Responsible Motherhood Not Just for Teens

Two reports this week – one from a federal task force on children and one from the prestigious Institute of Medicine – note an unsettling consequence of modern medicine in America.

There are too many babies being born prematurely – one out of eight, or about half a million a year – and/or born at low weight. The economic cost of treating these babies is estimated at $26 billion a year.

Despite what you hear about medical miracles, reports the Associated Press, prematurity and low birth weight usually condemn an infant to a life on the cusp of chronic illness, retardation and poverty.

Why is the rate of prematurity rising so fast? Women are having babies at older ages and there is a boom in fertility treatment, which can lead to multiple – and therefore riskier – births.

Ironies abound. In any given medical center, one suite is given over to women seeking to get pregnant while another one is given over to neonatal intensive care, the latter overflowing because of the former.

And while unmarried teenagers are having fewer babies, unmarried older women are having more. That old mantra of personal moral responsibility seems to have a new tune — and a new audience.

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