Today the policy of forcing unmarried mothers to give up their children for adoption is roundly condemned. In 2013 the then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, led the nation in apologising for this practice. There is still great pain and hurt in our society caused by ‘solving the problem’ of unmarried mothers by the ‘clean break theory’ of adoption.
Statistically “the problem” became much greater in the last half or the 20th century. The percentage of ex-nuptial births remained below 10% of all births until the 1960’s. Since then it has grown to 34% in 2010. Gertrude Himmelfarb the American historian wrote that for 160 years (1800 till 1960) the rate of ex-nuptial births in Britain remained fairly constant between at under 8% until the 1960’s from whence it rose to its present levels.
However, ‘the problem’ was resolved by redefining it away. Today there is not the same pressure to marry and so not the same stigma in being unmarried parents. Many children are born out of wedlock. Many of these are born to women in de facto marriages while others to women who are not in any ongoing relationship.
Since the “International Year of the Family” (1994), when the family was redefined to include everybody and every form of domestic arrangement, ‘family diversity’ has become the touchstone of social orthodoxy. This was not adopted in Australia because of our immigration policy or multiculturalism (e.g. we still ban polygamy), but because of the sexual revolution and our no-fault divorce laws.
In a nation that has over 80,000 abortions p.a. (roughly 25% of “all live births and abortions”) the problem of the ‘unwanted child’ has been largely ‘solved’.
The consequential shortage of babies available for adoption has been addressed in several ways. Modern medical procedures and international adoptions have helped, but not without difficulties and complexities.
So the old pressures on unmarried mothers to adopt out their babies have been removed, and we are able to see the inhumanity of the practice, apologise to the generation who endured it, and feel superior to the conservative moral traditionalists who imposed such a reign of terror.
However, the thinking behind the practices of the 1950’s and 60’s was not that of moral conservatives but progressive, professional, best practice, science.
Between the World Wars unmarried mothers were viewed in eugenic terms as “feebleminded” or “sexual delinquents”, whose children needed protection. WWII made the community wary of eugenics and so environmental factors were blamed and Freudian concern about early childhood experiences led to the ‘clean break theory’. The social workers, doctors, lawyers and psychologists followed the modern science of human behaviour. Unfortunately for the mothers and their children, like all utilitarian science, it took a generation to discover the full impact of the error.
Sadly we Christians, having more confidence in modern professional best practice than the word of God, shared in this mistreatment of women. It was not always so. Late in the 19th and well into the 20th century there was a different model of helping unmarried mothers. I do not know about Australia, but the American experience is well documented. Princeton Professor, Regina G. Kunzel in: Fallen Women, Problem Girls: Unmarried Mothers and the Professionalization of Social Work, 1890-1945, recounts how hundreds of homes for unmarried mothers were set up and run by Evangelicals seeking to help restore and reclaim “fallen sisters”. From the 1920s the development of Professional Social Work, with its ‘scientific objectivity and neutrality’, took over the whole enterprise. No longer were they “fallen sisters” in need of care; now they were problem girls – clients in need of solutions – eugenics pre WWII and the clean break theory post WWII. The amateur Evangelicals sought to redeem the unmarried mother by teaching skills and finding employment to enable her to keep her child. Rather than taking the child from the mother the two main networks of these homes “required the prospective resident to sign a contract promising to keep her child before being admitted” (p33).
Today, “experts” are similarly bullying us into acquiescing to untenable views of marriage and family life. The evidence for the advantages of married parents raising their biological children together and the dangers of the alternatives is overwhelming. It was gathered together in the Government report To Have and to Hold (1998), as well as in the writings of Professor Patrick Parkinson and the Federal Minister for Social Services, Kevin Andrews. More recently, Dr Jeremy Sammut of The Centre for Independent Studies, pointed out how the “politically correct determination to celebrate family diversity at all costs continues to stifle discussion of the negative consequences of single-motherhood”. Yet our sensitivity to avoiding discouragement to those who, for various reasons, are raising their children alone means that we are not easily able to make the general policy point that there is a best family structure. The heroic single mother who lovingly raises her child may be a better parent than the couple who ignore their children’s needs – but that doesn’t make single motherhood a better family structure. Of course, love in any structure is better than hate in the best structure – but there is a best structure.
In December 2013 Sir Paul Coleridge, a long serving judge in the Family Division of Britain’s High Court, received an official, formal warning of judicial misconduct for airing his views that gay marriage is a minority issue affecting 0.1% of the community compared to the “destructive scourge” of divorce and family breakdown, which he likened to an epidemic involving 3.8 million children in the family courts every year.
We Christians must not lose confidence in the word of God, but frame our lives on what God teaches and, in as much as we are able, seek to persuade society to follow God’s way. God’s way is simple to explain, though difficult in a fallen world to fulfil. Jesus said of marriage: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” And the prophet Malachi explained why God made us one: “And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.”