I couldn’t help but do an about-face and not-so-subtly stare this past weekend when I caught a glimpse of a pregnant woman lighting up. I’m no obstetrician, but to say the twenty-something woman was at least eight months pregnant wouldn’t be an unreasonable claim.
Passersby were, for the most part, paying no attention to her existence, let alone her chosen activity. There were, however, a small handful whose necks turned as though they were periscopes.
Two ladies in their forties looked at the smoking woman before looking at each other and rolling their eyes. One man asked the smoker for a light: she obliged. Another woman spared no time in approaching the smoker and saying, “You shouldn’t be poisoning your baby.”
“Mind your own f**king business, c**t,” she replied.
The interlocutor stormed off, muttering, “You should be in jail.”
We’ve all seen the graphic warning labels that adorn cigarette packages, and I’d venture to say it falls into the place of common knowledge that smoking while pregnant isn’t a health-conscious decision for the unborn, but I know that many children of mothers who smoked during pregnancy are born completely healthy.
The question is not whether the unborn child is being exposed to undue risk of harm as much as it is a question of whether or not it’s the mother’s right to inflict such harm.
Not long ago, I witnessed a father spank his unruly son in a store as most fellow Wal-Mart shoppers looked on disapprovingly. Not necessarily being an opponent of spanking myself, I carried on, paying no attention to the aisle-side punishment. His choice, not mine. Now, had I seen that same father laying a beating on his son, it would have been a different story.
On the spectrum of parental choice, is smoking whilst pregnant closer to a spank or a beating?
In an era where public health warnings, government agencies, environmental activists and anyone with a megaphone are attempting to eliminate choice for members of society, the resulting effect is that mere lifestyle differences are looked down upon in favor of a uniform, morally absolute way of living. It’s the age of the busybody.
When children are involved, it’s understandably a different ballgame. Styles of child-rearing contrary to the new norm of parenthood, such as spanking, are seen as barbaric to many.
Today, perhaps, it is acceptable to tell a pregnant woman to butt out (setting aside the reality that she is likely aware and indifferent to the risks) but what’s next? Will it become reasonable for a perfect stranger to chastise a young mother for formula feeding instead of breastfeeding or for clothing her baby in white after Labor Day?
The need for society to protect its vulnerable is just as important as the need for society to protect the freedom of choice for its members.
If you stumble across a pregnant woman smoking, is it your responsibility to confront her, or her right to be left alone?