Unintended Pregnancies

by Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

The debate regarding the decision that Part B now includes birth control pills, and abortion is simmering ready to boil over. The specter of many health care institutions, for example hospitals, being deprived of government funds because of their refusal to adhere to this new law, is real. This will create a horrific health care crisis in America when hundreds of these facilities are forced to close for lack of government funding. This issue, horrible as it is, as other issues in society, is but symptomatic of a far deeper and more fundamental problem facing American society.

The rise in unintended pregnancies is the basis upon which the providing of birth control and abortion procedures funded by the government for those who are receiving government aid is justified. Those who support this change argue that those who are economically deprived need these services, which, it is claimed, are presently unavailable to them. How about private groups like Planned Parenthood? They declare it essential, the obligation of society, to assist these economically impoverished folks to help reduce the growing number of unintended pregnancies in the United States.

Unintended pregnancy? What is an unintended pregnancy? With Sex Education in the public school a part of education for many years, coupled with the openness of our society, I have a hard time believing that the average American, no matter his/her economic status, does not understand how pregnancy occurs. The moral virtue of abstinence is supposedly being taught in the public school. It is the way one avoids unintended pregnancies. Obviously if a pregnancy occurs, the couple involved didn’t enter into intercourse with a commitment to avoid an unintended pregnancy. They just didn’t care if a pregnancy resulted from their sexual activity.

Perhaps the better term to describe this phenomenon is undisciplined pregnancy or, more to the point, irresponsible pregnancy.

The lengths to which many in our society forgive personal irresponsibility has gone from the ridicules to the absurd. Those who advocate government measures, in this instance putting a rather pitiful band aid on the growing and festering infection of irresponsibility seem to link that irresponsibility to a justification based upon economic status. The poor, they contend, cannot assume responsibility for their actions simply because they are poor. Worse, the contention is put forward that being poor one is not expected to be responsible to live by a moral code.

This reminds me of a debate that occurred a number of years ago when the City of Chicago was first considering the distribution of condoms in the public schools - now an accepted part of public education, The debate occurred at the United Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council meeting. At the time I was a delegate representing the Chicago Rabbinical Council.

I stated my objection to the distribution of condoms in Chicago Punic Schools. Rather than accomplish the goal of underscoring the need for responsibility as a part of our sexuality, I argued the availability of condoms would only increase teenage promiscuity. One simply cannot tell a teen that abstinence until marriage is a virtue and then hand him a condom in case he might falter.

I was in the minority. Many representatives told me I didn’t understand “those” teens, that unintended pregnancy was the issue at hand. When I explored the who of “those” teens, I uncovered an innate bigotry on the part of many in the Jewish community.

To underscore what became obvious to me, I told the representatives of one particularly vocal group chastising me for my ignorance, a group that sponsors a Jewish summer camp, that I wished to make a significant donation to their camp. They were delighted. I explained that my donation would be in the form of one thousand condoms that glow in the dark so that their Jewish teen campers would not experience unintended pregnancies.

The response - horror. I questioned them regarding their assessment of the Jewish teen’s libido. “Do Jewish teens not have the same hormonal urges as other teens, for example “those” teens for whom it is essential to provide condoms?”, I asked. They just stood there shocked. As one person put it, shocked that an Orthodox Rabbi would speak in such a fashion.

My offer, as can happen in the gossip mill, was transformed into a rumor that this camp would be distributing condemns to their teenage campers. Jewish parents began calling the camp office to cancel their child’s registration. I suspect these parents as well supported the distribution of condoms to “those” teenagers as this was a widely held opinion in Chicago Jewry. To this very day I have never been sure that my attempt to show them their own bigotry had any effect.

Morality, curbing one’s desires by adhering to a code of behavior, is the personal obligation of each of us, no matter our station in society, no matter our economic depravation. Those who offer excuses, discrimination, poverty, lack of opportunity, are doing no favor for those they are supposedly helping nor are they doing any favor for society. The statistics say it all. Unintended pregnancies are at an all time high simply because more and more folks don’t place any limits, any discipline, upon there actions. They are irresponsible individuals. Justifying this for any reason is daily contributing to the continued lowering of behavioral standards in America, eroding the very fabric of our society on every level.

Remember when your mother, in response to a news report of a crime, looked you right in the eye and said, ”Jewish people don’t do that.” That phrase haunted me during my youth and continues to haunt me to this day. When, for example, I didn’t study as hard as I could have done, after all we are the people of the book, and my test score was only a “B”, I literally felt that I had shamed Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, for “Jewish People don’t do that.” It is expected that you present your parents with a report card displaying the ever-present “A”.

My mother placed upon my shoulders the awesome responsibility to keep the name of the Jewish People shameless, beyond reproach. I have carried that burden my entire life. Getting good grades, conducting myself with dignity and honor, were not just the way I must live but in addition my responsibility to my People to society as a whole.

Understanding that ones moral turpitude is not only a matter for the individual but is terribly important for the function of society must be emphasized. It should be enough to impress upon our teens the value of fidelity, the value of “just say no,” for example, as something expected of them. Providing a band-aid, and a poor one at that in light of the growth of unintended pregnancies, to those who do not live up to their responsibility for themselves and the community they live in, is, by its very nature, defeating what we are attempting to achieve; a decrease in unwanted pregnancy.

The debate over Part B, forcing institutions that receive government money, to ignore their own moral values and provide services for unintended pregnancies goes far beyond the abortion issue. It speaks to the way our system defines right and wrong, the very nature of society itself.

Where are our Jewish mothers when we need them to point the way?