Politics & Policy

Go Ahead, Be Outraged!

Terminating nuance when it comes to life and death.

When recently asked about his state’s parental-notification ballot initiative that would prohibit minor-age girls from getting abortions without a parent’s knowledge, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger replied: “I have a daughter. I wouldn’t want to have someone take my daughter to a hospital for an abortion or something and not tell me. I would kill him if they do that.”

Now that’s refreshing!

Hold on, hold on. Before you run off, I’m not slamming “choicers” here, and I’m not lauding “lifers.” This isn’t the debate about whether you or I began at Day 1 or at 24 weeks. And, mind you, I’m not endorsing murder–and the governor later clarified he wouldn’t actually kill the hypothetical person. But that was a totally normal Dad reaction he had (a fact that, as a good politician, was surely not lost on Schwarzenegger). You can be on any side of the abortion debate (the Terminator wants it legal) and have that healthy gut instinct.

The Schwarzenegger reaction came in somewhat stark contrast to some other recent parenting news. September was a bad month for motherhood, at least on the news wires.

A New York mother decided it was time for her 13-year-old daughter, and her 14-year-old female friend, to each “have sex and get it over with.”

Mom got a hotel room, hit the mall with the kids, and found an 18- and 19-year-old who’d do the dirty deed with the girls. Mom was in the hotel room with them during the loss of innocence (though it’s a safe bet this woman’s daughter lost that long ago).

In Colorado, wanting to be a “cool mom” of a teen boy (making up, she told police, for her own outsider days in high school) 41-year-old Silvia Johnson is accused of boozing and drugging it up at parties at her house with teenagers–and having sex with some of the boys in attendance at these regular bashes.

On the West Coast, there’s the tragic case of young Eliza Jane. Her mother, Christine Maggiore, is HIV positive and insists that the virus doesn’t cause AIDS. So she has taken no medication, has had children, breastfed, and kept the kids away from reputable doctors.

And now three-year-old Eliza Jane is dead. Though this Mother of the Year is disputing it, the coroner’s report says the toddler died of AIDS-related pneumonia.

I bet Arnold Schwarzenegger would have some healthy thoughts on that California mother.

These Motherhood Hall of Shame stories are obviously not the norm. We know that because they still make headlines. And for that, at least, we can be grateful–though it doesn’t help Eliza Jane or the most likely messed-up kids of their sexed-up mamas. It’s the day we stop finding these stories extraordinary or are not outraged when we’ll be diagnosed with a fatal cultural malady.

When you put these recent cases beside some other against-all-that-is-good-and-right-and-natural stories like the case of Andrea Yates, who infamously drowned her five children in a bathtub, and New Jersey teens Amy Grossberg and Brian Peterson who almost ten years ago tossed their apparently beaten-to-death newborn (he had suffered multiple skull fractures) in the dumpster, you get the feeling that we do have something to worry about–beyond individual cases.

The dumpster story has repeated itself enough that there are now drop-off slots at hospitals and other locations for mothers to abandon their living babies. I’m all for doing whatever it takes to give a kid a chance at life, but it’s a disturbing perceived necessity.

It’s disturbing to realize that the instinct for some supposedly thoughtful, sophisticated types is often to defend and accommodate bad behavior. There are mental-health issues in a lot of these cases, obviously, but regardless, a society can and must say loud and clear: “That’s wrong. That’s evil. That can never happen again.” Instead, when Yates murdered her children, folks at the National Organization for Women and others rushed to her defense.

Instead of making excuses and defending crimes, we should make sure we all have our heads on straight about the preciousness of human life. Because there is no greater gift.

Again: Obviously, in all these shameful, criminal stories, there is a necessary discussion to be had about prevention. In most, if not all of these cases, there were sick people involved who clearly needed some kind of help. But when a terrible deed has been done, they also need punishment. And despite the virtues of forgiveness, there is a place for unwavering societal condemnation. You can still love the sinner and condemn the sin. But we’ve got to do the latter in each and every one of these despicable cases. It will say something shameful about us the day we don’t see that–the day your instinct isn’t to have an “Arhnuld-like” Dad kind of reaction.

(c) 2005, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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