During the Middle Ages, children born out of wedlock were often abandoned to the church or left to the streets and the kindness of strangers. In Latin they were termed expositi --the exposed ones. The skyrocketing rate of illegitimate births in America today, unprecedented in human history, has vastly deepened many of our social problems. The kindness of strangers must still be insisted upon, but is no solution. Government subsidy has proven to be an illusory measure as well.
Our remaining choices seem stark--abortion, or marriage. And here the debate divides. One action sacrifices the child on behalf of the mother's freedom. The other limits the mother's freedom, but saves the child. Here we should examine the matter most carefully. The aborted child is truly dead. We should look more closely at the institution of marriage as the solution to our woes.
Politicians are committed to reforming welfare, since most now perceive the injury that it does to society. But many insist that any attempt to "fix" welfare without confronting illegitimacy is either a fool's errand or a retreat from cold facts. Illegitimate birth to young, unwed females is the driving force behind American social decay. It is the engine that powers a system of reproduction--the reproduction of crime, school failure, drug and sexual abuse, and tenacious poverty. The rejection of marriage impairs the mother's future, the child's well being, and the community's moral and economic fabric.
David Murray is Director of Research at the Statistical Assessment Service in Washington, D.C. He holds a Ph.D. in social anthropology from the University of Chicago.
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