What does it mean to be pro-life? It’s a question that may seem deceptively simple. When the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision struck down state level restrictions on abortion in 1973, an effort to end legal abortion brought together many American Christians, Protestant and Catholic, in common cause. Nearly 50 years later, though there has been some progress, overturning Roe remains elusive.
With these struggles in mind some Christians are interested in broadening the strategy of the pro-life movement beyond political lobbying. The Catholic University of America’s Institute for Human Ecology (IHE) recently hosted a webinar to discuss other ways to be pro-life.
The webinar included Kathryn Jean Lopez, Senior Fellow at the National Review Institute, Erika Bachiochi, Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and Sr. Magdalene Teresa, S.V., Director of the Visitation Mission of the Sisters of Life, a crisis-pregnancy organization.
The main focus was asking how to be part of a cultural shift towards affirming life in all circumstances.
“Being pro-life means hospitality and being open to life, not only in our marriages but in our communities,” said Bachiochi. She described her own transition from pro-choice to pro-life feminist as beginning with her immersion “in the problems of the poor.”
Bachiochi said she “was put off by the idea put forth by my pro-choice friends that abortion is the chief means to help the poor. I wasn’t then aware of the eugenic history of abortion in our country, pro-life feminists, or maternity homes and pregnancy crisis centers across the nation.”
She added that “In American legal culture we leave women with their constitutional rights and nothing else, we just kind of expect that in their autonomy they will make good decisions for themselves but we don’t give them care. We don’t set up a hospitable community for them and that was really striking for me.”
Lopez echoed these sentiments in describing her experiences praying outside of abortion clinics: “To see the faces of these young girls that don’t look like they’re exercising their empowerment, they look miserable and they look even more miserable when they leave. I sometimes see well-intentioned and respectful pro-lifers saying there’s help and free housing, and sometimes you see a girl perk up and sometimes you see her boyfriend look at her and say ‘No, you’re not doing that.’”
A common theme among the panelists was that pro-choice feminists see legal bodily autonomy as their highest political aspiration. But what about the freedom to choose life without you or your child starving to death? How many women, if they didn’t fear ostracization and poverty would still choose abortion?
The key question revolves around what exactly a ‘free choice’ is. Pro-choice people see themselves as enhancing freedom by giving women the option to abort. In contrast, the panelists stressed that women have a natural maternal instinct to not kill the person growing inside of them; that innate feeling is thwarted, however, by social and economic pressure. Abortion is an easy way out of those pressures, but it’s not the right one.
True freedom for Christians should mean overcoming that immediate temptation to embrace something far deeper. But as Teresa said: “Who wants to suffer? Who thinks there’s anything on the other side of suffering? Suffering pregnancy or suffering being alone during a pregnancy is hard but there’s such a reward… when we cut off the maternal instincts of a woman then we’re not giving her what is actually amazing.”
Romans 7:18-23 examines this kind of freedom. Paul describes how, though he knows there’s a better way to live, he’s unable to do any of the things he knows are right because of his captivity to sin. But, through Christ he is freed from sin to do what he knows is right. Having freedom to enact your sinful desires isn’t true freedom. Instead, true freedom means being able to choose the life God intends.
Instead of this kind of Godly freedom, though, the ubiquity and acceptance of abortion in America make it as compelling as possible for women to succumb to temptation. As Teresa said “if America’s law taught God’s law then women would feel the freedom to not have abortions.”
The panelists agreed that, in addition to political activism, we can all work towards a life-affirming nation. In a financial sense this can mean donating money to crisis pregnancy centers. But, in a cultural sense, it means reorienting society towards families. We must honor mothers and expect fathers to do more for them. We need an economy that supports families. We must fight back against a culture that devalues motherhood as inferior to working outside the home. We don’t need to wait for Congress to act; we, the people, can be the change we want to see right now.