The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Pregnancy as Punishment

ZZ4B4A52B1Helping out a colleague at work required me to do something I haven’t done in about five years: watch television news. Specifically, I had to watch the Sunday morning news shows, where various political types are interviewed by the likes of Tim Russert and George Stephanopolis. I even had to watch Fox News, something I never to unless I’m tied to a chair with my head immobilized and my eye’s taped open. (See the picture above.)

I was watching Meet the Press, featuring a debate between Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey and Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell (both Democrats) about the Obama CLinton race, when Tim Russert brought up something that seemed, well, strange and brought up rather suddenly.

SEN. CASEY: When we were being interviewed the other day, I said, “Look, these delegates are going to be seated, and we know that’s going to happen.” It’s really a question for the states themselves, their state legislature, political leadership, the Democratic National Committee, and the campaigns. But all while we’re talking about, about, about rules because the rules have been followed by the Obama campaign, and delegates and states, there’re a lot of people in Pennsylvania who’re scratching their heads, saying, “Why ain’t they talking about the issues, about shipping jobs overseas, health care, trade, the things that people in Pennsylvania care about?”

MR. RUSSERT: Well, because we’re trying to determine who’s going to be the nominee in the, in the fairest way there. But I, I–here’s an issue. Barack Obama was in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and talking about kids and sex education. Let’s watch.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL): …teaching children, you know, that sex is not something casual, but it should also include, it should also include other, you know, information about contraception because, look, I’ve got two daughters, nine-year-old, now nine years old and six years old. I’m going to teach them, first of all, about values and morals. But if they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: “Punished with a baby.” Is that an appropriate word?

SEN. CASEY: Well, I–look, you can talk about better word choice, but what he’s talking about is something he, as he always is, he’s being very honest. He’s honest about the idea that if a, if a teenage girl has a baby, that is a terrible burden and it’s difficult. And I think he’s responding…

MR. RUSSERT: But it’s not a, it’s not a punishment.

SEN. CASEY: No, I think he’s talking about the burden. He’s talking about the burden there. But here, here’s the thing. If you listen to that whole answer, it showed again why he’s a leader. He talked about approaching these issues in a different way. Usually on these tough issues, people in Washington fight with each other, they point fingers at each other. Barack Obama’s going to be the kind of president who’ll be honest about differences, respect people that disagree with him but also try to reach a common ground. I think he’s demonstrated that on issue after issue. And, again, it’s about being a strong leader. Not having the loudest voice, but I think being a strong leader.

MR. RUSSERT: But he should not have used the word “punished.”

SEN. CASEY: I think if he had answered that question again, he would–he’d, he’d use different words. But I think the point he was trying to make was a very important point, that we’ve got to remember that if a teenage girl has a baby, it’s usually, in most instances, a difficult burden.

Russert is wrong, of course, and I’ll explain that later. But first, WTF is Russert talking about? Sen. Casey just said people are coming up to him and asking “Why ain’t they talking about the issues, about shipping jobs overseas, health care, trade, the things that people in Pennsylvania care about?”, and this, this is what Russert brings up?

Tell me again about our “liberal media.” Russert, here, is using the classic right wing trick of changing the subject. Fall for it, and you’re no longer debating the topic of your choosing on your terms. Instead you’ve joined a discussion they’ve already framed for you.

I call it the “yeah, but” trick. It goes something like this. You start out debating something like, say, the economy. They, then, say “Yeah, but what about _____________________?” You can fill in that blank with just about anything even remotely, tangentially related to the topic at hand. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be related to the topic at hand. All you have to do is take the bait, and they’ve now forced you to talk about something else entirely.

(It’s a popular tactic where LGBT rights are concerned. For example, you might be making a valid point about anti-LGBT discrimination, and the harm that it does to individuals, families, communities, etc. Someone on the other side says, “Yeah, but what about gays in Iran? Or Ghana? They’re getting killed over there. It looks like they’ve got it much worse than you do here. So any aren’t you protesting that?” Boom. Done. You’re no longer talking about discrimination in this country. You’re not talking about your issues anymore. Follow that line of debate far enough and you’re not working on your issues anymore. How much progress do you make then?)

Unfortunately, Casey falls for it far too easily, and spends far too long debating with Russert when it might have been more effective to say something like, “Y’know, Tim, that’s exactly what people mean when they say to me ‘Why ain’t they talking about the issues people really care about?’ I doubt anybody who heard Sen. Obama speak spend much time thinking about that sentence. They’re worried about the economy. They’re worried about how they’re going to keep their homes and their health care if they lose their jobs, how they’re going to educate their children, and take care of themselves in their old age; not what the Senator did or didn’t mean with that statement.”

But since Tim put the question out there, let’s examine it. And never mind that it was asked in such an abrupt way, like a kind of forced non-sequitor, one wonders whether explicit instructions were given to bring up that statement.

To some people pregnancy, and childbirth in particular is a punishment. it’s downright biblical.

Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

…3:16 We have here the sentence past upon the woman; she is condemned to a state of sorrow and a state of subjection: proper punishments of a sin in which she had gratified her pleasure and her pride. She is here put into a state of sorrow; one particular of which only is instanced in, that in bringing forth children, but it includes all those impressions of grief and fear which the mind of that tender sex is most apt to receive, and all the common calamities which they are liable to. It is God that multiplies our sorrows, I will do it: God, as a righteous Judge, doth it, which ought to silence us under all our sorrows; as many as they are we have deserved them all, and more: nay, God as a tender Father doth it for our necessary correction, that we may be humbled for sin, and weaned from it. She is here put into a state of subjection: the whole sex, which by creation was equal with man, is for sin made inferior.

But it goes even deeper than that. Obama was addressing the subject of sex-education when he spoke. So, it’s appropriate that we recall the words of a premier “abstinence-only” educator on the subject.

At Reclaiming America for Christ, Stenzel told her audience about a conversation she’d had with a skeptical businessman on an airplane. The man had asked about abstinence education’s success rate—a question she regarded as risible. “What he’s asking,” she said, “is does it work. You know what? Doesn’t matter. Cause guess what. My job is not to keep teenagers from having sex. The public schools’ job should not be to keep teens from having sex.” Then her voice rose and turned angry as she shouted, “Our job should be to tell kids the truth!”

“People of God,” she cried, “can I beg you, to commit yourself to truth, not what works! To truth! I don’t care if it works, because at the end of the day I’m not answering to you, I’m answering to God!”

Later in the same talk, she explained further why what “works” isn’t what’s important—and gave some insight into what she means by “truth.” “Let me tell you something, people of God, that is radical, and I can only say it here,” she said. “AIDS is not the enemy. HPV and a hysterectomy at twenty is not the enemy. An unplanned pregnancy is not the enemy. My child believing that they can shake their fist in the face of a holy God and sin without consequence, and my child spending eternity separated from God, is the enemy. I will not teach my child that they can sin safely.”

Nor will she and others like her allow your child — or Obama’s — to be “taught that they can sin safely.” Perhaps Stenzel would stand and cheer over news that one in for teenage girls have had an STD. (And the boys? After all these girls had to get infected by someone, right?) After all, they have not “sinned safely,” but have instead borne the consequences of their “sin,” in part because of people Stenzel who .

Some doctors said the numbers might reflect the downside of both abstinence-only sex education and teens’ own sense of invulnerability. Because some sexually transmitted infections can cause infertility and cancer, U.S. health officials called for better screening, vaccination and prevention.

…”The statistics are certainly disheartening,” said Dr. Dorothy Furgerson, medical director at Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, which serves Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties. “But I’d have to say, unfortunately, it’s not surprising to me. That is what we see.”

Furgerson said the findings highlight the need for medically accurate sex education, “so that young people who decide to have sex do protect themselves against sexually transmitted infections.”

Obama doesn’t want his daughter to join those statistics. But, if they chose to be sexually active, Stenzel does. Or at least doesn’t think it should be prevented by teaching them how to reduce risk if they do choose to be sexually active.

It probably doesn’t matter to Stenzel and others like her that comprehensive sex education might reduce teen pregnancies. Or perhaps it does, but not for the reasons it might matter to the rest of us. Stenzel and others like her might actually be upset that comprehensive sex education could reduce teen pregnancy. Maybe that’s because comprehensive sex-education will also show them how to reduce their risk if they choose to be sexually active, and as far as I can tell, Stenzel believes that gets in the way of divine punishment. And yes, pregnancy and childbirth is part of that punishment.

Is the child itself a punishment? No. But conservatives will do everything in their power to make sure the child is born, and then do everything in their power to defund or destroy any and every social program designed to help people in these circumstances.

Maybe that’s the punishment.


  1. Why we don’t have full-term incubator technology by now as a norm is beyond me. We can send people to the moon, but we can’t bring them into the world without pain and suffering. Strange priorities, in my book. After having just seen (okay, I wasn’t in the delivery room or anything, but I heard about it) my sister go through it, I just do not understand why we don’t yet have a better way of bringing babies into the world.

  2. I just do not understand why we don’t yet have a better way of bringing babies into the world.

    It’s simple. Because men (Thomas Beatie notwithstanding) don’t have babies.

  3. That thought had occurred to me, but if men were the gender that had the babies, would they still be “men,” with all the status that goes with that? In other words, if they became the birthing gender, would the women have been filling the breadwinner role traditionally associated with male heads of households? In other words, if we boil it down, how much inequity comes from that key difference? You see where I’m going with this. 🙂

  4. Abstinence-only proponents absolutely think pregnancy/childbirth/stuck with the sprat for 18 years is a punishment! Because there MUST be punishment for premarital sex, and they don’t get to stone people any more, or force them to marry. Pregnancy, etc. is all that’s left.

    I think what Obama was trying to say was that he doesn’t think his daughter would deserve to be punished in ANY way for having sex. And I agree with that, but am vaguely embarrassed to find myself saying, “I think what he REALLY meant…” I don’t want to be anyone’s apologist, here.

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