23 Jun 2021 Wantedness and the abortion debate
There can be an assumption in our culture that our first reaction to becoming a parent is going to define the relationship with that child. I commonly hear this assumption in a challenge from pro-choicers – ‘Do you want these children to grow up unwanted?’ Behind that question is the assumption that because a mother considers abortion, their child will remain unwanted their entire lives. Putting aside for the moment that the proposed alternative is ending the child’s life altogether, is that first reaction of wanting or not wanting the child really so determinative?
In some ways the pro-choice concern of unwanted children assumes that the parent/child relationship is like a contract. When you sign a contract, you state up front what you are willing to give and what you expect to get in return. That agreement then defines the entire relationship. But the parent/child relationship isn’t a contract. It’s, well, a relationship. It’s a connection or a bond between two parties. The parties will mature, the circumstances will change, but the bond will persist. This bond may be wanted or unwanted. But regardless, it persists. What we need to realize is that destroying that bond has heavy consequences on each of the parties. As one scholar put it, “We are born into some obligations, and some are born to us.” You get to choose your friends, but you don’t choose your family.
The Wanted Children
We can sometimes assume that the happiest, healthiest environments for children are the families that demonstrate how much the child is wanted before their birth. But looking at the families who have gone to the greatest lengths to prove that their child is wanted doesn’t show this to be true.
In their book Them Before Us, Katy Faust and Stacy Manning discuss a study called “My Daddy’s Name is Donor,” which looked at 485 adults who were conceived by sperm donation. These are children for whom parents spent a great deal of money and went through an extensive process to bring them into existence. The study revealed that these children did not feel defined by that wantedness. Rather, many expressed a sense of disconnectedness, struggled with their origins, had family relationships defined by confusion, and struggled with delinquency, substance abuse, and depression.
Initial wantedness did not even predict the actual family environment for the child – 44% of the donor children compared to 35% of children raised by their biological parents experienced one or more “family transitions,” that is, divorce or separation of their parents, in their childhood. It’s not that every one of these wanted children had a tumultuous childhood, but neither did initial wantedness statistically equate with a positive outcome for the parent/child relationship.
Initial wantedness is not the defining factor for a healthy parent/child relationship. Parents don’t need to feel all the love on their child’s first day of existence. What they need is to recognize that the bond between them and their child exists. All parents are called to love their children, which doesn’t primarily mean wanting children before their birth, but calls for putting their children’s needs before their own.
The Unwanted Children
Just as initial wantedness does not automatically equate to a stable loving home, so initial unwantedness does not automatically equate to a bad or unstable home. In The Turnaway Study, researchers looked at women who went to an abortion clinic wanting an abortion but were denied one because they were past the gestational limit in that state. They found that women’s wants changed. Within a week after being denied an abortion only 65% of women surveyed still wanted one. By the child’s first birthday this was down to 7% and five years later it was only 4%. Remember, these are women who chose abortion. These aren’t women who just thought about abortion, these are women who made it to the abortion clinic, despite travel expenses and the logistics of actually getting there. And yet that initial unwantedness did not last. The wanted or unwanted response to the pregnancy faded. The bond between parent and child persisted.
So, to expecting mothers – your initial response to your pregnancy doesn’t define your relationship with your child. What you do next does. Do you selflessly love your child? Do you take care of your child? As Choice42 puts it, you’re already this baby’s mother. Choose your baby. You won’t regret it.