Wednesday, February 11, 2009


A single mother with six children has just given birth to octuplets. She now faces the daunting task of raising fourteen children by herself. Raised without a father, with (according to Matt Lauer) no visible means of support, these children may be destined to a life of poverty or worse. Or maybe not. Maybe friends, the community, churches, or others will rise up and help.

The reason I know about this is that it has been on the news every day for the last two weeks. The Today Show has repeatedly discussed the ethical ramifications of this mother's choice. The question of whether or not the fertility clinic and the doctor who implanted the embryos into the mother should be sanctioned in some way has been discussed by various experts. The mother herself has been interviewed, and the question "why" has been asked of her over and over again.

I get that. It is news, it is questionable judgment, and people are interested in the answers.

What I also see, however, is a great inconsistency. We live in an age of "reproductive choice," where the privacy of the mother is the touchstone for reproductive rights.

The media, by and large, is supportive of a mother's choice when the issue is termination of pregnancy. The reason I know this is the complete lack of coverage of any woman who chooses to have an abortion today. There have been no news stories concerning a woman's choice to abort a baby this month. The Today Show has done no ethical analysis of that choice. The ethics of abortion clinics and doctors who choose to end fetal life are not front page news.

My point here is not to pick a scab and dive headlong into the abortion debate. I understand both sides of it. I am mildly pro-life (as that term is used in the political sphere), as I have said on this blog before. But that is not what I am talking about right now.

My point now is how striking it is that when a mother's choice is for multiple births, it seems to be fair game to attack her judgment, her doctor, her intelligence, and - indeed - her choice. That is inconsistent with the constant philosophy we have heard spouted since Roe v. Wade, if not earlier: "This is a matter of privacy. This is a mother's choice."

I realize that there is a difference between government interference in a private decision and with media criticism of it. I am not suggesting they are the same. My criticism here is limited to the media. Abortion is legal now, just like this woman's decision to have octuplets was legal. Only one of those legal choices is getting the scrutiny, the criticism, the cry for sanctions. If the other legal choice were questioned in this way, the screams would be long and loud.

That kind of inconsistency deserves notice.

No comments: