A recent study published in the journal Developmental Psychology provides a timely reminder for Father’s Day about why fatherhood and marriage have to be part of the conversation if the pro-life movement is to successfully reduce the number of abortions.
The study provides solid evidence about the role good dads play in preventing their daughters from engaging in risky sexual behavior. In short, the more time daughters spent in quality relationships with their fathers, the less likely they were to engage in risky sexual behavior and to hang out with peers who engaged in such behavior. Translated into pro-life language, involved fathers insulate their daughters from the kinds of behaviors that lead to unplanned pregnancies.
In the Wall Street Journal’s coverage of the study, writer Melvin Konner pointed to family stability as a key factor in explaining the study’s results. While healthy marriages and the absence of divorce are the best predictors of family stability, the writer points to evidence from “evolutionary child psychology” to bolster the stability argument. He writes, “Biologists find that organisms in unstable environments grow up faster and start reproducing earlier than those in stable ones.”
While biological and social explanations are helpful, they ultimately point to the perfection of God’s design for marriage and the family. We are meant to be raised by loving mothers and fathers who love each other, love their children, and love God. After all, that is how Jesus himself was brought into the world. This Biblical model – which has an enormous amount of support from decades of social science research – is what drives Care Net’s Pro Abundant Life vision.
Saving the lives of unborn children is just the beginning of our work as pro-life people and organizations. But our work can’t just be about saving a baby; it has to also be about raising a child. Indeed, Care Net changed its vision statement to reflect this worldview. It now states that we want women and men to not only choose life for their unborn children, but also to choose abundant life for their families.
But talk is cheap. Anyone can say that fathers and marriage are important. Social science research has affirmed this idea for decades. But we want to turn our passion into action and turn research into practice; and more importantly, help others do the same.
Accordingly, we are providing our 1,100+ affiliated pregnancy centers with resources and training to equip them to serve fathers and have healthy discussions about the benefits of marriage. And we have evidence that the women we serve want to hear about these topics. In an exit survey for our pregnancy decision coaching tablet app, BYD: Live, we asked users, “Which part of the app did you find most helpful for your pregnancy decision?” The #1 response among women, beating out choices like fetal development videos and abortion information, was “marriage information.”
Why would such an unconventional response come out on top? We posit that it is because there are very few places left in our culture where young people are exposed to positive, accurate, and affirming information about the value of marriage and the importance of responsible fatherhood. Young people, including young women, are hungry for this kind of information.
We are hopeful that the new study and our new survey data will serve as an inspiration for those who seek to minister to the needs of women and men facing pregnancy decisions. We are hopeful that this new information will also reinforce the idea that abortion isn’t a “women’s issue,” but that it is a family issue, in which fathers play a unique and irreplaceable role, for good or for ill. Our job this Father’s Day and beyond is to ensure that it is for good.