Pro-Life - Original Articles

Talk of "Wanted Child" Makes for Doll Objects

By Sidney Callahan

I'd like to start a campaign against the idea of "the wanted child." The phrase is dangerous to children, even in small doses. The people who use the phrase in efforts to control population or sell family planning programs are well meaning, but they are sowing the seeds of subtle destruction.

The corruption involved is quite simple to grasp. If you start talking and thinking about a child as a "wanted child," you cannot help but put the idea into people's heads that children exist and have a right to exist only because someone wants them. And alas, the opposite conclusion is also there waiting for us: if it's an "unwanted child" it has no rights

It's destructive of family life for parents even to think in these categories of wanted and unwanted children. By using the words you set up parents with too much power, including psychological power, over their children. Somehow the child is being measured by the parent's attitudes and being defined by the parent's feelings. We usually want only objects, and wanting them or not implies that we are superior, or at least engaged in a one-way relationship to them.

In the same way, men have "wanted" women through the ages. Often a woman's position was precarious and rested on being wanted by some man. The unwanted woman could be cast off when she was no longer a desirable object. She did not have an intrinsic dignity beyond wanting. That's what they mean in protests against being a sex object.

Well, talking about the "wanted child" is making a child a "doll object." When you want one, you make one or buy one, and it then has a right to exist as a glorified form of property. And woe be to the child who is no longer wanted, or who is imperfect in some way. Or who in the church does not satisfy. Has satisfaction been given, sir? If not, the merchadise is returnable, you know.

The point I'm trying to stress, of course, is that old idea in our common culture that each human being has inviolable rights and dignity no matter what. If you're a Jew and they don't want you in Nazi Germany, it's Germany's shame. If you're black and they don't want you in the club, that's the club's crime. If you're a woman and they don't want you in the job, it's their fault. The powerful (including parents) cannot be allowed to want and unwant people at will.

In family life, this idea of unique inviolable dignity and intrinsic value is especially needed. Since emotions are so strong and dependency needs are so urgent, the temptation to cop out is ever present. We don't hang in there because we always want to, or want something or somebody. The old parent, the sick spouse, the needy child are not always wanted.

So who cares what you want, or whether other people want you? Human beings are human beings. Every individual has his rights. A child's very existence is claim enough.

Originally published in National Catholic Reporter


The concept of the wanted child seems to have apparently noble roots. It evokes in the mind of the general public a utopia where all children are wanted and properly cared for. The idea that we should, however, be able to destroy a particular child because she is unwanted, is really what underlies the promotion of this concept. Like all forms of propaganda, the promoters of the term "wanted child" actually say one thing and mean another, knowing full well that the hearer of the phrase will reach the same conclusion of meaning which was intended. This kind of rhetoric is used to sway public opinion among undecided people. One of the fallacies of this entire campaign is that it is ethically acceptable to destroy children who are unwanted, which completely ignores the fact that it is the unwanters, rather than the unwanted, who have flaws of character. Essentially, it punishes the child for the character flaws of her mother.

Nothing fundamental has changed since Sidney Callahan wrote this piece nearly three decades ago. The general public still buys into the subtle warping of thought that was originally woven by the perpetrators of this insidious term. This piece is just as timely today as when Feminists for Life first began to distribute it immediately after its founding in 1972.

Sidney Callahan recognized that the concept of an unwanted human being undermines the very basis of feminism. Feminism has always been about fighting for the fundamental and inalienable rights of all human beings, no matter how small and defenseless. Historically, feminists sought to protect the rights of even less fortunate human beings before looking to protect their own. The very idea that any woman could seek to destroy her most defenseless child rather than fight for her own right to exist on the same terms as powerful males, is totally antagonistic to true feminism. The suffragists were well aware of this and spoke forcefully against what they clearly perceived as being the most subtle form of slavery the world has ever invented: the slavery that would cause a woman to seek to attack both herself and her children rather than stand up to injustice and demand rights.

History has since shown that in a society that puts a premium on wanting all children who are allowed to continue to exist puts too much emphasis on producing the perfect child. What seems like a movement to help children realize their full potential, for example, with intensive educational methods used by parents with their infants and toddlers, rather becomes an act of creation of a showpiece by which people can garner praise for their own phenomenal parenting skills for having produced such a young genius. The idea that a child may have a need for such methods, and that the focus should be on providing them for the child's need gets lost in the shuffle. This seems to be a logical extension of the idea that all children should be wanted and given the best possible environment.

There seems to be something outstandingly elitist about this entire perspective. It seems to be a peculiar phenomenon of the WASP female. As such, it passes a value judgment on women of color who are incapable for one reason or another of providing that perfect environment, and assigns them to the fate of having to abort their own children for failure of their homes to measure up to WASP standards. The fact that this co-opts the psyche of the nonwhite and nonaffluent woman is conveniently overlooked. Often added to this impossible burden is the idea that if the woman has been taking drugs or abusing her body in some other way, her child is also better off dead. Most assuredly, we don't want to bother to help her care for her child, or to take on the responsibility ourselves.

This further extends to the growing practice of destroying unborn children who are believed to have a genetic defect. The fact that we all have at least five lethal defective genes is somehow lost in the shuffle. Our own judgment is ultimately turned on ourselves.

The outworking of this has been the growing attitude that if a child will be born less than perfect, into a less than perfect environment, the child is better off dead. We can no longer hide behind the subterfuge that this isn't really a child we are destroying by abortion, as modern technology has opened a window into the womb. At the same time, some parents are making value judgments that conclude that no child would prefer pain or unpleasantness to oblivion. What is happening in reality, however, is that some parents are rationalizing their own unwillingness to cope with what they perceive as discomfort or emotional pain, by projecting on the child their feelings that oblivion is preferable. At the same time, these parents fail to acknowledge the pain they are deliberately inflicting on their children in the process of consigning them to oblivion. Many take comfort in the repeated claim that a child that young cannot possibly feel pain at being destroyed. Trying to point out the most recent discoveries of medical science in that regard is unavailing. What happens when parents convince themselves that they are doing their children a favor, and that if the children could express themselves, they, too, would choose oblivion?

While I cannot help but feel sympathy for parents with such an impoverished spirit, at the same time, I cannot condone their behavior. Furthermore, I have to seriously ask whether we shouldn't be looking to eliminate moral defectiveness rather than physical or mental defectiveness. After all, how much damage to society can a single retarded child do, for example? I would rather have a thousand retarded children born into the world than one person with the kind of moral defectiveness of a Hitler, a Stalin, or a Mao.

Thus, the practice of destroying a child with a genetic defect for the sake of society is totally devoid of reason. It denies the child the natural dignity to which all children are entitled. This cannot but undermine the cause of the dignity of women as well.

History, especially recent history, is rife with examples of this kind of thinking. The link between this kind of natalism and prejudice based on sex or race is obvious to the discerning with no agenda. It has resulted in a past century of unbelievable mass destruction of innocent human beings, to the shame of the world. It boggles the mind that any thinking person can observe this recent history and conclude that the mass destruction of tiny children in the womb is anything but the latest in a long string of holocausts.

The very idea that feminism could somehow survive this mindset is completely and totally irrational.

Pat Goltz

Finally, I wish to present a message that was originally left on what was then called the PASS debate board on December 13, 1999, by pro-informed:

I have heard that advocacy groups by and for people who are differently-abled are opposed to eugenic abortions and sometimes are even opposed to treatments that can "fix" their "flaws". One example is with new treatments that can give sight or hearing to children who are blind or deaf. There are actually people who identify the desire to change those children as prejudice.

I can't speak for those who used the don't tamper with God's design argument... But here's my non-religious opinion:

The tendency to view children as "products" subject to "quality control" has increased in our society. Major contributors to child abuse are the notions that children are objects and that the child deserves to be abused because of some flaw they exhibit. An example is the tendency of child abusers to expect behavior from children that does not take into account the child's development or abilities. Then the abuser excuses the abuse by punishing the child for being "bad". The desire to be controlling may actually interfere with the development of positive parenting skills such as flexibility and understanding. And let's not forget that accidents and injuries can occur after birth. How will the parents who get used to the idea that they have a right to a "perfect product" cope if their child develops problems later? There is a real danger that all this emphasis on perfectionism can lead to legalized infanticide. Don't forget that the German Euthanasia Program didn't start with Hitler. It was a zeal for "perfectionism" that prompted the use of the first gas chambers.

From Abortion News and Discussion Board. Reprinted with permission.

The second message was posted on December 12, 1999, by Anonymous:

Unwanted children = abuse?

As common as the "abortion prevents child abuse" argument is, it's one slogan for abortion that has never made sense to me. We look at spouse abuse and realize that it's the abuser who has the problem, instead of blaming the victim for being an annoying/undesirable spouse. So why is it assumed that child abuse is the child's fault for being "unwanted"?

Furthermore, as another pro-lifer says regarding child abuse:
Here, I appeal to the Axiom of Suckiness, as featured in mathNEWS: If A sucks, but B sucks more, then A still sucks. For the sake of argument, let's say that abuse sucks more than abortion. Abortion still sucks. Why isn't "none of the above" an option in the "abortion or abuse" category? You won't see me arguing against responsible parenting, or adoption, which is a highly responsible choice for a woman who doesn't want her baby. Exactly how does it follow that a woman denied an abortion will walk in a zombie-like fashion to her hapless child, day in and day out, and beat him black and blue, unstoppable, whether by her own will or the neighbours or the government? I keep hearing that women who abort aren't monsters, and that many are good, loving, caring women. This I do not doubt. Given that the people who tell me this tend to agree with me that people who abuse their kids are monsters, I'm even more confused: wouldn't a loving, caring woman denied an abortion make a point of not beating up her kid?

For the sake of argument, however, suppose that a loving, caring woman had an abortion, turned monstrous, and beat her child. Child abuse is absolutely horrific. Many people are scarred considerably from it. Most of these people, though, don't end up killing themselves ...which indicates that they, at least on some level, would rather be alive than dead. And speaking for myself, if you gave me the option, "Do you want to die now, or potentially be beaten or killed ten years from now?", I'd be trying to enjoy my next ten years to the extent of my abilities. Replace "ten years" with "nine months", and my answer stands.

From Pro-Lifers Against Clinic Violence debate and discussion. Reprinted with permission.

Do our notions of "unwantedness" start from more innocent-looking roots? For another perspective on this same issue, see: Whisper

Pro-life - Original Articles

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