The Magazine

Planned Un-Parenthood

Roe v. Wade at thirty.

Jan 27, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 19 • By DAVID TELL
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Verily. And lo, one day in Olde Times Square, this innocent fair maiden didst chance full-frontally to reveal God's gift of pulchritude, and the Puritan villagers blushed, for they had never seen breasts before, and they banished their sister Kathleen to Coventry, or at least to her weekend place in Amagansett, Long Island, whilst from their frosty pulpits the far-right town fathers didst hurl a thousand angry thunderbolts of Neurotic Uptightness. Newsday: "boring . . . pointless." Daily Variety: "Turner's Mrs. Robinson is not remotely alluring . . . Nurse Ratched in a cocktail dress . . . puerile."

It is from prudery like this that personal-reproductive-lifecycle-issues arise in the first place, Gloria Feldt explains. Whether under the influence of Manhattan theater critics, "most parents," or the Catholic Church, "where they are unlikely to have been taught about sex," girls enter adolescence having internalized American society's "expectations of celibacy until marriage." Consequently, when it comes time for them to defy these expectations in what should be a healthy, normal, and well-considered teenage fashion, young women are too consumed with self-reproach to consult their operator's manuals. In the ensuing congress, sad but true, these ladies not infrequently fail to experience "the joy of sexual love." Also, they get pregnant.

Mind you, any woman confronting such a crisis pregnancy may decide to carry her baby to term. Feldt will stipulate that: "The pro-choice position defends your right not to choose abortion." Indeed, she herself once made a not-choice like this, in long-ago Texas when she was fifteen years old. "In my case, abortion was whispered as a possibility," she remembers, "but I wanted to have a child." So she did, and married the father, though she now rolls her eyes at the reasoning involved: Becoming a wife and mother, Feldt concludes, "was my passive, jelly woman way of taking a measure of control over my life in keeping with my idealized notion of womanhood." From the husband, "I by and by became divorced." But from the children, Feldt appears to be inseparable. She loves them "fiercely."

Why, then, one can't help wondering, does the president of Planned Parenthood feel so free to indulge the assumption that other people's "unplanned" children--including those born into circumstances considerably less straitened than she faced at age fifteen--generally aren't loved? To this effect, Feldt quotes approvingly from a letter by "Jon," a gay man who, with his lover, "Jim," is helping an unnamed lesbian woman raise a little boy, "Devin." One day when Devin was in the second or third grade, around the time he pasted "the cancelled check for the semen donation" onto the first page of a class autobiography project, the "unusually empathetic" youngster told his male "co-parent" that he'd noticed something troubling. As Jon recounts the conversation:

"'I don't understand, some of the kids at school seem so isolated and unhappy and there seem to be so many of them. How can that be?' I said, 'Well, you know, Devin, not all families plan on having children.' 'What?' exclaimed this most carefully planned child. 'Well, a lot of people have children by having sexual intercourse without thinking about having children, so many children are born by accident.'"

The moral of this story, according to Gloria Feldt: "Only love can make a family." And it's got to be the right kind of love, too, involving the right kind of semen donation, deposited and filed with the right kind of prospectus by the right kind of co-parents proceeding from the right kind of teleological first principles. Otherwise, by the time you start breathing, it's already too late. Pretty soon, the unusually empathetic boy in your second-grade class is going to start asking one of his fathers about you. Perhaps there should be twenty-four-hour waiting periods and informed consent requirements before heterosexual couples are allowed to go to bed at night.