Congress Hopes to Cut Illegitimacy at Any Age: Clinton Targets Teen Pregnancies

By Wetzstein, Cheryl | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 14, 1997 | Go to article overview

Congress Hopes to Cut Illegitimacy at Any Age: Clinton Targets Teen Pregnancies


Wetzstein, Cheryl, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


To many Americans, fighting teen pregnancy and fighting illegitimacy are the same thing.

But, as states will soon discover, there are some crucial distinctions to be made:

* Fighting teen pregnancy can mean opposing unwed teen childbearing. About 75 percent of teen births are to unwed mothers.

Or, fighting teen pregnancy can mean opposing childbearing in all teens - even if the teen is married.

* Fighting illegitimacy can mean opposing unwed teen childbearing. This is because "children having children" carries the most troubling consequences.

Or, fighting illegitimacy can mean targeting more than teens. It means targeting the age group that brings more than half the out-of-wedlock babies into the world: women in their 20s.

Not distinguishing between married and unmarried teens misses the point, says Robert Rector, a welfare expert with the Heritage Foundation.

"When you're looking at the well-being of the child . . . the age of the mother is not the significant factor. It's whether or not she's married," he says.

But to those who prize individual freedoms and reproductive rights, government meddling in the sexual and marital lives of adults is an anathema.

States are likely to wrestle with these issues as they implement the nine components of the welfare law that address illegitimacy and teen pregnancy.

Several of the mandates written by the Republican-led Congress require states to reduce illegitimacy in their populations, without regard to the mother's age.

The Clinton administration has weighed in more on the side of reducing teen pregnancies.

No problem "stands in our way of achieving our goals for America more than the epidemic of teen pregnancy," President Clinton said in his Jan. 4 radio address.

"That's why our administration has worked so hard to reduce teen pregnancies, to increase responsibility among teen parents, and to prepare young people to be good parents at the right time," he said.

The president has often included "marriage" in his message: "It's wrong to be pregnant or father a child unless you are married and ready to take on the responsibilities of parenthood," he said on Jan. 4, echoing a statement he made in an October radio address.

But as the message spreads, the part about marriage seems to get overshadowed - or even lost - in the push to prevent teen pregnancy. …

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