• Tue, May 25 2010

Does Being Pro-Choice Mean I Have to Support Michelle Duggar?

Michelle and Josie Duggar

Everyone’s got their guilty pleasure TV show, and mine is 19 and Kids and Counting (formerly 18 Kids and Counting, formerly 17 Kids and Counting, etc) on the TLC channel. The show stars the Duggar family, a fundamentalist Christian clan in Arkansas who put Jesus in charge of their womb and homeschool their ever-growing brood. Jim-Bob and Michelle Duggar are the parents of 19 kids, the oldest of whom is 21 and married with a baby of his own and the youngest of whom is a micropreemie who has been in a hospital incubator almost every day of her life. Said micropreemie, Josie (all the Duggar kids’ names start with J, including Jinger) has brought a new kind of attention on the Duggar family, who are usually trotted out as examples of sterling family values or just gaped at for their hugeness.

As a longtime viewer of the show (and before that, the semi-regular specials that first introduced the country to the Duggars), I really do feel like I know the members of the family. There are some I’d hang out with, some who would drive me crazy, and some who are really freakin’ adorable. But the one I’m the most obsessed with is the matriarch Michelle herself. She has won numerous Mother of the Year awards and appears at Christian moms’ conferences to give parenting tips. (One such tip: if you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the work, pray for a “laundry angel.”) However, for all her accolades as a mother, it doesn’t really seem like Michelle does a whole lot of, well, mothering. Because she’s constantly pregnant, the work of taking care of the house and children usually falls to the four oldest Duggar daughters, who are all in their teens or early twenties. Thanks to the Duggars’ strictly enforced gender norms, it falls to the girls to cook, shop, clean, do laundry, potty-train, and homeschool their younger siblings with little, if any, help from their brothers. When toddler Jennifer skins her knee and starts crying, it’s not her mother she calls out for – it’s her sister Jill. Unlike Michelle, these four young women didn’t choose to become mothers – the role has been forced upon them because their own mom is too busy making media appearances and more babies.

As a pro-choice woman, Michelle Duggar is the absolute test of my beliefs. I believe that choice means a woman can have kids or not have kids as she wants to, and that she should be able to control the size of her family as she sees fit. But when that choice is taken to an incredible extreme – 19 children, one of whom is battling health conditions in the hospital – part of me just wants to tell the Duggars to quit it already. Despite Josie’s fragile condition, Michelle and Jim-Bob have both said that they leave their family planning up to God, and that if he chooses to “close their womb,” he will. Michelle, who is only 43, seems still to be in her childbearing years. Due to their beliefs, the couple will not use any contraception or natural family planning, so unless they choose to abstain it seems like Duggar Child #20 is an inevitability. There’s a part of me that wants to shake Michelle really, really hard and tell her about the increased risks of pregnancy at her age and fecundity, although it’s entirely likely she’s already aware of those facts and chooses to ignore them. I also want to show her the 19 other great kids she already has and whom she hardly ever spends time with. (During one famous scene in a previous special, Michelle was listing her kids’ names and some qualities about them – as she got further down the list she had less and less to say about each kid.) Then again, being pro-choice means that I have to respect every choice, even the ones I disagree with: to paraphrase Larry Flynt, “free speech isn’t about protecting speech you like, it’s about protecting speech you hate.” I should support Michelle’s right to have as many kids as she wants to, but I’ll tell you what I don’t support: the effects her choices have on other people, namely her kids. Having kids isn’t some sort of contest. Michelle doesn’t seem super interested in raising the kids or being involved in their lives once they’ve finished breastfeeding. As a result, she’s making choices for her teen daughters, and they’re not great ones. Instead of going to college, having part-time jobs, or dating, her daughters are spending their teen years raising their mother’s children. And that’s no kind of choice I can get behind.

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  • eEv

    I don’t think that saying, “this is a shitty thing to do to your family,” is being anti-choice. Because you can respect someone’s right to choose– that is, you’re not going to say, it should be illegal and she should be forcibly sterilized– without supporting terrible decisions.

    • corporate tool

      I agree. There is a difference between saying “I think this is a bad idea, and morally problematic” and “this should be illegal.”

      People have the right to do all sorts of things that I find morally problematic (for instance, adultery), yet I wouldn’t want it to be a crime.

  • beth

    I can’t stand all these big families with their reality shows. It is so sad that these psycho parents are using their children for fame and fortune. Poor kids. At this point though, she can’t afford to raise 19 kids on any normal income so they have to keep doing stupid things so they can keep the show going, even if it means having more kids despite all the potential medical problems. Disgusting.

    • sarab

      Obviously all you know about the Duggars is that they have a large family. They live debt free, and have since long before their show. They built their house, themselves, without incurring extra debt. Jim Bob owns a car dealership and has several real estate properties. If they can afford all of their children without living off the government, which many families cant, even with only 1 or 2 children, I say let them have as many as they want. Josie was born early due to preeclampsia, which can happen to anyone, first kid or 20th.

    • cherrycola1788

      @sarab

      Yes, and you completely ignore the fact that they get massive help from the QuiverFull movement because they are the unofficial mascots for the movement.

      My issues with the Duggars lie completely in the arguments made in the above article. This is fundamentally dangerous for the mother and restricts the children from having real childhoods. I won’t even go into the feminist aspect of it, although that makes me cringe as well.

    • sarab

      Well, I dont know what they get from their crazy church, that’s their church’s business. I just dont want them living off of the government, which means I’m paying for it.

      And I thought you choicers were all “my body, my choice?” If she wants to have as many kids as she can, that’s her business. It’s not hurting her, except for this one case of preeclampsia, which one of my friends was on bedrest for 3 months for, and that was her first kid. It can happen to anyone.

      Although how is it anti-feminist to have lots of kids? Isn’t it her choice to continue to have children if she wants? Her children are all polite, well behaved, educated, and yeah, they have responsibilities that kids in a smaller family dont, but that doesnt make it bad. Her kids are taught life skills that most dont seem to be nowadays.

      I dont think that the Duggars are the most awesome family ever, but they’re happy, debt free, and have healthy, well-adjusted children. One of them even saved a strangers life recently because he knew how to do CPR on a small child. They can’t be all bad.

    • dangerpants

      sarab, it’s clear that you know too little about this family to have any sort of educated opinion. They struggled to build their house for three years, and got almost nothing completed on it. They had preschoolers running around with power drills, and second graders laying gas lines. It wasn’t until the 3-bedroom rental house (into which they’d crammed 16 people) that they were living in was scheduled to be condemned and demolished that TLC stepped in and paid to finish and furnish their current home. For years, they have had that home listed as a place of worship, and as such pay heavily reduced property taxes. They also get government-funded healthcare for all children under the age of 18, because JimBob spent a single term in the Arkansas state legislature.

      Their children *aren’t* well adjusted or well behaved. They run around like maniacs, ride bicycles inside the house, climb on countertops and tables, hang from the second-story catwalk stairway, and body-slam each other against tile floors. And have you ever heard the adult children speak? They are barely literate. They are hardly well educated.

      Michelle’s incidence of preeclampsia wasn’t isolated. She also suffered with it in her second pregnancy, with the twins Jana and John David. As she ages and continues to recklessly get pregnant, the chances of her developing complications increases. She also stands to give birth to children with greater and greater disabilities. She’s been informed of these issues in the past, because they’ve caused her to stop seeing other OB/GYNs. She’s aware of the risks, not just to her own health, but to the health of future infants, and she refuses to heed the warnings.

      Somehow I doubt they’d get the same praise if they were a non-Christian Black or Hispanic family.

  • Blueberrie Carmel

    I Love watching the Duggar family, it is a very good family show, can’t we just say something nice about people, i mean it is enough negativity in this world as it is, come on be nice, lets not judge one another, more love to each other…