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Jeb Bush says view on unwed births 'hasn't changed at all'

Jeb Bush, facing criticism for a 1995 book in which he bemoans a lack of shame surrounding out-of-wedlock births, defended his position to msnbc.

WARSAW, Poland -- Facing scrutiny over his rhetoric and record regarding single mothers, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told reporters on Thursday that two-parent homes help children “live lives of purpose and meaning.”

In a chapter of his 1995 book "Profiles of Character" entitled “The Restoration of Shame,” Bush, who is in Europe this week on an international tour, complained that having children outside of marriage had become common because there was “no longer a stigma attached to this behavior” and that “parents and neighbors have become ineffective at attaching some sense of ridicule to this behavior.”

Asked by msnbc whether his views regarding the application of shame had changed, Bush suggested his book’s warning had proved prophetic and stressed the importance of encouraging young people to get married before having children.

"... my views about the importance of dads being involved in the lives of children hasn’t changed at all."'

“My views have evolved over time, but my views about the importance of dads being involved in the lives of children hasn’t changed at all,” he said. “In fact, since 1995 … this book was a book about cultural indicators [and] the country has moved in the wrong direction. We have a 40-plus percent out-of-wedlock birth rate.”

Bush has talked on the trail about research showing improved economic fortunes for children who are raised with two parents and on Thursday reiterated the importance of family structure.

“It’s a huge challenge for single moms to raise children in the world that we're in today and it hurts the prospects, it limits the possibilities of young people being able to live lives of purpose and meaning,” he said.

After a follow-up question on whether the chapter was meant to apply to policy, Bush said that he was “speaking of [marriage] in the policy context and the focus was on men.”

In responding to the story, Bush's staff has pointed reporters to a later passage in the book noting that raising the issue "does not mean we should demean the heroic efforts of single parents who are trying to raise good, decent children."

A number of news outlets and commentators this week are also revisiting a 2001 law Bush allowed to pass that included a so-called “Scarlet Letter” provision requiring mothers who give their children up for adoption to publicly post records of their sexual histories that might alert potential fathers about the birth. Bush raised concerns about that provision at the time but allowed the bill to pass into law without signing it. He later signed a repeal of the controversial section in 2003 after it was struck down by a court.  

Asked by msnbc whether he had regrets about how the issue was handled, Bush said he could not recall the full details but that the broader law was intended to support single mothers by improving collection of child support from fathers.

“To assume you can create a fatherless society and not have bad outcomes I think is the wrong approach,” he said. “I don’t remember what the repeal was, I can remember the purpose of the law was to enhance the ability to collect child support because men have the responsibility of taking care of their children.”

Bush’s latest remarks prompted an unsolicited one-sentence response from Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Holly Shulman.

“Shame on you, Jeb,” Shulman wrote in an e-mail.