Talk given by Samantha Clinger:“We are free to choose and willingly accept responsibility for our choices.” From the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations on March 14, 2017.
Good afternoon. I’d like to begin my remarks by telling you about a journey. It’s my journey, actually, toward a destiny of my choosing. And I’m confident I’ll get there because I know this truth: “Destiny is not a matter of chance” said William Jennings Bryan, “It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved.”
I’m on a journey to live a life full of learning and service and free of the negative consequences that come from unintentional choices. In the end I want my journey to show purposeful, deliberate living. That’s why, at about the age of 12, I made a conscious decision to abstain from sex until marriage. I know it’s not a popular choice, and some would even ridicule me for it. But in staying true to this choice, I’m freeing myself from what I’ve observed to be the negative consequences of casual sex, and I’m walking more confidently toward the destiny I want. Because I abstain from casual sexual relations outside marriage, I’m free to enjoy relaxed, fun relationships and not be subject to the worries of STIs, unwanted pregnancies, or the psychological and emotional fallout that comes from repeatedly creating and then breaking bonds with different partners before marriage.
Studies have shown that half of the almost 20 million new STDs reported in 2014 were among people between the ages of 15 to 24. That same year, nearly 250,000 babies were born to teen girls aged 15 to 19. Of teens that parent their children, fewer than half (17 or younger) ever graduate from high school, and for those who do graduate, fewer than 2% earn a college degree by the time they are 30. Sexually active girls are three times more likely to be depressed and to attempt suicide
than girls who are not. The CDC states that “abstinence . . . is the only 100% effective way to prevent HIV, other STDs, and pregnancy.” Practicing abstinence before marriage is a common-sense approach, I believe, to avoiding so many problems. Truthfully, while many might think this standard is oppressive and dull, my experience has taught me that abstinence is liberating and empowering.
Each of us is free to choose and should willingly accept responsibility for our choices. I do this by learning and living true principles, because I know that what I believe is reflected in my choices. So, for instance, because I believe that every individual has value, I choose to uplift others and respect them, even if they are very different than I am. I’ve also visualized my future and purpose. Not only do I want a complete college education, but I want to be a wife and a mother that encourages my posterity to be self-sufficient and compassionate. I also want to participate in humanitarian efforts, specifically for women. Finally, I have set goals to reach these dreams. I work really hard in school, seek for character-building experiences, and learn how to serve others. I am nowhere near perfect in any of this, but I know that when I—when WE—plan and act with purpose, we are on our way to a fulfilling life.
Sometimes we try to deflect responsibility for the problems caused by our own negligence or thoughtless actions by wrongly blaming others. We may delude ourselves by saying something “just happened”; it was out of our control, and now we’re helpless to the outcomes. Or perhaps we hope ignorance will save us from bad consequences, but it doesn’t. Someone may not understand the law of gravity, but that doesn’t keep that person from falling if he steps off a cliff. And though, sadly, real victims exist, too often many just seek excuses to avoid the hard consequences of their own poor choices.
This often happens in the case of abortion. For some women, their hard consequence is conceiving a child that is neither planned for nor wanted. The quick fix to this situation is often abortion. After all, a woman shouldn’t be denied her choice to do what she wants with her body, right? But has her choice really been taken from her? Sometimes, yes, such as in the instance of rape when a woman’s choice is undeniably taken from her. However, most of the time women are given tremendous freedom to choose the who, what, when, where, why, and how that lead up to the moment conception can occur. Some call this “female empowerment,” which includes women seeking out and being in control of their sexual experiences. Yet somehow when all of these choices produce a consequence she doesn’t like—the beginning of a miraculous, unique human life with inherent value—it’s as if all of those choices she made to get her to this point seem to disappear, and somehow only then do her choices begin. The pro-choice mantras suddenly absolve a woman of the consequences of her behavior. Many wrongly think, “I didn’t have control before, but I want and have control now.” But no matter how clever the slogans might be, we are never free from the consequences of our actions. In the instance of abortion, those consequences are simply passed on to our silent, unborn, most-innocent population.
A wise physician explained how there is a point in which a choice ends and a consequence begins using this powerful example: “We can learn from the astronaut. Any time during the selection process, planning, and preparation, he is free to withdraw. But once the powerful rocket fuel is ignited, he is no longer free to choose. Now he is bound by the consequences of his choice. Even if difficulties develop and he might wish otherwise, the choice made was sealed by action.”
If we truly desire “female empowerment,” we will help each other understand the importance of weighing the consequences of every choice and then making decisions that don’t cause us to give up what we want most for what we want today, in the moment. Freedom from hard consequences will be the natural byproduct of the conscientious decisions we make.
When our decisions are left to chance, handed over to another, or left to the necessities of the moment, of course we’ll go on living. But we may be very disappointed with where we find ourselves in the end. Life really is just a sum of all the choices that go into it. We owe it to ourselves to make deliberate decisions that drive us toward desired goals.
Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, described how even in the worst situations, our reactions and mindset are still our own. He said,“The experiences of camp life [in Auschwitz] show that man does have a choice of action. . . . Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress. . . . Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Each of us, even when in difficult circumstances, can go far in our own journeys because we all have a choice. Said J.W. Goethe: “It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. . . . Choose well. Your choice is brief, and yet endless.”
As a millennial woman, I invite you to join me as I use my freedom to choose to create a culture of life, where I make sexual choices that lead to a healthy life for me and protection for the potential lives that I have the power to create. As we do this—and with every other good, deliberate choice we make—we will move closer to the destiny we want. This is the kind of choice each of us can hold up and celebrate. Thank you.
- CDC. Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2014. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2015.
- Hamilton BE, Martin JA, Osterman MJK, et al. Births: final data for 2014. National Vital Statistics Report Rep 2015; 64(12):1-64.
- The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy,http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/national-data/default.aspx, 2008 data.
- Robert E. Rector, Kirk A. Johnson and Lauren R. Noyes, “Sexually Active Teenagers Are More Likely To Be Depressed And To Attempt Suicide,” Heritage Center for Data Analysis (2003)