London Free Press

September 17, 1999

Silence on teen pregnancies national disgrace

London Free Press

For the past few weeks, Britain has been rocked by reports about two 12-year-old English mothers. One of the youngsters is said to have deliberately become pregnant with her 14-year-old boyfriend.

These shocking incidents are symptomatic of a larger crisis: Britain now has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe. British Prime Minister Tony Blair told a reporter for The Observer newspaper that he thinks the situation is, "appalling and should be a matter of anxiety and concern to anyone who believes in the future of the country."

Nonetheless, Blair suggested there is little government alone can do.

"We need to find a new national moral purpose for this new generation," he said. "People want to live in a society that is without prejudice, but is with rules, with a sense of order. Government can play its part, but parents have to play their part. There's got to be, if you like, a partnership between government and the country to lay the foundations of that moral purpose."

What politician would want to disagree with such a high-minded sentiment? Charles Kennedy, for one. As leader of Britain's Liberal Democrat party, he is trying to outflank Blair's Labour government on the left.

Kennedy says Blair's comments remind him of the ill-fated "back to basics" call for moral renewal issued by Britain's former Conservative prime minister John Major. The slogan became an object of ridicule after several of Major's cabinet colleagues were caught in various acts of sexual and financial immorality.

One of the culprits, Steven Norris, was dubbed the Minister for Mistresses. He is now running for mayor of London. In a bid to reassure conservative voters, he has promised to divorce his wife of 30 years and marry a woman 20 years younger who is the mother of his 18-month-old child. However, his campaign received a jolt last week, when one of his former mistresses claimed in a letter to The Times that he had promised to marry her in 1986.

Kennedy insists politicians have no business promoting morality. He said: "I think (former British prime minister) Harold Macmillan had a point when he remarked that it is best to leave the bishops for the pulpits and let the politicians get on with what we have to do."

What, then, do the bishops have to say? The Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, waded into the debate in an interview on the BBC, advising Blair that, "Morality cannot be imposed."

The point of this remark is hard to fathom. In no way has Blair ever suggested that morality can or should be imposed.

When the BBC asked Carey what he would do about teenage pregnancy, he replied: "We ought to be saying to children, look, you don't want to get into that situation in the first place. There is something holy about the sexual relationship, you want to save yourself for a relationship."

That, of course, is simply orthodox Judeo-Christian teaching. However, Carey also opined that part of the solution to the problem of teenage pregnancy is the morning-after pill.

That suggestion outraged many of Carey's fellow Christians. Given that the morning-after pill can only work by killing a developing human being in the womb, a representative of Life, a British anti-abortion charity, said that, "For a Christian leader to be advocating the destruction of early human life, even in part, is deeply shocking."

Meanwhile, Blair remains unbowed by his critics.

"Let us start from first principles," he wrote in The Times last week. "Does it matter that we have more teenage mothers than any other West European country -- twice as high as Germany, three times as high as France and six times as high as The Netherlands?

"I say yes," Blair wrote, and for good reason. Both teenage single parents and their children are far more likely than other youngsters to drop out of school, abuse drugs, and get into trouble with the law.

Blair deserves commendation, not criticism, for insisting that Britain needs, "a new sense of moral purpose for today's young generation."

In Canada, the need is no less urgent, inasmuch as the Canadian teenage pregnancy rate is as high as Britain's. But what has Prime Minister Jean Chretien had to say about this moral crisis? Practically nothing.

The failure of our other leading first ministers to speak out with anything like Blair's moral passion on this crucial issue is a national disgrace.

Write Rory at The London Free Press, P.O. Box 2280, London, Ont. N6A 4G1 or fax 519-667-4528 or E-mail.
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