Planned Parenthood may describe itself as a “health organization,” but in reality it is an ideological outfit. It is committed to the idea of “reproductive rights” that belong only to women. In the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, for instance, the group persuaded the Supreme Court that a married woman has a constitutional right to abort her husband’s child without telling him.
If men have no reproductive rights, it follows logically that they have no reproductive responsibilities. That’s an abstract formulation, and one with which the law is often inconsistent: Family courts frequently attempt to hold men responsible for their offspring (though that poster slogan “Dad, you’ll be paying to support me for the next 20 years” almost surely makes a false promise to Mom).
But culturally this logic has proved irresistible. In a 1996 study published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics and excerpted by the Brookings Institution, George Akerloff and Janet Yellin found that the introduction of the pill, which gave women control over the reproductive process, freed men from the sense that they were responsible for it. The result was the breakdown of the tradition of the shotgun wedding. Before, it was understood that if a man impregnated a woman, he would marry her. Now, it’s up to her to exercise her “reproductive rights” and get an abortion–or to keep the baby and assume primary responsibility for it. Even if a court docks the man for child support, the burden is much greater on the woman.
The contemporary problem of illegitimacy, then, is largely the consequence of Planned Parenthood’s ideology of female “reproductive rights” and the technology that made it feasible. Planned Parenthood’s hostility toward any effort to tackle, or even acknowledge, the problem is anything but coincidental.
The ad campaign’s focus on “teen pregnancy” rather than illegitimacy illustrates a class bias. The two may seem more or less interchangeable inasmuch as the idea of marrying and starting a family at 18 is today virtually unthinkable within the educated class. Today’s privileged woman is expected to follow a life script in which high school is followed by college and a career. In that script, a period of sexual and romantic experimentation begins in college or before (made possible thanks to contraception, with abortion available as a Plan C), and marriage and children are expected to wait until after she is established in her career.