What Does it Mean to Really Be Pro-Life?

Along with a lot of Internet surfers, I recently read this honest and poignant post about a mom who found herself in a “crisis” pregnancy that ended up giving her not only a new life in the form of a baby but a new life to live. (Her follow-up post about why offering a woman’s “choice” is not compassionate is excellent as well and worth a read.)

Calah of Barefoot and Pregnant (one of my new favorite blogs) writes,

When I got that positive pregnancy test, the one that changed my life, I was addicted to crystal meth.

And do you know what the people around me did? They didn’t take the secular line and say, “this baby’s life would be horibble. You’re unfit to be a mother. Better for it to not be born at all.”

But neither did they take the typical pro-life line in that situation and say, “you are clearly unfit to be a mother, but all you have to do is carry the baby to term and give a stable couple a wonderful gift.”

The Ogre said, “you’re a mother now, and I’m a father, and together we’ll raise our child.”

My parents said, “marry that man, and raise that baby. You’ve made the choices, you have to live with them.”

My friends said, “you screwed up, big time. But we love you. We’ll throw you a baby shower, buy you maternity clothes, and babysit while you finish your semester.”

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy, being a newly-pregnant drug addict. But it gave me something to live for. Someone to live for.

Her post reminded me of something I wrote back in January that I never got around to polishing up or submitting for publication. Calah’s honest sharing of what helped her during this difficult time mirrored what a dear friend of mine who works intimately with women who are labeled as being in “crisis pregnancies” has always told me are the best ways we can best minister to these women. My friend’s wisdom was the genesis for the original article, which I posted below. Calah’s courageous post gave me the impetus I needed to put my words out there.

Thanks to all women and men who bravely choose life when a foolish society is telling them lies that there’s an easier way and many prayers to all those who are living with the scars of abortion.

***

Every January, even as the event is largely unnoticed by mainstream media, an overwhelming sea of humanity floods the streets of Washington D.C. and cities throughout the country to give the unborn a voice. Every year I catch glimpses of the event and am filled with hope. I’ve personally never been to the March for Life. I’ve never even been to a pro-life rally closer to home. I’m not sure why when I was younger, single, and had more time than I even realized, I didn’t set my feet walking (probably fear more than anything).  Now the desire is there, and I pay close attention to the coverage, but I’ve found this season of my life (young motherhood) usually prevents me from abandoning the domestic front to be right there on the battle lines. There was one year when I was all geared up to go. Then a child cheeks became flushed with fever, and I was stuck at home feeling helpless and ineffectual.

Newly pregnant with my fourth child and still in the wake of a fairly recent miscarriage, I had to go in for an early ultrasound when I started to spot. And so I found myself nervously waiting in my midwife’s office during the same month people would be marching for life. Nervous about what I might see (or not see), I stared at the screen in the examination room, straining my untrained eyes to catch a glimpse of something hopeful and promising. It didn’t take long for my eyes to blur with tears – joyful tears – because I knew what I was looking at: My baby. On the chalkboard-like oval of darkness I saw a tiny cloud of white. Within the the dancing cloud there was a flash that kept pulsating. The ultrasound tech did not need to tell me the flash I was staring at was a heartbeat.  We were looking at life at six weeks, growing stronger and stronger by the second.

I was overjoyed seeing this beautiful sight, but I was sad, too. I was reminded why so many Americans brave the bitter cold weather and march every January to give that flash of life more than a brief appearance on a grainy sonogram, to give that child a life, a chance to grow up.

I was also wistful that I wouldn’t be marching in D.C. that January. Yet, there’s still plenty I can do from behind-the-scenes to advance the pro-life movement.

There’s plenty all of us can do.

Some of us aren’t able to attend marches or peacefully protest outside of abortion clinics. Not all of us can pound the pavement in honor of the unborn. These acts send powerful messages, no doubt, but so does the mom with the swollen belly and the two little ones clinging to her legs who is beaming through the exhaustion. So does the man who goes to work and proudly announce he’s expecting another child.

So what does it mean to really be pro-life? It means strongly believing and strongly living a life that sends the sometimes subtle but always present message that human dignity begins from the moment of conception.

Here, several simple ways (no marching required) to send a powerful pro-life message :

Embrace new life within your family and in others.

By celebrating babies and pregnancies, we’re constantly sending the message that children are gifts from God to be cherished. As a mom to little ones, I’ve accepted I may not be able to join a March for Life every year (my job keeps me home a lot of times), but I can still send a pro-life message. The little baby growing inside of me right now is my pro-life badge, and I try to wear him or her with honor (even when I’m feeling green with non-stop nausea).

We also should show our support to any pregnant woman we encounter in our everyday interactions. I remember checking out at the grocery store and noticing the young cashier’s swollen stomach and tired face. “You look radiant,” I told her, and she did. “When are you due?”

She smiled at me and told me a little more about her baby and pregnancy.

Once I saw a pregnant mom trying to juggle a tray of food, a tired toddler, and a behemoth belly at a restaurant. I had my own gang with me, but I offered to help her with her tray. She didn’t accept my help, but she smiled and thanked me all the same.

I happen to go to a midwifery practice that also ministers to women in crisis pregnancies. Knowing this I always put on a happy face when I enter the waiting room (even if I’m feeling like a beached whale). Once my midwife told me that just smiling at a scared woman who might be afraid of the new life being knit within her can offer the gift of serenity. “I cannot count how many moms – always strong and loving Christian women – touched a girl’s heart in the waiting room,” she told me once. “I’ll have a girl come in and say, ‘There was a lady out there who had her kids with her, and they all smiled at me and said something nice to me.’”

No matter your gender or your station in life, be supportive of all pregnant women you see.

Be pro-life and pro-children.

Don’t stop supporting parents once their perfect babies turn into screaming toddlers. Smile at the mom of three (or four or 17) who looks overwhelmed at the grocery store. Hold the door for the parent entering the post office. Don’t gawk at the noisy family in the pew behind you at church. Instead, encourage them with an understanding or sympathetic smile. Thank all parents for bringing their children to church and to Jesus. Thank all parents period.

Dole out love and support, not judgment.

More than anything, women who have aborted their babies or are considering abortion need our prayers, our support, and our love. Resist the impulse to lecture someone who is pro-choice or any woman you might encounter who is considering abortion and instead offer them your love. If that sounds overly touchy-feely, that’s because it is. But once again my friend who has made it a part of her life’s vocation to get women to change their minds about having an abortion has offered me wise counsel and has told me time and time again that love, support, and kindness are what these women need far more than judgment, statistics, or bloody pictures of aborted babies.

Even from a strictly biological standpoint, it’s not natural for a mother to want to get rid of her baby. Maybe she wants to get rid of the pregnancy or the fear, but not the baby. (Even I sometimes disassociate pregnancy with the baby growing inside of me. “I hate pregnancy!” I’ll lament. But I don’t hate my baby.) Pregnancy and raising a child are hard even when you’re in a loving family and have what appears to be “ideal” conditions to welcome a child into the world (i.e., economically and emotionally secure and in a happy marriage). Add abuse,  poverty, an addiction, depression, or the fact that you haven’t graduated from high school yet, and it’s tempting to be crushed under the weight of that tiny new life within you. Women lining up at abortion clinics are numb; they feel nothing. Or they are numb with feeling too much – too much fear, too much self-hatred.  Women in crisis pregnancies might give reasons for considering abortion like, “My mom and dad will never approve.” Or, “My husband doesn’t love me.” Or, “I’m not fit to be a mother, not right now.” It’s pro-lifers job to convince them that we always approve of new life – no matter the circumstance – and that they are loved and capable of being mother to a child (or to another child). Love begets love. Let’s plant some love in them and hope it starts growing.

Maybe we’ll have the opportunity to directly minister to a woman in a crisis pregnancy and to show our love. Maybe not. But we all can pray for women and babies threatened by abortion.

Don’t make the baby the sin.

I’ve come across a fair share of pro-lifers who are eager to march and rally for life one day and then the very next they’re off shunning unmarried women or teenagers who are pregnant.

“What went wrong?” they say, sadly shaking their heads.

Nothing went wrong. Something went right! One of sex’s primary functions is procreation, to bring forth new life.

I’ve also heard of Catholic schools that force a pregnant girl to drop out of school or to be homeschooled (the same policy, interestingly, doesn’t apply to the young man who helped get her pregnant). That’s sending the wrong message. Let’s hide this sinful woman away. But all this is doing is suggesting that the baby – rather than the action that led to the miracle of the baby – is the sin. But a baby is never, ever a bad; a baby is a blessing even when it is conceived in pain or unexpectedly, outside of the Sacrament of Marriage, or without love.

As pro-lifers, let’s remember that saying “yes” to life brings new love, new potential, a new human being who can beat the odds to make his mark on the world.

Support pro-life causes.

Ideally, we should do more than write checks to further the pro-life movement, but if you’re unable to make your own voice and life a strong pro-life witness, then let others do the job for you. There are many worthy pro-life causes that work to save lives and minister to women in crisis pregnancies. To name a few: National Right to Life, Life Site, Birth Right International, Priests for Life, and Pro-Life Action League. Many local pro-life organizations that provide support to women and babies exist as well. Finally, there are numerous ministries to support women and families in search of healing after an abortion such as PATH (post-abortion treatment and healing) and Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries.

*If readers know of other pro-life causes, resources, and organizations devoted to helping people heal after abortions, please share them.

Support pro-life politicians.

View the scorecard pro-life roll call votes in the U.S. Senate or U.S. House of Representatives for any Congress beginning with the 105th Congress (1997-98), up through the current 111th Congress (2009-10) here.

 

For the Children

You can read my latest column at the newly-designed Inside Catholic: Up in the Air.

I was inspired to write this piece after a long month of traveling with little ones back in the spring. As we navigated crowded, public spaces, I noticed that some people showed obvious disdain as soon as they spotted my three children (and this was when they were behaving well!).
Don’t get me wrong: During our travels to two out of state weddings on back-to-back weekends, there were far more people who smiled and provided positive feedback. Yet, even in church I’ve encountered people who may be pro-life, but they sure don’t act pro-children.
Unfortunately, I’m not alone. After I wrote this post about how understanding people were during a recent Mass, I received an email from a reader that read:
“We had a terrible experience last weekend at Mass. Before the priest had even walked in, the man behind us commented to his wife, ‘Well, I can see this Mass is going to be a waste of time.’ I turned around and said, ‘I’m sorry, are we bothering you? Would you like us to move?’ He responded, ‘No, just keep him quiet.’ I answered, ‘I’ll do my best, but he’s only one.’

His answer? ‘Well, it’s not the child to blame, it’s the parents.’

I picked my son up, said, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and walked out.

My husband and older child followed and moved to the other side of the church. I spent the entire Mass in the gathering area….which, realistically, is where we pretty much spend Mass anyway. We generally wait for the opening hymn and blessing and then one of us goes outside. That man didn’t even extend the courtesy of waiting for us, or allowing us, to do the right thing!”

Why do we expect little ones to be perfectly behaved no matter the circumstances or the age of the child (Mass, crowded airport security lines, for example) when adults can’t even behave themselves? Maybe adults don’t screech like a howler monkey, but our minds wander. We bump into people. We get angry and frustrated when traveling and hungry and tired. I’ve seen many adults behave very badly in public, and they’ve had a lot more practice than my children.
As a mom to little (loud) ones, I’m sensitive to those around me. I don’t condone letting my kids scale the pews at church or wildly run around restaurants, but I wish people would give kids the opportunity to behave well and when they don’t, the mercy to know they are little people in training who need experiences, shaping, molding, compassion, and kindness a whole lot more than they need scowls and anger.

I hope I always remember this and that I never fall into the trap of forgetting what it’s like to be a mom of young children and to offer support, not judgment (which is another reason I wrote this article).

katesig For the Children

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Turtles v. Babies

Israeli Ecologists Struggle 8242 Turtles v. BabiesLike most five-year-olds, my oldest daughter never stops asking questions. She’s very interested in the ocean, and her old obsession with barracudas was recently replaced with a curiosity about sea turtle babies. “Tell me more about sea turtles,” she asks. So I turned to Google, and this is what I learned with just a few clicks:

During the hatching season from May through August, the female loggerhead sea turtle emerges from the sea and crawls ashore to dig a nest for her eggs.

It’s a cumbersome process, dragging her massive body along the beach and then investing hours in digging a large pit that will soon cradle new life.

When she’s satisfied with her maternal excavation, the female lays roughly 100 eggs, buries her young beneath a layer of sand, and then retreats to the waves leaving her offspring to fend for themselves. She will not clamber onto land again until a new nesting season when she returns to the same shoreline to lay more eggs.

After an average incubation period of two months, the baby sea turtles begin to emerge from their shells.

Once hatched, it’s a cruel number’s game; the baby sea turtles have to beat the odds to make it safely to the ocean depths.

Not only do the baby turtles scrambling for the sea make an easy target for predators like scuttling crabs and hovering seabirds, but the bright lights from property development along the the beach can disorient the hatchlings and cause them to lose their way. More dangers lurk beneath the waves for the baby turtles that are lucky enough to make it to the water. Natural predators, human litter, and shrimp nets all pose a threat to the tiny turtles.

A very small percentage of the hatchlings will ever grow up.

Thankfully, the United States government is not blind to their plight. During nesting season, laws require beach residents to keep lights shielded at night to prevent the hatchlings from becoming confused. Tampering with turtle eggs or nests is also punishable by law. Worldwide, there are more than 70 conservation laws and regulations that apply to sea turtles, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Obviously, the life of the sea turtle is sacred enough to warrant legislation to defend it. But babies? Nah. Sadly, our government does not offer the same protection to unborn babies as it does to baby sea turtles and even sea turtle eggs harboring only the potential for new life.

It’s a big no-no to harm a turtle nest and please, please be sure to dim your beach house lights during hatching season lest you want to confuse a wayward baby sea turtle as well as pay a hefty fine, but, people, let’s not hinder science by restricting the use of human embryos in research. And, certainly, let’s not forbid women from exercising their free will to destroy a human life.

I’m not coldhearted. I don’t think it’s right for beach combers to disrupt turtle nests. Nor am I opposed of executing reasonable laws to protect endangered species (providing they don’t elevate an animal’s needs and rights above that of a human’s). What’s more, I think baby sea turtles are rather cute, and who wouldn’t like to see those little guys transform into giant, graceful, and magnificent mariners one day?

Yet, our own infants can grow up to be so much more. Human babies deserve the right and the chance at life far more than any animal. And women who find themselves in crisis pregnancies deserve to know the truth: That a baby – new life – is sacred and worth keeping and fighting for even when it seems there’s an easier way.

As U.S. Representative John Linder pointed out three years ago in his statement against the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007: “If these [embryonic stem cell] researchers were taking this embryonic tissue from the just-laid eggs of loggerhead turtles or bald eagles, they would be fined and jailed. Surely we can do as much for humans.”

Surely.

But we’re not. We’re doing far less.

Turtles versus babies. There should be no match-up. But as it stands, sea turtle eggs glean more government protection than unborn humans. Roe v. Wade was just the start of it. Last spring President Obama signed an executive order lifting the ban on the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research (research that is delivering nothing promising as compared to adult stem cell research). Now we’re faced with the possibility of diverting tax dollars to pay for abortions all under the guise of health care.

What does it say about a society where its most endangered specie is quickly becoming a human baby? What does it say when we acknowledge the viability of a sea turtle egg but not a human embryo or a fetus with a strong, beating heart? In the U.S. alone, nearly 4,000 babies lose their lives to abortion every single day. It says we’re as lost as those hapless, disoriented sea turtles aimlessly searching for the sea.

Oh, I know the pro-choice arguments well. I actually have several pro-choice friends, and we’ve always been able to discuss the topic charitably (all of these friends belong to the I-would-never-have-an-abortion-but-I-don’t-believe-we-may-take-that-right-away-from-someone-else-camp). It’s a woman’s choice. It is her body. We cannot force her to have a baby that is not planned or wanted. But why is it that the bigger person wins? If a parent struck his child in anger delivering a fatal blow because he was stressed, we wouldn’t say, “Well, clearly that child was a handful. It is sad, but the grownup knows what he’s doing.”

Some of my most compassionate, caring friends argue that it is not right to bring an unwanted child into a world that is sure to be full of suffering. But even the most wanted babies may face tragedy and heartbreak. Isn’t even a tough life worth it?

Others argue a fetus is not really life because it’s not viable. Yet, when some of these same people become expectant parents and see their baby’s first closeup, they find themselves basking with the glow of new life. They don’t have fetus showers; they have baby showers. Why are babies alive only when they’re planned and wanted?

I have other friends who are amazing advocates for children; yet, they’re pro-choice. I’ve discussed about how this logic confounds me before. Once a child is lucky enough to make it to the shore of life, then she deserves the absolute best mothering. Breastfeeding is a baby’s best start! But, really, isn’t life a baby’s best start? Natural mothering is a beautiful, fruitful way to parent, but isn’t it the most natural thing of all for a woman to embrace her fertility and to give birth to a baby?

I fault pro-lifers, too, for sometimes shunning unmarried women or teenagers who are pregnant. “What went wrong?” they say, sadly shaking their heads. Nothing went wrong! Something went right! A miracle happened. I’ve heard of Catholic schools that force a pregnant girl to drop out of school or to be homeschooled (the same policy doesn’t apply to the young man who helped get her pregnant). That’s sending the wrong message. Let’s hide this sinful woman away. But all this is doing is suggesting that the baby is the sin. But a baby is never, ever a sin; a baby is a blessing even when it is conceived in pain or unexpectedly or without love. Saying “yes” to life brings new love, new potential, a new human being who can beat the odds to make his mark on the world.

Turtle hatchlings begin their march for life as soon as they chip their way through their eggshells. Our babies shouldn’t need a March for Life. Their life should be a given.

Until human life is seen more valuable to the world than reptile hatchlings, let us march. Let us rally together to give the unborn a voice until our babies are no longer endangered cloistered in their mother’s womb. Let us tirelessly defend inviolability of human life. Let us minister to women and recognize that they, too, are victims of pro-choice rhetoric and bear more than physical scars when a baby is scraped from their womb. Let us write our Congressman and let them know we will not stand for health care reform or any legislation that supports the expansion of federal funding for abortion. Let us fight to overturn Roe v. Wade. Because, really, isn’t it time we give human babies their own Endangered Species Act?

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