Soundoff is a public forum. Articles are selected from letters to the editor or may be written specifically for this feature. Today, Port Orchard resident Anthony Johnston responds to a recent story in the Port Orchard Independent featuring a teen-aged, unwed mother and her belief that others were being unfairly critical of her.
Since I consider organized guilt trips like the 2008 Kitsap County Human Rights Youth Rally comical at best and an irrelevant waste of time at worst, my normal reaction to the Independent’s March 26 story (“Teen parent talks human rights at SKHS-sponsored event”) would have been to either roll my eyes in disgust or simply ignore it.
But having read it, I’m appalled by the suggestion of the event speaker highlighted in the story that being a teen-aged, unwed mo-ther of two young children somehow entitles her to some sort of protected victim status.
The young woman in question — a student at South Kitsap’s Discovery High School — lamented that she and others in her position were wrongly stigmatized in the eyes of society. “We have to go through a lot more things than older people,” she said, “because a lot of people look down on us. We’re people, too.”
No one would deny that. Nor would any rational person justify overt harassment of teen mothers.
At the same time, however, behavior that isn’t stigmatized is behavior that’s being encouraged or at least excused. And would anyone in their right mind argue that teens becoming pregnant out of wedlock is behavior that deserves to be encouraged or excused?
Just to cite a few statistics:
• nationwide, only 41 percent of teen mothers complete high school, making it less far likely teen mothers will ever acquired the skills necessary to qualify for a good-paying job;
• almost 50 percent of all teen mothers — and more than 75 percent of unmarried teen mothers — begin receiving welfare within five years of the birth of their first child;
• nearly 80 percent of fathers of children born to teen mothers do not marry the mothers;
• teen fathers pay less than $800 in child support;
• children born to teen mothers are more likely to have low birth weight and related problems such as infant death, blindness and mental retardation;
• children of teen parents often receive inadequate parenting, are subject to abuse and neglect, and often have insufficient healthcare; and,
• children of teen parents are 50 percent more likely to repeat a grade, perform poorly on standardized tests, and ultimately less likely to complete high school.
To state the obvious, if behavior that produces these kinds of outcomes — outcomes that have devastating impacts not only on the indiv-iduals directly involved but also on the taxpayers and society as a whole — can’t be looked down upon, what’s the point of pretending we have standards at all?
Constitutionally speaking, the term “human rights” refers to those specifically enumerated ideals like freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press that we assume were granted by God, and which government may not restrict (at least not without just cause).
And those freedoms are protected regardless of our race, creed or color — things beyond our power to control.
Nothing in the Constitution, though, suggests to me that we have an unalienable right not to be embarrassed by our own poor choices in life — particularly when those choices do have the potential to affect others besides ourselves.
The speaker at the youth rally is to be commended at least for informing her audience that she didn’t use contraception — including the most reliable form, abstinence — and for stating accurately that, “If you’re having sex, you’re planning to have a kid.”
To that extent, she seems to be accepting some measure of responsibility for her actions.
It would have been far better for everyone concerned if she’d demonstrated a similar level of responsibility back at the conception stage, but we all make mistakes.
In any case, while everyone can symphathize with the difficulties she — and her children — must be dealing with, that doesn’t mean we have an obligation, constitutionally or otherwise, to shrug off her actions. Not unless we want to see them repeated by others, that is.
Again, open criticism or harassment (or at least what the “victim” may construe as such) may be rude and inappropriate. But if the point of the Human Rights Youth Rally is to highlight those freedoms protected by our Constitution, it seems to me those expressing their disappointment — and even displeasure — regarding the teen mother’s predicament are on firmer legal and moral ground than anyone arguing that she has a God-given right not to be judged.