Past generations of American pioneers, known for their openness to life, would not have believed it. They would be astonished to learn that, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, a woman’s fertility is not celebrated but discouraged. Women who marry early, leave the workforce, and devote themselves to the birthing and raising of children are not the norm. On the contrary, a woman is expected to pass her most fertile years acting like a man, building up a strong career, and making a lot of money. Only after she is thus “established” and has “enough money” is she allowed to start thinking about having children.
In all of this, of course, there is no assumption that she will abstain from sex. Rather, she is expected to use pills and implants, diaphragms and injections in order to foil conception and escape the “burden of children.” The Sandra Flukes of the world are not, however, expected to pay for their own contraceptives. Our “Contraceptor-in-Chief” has decreed that Obamacare (that is to say, all of us) will bear this burden. Apparently, in the view of some, modern women are helpless creatures who need government assistance to postpone and control their own fertility to keep it from spiraling out of control.
At a recent Family in America conference, Dr. Jennifer Morse, founder and president of the Ruth Institute, spoke of society’s lack of acceptance of women’s fertility. Young women are told they must be just like men if they want to enter the workforce and fit in in the workplace. They are advised not to have children right out of school because that will get in the way of a career. Universities accept ever larger numbers of female students, but only with the unspoken understanding that they will not have children while on campus.
According to Dr. Morse, fertility is not seen as the norm for women but is rather viewed as a problem. And since society’s progressives view fertility as problematic, a government constituted of progressives takes action to curb it. This is evident in the recent HHS mandate, in which contraception is considered “preventive care” and is to be “free.” In other words, as Dr. Morse noted, “pregnancy is seen as a disease, a problem to be solved.” So long as this view of women’s fertility is widely held, the government will continue to find ways to control fertility and keep the numbers of mothers and babies down.
The feminist movement has done a good job of portraying women’s fertility in a bad light. Dr. Allan Carlson, President of the Howard Center for Family, Religion, & Society and Editor of The Family in America, addressed precisely this point at the conference: “Feminists want choices, but don’t want women to choose to stay with kids at home, they might like it!” Instead of catering to these views, according to Dr. Carlson, public policies should allow for more choices. Specifically, policies should be put in place to make it easier for women to choose to stay at home if they so desire.
The government should not stand in the way of a woman’s fertility, but should rather safeguard it. Women should be allowed to choose when to bear children and how to raise their families.
This prescription also makes demographic sense. The birth rate has dropped below replacement in America over the past few years. Despite this birth dearth, fertility is still not seen as a good thing, but rather as a problem to be dealt with. If America is to sustain herself, her people need to start replacing themselves. Given that our present policies discourage childbearing, this will not be an easy task.
A recurring theme at the Family in America conference was how American society as a whole has grown to disfavor fertility and disregard marriage. As the institution of marriage declines, this tends to lower fertility even further. Both trends affect public policy since politicians tend to cater to general societal trends. Charles Murray, author of the recent book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, who also addressed the conference, pointed out: “Once you don’t have marriage, you need a stronger state. The welfare state is absolutely essential for America’s people.”
While a good first step in promoting marriage and fertility as societal goods is to institute pro-family and pro-fertility policies, this is only a first step. Ultimately, society itself must embrace the idea that men and women are each unique in their own way, and that marriage is a natural means of uniting their unique strengths so that the whole is greater than the parts. We must recover the truth that a woman’s fertility is integral to her womanhood and is something to be nurtured, not thwarted.