Today is the 42 anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, in which the allegedly learned justices reached into their penumbras and pulled out what they referred to as “emanations” which, to them, and in combination with the equally evanescent Doe v. Bolton decision, suddenly and magically gave every American woman the unbridled right to kill their children at any moment up to birth.
The human toll of that moment of judicial flatulence is horrifying. Almost 57 million unborn children dead. Women dead too, killed by legal abortion. Women wounded and scarred, physically, emotionally, spiritually. Men also suffering the loss of fatherhood, their children killed without their consent.
Abortion has been deadly for children, horrible for women, devastating for men. Yet it continues. And the anger of the pro-life movement today directed against the cowards in Congress may finally force pro-life Americans to realize that the GOP, at least at the national level, is not and never has been a true friend to life.
The work of the pro-life movement goes on, in legislative efforts, in marches and protests, in education and prayer, in solid and real help to women facing crisis pregnancies and to their children. This work will continue regardless of the legislative climate and without faltering in the face of the scorn of the media, whose members are increasingly out of touch with a rising generation of young pro-lifers from all faiths and none, from all ethic backgrounds, from all income levels and ways of life.
And there are new, creative efforts going on, not only in education and outreach, but in legislative efforts as well. Nearly 70 percent of women who obtain abortions are low-income, and 42 percent of them live below the federal poverty level. While the GOP continues the rhetoric of “makers vs. takers,” those of us who make saving the lives of unborn children a priority can’t help but think that women in those economic demographics may be choosing abortion because of their dire poverty and out of grave fear of not being able to support a child--or, in many cases, another child, since many of these women are single mothers already.
I have heard fellow Catholics saying that we really can’t, and shouldn’t, support public policies that would give more aid to women experiencing out-of-wedlock pregnancies. In the viewpoints of some Catholics our economic aid to unwed mothers already encourages women to engage in casual sex, and making it even more possible for women to choose life for their unborn babies will only feed a culture of promiscuity and irresponsible sexual choices. The most extreme members of this group even think that if a woman works for the Church in some capacity, a crisis pregnancy should get her fired. In their minds, there is no such thing as a “crisis” pregnancy anyway, because women who are virtuous never experience such a thing.
Leaving aside, for the moment, the Pharisaical attitude on display in those kinds of discussions, there remains the reality that for Catholics to be so unconcerned for women and children in poverty is a scandal. Yes, in a perfect world no one--male or female--would ever sin, and no out-of-wedlock pregnancies would ever occur. Yet I don’t recall anywhere in the list of the Corporal Works of Mercy an asterisked footnote that appends to “Feed the hungry...clothe the naked...welcome the stranger...” the instruction “Except for sinners, because if you meet their material needs they won’t have any incentive to stop sinning.”
I realize that there are good, well-founded, and thoughtful debates about whether certain public policies or initiatives will actually help the people they are meant to help, or only create more poverty. Nothing I’m saying here is intended to oppose such debates--except when they are used either to end all discussion on the one hand or as a kind of “shorthand” in favor of one’s political party on the other. But one thing is clear: we should not use our debates and conversations as if they absolve us from action. If we insist that private charity can do all that is necessary to help the 70% of women who choose abortion from a place of poverty, we’d better be prepared to do some massive fundraising and donate to the point of personal discomfort--and to accept, even when we do that, that some measure of publicly-funded relief for the poor may still be necessary.
No woman, regardless of the morality of her--and the child’s father’s--behavior, should have to choose between allowing her unborn child to live or being able to meet her own basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter. In a nation of plenty, that so many women might still be in such a place is horrifying. On this anniversary of Roe v. Wade, let us, in our marches and prayers and efforts to end abortion, remember especially our sisters in poverty, and do what we can so that no woman chooses abortion solely or primarily from the pressures of economic distress.