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

From the Archives:

“The Week That Wasn’t”

“This Will Never Stop”


  • G. Sanchez wrote:

    The family you went to visit that had the little boy screaming about his dad, they sound like families I knew growing up. Lots of families out there like that. I hope the little boy and his sisters made it.

    My wife and I we’d like to help but foster care kids can have LOTS OF PROBLEMS!

  • Foster parenting can be very rewarding work but also frustrating. I got to know several long-time foster parents. A couple of them adopted one or more of their foster children. Others hated sending foster kids back to their biological parents if they didn’t think the mother or parents had changed.

    In the case of the family I mentioned above, the biological father had two generations in the system. I ended up representing two of his grandkids as well as his children. The foster mother of his grandson was ready to stop foster parenting after 20 years because she was tired of seeing second-generation kids come through. It made her question how well the system was working.

  • Well said.

    It’s fine to celebrate any form of sexual activity and we are now marketing pot in the same way tobacco was in the 50s. As you point out legislators want to decriminalize possession of heroin and meth and yet no legislator wants to acknowledge what you’ve set forth – younger and younger women having multiples of children they are neither financially or emotionally prepared to parent, often by a striking multiplicity of fathers.
    Only 10% of prison inmates are women, yet some legislators, like Piluso, are wringing their hands over eventually re-opening the old OWCC on the grounds of the State Pen off State Street.
    What’s “the crisis?” DOC concedes their prediction is that my 2026 we’ll need…wait for it…..11 additional female beds (on an overall prison population of about 15,000)

    The authors of FREAKONOMICS were vilified when they made your very point…more abortions now means less prison in 20 years……

  • I loved “Freakonomics.” You’re right Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (the authors) were vilified. They ask questions in that book that neither Republicans nor Democrats want to answer, such as “What is the relative value of a fetus and a newborn?”

    There is no right answer to a question like that, but it deserves discussion. We (and the state) all have finite resources. If a family is having trouble caring for two children, how will having a third impact the kids they already have?

    The connection between unwanted children and prison is rarely addressed. The New York Times’ Fox Butterfield wrote a highly acclaimed book called “All God’s Children” about the notorious Bosket family of New York that included multiple generations of killers.

    “The roots of violence and pathology have rarely been dissected like this. … (T)his book is a must, answering many questions of how and why” was typical of the raves Butterfield received.

    He blames (among other things) Willie Bosket’s mother for resenting a baby she didn’t want. He doesn’t consider that the mother may have wanted something else for herself than raising a boy whose father was in prison. Butterfield never asks: What if Bosket’s mother had not brought an unwanted pregnancy to fruition?

    One answer is that Bosket would not have grown up to casually kill and rob two subway riders.

  • “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.”

    The reads pretty true to my experience. And, you are right that the political will to address the nightmare isn’t in existence.

    But, it is a grotesque society that has to employ abortion to reduce criminal conduct among its citizenry. The same is true for the catastrophic expenditures incurred when the citizenry is free to carelessly breed itself to destruction.

    I am sure that you recall better than I the mess that came about when birth control implants were imposed on careless female dope fiends years back.

    The eugenics people have a lot to answer for.

    I would be very glad to see men who failed to pay child support subject to vasectomies. Throw repeat felons in there,too

    Planned Parenthood enjoys a sacred position in certain potent quarters that the Pope enjoys nowhere on Earth. It is not answerable to any power that I know of. That has to be rectified. Who or how many have heard of Gosnell. Why is that?

    I have an adopted nephew and niece from an incorrigible drunken dope-fiend baby-mama on the South Coast. The hope is that they have the same father. The fathers of the other 5 siblings are anyone’s guess.

    Both of my adopted relatives have serious behavioral problems. My sister does get on my nerves but she has (with the surprising help of the county) performed a miracle with the boy who is at once a wigger and a happy military cadet. The girl is too young to get away with much yet.

    I trained but never served with CASA and have enormous respect for the outfit and its Sisyphean task.

    We are a society without kinship,spiritual framework,or shared purpose.

  • I think the media have been so quiet about Gosnell and his gruesome abortion clinic because he’s black. Had a white doctor done to black patients and poor immigrants what Gosnell did, everyone would know that white doctor’s name.

    But Gosnell is also a reminder of what poor and working-class women did before abortion was legal. They went to people like Gosnell, while the daughters of the wealthy went to regular doctors, who could perform legal abortions by claiming the patient’s life was at risk (e.g. saying that she was spotting blood).

    Meanwhile, men have never had to pay the same price for simply having sex. They may get hit in the pocketbook, but their lives and bodies are still their own.

    My problem with Planned Parenthood is that it has helped turn abortion into a partisan issue. Its national president is Cecile Richards, daughter of former Democratic royalty, Gov. Ann Richards. Here in Oregon, the president of the organization is Mary Nolan, a Democrat and former state representative. If Planned Parenthood is going to pick leaders who are already in the public eye, it should also reach out to pro-choice Republicans.

    It’s too bad you didn’t serve as a CASA. They need more men to do that kind of work (and the state could use more male social workers). The father of one 5-year-old girl assigned to me was a 23-year-old man who had five children by four women. A guy like that isn’t likely to listen to anything a woman tries to tell him about being sexually responsible. He might listen to an older, respected man.

  • Hard to bring something fresh to the conversation.

    Sometimes it seems a nuts and bolts practical problem, and at other an intractable philosophical muddle.

    “It” being parents, their children, and adult responsibility. I suspect that at its best, un-codified cultural coercion might be the best solution.

    With a consensus on basic decency people simply have too much self-respect to neglect their responsibility within the community and regard for community estimation buttresses one when faltering in that social obligation.

    For this to have practical value there must exist a social consensus of primary spiritual values.

    Brings to mind the Chabrolian dilemma depicted in The Story of Women:


    That sort of Vichy hypocrisy is a variation on an old theme of coming to grips with societal decadence.

    Finally, there is this:


    Well, really finally there is this which is unrelated in most ways to the matter at hand. However it does tie directly into societal, parental, and child responsibility. Most especially cogent are the final two clips from the 60s.

    Indeed, I might be inclined to skip the text and simply watch the two Chinese clips.


  • Cripes, my previous entry is a mess.

  • Pamela wrote:

    Oh, I don’t know. The links are interesting. The subject itself is kind of messy. I won’t be looking up “Story of Women” on Netflix, though.

    My first job out of college was in Salem, Ore., and my neighbor was a lovely woman named Lillian Driessler who had lived in Chicago during the Great Depression. She worked in a factory with a lot of other women, and she told me the worst thing that could happen to a single, young woman was to get pregnant. The woman would instantly lose her job and most likely suffer shame from her family. One of her coworkers got pregnant and died of complications from an illegal abortion.

    Lillian said sexual pleasure wasn’t part of a young woman’s life. Sex maybe, but not sexual pleasure. There was too much to worry about.

  • It works only one way. I think an aspiring male surgeon would have committed his last operation were the circumstances reversed.


  • Pamela wrote:

    I shared this story with several friends, and they individually had the same reaction, a variation on this: “She’s really good looking.”

    Attractive young women get a break. To a lesser extent, so do attractive young men. Looks matter. It’s a form of discrimination you don’t hear much about — probably because a lot of us engage in it.

    If Lavinia Woodward were plain or homely, I doubt if the judge would have been so sympathetic. The Oxford connection helped too, since society accords automatic respect to certain institutions even if they don’t deserve it.

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