Are older women selfish for having babies?

Social realities have a bigger impact on when women have babies than “medical facts”. ECohen

It seems we have a new “barbecue stopper” about women and families, after comments last week by Perth obstetrician Barry Walters that it is selfish for older women to have babies.

Defending himself from attack in the heated national debate that followed, Walters sought to defuse the political impact of his comments, by claiming that he was talking about “medical facts”, and the risks of later pregnancy, not “values”.

Well, that’s another can of worms. Facts, after all, in their selection and presentation, can reveal as much as any overtly political comment.

In this case, missing from the “selfish older mothers” comments were myriad social facts that influence how women and men make decisions around pregnancy.

Just the facts?

So let’s turn to some of these other facts that cast a different light on the same issue.

First, there’s “choice” and “constrained choice”.

Choice in its idealised form means that everyone starts from the same position, and that each makes a simple selection between two or more options: a baby at 29 or at 39?

Yet choice, as philosopher Renata Salecl has recently pointed out, is not always as free as we would like to think – it’s accompanied by its own baggage of anxiety about the “right” choice to create the best outcome.

Constrained choice is the recognition of the real-life factors that shape a person’s decision making.

Nina Matthews