Nine years ago I helped found a pro-life pregnancy center and discovered, in the process, that doing so successfully was very slow going. Through that experience, I gained a very useful personal insight: because saving lives is something worth doing, it is worth accomplishing the right way, even if it takes longer than we would like. I cringe when I think back on how impatient I was at the start.
We are seeing this brand of impatience disguised as piety today with single issue voting. In a way, it’s not surprising—it has been nearly fifty years since Roe and many pro-lifers today are suffering from a sort of battle fatigue—so much so that they’re willing to push harder and harder for their ends at the expense of even their own cause.
Make no mistake- Catholics should be pro-life, and we should actively work for laws protecting life. As Helen Alvare reminded us this week:
Who knows for how long both Catholics and others will be debating the “place” of abortion in the political and legal landscapes? Likely a long time. But we can’t go on as if other laws call killing defenseless children a “right,” a “women’s right.” Laws supporting abortion do so—and must be called out, no matter what else is happening in law and policy.
The question becomes: how do we, so very conscious of the rightness of our cause, work for legislation and changing hearts and minds about abortion? It has to be both/and, not either/or otherwise this speaks of that same impatience that I once mistook for zeal. To do so, I argue, the pro-life movement must return in full to its grassroots beginnings—where setting up local centers, ministering to “hearts and minds” and heeding the call to “love them both” was tantamount to storming a capitol. Yes, it will take longer, much longer, but the victory will be genuine, and the results lasting.
Unfortunately, we’re about to learn what happens when we focus exclusively on the legislative aspect of the cause in a society whose consciousness, as of yet, accepts abortion as a cultural norm. In the next few days we will witness the systematic repeal of many so-called pro-life “victories” accomplished in the last four years.
And when this happens, please remember: that this is not so much an indication that members of a political party love abortion, as it is that Catholics still haven’t gotten doing “pro-life” right. We have failed to evangelize the culture because we are failing at consistently loving and supporting our neighbor, in general.
While I also passionately want abortion to end, I cannot support top-down solutions that ignore every other life issue, especially after years of working with abortion-minded women. That is no true victory, not just in my opinion but based on practical experience. Guess what the number one request is, besides ultrasounds, at our clinic? It’s baby supplies: diapers, clothes, car seats, nursing tops, etc. In other words, we live in a world where most people know that their baby is a human being, they just have no clue how they will be able to provide for it.
Time has a way of demonstrating what actually works to reduce abortion. Abortions have gone down most steeply during certain administrations and become more prevalent during others. But neither party is perfectly pro-life and funding to Planned Parenthood has steadily increased over time, regardless of political party.
Perhaps if Christians themselves were more actively involved in working with pregnant women, we would achieve results of more substance. While that may indeed take longer than we would like, in the end, isn’t that still the better way?
In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis reminds us of the consequences of today’s “throwaway culture” where various forms of slavery are “rooted in a notion of the human person that allows him or her to be treated as an object” (FT 19). Until the objectification of human beings ends and the dignity of the human person is recognized—from womb to tomb—abortion will always be present in society.
Going forward, recognizing the upcoming sweeping changes, pro-lifers need to support what really works to decrease abortions, regardless of who is in office. In the next few days, the hard lesson that superficial solutions are easily swept away will be glaring. In a way, it will be a good, cleansing time of self-examination where Christians should remember to pursue but never rely on legislation to replace our Gospel mandate to get involved personally.
Unborn children deserve more than the roller coaster of partisan politics to definitively achieve worth in the eyes of society. Human beings deserve to be given the resources and chance to live abundantly. Only in changing society at its core beliefs will this finally be achieved, starting with what we do next. So let’s get back to the business of saving lives in a way that convinces the culture of the dignity of the unborn (and of their own lives) no matter how long true progress might take.
“In imitation of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, “we want to be a Church that serves, that leaves home and goes forth from its places of worship, goes forth from its sacristies, in order to accompany life, to sustain hope, to be the sign of unity… to build bridges, to break down walls, to sow seeds of reconciliation”. (Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti 270)
Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the unborn and the Americas, pray for us!
Image: Adobe Stock