First, let's start by defining what a "vulnerable population" is: Any single being or group of beings who are completely dependent on physical, intellectual, emotional, and/or economic superiors may be considered part of a vulnerable population. Women, children, under-represented groups, the disabled, "pet"-animals, farm animals, zoo animals, wild animals, etc. are all considered vulnerable populations.
Women are vulnerable to men because men have more muscle mass and are the dominant social group because of it--which explains why a woman and a man both performing the same job with equal education and experience, on average, make very different salaries. In such instances, women are reported as earning as much as $10,000 less. Is it because we have less muscle mass? Absolutely. Our physical difference is at the root of all patriarchal behavior. Not because I said so, either. Simply read some history. You can see it for yourself.
Any and all animals are vulnerable--but none more so than "pet"-animals, farm animals and zoo animals--all of whom wholly depend on humans for their care and feeding. And yet, animals, like women prior to 19th Amendment in the States, are treated like possessions. Humans only deign to care and feed animals they consider possessions--as if those animals should be grateful. Dogs have been bred by humans to be obedient companions. And it makes one wonder if humans bred such creatures for the purpose of abuse, particularly in the context of the staggering statistics on animal-abuse by the ASPCA and other organizations concerned with animal rights. Animals have no voice, which makes their abuse even worse--they cannot tell anyone what's happening. And even when they can, there are no laws in place that give animals any sort of autonomy. You can report abuse and the animal will be removed...only to die. If the abused animal is not adopted from the in-take shelter, because of over-population from animal neglect and abuse, an animal "freed" from abuse may only be free to die within months of being "saved." So if you do not have a full time job, rent an apartment, or live in a dorm--please think twice before adopting a pet. And if you do, understand that is a lifetime commitment to love, care and feeding. You cannot get rid of the pet when that pet's existence becomes inconvenient for you. You may not have a moral responsibility to the animal, but you do have an ethical one. Your humanity demands it.
Children and animals have a great deal in common in this regard. In some states, the age of reason isn't until the child is 14 years old. For those who are unaware, the age of reason is the age at which a State and/or Federal court will take a child's verbal and written expressions into reasonable account. In other words, that's the moment when a child can speak, and people can legally listen. But children don't know this--how could they? And 14 years of neglect and abuse is terribly scarring to anyone's psyche, let alone a person born vulnerable and raised in an abusive environment. "Pet"-animals can never be independent from the humans who care for them, but those abused children will be, eventually. And they will take that neglect and abuse into the world with them. But how an abused child later effects the wider world is only one ethical consideration. The larger question, and answer, is far more simple:
Anyone who is superior to another should use that superiority to protect those who are vulnerable. This is not an aspect of nurturing that men cannot conceive of because they lack sufficient oxytocin in their brain chemistry. It is not a theological mandate. It is part of our humanity--a privilege that comes along with our complex brains and opposable thumbs. Those very features make the issue ethical. In other words, to do what is right because it is the right thing to do, and, because we have the ability to fully know, understand, and act on that recognition--we, as human beings--are ethically-obligated to do so.
As an adult human, one has certain responsibilities to younger, less experienced, humans--regardless of genetic relationships. While this seems to be obvious to any thinking-individual, looking at government and nonprofit agency statistics on neglect and abuse in children is excellent evidence to the contrary.
A child does not have a choice in its birth. That is the first fact that must clearly be understood for full ethical consideration. And, in whatever circumstances a child is conceived is not a factor in the ethical consideration of good parenthood either.
Because women have the right to abort pregnancy in the 21st century, there is no reason to have a child if one is ill-equipped. If religion is a factor in an unwanted pregnancy by an unmarried woman, than she should not have gotten pregnant in the first place, rendering the argument against early abortion obsolete. Unless it's a case of rape--in which, there are religious exceptions. Some religions do not permit use of birth control. Again, these same theologies enforce abstinance prior to marriage--rendering the argument against the use of birth control obsolete for believers who are unmarried. You can't pick and choose. If you believe, than you won't have sex before marriage. In other words, if an unmarried person is so religious that abortion and birth control cannot be considered in light of an unwanted pregnancy, than the act that brought about the pregnancy should have been equally so--but as it wasn't, there is no reasonable excuse not to use birth control to prevent unwanted pregnancy or abortion should an unwanted pregnancy occur.
The caveat for women with abortion is that it is not something that should be undertaken unless in an extreme circumstance. Abortion is not a form of birth control; it is an invasive surgery that has innate risks, some of which include permanent physical damage to the woman undertaking it. There are also ethical considerations with abortion--particularly abortions performed after the second month of pregnancy. In other words, we do not really know when self-awareness takes place in fetal development. Once it does, abortion becomes unethical on a human level, regardless of religious affiliation. Birth control is the best method to avoid unwanted pregnancy when sexually active--whether one is married or not.
All of these factors matter ethically first, theologically second. As a baby, you are first born human--later, you are assigned a religion by your parents or choose one on your own as an adult. Doing what is right because it is right is the first priority then. Religion is a choice. Your humanity is not.
If your religion puts you in a position--whether you are married or single--where you have an unwanted pregnancy or are likely to--then ethically, you must completedly withdraw from, or change, your theological affiliation for the good of humanity. And if you do not wish to do so, continuing with the unwanted pregnancy, you have no excuse for your misery about the situation. There is a choice. Many, in fact. And to ignore those choices because of social or familial pressure is simply selfish. To excuse future misery or cruelty toward the child and/or expect gratitude from the child for your "sacrifice" is unreasonable. You made the choice. The child born innocent into the world had none. Therefore, you are ethically bound, by your humanity first, theology second (if applicable), to treat the child lovingly and with great care, giving the individual opportunities to grow, learn and thrive.
There's nothing to negotiate. Good parenting is not a question to be answered. It is not a sacrifice. Parenthood is a serious task that must be undertaken with equal gravity. As human beings, regardless of religious beliefs, we are all ethically-bound to do so. To do anything but your best as a parent is ethically-reprehensible.
Too harsh? Look at world-history. Where does the evil of humanity derive from, first and foremost? Bad parenting. I'm not talking about your mom not allowing you to have a toy you wanted as a child or your dad making you get a job at 16. I'm talking about those people who undertook parenting for all the wrong reasons, and then, took out their frustration (at their own stupidity) on the innocents born into the situation--the ones who had no choice in the matter and so, were, and are, totally vulnerable.
And although I'm an academic today, I'm not feeding you erudite-blather from my ivory-tower: I was a mother at age 18. While certainly surprised to find myself pregnant, the pregnancy itself was not unwanted. I was thrilled to be a mother. And unlike the MTV portrayal of teen-motherhood, my experience was far less dramatic. True, you must work twice as hard to get an education and pursue a career, but so what? I'm a woman. I had to work twice as hard anyway. I did not resent my child for it or any other reason--not even for a moment. And I was not rich. I was not married. I did not have supportive parents or friends. But I could read. And there is no end to parenting books, books on how to have a healthy pregnancy, books on how to best help your child learn and grow, books on saving for your child's future education...essentially, I made a serious choice and even at 18 years old, knew it and acted not only responsibly, but ethically--for myself, my child, and the wider world.
Being a good parent has its own rewards, but that's not why one strives for good parenting. You strive to be a good parent because you want to help your child grow into a strong, independent, successful adult. And you want to help your child because you can.
But not all parents are good parents. Because not all parents are good people.
Parenthood is not a right. Or a rite. It's a privilege. A responsibility to yourself, your child, and all of humanity.
To those in the midst of parenthood, exam your parenting ethics today. It's never too late.
To those considering parenthood, think ethically first, theologically second.
And for those who are the victims of unethical parents, know that you now have a choice.
Thoreau included a healthy child in his list of ways to improve the world as an individual; and he did not just mean physically healthy. Thoreau implied complete health--and that requires ethical parenting. To do any less is to subject the world to your stupidity, your selfishness and your lack of overall humanity. Those are things all people--especially parents--should keep to themselves.