Political Hands Rock the Cradle

Life begins with somebody getting screwed.

Sounds cynical, but that’s how it is.

Who’s getting screwed by President Donald Trump’s decision to end federal funding to organizations that provide abortions?

Women and children – and, yes, some men.

It’s ironic that Trump’s signature on a law targeting Planned Parenthood funding came in April, which happens to be “Child Abuse Prevention Month.”

Outside the state Capitol building in Salem, Ore., this month a tree is tagged with hundreds of blue and white ribbons.

“Each of these ribbons represent the 10,402 confirmed victims of child abuse or neglect in Oregon in 2015,” a sign says. “You can help prevent child abuse.”

You know what else helps prevent child abuse? Legal abortion. It’s a humane and medically safe way to stop a fertilized egg, an embryo, a zygote, a fetus from evolving into a life that isn’t wanted and won’t be cared for.

Even the most ardent “pro-lifers” have a limit to how many lives they can support.

The ground beneath the ribbon tree is dotted with blue and white pinwheels. The “Pinwheel Garden,” according to a sign, “represents what we want for every child – a happy, safe and carefree childhood!”

How does a pinwheel ensure that an egg and sperm will join together and produce a happy, safe and carefree childhood? Presumably the pinwheel symbolism will help raise money and drum up interest in becoming foster parents to neglected children.

Inside the state Capitol building, legislators consider hundreds of bills, some of them intended to help abused and neglected children – House Bill 3372, for example, would require coordinated care organizations to provide initial health screenings to foster children.

Other proposed legislation unwittingly aids in the creation of more abused and neglected children – Senate Bill 967 calls for the early release of young felons; SB 65 provides more freedom or “restorative justice” for criminals in residential psychiatric care; SB 935 increases early transitional leave from prison.

Ultimately, ribbon and pinwheel symbolism can’t compete with drugs and sex.

Any legislation that makes it easier for convicted criminals to be free and obtain drugs helps create an environment for more babies to be created and neglected.

Republicans and Democrats alike don’t want to acknowledge this fact of life.

Can you imagine the outcry if a legislator proposed a bill making early release from prison contingent upon no babies for x-number of years? The denunciations would come from both sides of the political aisle.

And imagine the outcry if a legislator proposed a bill offering the equivalent of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to drug addicts contingent upon no babies for x-number of years.

Meth and heroin addicts can be especially unfit parents. They can give young children the kind of damaged start that only leads to more damaged children.

Our politicians are afraid to compete with popular culture. How many photos of celebrity baby bumps are offered as click-bait online or on covers of magazines at the grocery checkout counter? Ever notice how baby bumps are especially cute on unmarried celebrities?

Former First Lady Michelle Obama learned from Nancy Reagan’s mistake and safely chose nutrition as her cause, not drug-fueled babymaking.

Ours is also a culture that wallows in neediness to solve social problems – “we need more money for substance-abuse programs” – and then honors Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix on postage stamps.

The children represented by the blue and white ribbons on the trees in front of the state Capitol are not the sons and daughters of celebrities.

Some of them are like the kids I represented a decade ago when I volunteered as a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) on behalf of abused and neglected children in Clark County, Washington – just across the state line from Oregon. Many states use CASAs to represent children in court.

Some CASAs dive into their cases with a lot more interest than attorneys or social workers, who may have so many cases they can’t devote much time to any one family. If you randomly pulled files of dependency cases and read the reports, you would be surprised at how alike everyone sounds. It’s as if the social workers have a template, and they simply change the names. Or it could be that the same problems present themselves over and over, and nothing changes.

All of the fourteen children I represented had parents with serious drug problems. Presumably with enough money and/or parenting classes and/or substance-abuse treatment, these parents could be turned into fit mothers and fathers – or so goes the theory of family reunification, which is popular with state Departments of Human Services across the country.

In the meantime, while the parents are learning to parent, the kids are sent to foster care. Orphanages are mostly a thing of the past.

How does this work in practice? Count the ribbons on that tree.

The first family of kids assigned to me included an infant, an 8-year-old girl, a 9-year-old boy and their 12-year-old half sister.

The mother of these four children had once been a daughter of the middle-class, raised in a stable, two-parent home. By her own admission, she had a wild streak. She eagerly said “yes” when her husband introduced her to meth. (He also manufactured it.)

By the time I met her, this woman had a prior conviction for welfare fraud and owed the state $11,000. Her children came to the attention of Vancouver police when they were found in the care of an 18-year-old male who was related to a parolee being sought for raping a woman in a restroom at a shopping mall.

There wasn’t a foster home that could accommodate all four children so they were split up among three homes. The oldest girl and boy went to one home, the middle daughter to another and the infant to a third.

On my first home visit as a CASA, I arrived to find the foster mom of the oldest girl and the boy overwhelmed and ready to quit. These were her first foster kids. The girl was surly, openly disrespectful and laughed at how fat the foster mom was. The boy bounced around the house, throwing things, tormenting the family dog and banging his head against the arm of the couch and screaming, “Dad is a pothead! Dad is a pothead! I hate Dad!”

Meanwhile, the middle daughter quickly settled into a quiet routine with her foster family. At school her teacher said she was one of the top students in math, turned in all her homework early and liked to help other students.

“This little girl is a survivor,” the teacher told me.

What I remember most about this girl was that in my first visit with her she told me what she thought would help her mother: “Don’t have any more babies.”

My supervisor explained to me that state authorities did not come down on multiple pregnancies.

“They aren’t allowed to for some odd reason. They can encourage family planning, but that is the extent.”

My supervisor had a case involving a 26-year-old woman and meth addict who had delivered 10 children (including a set of twins). For this woman, the hypersexuality and addictiveness of meth were more powerful than any treatment.

What will it take for Republicans and Democrats alike to accept they have been wrong in their approach to abortion?

To Republicans: These women don’t want an abortion. They are more than happy to saddle you with the care and raising of children you encourage from conception.

To Democrats: These women don’t use Planned Parenthood. They prefer public assistance.

To Republicans who yearn to bring back the days of “Father Knows Best:” Unmarried women breed freely now without shame. It doesn’t get much more pro-life than that.

To Democrats who think it’s now “Mother Knows Best:” Not when Mommy is a meth-head.

Republicans and Democrats alike have politicized abortion for their own purposes. What should be a private medical procedure is now a cause to raise money and votes.

Next April, outside the state Capitol there will likely be another ribbon tree and more pinwheels in honor of Child Abuse Prevention Month.

– Pamela Fitzsimmons

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