First things first: There’s an election tomorrow! So vote! Okay, now on with it.
Last night’s episode of Call the Midwife featured theft, love, senility, class snobbery, and even triplets — but mostly, it was about marriage. We discover that Gerald, the man who broke Jenny Lee’s heart, is married. Chummy Browne and Constable Noakes almost lose each other when Chummy’s mother visits and very vocally expresses her displeasure, but in the end the bride walks down the aisle in a crimplene skirt suit. Cynthia, a very pregnant patient, waits desperately for her sailor boyfriend to return from sea and make an honest woman out of her — which in the end, he does. All the while, Sister Josephine and the other nuns, the prototypical unamarried women, provide a backdrop for all the drama. And so the first season of Call the Midwife adheres to convention and ends with a wedding.
Ah, marriage. It’s a preoccupation with Republicans: the destruction of it, sex outside of it, the redefinition of it. Promoting marriage was a significant part of the Bush administration’s domestic-policy agenda, presumably in an attempt to protect women from the horrors of birth control, single motherhood, abortion, and illicit sexual activity. Whether it’s correlating single motherhood with gun violence or railing against the destruction of the sacred institution by the gays, the right wing has a deep-seated jones for getting (straight) couples to the church on time.
Yet as this episode of Call the Midwife demonstrates nicely, marriage provides its own set of complications. Here are five surprising facts about marriage and reproductive health in this country.
1. Four out of ten unintended pregnancies in married women end in abortion. Although the majority of abortions are sought by unmarried women in their twenties, about 15 percent are performed on married women. And most of these women’s husbands know about these abortions and are supportive of the choice. It’s rarely mentioned, presumably because it contradicts the shameless, unmarried straw hussy beloved by right-wing politicians and pundits, but many hetero married women — even those who already have children — decide for a variety of reasons that they can’t mother another one.
2. Most women, no matter their religion, attempt to avoid pregnancy for most of their married lives. According to a 2003 report by the Guttmacher Institute, most American families pursue the “replace yourselves” ideal of two children, spaced 2–3 years apart. That means hetero married women spend approximately five years trying to get pregnant, being pregnant, and recovering from being pregnant. The rest of their reproductive years are spent trying to avoid pregnancy. So when Paul Ryan advocates for an end to legislation that will protect women’s access to contraception, he’s making life not just more difficult from the young strumpets he wants to safely marry off, but also for many already-married women.
3. Sterilization is the second most popular form of contraception in America. Surprised? While condoms in schools and emergency contraception get most of the press, the Centers for Disease Controland Prevention has found that the second most common way to prevent pregnancy in the United States (after the birth-control pill) is tubal ligation. And most of the women who choose this method are married.
4. Outlawing gay marriage is a drain on federal health dollars. The United States has a work-related healthcare policy, and for hetero couples, that means that children can be covered on one partner’s health-insurance policy. For most gay and lesbian couples, only the biological parent can have their child covered under their health insurance. That means that if one parent works and the other doesn’t, the child could be eligible for Medicaid even if the household income exceeds the poverty line. Of course, one way to solve this problem would be to make healthcare available to everyone, regardless of employment status.
5. Unmarried parents can raise great kids. Hey, everyone loves a wedding. But being married isn’t a good barometer of the happiness of your children, or of whether you will be a good parent. Parents who are divorced can do a great job of raising their children, and parents who never tie the knot can also be excellent parents. And, as was confirmed by a recent study, lesbian couples, whether married or not, are raising some of the nation’s happiest, well-adjusted children.
Do you have a favorite Call the Midwife moment or episode? Tell me about it in the comments field, and we’ll pick one lucky commenter to win the first season of the program on DVD, courtesy of BBC Home Entertainment. Thanks for reading!