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Rev. Debra Haffner Headshot

John Edwards: You Did Know About Contraception, Didn't You?

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It's not that we didn't suspect that John Edwards was the father all along.

Still, it's disappointing to have it confirmed. Disappointing that he steadfastly lied to his wife and to the media that the child wasn't his. More disappointing that he asked an aide to pretend he had fathered the child instead of Edwards. Crushing, really, that his promise as a public leader has been eclipsed by his poor judgment, lack of moral character, and deceit.

And fascinating to imagine how it was that Mr. Edwards and his partner didn't use contraception. Surely, as two highly educated, middle-aged adults, they knew they should be protecting themselves against unwanted pregnancy.

Earlier this month I wrote about the mock horror over Peter Orszag, President Obama's budget director, having sex, and a child, outside of marriage. I heard from a number of colleagues who said I wasn't adamant enough about the need for a national campaign to reduce out-of-wedlock births. They asked if I had forgotten that the research demonstrates that children born with two parents who are married to each other have better outcomes.

But those data are heavily influenced by age and income. Children of teenage and poor mothers do grow up at a disadvantage, but I don't believe that children born to middle-aged adults with the resources to care for them necessarily suffer just because the parents are unmarried. (The gender of the parents doesn't appear to matter much, either.) Marriage at the time of birth is no guarantee that a child will grow up with two parents; the high rate of divorce leaves more than half of American children in single-parent homes by the time they are 18. I have counseled dozens of women and men in their mid to late 30s who have not found a life partner but know they want biological children. I often encourage them to consider becoming a single parent.

Although I might not support a national campaign to reduce out-of-wedlock births, for more than 30 years I have devoted my time and energies to assuring that every child born into the world is planned, loved, and cared for. That starts with healthy sexual decision making and contraception.

Half of all births in America are unplanned - half. Mr. Edwards and Mr. Orszag join more than a million men each year who end up as fathers to children they didn't intend to have. Teenage contraceptive use is at its highest level ever, while adults -- even well-educated, middle- and upper-income adults -- continue to have unplanned pregnancies and births.

In the midst of the cacophony on Capitol Hill over abortion in health care reform, surely everyone can agree that because life and parenthood are so precious, they should never be created carelessly. Especially by prominent politicians.

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