In an August 1, 2015, editorial in the New York Times entitled “Our Sex-Crazed Congress,” Nicholas Kristof argues that Congress is wrong to “destroy” the Title X program as part of its attempt to de-fund Planned Parenthood. Title X clinics provide “family planning and often test for HIV, cure sexually transmitted infections, and screen for cervical and breast cancer.” Kristof goes on to hypothesize that, by providing contraception, Title X “prevents an abortion about once every 90 seconds.” Kristof then describes his visit to a Title X clinic in Baltimore where he meets “China,” a 16 year old girl who is being treated for gonorrhea and chlamydia. The nurse practitioner treating China asks if she uses condoms when she has sex. China says no, and, after being handed a bag of condoms, China indicates that her boyfriend will probably not want to use them. The nurse declares: “These are the rules. No condoms, no sex.”
China leaves the clinic with her STD’s treated, a bag of condoms, and a fleeting and ineffective bit of advice. But what has not been treated or even examined is the deeper reason why China is there. In any other area of medicine, this care would be substandard.
If, for example, 16 year old China were morbidly obese with indications of Type 2 diabetes, wouldn’t it be the standard to help China change her diet to healthy foods, increase her exercise, and examine the reasons why she makes poor health choices? If 16 year old China were a drug addict, wouldn’t the goal be to help China break her drug habit and obtain the therapy she needs? If 16 year old China were smoking cigarettes and getting drunk on a regular basis, wouldn’t the standard be to encourage China to stop smoking and drinking, and to help her to choose healthy behaviors?
Why is it sufficient for the China’s of our nation that we merely seek to cure her current STD and give her condoms? Why isn’t China important enough for someone to stop and ask her the obvious questions: China, why are you having sex with a man who doesn’t care enough to wear condoms? China, why are you having sex at all at age 16? What are your dreams for yourself, China? What kind of life do you wish to have, China, and what can we do to help you achieve that? Finally, China’s boyfriend—why is your definition of manliness mean misogyny and irresponsible sex? What are your dreams for your life? You too deserve to fulfill them.
Then, why aren’t we bolstering her, not just once, but over time, with words, action, and, yes, our time? China, you don’t need to settle for having sex, especially with a man who doesn’t respect you. China, you deserve to focus on your education, your dreams, and your gifts. China, you were born to do great things and to use your mind and talents to help the world and feel the joy of living to your potential. China, it is wrong for you to settle for the low expectations which have been placed upon you by others. You deserve better. How can I walk with you and help you?
It is these low expectations which programs like Title X promulgate and continue to maintain. It is these low expectations which lead 16 year old China’s to believe that abortion is not just their only choice, but a good and “normal” choice. These low expectations are especially insidious because they are often disguised as “good works” or “progressive ideas.” And more often than not, white people, many of whom are self-righteously backed by newspapers like the New York Times, deceive themselves. Of course, we don’t see ourselves thinking that poor black folk have less value that the rest of us—but we surely act that way—in the services we provide and the attitudes we profess. Those attitudes have been there long before Margaret Sanger described them in writing about the organization which would become Planned Parenthood:
“We should hire three or four colored ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds, and with engaging personalities. The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.” (Letter to Dr. Clarence Gamble, Dec. 19, 1939)
“Birth control must ultimately lead to a cleaner race.” (Women, Morality, and Birth Control, New York Publishing Company, 1922. p. 12.)
In quiet conversations, you will still hear white people stating that abortion is necessary because ‘what we will do with all of those inner-city black kids who will grow up and commit crimes?’ In hushed innuendos, you will hear white people agreeing that birth control is needed for the black population because ‘they just can’t control themselves.’ With winks and nods, you will hear white people joking about ‘five kids all by different fathers’ as proof that there is not the same level of love or care in poor black families as in white. All the while, there is still a deep lack of awareness of white privilege and the devastating legacy of slavery in our country, and little desire to correct that gap in awareness. Is it any wonder that in New York City, in 2012 alone, more black babies were aborted than were born, and abortion of black babies accounted for almost half of all abortions? (“#BlackLivesMatter but not at Planned Parenthood,” Brian C. Joondeph, July 27, 2015, www.americanthinker.com ) Yet the 16 year old China’s of our nation are taught to expect nothing more.
In her excellent essay, “An Honest Conversation About Abortion that Asks Us Not to Turn Away from Anyone: The Emmaus Option,” (August, 6, 2015, www.aholyexperience.com), author Ann Voskamp (@AnnVoskamp) argues that abortion “isn’t so much about a woman having a choice—but a woman feeling like she has no choice at all.”
It is easy to call for the de-funding of Planned Parenthood and Title X clinics. What we need to do as a Church AND as a society, in order to be truly pro-life and “pro-human,” as Voskamp states, is to “forge a way forward that is the most authentically human—for both the human in utero and the human in the hard place.” Like Jesus walking on the road to Emmaus with His disciples, we need to reach out personally, compassionately, and without judgment to the China’s (and China’s boyfriends’) in our midst. We need to walk with them so that they can realize the depth and breadth and possibilities of their choices, and know that abortion never needs to be one. The Church already does enormous good work in this regard, but we, as individuals and as Church, need to do more. For it is through loving, patient, personal contact that true change occurs.
Abortion, treatment for STD’s, and birth control clinics for the China’s of our country do not solve the deeper problem. We must value China’s life, mind, and dreams, and walk hand in hand with her to help her achieve them. We must stop believing that giving a 16 year old girl antibiotics and a bag of condoms is the best we can do. Dr. Martin Luther King referred to this kind of thinking as the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” but truly there is nothing “soft” about it. It’s racism, pure and simple. China is an American teen, she is our daughter, and she deserves better.