On Saturday, the New York Times published an article about the hypocrisy of “pro-life” Christian schools that incentivize abortion for pregnant students. Appropriately titled Pregnant at 18. Hailed by Abortion Foes. Punished By Christian School., the article begins:
Maddi Runkles has never been a disciplinary problem.
She has a 4.0 average at Heritage Academy, the small private Christian school she attends; played on the soccer team; and served as president of the student council. But when her fellow seniors don blue caps and gowns at graduation early next month, Ms. Runkles, 18, will not be among them.
The reason? She is pregnant.
The decision by school officials to bar Ms. Runkles from “walking” at graduation — and to remove her from her student council position — would have remained private, but for her family’s decision to seek help from Students for Life. The anti-abortion group, which took her to a recent rally in Washington, argues that she should be lauded, not punished, for her decision to keep her baby.
“She made the courageous decision to choose life, and she definitely should not be shamed,” said Kristan Hawkins, the Students for Life president, who tried unsuccessfully to persuade the administrator of Heritage Academy to reverse the decision. “There has got to be a way to treat a young woman who becomes pregnant in a graceful and loving way.”
Kristan Hawkins is absolutely right, and I applaud Students for Life for taking up Ms. Runkles’ cause. Let’s be real: if you penalize premarital sex, all you’re actually doing is punishing people who get caught having premarital sex. And thanks to the quirks of human biology, those who are caught will (1) almost exclusively be women, and (2) almost exclusively be pro-life. (I say “almost” to allow for those students who, say, have sex in an unlocked room on campus — but I have never heard of a young father being punished the way Ms. Runkles was.)
I know Kristan Hawkins personally, so I know that she is a Christian. I’m sure it isn’t easy for her to fight a public relations battle against an organization that shares her faith. But it is the right thing to do. I’m glad that there are Christians like her working within their own communities to reform attitudes toward young mothers. The Times article also mentions a Christian group called “Embrace Grace” that does some work on this front.
I also think that this incident highlights the need for secular advocacy. When Heritage Academy was asked for comment, an administrator told the Times that the staff had engaged in “much prayer” about Ms. Runkle’s pregnancy. That’s not a real answer. When you’re working from religious premises, just saying that you’ve prayed about it is apparently enough to excuse devastating school policies. It ends the conversation. From a secular point of view, that is unacceptable.
Then there’s this facepalm-worthy comment by Rick Kempton of the Association of Christian Schools International:
She’s making the right choice. But you don’t want to create a celebration that makes other young ladies feel like, “Well, that seems like a pretty good option.”
Not killing your unborn child should be seen as a pretty good option! If you honestly believe that seeing a pregnant classmate walk at graduation is going to cause young women to get pregnant on purpose, you do not give teens enough credit and you have no business being an educator. Also, Ms. Runkles is not trying to celebrate her pregnancy; she is trying to celebrate her graduation. Shockingly, becoming visibly pregnant did not erase every other aspect of her life! What does it say about these Christian school administrators’ view of women that they treat the very presence of an unwed pregnant belly as an insurmountable distraction?
No one is saying you can’t promote abstinence. No one is saying you should expect all your students to have sex, tell them “everyone is doing it,” and shame virgins. All we are saying is that when your students fall short of your sexual expectations, be there to catch them. Don’t push them to kill a child to cover up their “sin.”
P.S. — There is one bright spot to this story. Somehow, someone got the New York Times to refer to Ms. Runkle’s unborn son as a “baby.” That’s a refreshing change from the Grey Lady’s usual practice of using dehumanizing language to protect abortion.