The Jessie Davis case and dangers of out-of-wedlock parenthood

Posted: Jun 27, 2007 7:49 AM

The sad case of pregnant, murdered Jessie Davis and her married lover (and alleged killer) Bobbie Cutts threatens to dominate cable news for months to come – especially now that Paris Hilton’s out of jail and the justice system has established the paternity of Anna Nicole’s baby.

Unlike these other media obsessions, however, this horrifying story conveys some significant messages and should help to refocus attention on the nation’s most significant and menacing social problem: the unchecked epidemic and unquestioning acceptance of out of wedlock birth.

Jessie Davis died within days of giving birth to her second illegitimate child, both of them fathered by Mr. Cutts. This busy police officer also found time to produce progeny with his wife, and with another extracurricular involvement (who eventually complained to authorities of his threats and harassment). The tragic details of the Davis disappearance included the testimony of her stricken two year old, Blake, found alone in their home in a dirty diaper, giving police only three enigmatic (and heartbreaking statements): “Mommy crying,” “Mommy broke table,” and “Mommy in rug,”

Numerous commentators worry over the future of this devastated little boy but fail to make the obvious observation about his pre-murder situation: that it’s a shame whenever any child is left alone with an unmarried mother in an obviously dysfunctional situation.

We’ve become so reluctant to issue “judgmental” comments that we refuse to discuss the way this case highlights the individual tragedies and gigantic social cost when one-third of all new babies in America are born to unmarried women.

Two other recent stories further demonstrate the vulnerability of children placed into these unhappy circumstances. In Pittsburgh, five kids below the age of seven died in a fire when their moms (both of them unwed mothers) locked them in an apartment while they went out together to a bar. In Lake Stevens, Washington, a nineteen-old-mother inadvertently killed her four-month-old son by taping a pacifier into his mouth so he’d keep quiet and she could catch up on her sleep. When she awoke (at 11 a.m. the next day) she found the baby’s lifeless body, but hesitated for more than half-hour to consult her boyfriend before calling 911. She also told police of her previous policy of binding the child in a “baby straightjacket” – using a blanket to tie his hands and arms to stop his irritating squirming.

These extreme cases hardly represent all single mothers, many of whom most certainly work hard and love their children and try to instill decent values. But any two-parent family that’s struggled with child-rearing can only imagine the vastly greater challenges faced by an unattached mother (or father) with no partner to share the tasks of earning money and caring for the young.

While some children of never-marred mothers do indeed provide inspiring, against-the-odds success stories the overall-statistics provide a grim reminder of the destructive impact of out-of-wedlock birth. Children from fatherless households represent some 70% of the prison population, and remain similarly over-represented among high school drop-outs, drug users, gang members, and the poor. The notorious black-white gap in educational and economic achievement stems in large part from the collapse of marriage in much of the African American community. Among blacks, close to 70% of all new babies are born to unwed mothers—about three times the rate of illegitimate birth that prevails among whites and Asians. No serious scholar or community advocate doubts that reducing the devastating rate of out-of-wedlock births among African-Americans would help move us toward the goal of a more level playing field among our various ethnic communities.

Unfortunately, we live in a society in which political correctness dictates that we must remain silent in the face of millions upon millions of children (of every racial group—more than 20% of white babies are born to unmarried mothers) raised by single mothers who are often poor, distracted, unprepared and stressed out. The fundamental principle in arguments about gay marriage deserves emphatic reaffirmation in this context: that children thrive best when nourished by a permanent combination (we call it matrimony) of one male and one female parent.

Rather than normalizing situations like that of Jessie Davis (who hoped to raise two children with no chance of marrying their father) as just another “family option” or “lifestyle choice,” we need to re-establish healthy norms – advancing the undeniable premise that most children will benefit from growing up in a stable, two parent, two gender household.

For pro-lifers, this recognition presents a painful dilemma: arguing that a baby deserves better than growing up as the child of a young, irresponsible, unmarried teenager will lead some people to push for abortion as a preferable alternative. The answer to such logic is two-fold:

First, it’s obvious that abortion has powerfully fueled, rather than reducing, the rate of out-of-wedlock birth. Before Roe V. Wade, less than 8% of American children arrive at unmarried households; today the rate is nearly 33%. By promoting the idea of sex-without-consequences, the easy availability of abortion led to more, not less, unmarried mothers.

Second, the notion that abortion represents the chief alternative to raising an illegitimate child ignores the powerful and positive option of adoption. Rather than removing the stigma against unwed motherhood, and encouraging single moms to keep and raise their babies, society should do everything possible to urge single, pregnant girls to give their babies the ultimate gift of love by arranging their adoption into loving, functional, two parent homes.

No one would argue that government should seize control of babies to remove them forcibly from their unwed mothers (except in the most dangerous and irresponsible circumstances). But by the same token, the authorities should do nothing to validate single parent households or to make it easier for unmarried women to keep their babies. The best interest of the child dictates a potent push for adoption, not single parenthood.

Since millions of Americans will now examine every detail of the Jessie Davis murder case, they ought to take a little time to consider this aspect of her situation. For two-year-old Blake, it didn’t represent kindness or generosity for Ms. Davis to keep the child and to attempt to raise him in her painful position. The more tender, loving, unselfish and, ultimately, more motherly decision would have been to place the child in a two parent home with vastly better odds of achieving happiness and success.