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Michelle Duggar, left, is surrounded by her children and husband Jim Bob, third from right, while she holds her newborn daughter, Jennifer Danielle, their 17th child in this August 2007 file photo. (Beth Hall / AP Photo/Beth Hall / AP Photo)
Michelle Duggar, left, is surrounded by her children and husband Jim Bob, third from right, while she holds her newborn daughter, Jennifer Danielle, their 17th child in this August 2007 file photo. (Beth Hall / AP Photo/Beth Hall / AP Photo)

First it was 18, then 19, now it's 20 kids and counting: Duggars expecting again Add to ...

It’s hard not to be agog at this week’s news that Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar, of “19 Kids and Counting” fame, are expecting their 20th child.

Twentieth.

All conceived naturally.

Only two sets of twins in the lot.

The couple announced the latest pregnancy, now in its second trimester, on the Today Show Tuesday. Backstage, Ms. Duggar, 45, told the Today Moms blog: “We are so excited. I was not thinking that God would give us another one, and we are just so grateful.”

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Many women would not be smiling. Ms. Duggar’s last pregnancy, which produced Josie, caused a host of health problems for mother and child.

“(Ms. Duggar) suffered from gall bladder problems as well as preeclampsia. In order to save her life, doctors delivered daughter Josie three and a half months prematurely – she weighed only one pound, six ounces at birth, and endured a series of health emergencies, including a perforated bowel,” Today Moms reported. Josie is a healthy toddler now.

(These are the other 18 siblings-to-be, according to Today Moms: Joshua, Jana, John-David, Jill, Jessa, Jinger, Joseph, Josiah, Joy-Anna, Jedidiah, Jeremiah, Jason, James, Justin, Jackson, Johannah, Jennifer and Jordyn-Grace.)

While some observers ostensibly raised their eyebrows because of the possible risks of another pregnancy, others were more crudely visceral, using words like “gross,” obscene” and “sick” to describe the couple’s family planning style.

But Salon writer Mary Elizabeth Williams has added a different tone to the conversation, saying that the Duggars’ extreme family size should not be a cause for moral outrage.

“Unlike their enthusiastic baby-making TV peers like the Gosselins and Octomom, the Duggars are not fertility-treatment espousing litter droppers. In fact, their strange allure stems from precisely the opposite place – the fact that [Jim]Bob Duggar’s sperm count is to fertility what Ted Williams’ batting average is to baseball. Off the freakin’ charts,” she said.

While they may not be the pro-choice poster family many advocates would choose – and they invite the scrutiny – Ms. Williams says you’ve got to respect their choices.

“They’ve made choices few of us would, but they’ve determined to accept them with as much grace and gratitude as they can muster. Because this is what reproductive freedom and choice look like. And as long as there’s still spring in Michelle’s uterus, they’re going to keep going – 20 and counting.”

Do you think there’s anything wrong with the Duggars adding to their mega-brood? Or to each his or her own?

Follow on Twitter: @traleepearce

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