Flipping through the channels one night not too long ago, I happened upon a rerun of TLC’s juggernaut of the moment, 19 Kids and Counting, and immediately found myself caught up in the storyline.
For those unfamiliar with the (in)famous Duggar clan, Michelle Duggar recently gave birth to number 19 of their brood, a sweet micro-preemie they named Josie, delivered at just 24 weeks gestation. She’s alive, but she has a ways to go, and for better or worse, they’re capturing it all on camera.
A commercial break jarred me from my reflection on the fact that technology and good medical care can sustain such a tiny life, and I mindlessly flipped through a few channels, stopping on a former favorite. Now I will be the first to admit, when I was a teenager I loved MTV. My sisters and I would not have missed an episode of TRL for anything, and I was shamelessly up to date on the goings-on in the Real World house.
I’m no longer a pop-culture consumer, and I’ve since learned a good deal about the marketing strategies and structure of MTV, along with the truth that basically every second of programming they feature is essentially a commercial. But in most cases, they’re exporting (or distorting) culture, not products.
Nefarious social agenda aside, I was intrigued by the appearance of a spiritedly blonde high school sophomore tanning beach side with her girlfriends, sporting a bulging belly at least 8 months along. I immediately had two thoughts: “I will never look like that in my third trimester” and “How in the hell does this qualify as entertainment programming?”
I watched in a mixture of horror, fascination and sadness as the main character narrated her life for the camera, introducing the audience to her mother, mom’s live in boyfriend, and the baby daddy himself – a 16 year old punk with a 20 word vocabulary and a serious drinking problem. I watched for about 5 minutes in my suspended state of disbelief before remembering the alternate storyline waiting for me on TLC.
Flash back to Arkansas, where all 21 Duggars are crowded into a hospital room, the smallest of the group encased in a plastic incubator and drawing coos and smiles from her prodigious family. Two women, worlds (and years) apart, both dealing with “complicated” pregnancies… one completely unexpected and the other utterly welcome… it really makes you wonder.
And two tiny lives, both born too soon in a way, one to a child mother, and the other to a mother of many children. Which one really stands a better chance at surviving, though, I wondered… a better chance at thriving?
I flipped back to MTV a few minutes later and watched as mama narrated her frustration with baby Jace’s deadbeat father, screamed at her own mother, and rolled her eyes (understandably) at mom’s nasty looking live in boyfriend who allegorically compared her worth to that of a paper towel, eloquently illustrated by the (you guessed it) paper towel he was waving for emphasis. It was obvious that something had gone terribly, terribly wrong in this young life… and yet, God had allowed it all.
Why hadn’t she had an abortion, some viewers must have been wondering? Why had she been allowed by authorities to maintain custody of the baby when she was clearly unprepared to parent ? And why was she not on birth control of some sort in the first place, preventing such a “tragedy” from ever occurring?
I’m sure plenty of people would ask these very questions, outraged at the circumstances surrounding the ill-timed arrival of her child… but I would argue that those questions are wrong-headed… and misdirected.
Because no matter the circumstances of one’s birth, these alone can never, ever determine one’s ultimate worth.
On the one hand, Little Josie Duggar is no less important – or unique – of a human being than is her oldest brother Josh… the fact that there are 17 other siblings in between them holds no bearing on whether or not she “should” exist. The point is, she does.
Every life, particularly in this culture, is a victory – however brief – over death. No matter if Josie Duggar makes it to 6 months or 6 years old, she is here, and she is a part of a plan that cannot and will not be executed without her participation.
The same goes for Jace, the MTV progeny. His mom is an emotionally unstable high schooler. His dad will probably never give him paternal support in any form… but he exists, and his worth is not measurable against the qualities or qualifications of the people who cooperated to create him.
This is what abortion supporters don’t grasp: that either every life is valuable, or no life is valuable.
The moment we rule in judgment against someone’s “right” to exist based upon financial, emotional, social, chronological, genetic, religious, or racial standards; we all cede claims to these same rights. Because we, as finite human beings, can never objectively rule on whether or not someone else has the “right” to be here.
Some would argue that the Duggars are irresponsible in their fecundity, that their children are a drain on society that it isn’t possible to love and adequately nurture such a large family … but they are wrong.
Given the income level and age of his parents, it is perhaps more easily justifiable to argue that baby Jace should have been aborted, that his mom should have been injected or drugged to prevent her from pro-creating… but these also are wrong-headed assertions. The problem is not that Jace exists, nor that his mom was able to conceive.
In reality, women can get pregnant. It means that our bodies are doing something right, and it is perhaps the most tremendous responsibility with which we will be entrusted in our lifetimes. The problem for little Jace, however, goes back further than one night after the Homecoming dance.
This isn’t the way things are designed to function… but when something is broken, you don’t re-organize and restructure the rest of the machine – or civilization – around the busted part. Our culture, comprised of individual families, is tremendously broken. And no amount of birth control or social programming is going to fix that.
Pills, patches and welfare checks all treat the symptom, but fail to identify (or even acknowledge) the cause. Abortion is a far more destructive divergence from reality than a knocked up teenager. Now on top of parental neglect, a lack of supervision, and sexual sin… you heap death.
The very real problems I watched playing out on screen were ultimately rooted in a lack of love: love for the young mother, hurting and trying her best to put up a front of bravado, and love for a tiny baby fighting to survive, desperately wanted by her family, but derided by the culture at large for being “too much,” a burden, a waste of resources.
The juxtaposition of these two families, the Duggars and the cast of 16 and Pregnant, was just too perfect, and chilling. One child welcomed with love and open arms, despite her physical frailty, the other regarded as a loathsome intrusion, despite his perfect health. Disparate in circumstances, but equal in value, these two little people present a clear challenge to the viewer: either every life is valuable, or no life is valuable.