This Week

"This Week" Continued...

Issue: "Postmodern politics," Sept. 12, 1998

Safe havens?

The rash of shootings in public schools last year has given a whole new meaning to the term "back-to-school supplies." As parents invest in notebooks, rulers, and calculators, principals are stocking up on metal detectors, breathalyzers, and police officers. This fall, such urban-style security measures are finding their way into rural and suburban schools, following violence in quiet towns like Paducah, Ky., and Pearl, Miss. In Marshall County, which borders Paducah, traditional backpacks have been banned this year. Instead, elementary students will be required to carry see-through totes or mesh bags approved by the principal. Middle and high school students will have to tote their books without the benefit of bags, period. In Evansville, Ind., principals will be armed with hand-held metal detectors to frisk students they suspect of carrying weapons. They'll also have breath analyzers on hand to weed out those who have been drinking. Photo ID cards will be required dress in a few school districts across the country, while others are adding anonymous, toll-free hotlines to allow students to report classmates they suspect are planning to commit violence.

Where's Daddy? ...And who cares?

Are love and marriage as obsolete as the horse and carriage? For the first time in 60 years of data collection, a Census Bureau study found that a majority of firstborn children in America are now born out of wedlock. Back in the 1930s the figure was 18 percent. While teen pregnancy skyrocketed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, today's explosion in out-of-wedlock births is mostly among women in their 20s and 30s. These women are old enough to marry, but choose to be single mothers. "There are no scripts for people living in the kinds of relationships people are living in," says NYU sociologist Arlene Skolnick. But there are plenty of glamorous role models, with celebrities like Madonna, Jodie Foster, and Rosie O'Donnell proudly raising their children alone. Yet even as unwed motherhood seems to be escalating out of control, younger people say they long for a return to traditional families, according to a study by the service group Public Allies. The study found that young people cited their generation's No. 1 problem as "the increase in divorce and single-parent families." Survey respondents, a group of 728 young adults aged 18 to 30, even picked "having a strong family" as their most important goal-above even money and career. Economists theorize that marriages are less alluring because men and women have similar roles. Since the husband no longer acts primarily as breadwinner and the wife as child-rearer, the partners depend less upon one another. "As you lose the economic reasons to marry, the reasons are about love and romance and being with the person you most enjoy," says Barbara Risman, author of Gender Vertigo: American Families in Transition. "That kind of a connection is a lot less strong glue than obligation and dependency and social rules."

Post-phylactics?

Thanks to an FDA ruling last week, the so-called "morning-after pill" will be in drug stores everywhere by the end of the month. The contraceptives, sold under the name PREVEN, are said to be 75 percent effective at preventing pregnancy when taken within three days of unprotected sex. The new pills delay or prevent ovulation, keeping a woman's eggs from entering the uterus to be fertilized. PREVEN also alters the uterine lining, preventing the implantation of an already fertilized egg. Gynetics, the N.J.-based company that will market the pill, says it differs from the French abortion pill RU-486 in that it has no effect on eggs already implanted and growing in the uterus. Not surprisingly, the biggest customer for morning-after pills is Planned Parenthood, which dispenses them in their clinics. The pro-abortion group has launched a year-long publicity campaign promoting "emergency contraception," while Gynetics plans to advertise on radio and in magazines such as People and Soap Opera Digest.

Gee thanks, Mom

Deborah Gaines picked the wrong day for an abortion in 1994. John Salvi opened fire at the clinic that day, killing two receptionists. Ms. Gaines, who fled for her life, says she was too traumatized by the killings to have the abortion later, so she gave birth to a daughter instead. Now she's suing the clinic for "wrongful birth." Ms. Gaines, 31, says she loves her little girl, but is so poor that the clinic should help support the child. The almost-aborted baby was Ms. Gaines's fourth. She says she was treated for post-traumatic stress disorder after the incident, but the clinic insists that does not make it responsible for Ms. Gaines's daughter. A defense attorney compared Ms. Gaines to a person too afraid to fly to a distant hospital for medical treatment because she once saw a plane crash. "That doesn't give you the right to sue Pan Am because you chose not to do something," James Franchek said. In 1996, Mr. Salvi apparently killed himself in prison while serving a life sentence for the murders.

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