Department of Good Old Days | Letters | Chicago Reader

Department of Good Old Days 

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To the editors:

I'm sure that all the young girls who read the "Girl in Trouble" article [August 17] are glad they weren't young girls 20, 50, or 100 years ago. The absence of federally funded contraceptive research, the absence of corporate testing and marketing of birth control methods, and the success of the "right wing's" limitations on abortion in those times must have led to frightfully high unwed teenage pregnancy rates.

John Moynihan

N. Oakley

Florence Hamlish Levinsohn replies:

John Moynihan helps to put the "Girl in Trouble" in historical perspective. As recently as 25 to 30 years ago, there were throughout the Western world what were called foundling homes and orphanages, filled with the infants and children of unwed mothers and others who could not care for their children, institutions that hold few happy recollections for those who grew up in them. There were also homes for unwed mothers, for girls who had been turned out of their homes.

Those girls who insisted on keeping their babies were horribly stigmatized, as were the children. "Illegitimate" was written on the birth certificate and the children were known as "bastards." A young girl raising a baby by herself could not realistically hope to marry or get a decent job. Such girls often resorted to moving to another city and concocting a story about a dead husband. Suicide for such girls was not so unusual.

It is interesting that Kitty Dukakis blames her mental illness on her mother's illegitimacy, which she never revealed to her daughter. Happily, these attitudes have largely disappeared--along with the orphanages and foundling homes and the homes for unwed mothers--as a consequence of the sexual revolution, which included the introduction of the pill and legalization of abortion. About 95 percent of unwed mothers now keep their babies. The rest put them up for adoption.

But the Catholic church and its allies in the antiabortion movement have never accepted the fact of the sexual revolution or the legitimacy of the pill or any other contraceptive method or abortion, and would seem to prefer that we return to the good old days when young girls had sex only at great risk and with great punishments and when unwanted babies grew up in institutions. There are those who think that those unwanted babies were quickly adopted. In the good old days, only a tiny percentage of those babies were adopted; their numbers far exceeded the number of adoptive parents.

The so-called prolifers are now offering to establish homes for unwed mothers and adoption services to help the girls who will not be able to get abortions because of the parental-notification laws. Perhaps they will also offer to establish foundling homes and orphanages to take care of the babies these girls cannot or do not want to raise by themselves when the adoptive parent pool runs out--which it surely will if the pregnancy rate among teenagers continues to grow as it has in recent years as a result of inadequate contraception and the lack of contraception information.

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