in a series of papers twenty years ago. They called it “reproductive technology shock,” the combination of legalized abortion, and the widespread availability of contraception that led to an explosion of single-parent households, almost always headed by women. In 1965, 24 percent of black babies and 3.1 percent of white babies were born to single moms. Twenty-five years later, 64 percent of black babies and 18 percent of white babies were born to single moms. It is higher still today.
It was thought that the expansion of these new technologies—contraception and abortion—would lead to fewer out-of-wedlock births. In fact, according to Ackerloff and Yellen, the opposite happened because the new technology led to an almost immediate erosion of “shotgun weddings.”
Prior to the 1970s, which is prior to contraception and abortion and the promise, primarily to the male, of consequence-free sex, there were certain implicit and even explicit bargains made between the randy lad and lass.
Yes, we can do this but you promise to marry me if I come up pregnant. And this was a common demand made by almost all nice girls, so the boy could not simply shop around except to various skanks that he might not want anyway, and certainly did not want to marry. The shotgun wedding system was not perfect but it was a far cry better than what we have today because it practically guaranteed that children were not born out of wedlock. But that did not hold.
According to Akerloff and Yellen, “…about 75 percent of the increase in the white out-of-wedlock first-birth rate, and about 60 percent of the black increase, between 1965 and 1990 is directly attributable to the decline in shotgun weddings. If the shotgun marriage rate had remained steady from 1965 to 1990, white out-of-wedlock births would have risen only 25 percent as much as they have. Black out-of-wedlock births would have increase only 40 percent as much.”
Maddi says she’ll name her baby Grayson, after all the graces she’s been given. So, what of Maddi’s and Grayson’s life without husband and father? It will be hard, very hard and nothing to celebrate. On balance, children of single mothers are more likely to live in poverty, struggle in school, have trouble with the authorities, experience psychological problems, and have ongoing relationship problems. They may struggle with drink and drugs. Grayson may search all his life for that absent father and look in all the wrong places.
You may ask what I would do if this happened to our family. I would love my daughter unconditionally and help her in every way, all the while recognizing that society has a duty to judge such actions as wrong and harmful. Society simply cannot accept this as the norm. That society now celebrates single-motherhood has caused a massive disaster.
So, while we celebrate Maddi’s choice not to kill her unborn baby, let us mourn the family that should have been formed and still could be formed if only she and the two families have the courage to do it, at least for the sake of Grayson.