As I noted last week, while contentious political campaigns tend to focus our attention on the broad implications of laws and policies impacting on life and justice issues, we must not lose sight of the personal impact such issues have on individual lives, and our personal responsibility to assist those with whom we come in contact.
So, for example, while we formulate ideas about how best to address poverty on a broad scale, we need to be aware of those struggling with deprivation in our own midst—in our families and communities—see their faces, feel their suffering, and respond to their needs in whatever ways we can.
Similarly with concerns about law and order: We need to feel for individual victims of violent crime, their suffering and that of their loved ones, and again, respond when such individuals intersect with our own lives. And, difficult though we may find it, we are also called, as Catholic Christians, to respond to perpetrators of violent crime—to try to understand the sometimes terrible life experiences that may have contributed to their violent tendencies, and to support restorative justice approaches designed to help them, during and after their incarceration, to turn their lives around.
And, when it comes to abortion, we need to open our hearts to endangered children in the womb and to their mothers, for whom our culture too often presents abortion as theironlychoice.
This was one of the first things I learned when I became involved in the pro-life movement at a young age. I was very politically focused at the time, and to me the issue was purely one of politics and legislation. But as I met and talked with pro-life people, they impressed upon me the imperative to “love them both,” mothers and their pre-born children. They sensitized me to the suffering and pressures mothers face in such situations: being young and unwed, sometimes already living in poverty, and worried about the long-term impact on their lives and also about their and their child’s immediate needs; or facing overbearing pressure to abort, and subsequent abandonment if they do not, from family, friends, and especially their child’s father; sometimes facing concerns that their child might be born with a disability, and fears that they would be unable to provide adequate care for a disabled child.
These are just some of the circumstances that can make an unintended pregnancy so terrifying for so many women.
And so love and care for mothers in crisis has always been an integral part of the pro-life movement. From the movement’s earliest days, Birthright organizations, here on Long Island and throughout the country, have offered referrals, for medical support, financial resources, housing, legal and social assistance, and professional counseling; information about pregnancy and childbirth, adoption, prenatal care, community programs, and training in parenting skills and child care; and free resources including pregnancy tests, maternity clothes and baby items, and 24/7 telephone helplines. Most of all, they have offered friendship, love and hope to women in crisis.
Thousands of other pro-life pregnancy care ministries, like the Life Center of Long Island, Expectant Mother Care in New York City, and the Sisters of Life, have sprung up across America in the decades since. Critical to their work are the pro-life sidewalk counselors who pray for women and their unborn babies about to enter abortion clinics, and reach out with love to offer them a life-affirming alternative, guiding them, if they so choose, to one of these pregnancy support centers.
These ministries have grown to include maternity residences, like those on Long Island such as Mommas House, Bethany House, Catholic Charities Regina Residence, and Mother of Good Counsel House, run by the Oblate Sisters of the Most Holy Redeemer. And of course there are The Good Counsel homes, in New York City and beyond, begun in 1985 by Chris Bell when, while working and living at Covenant House in Times Square, a ministry for homeless youth, he saw an urgent need to assist homeless, pregnant women.
These maternity residences typically provide young single mothers with housing and assistance through pregnancy, childbirth, and into motherhood, providing childcare and affording them the opportunity to develop parenting skills, complete their education and receive job training.
Also vital to “loving them both” are the post-abortion healing services that the Life Center and Good Counsel homes provide, as does the Church through Project Rachel and the Sisters of Life hope and healing program. Despite calls from the Hollywood crowd and radical feminists for women to “celebrate your abortion,” the life-ending procedure is far more often an emotionally traumatizing experience—and, as thousands of post-abortive women have attested, the pain does not easily go away. Since the abortion lobby will not even acknowledge the pain and trauma that so often follow an abortion, it falls to the pro-life movement and the Church to provide physical, emotional, and spiritual post-abortion healing—and they do so lovingly, helping women—and men—to recover from the abortion of their child; to forgive themselves and experience God’s love and mercy; and to know that we who are pro-life have always loved them, and always will.
That love—for mother and child, and for all human life—is the essence of the pro-life movement, and the true fulfillment of the Gospel of Life proclaimed by Saint John Paul.