Single Mothers, Second Chances
Three years ago, Michelle Smith was pregnant, alone, and afraid. The 28-year-old Nashville resident was a full-time student working two jobs to make ends meet. She was in a serious, but shaky, dating relationship.
Smith, who prided herself on being independent, felt ashamed about her pregnancy. She feared her boyfriend would bolt and was convinced her churchgoing family would shun her.
"It was not a good situation," Smith says. So, like more than one million American women each year, Smith decided to have an abortion. But first she wanted to have an ultrasound—a step that changed her life and saved the life of her unborn daughter.
After seeing sonographic images at Nashville's Hope Clinic for Women, Smith says, "I knew I could not have an abortion." But with no health insurance, no support system, and not enough money to buy even the essentials, she felt trapped. Talking with a clinic counselor, Smith began to sob. "I was overwhelmed because of the chain of decisions I had made to get me to this point."
With her counselor's assistance, Smith figured out how to talk to her family about the pregnancy. To her surprise, instead of rejection they offered support. Clinic staff also helped her apply for government programs for single mothers.
Renee Rizzo, director of Hope Clinic, says most of the women who come through Hope's doors are between the ages of 18 and 24. "They barely know how to take care of themselves. They fear they are going to lose everything and be alone, forever."
This spring, the National Center for Health Statistics released findings based on its research of birth certificates that show a historic surge in the number of children born out of wedlock. About four out of every ten births are now to women who are single.
The trend occurs at a time when the number of legal abortions continues to decline in the United States. The number peaked at 1.6 million abortions in 1990. In 2000, that number had dropped to 1.31 million. By 2005, the most recent year statistics were compiled, the number was 1.2 million.
Many factors, including the following, are at work in this complex picture:
- The sharp increase in never-married women in their 20s and 30s having children.
- The decline in social stigma associated with unmarried motherhood.
- The increase in the percentage of Americans who disapprove of elective abortion.
Further, the typical single mother's profile has changed from a teenager facing a crisis pregnancy to a young adult woman, often a college student, with a pregnancy she didn't plan. But one factor that remains steady are the limited resources that most single women have because of their age and life stage, and the resulting pressure they face to have an abortion.
To complicate matters, if the young woman is a Christian, she faces fear that her church and Christian friends will look down on her. "In an unplanned pregnancy, for you to carry it to term, the whole world will know your choices and judge you accordingly," says Rizzo.
The response of fellow Christians has lifelong consequences for such individuals. In the 1980s, Colette Moran, then a college senior in Chicago, discovered she was pregnant. At first, she feared that her fellow students, many of them conservative evangelicals, would shun her.
"Then I thought, If they are really Christians, they can deal with this," she says. Indeed, most students responded compassionately to Moran, who gave birth to her daughter, Julia, a few days after graduation. There were awkward moments. "Sometimes people didn't know what to say," Moran says. "But I can't remember a single negative comment."