Keeping a child alive is a full time job. Not to mention giving her more than just food and shelter, like an education and adequate health care. And forming her to love the good and avoid evil. Then there is investing in an actual relationship with this person. It’s no picnic. And it never really ends. So I get it when people roll their eyes at the pro-life movement and say we do not care about children after they are born. I mean, it is impossible to imagine we can offer this kind of ongoing love and support to every child who enters the world, particularly those in tragic circumstances. There is a harsh and dreadful reality that love costs everything, and not every child is given such love.
But honestly, it is mostly empty political rhetoric that flares up around such legislation as the Alabama Human Life Protection Act, or HB 314, and the other heartbeat bills crossing conservative governors’ desks these last few months. What people mean when they say the pro-life movement is only pro-birth is that national level “pro-life” Republican politicians often cut the legs out from underneath women and children through policies that are harsh and unfriendly to life after birth. And this is certainly true. We have a shining counter example in pro-life Democrat governor of Louisiana, John Bel Edwards, who laid an amazing foundation of social policy before his heartbeat bill by expanding Medicaid and the minimum wage as well as pushing forward education and prison reforms. Would that all pro-life leaders in such a position follow his lead and thus gain credibility as advocates for serious abortion restrictions.
But the question is, does the pro-life movement care for women and children after birth? Given that the pro-life movement is not strictly political, but is also made up of thousands of tiny organizations and people on the ground working tirelessly with and for people, I believe the answer is yes.
I live in the very red state of Indiana. Our last three governors have been Republican (one of whom is now the VP), and the state legislature has passed extremely restrictive abortion legislation over the last decade. I also happen to live in the very blue city of South Bend, so that does make for an interesting blend of politics and organizations. I myself am not a Republican, but I think Indiana is a decent test case for services provided for women and children after birth by an anti-abortion community and government. I see the blending of both conservative and progressive policies, as in the case of Louisiana, producing the best climate for women and children. Somehow, this seems to be in play here in South Bend.
Anecdotally, I am expecting my fifth child, and my husband is a middle school teacher, so yeah . . . we qualify for everything. To some degree each one of my pregnancies has been unplanned, and while I probably do not fit the typical profile of someone receiving aid, (college graduate, two parent household) I have been overwhelmed with the support I received from outside of my immediate family. I am amazed at the comprehensive health care provided for our family by the state of Indiana through HIP and pregnancy Medicaid, and I am grateful for the incredible hospitals and midwives who serve our community. The Women’s Care Center has been a refuge of kindness and concrete help where I receive free yoga classes, diapers, clothing, and encouragement in the sometimes scary early stages of pregnancy. My children have benefited from WIC and the capable nurses at the local offices who see us regularly. We receive a significant scholarship from the Kroc Center, a local wing of the Salvation Army which provides state-of-the-art athletic facilities to hundreds of low income families.
What about help for women and children who do not have my level of education and the safety nets of loving community and family at the ready? Here is where the rubber meets the road. I recently came across an online resource, HerMichiana.Org. This is an exceptional local project designed by women and for women for all needs prenatal and postnatal, links to everything from legal aid to medical assistance to childcare to housing and financial assistance. It is an invaluable treasure-trove of community clinics, organizations and hotlines, beautifully compiled into a space that is both appealing and concrete. I hope every community takes up this model. To me it says, “Pregnancy and parenting are really hard, but you are not alone. There is a ton of help out there to support you at every stage. Be not afraid.” Because that is what a woman needs to hear when she discovers she is going to be a mother, maybe for the first time, maybe for the fifth time.
Another major piece of the puzzle is adoption and foster care for children caught in the net of tragic circumstances. According to the National Council for Adoption, Indiana has the fourth highest rate of adoption per live births. This is due to both adoption-friendly laws and to a community choosing adoption and fostering. I know dozens of families, all of them pro-life, who have chosen one or both of these difficult but beautiful paths. I also know several courageous birth mothers who chose to give up their child through adoption at a great personal cost. One of them is now a major advocate for birth mothers and adoption within our local Right to Life community. This is not to say we should be satisfied with our current foster care or adoption system. It still needs a lot of work. But we can acknowledge the incredible sacrifice and work of so many, even within the system, who are trying to make things better for women and children.
There is not a simple solution either politically or socially to the challenge of providing care and support to each woman and child after birth. Ultimately, a person is cared for by other people, whether through secular or religious institutions, or friendships, or the kindness of strangers (or ideally all three). While it is easy to point fingers and lament statistics, each of us is called to extend our hand to the other and say “I see you. I can help.” This is particularly true for the vulnerable, and there are very few experiences that make one more vulnerable than childbirth. I translate my own gratitude for the support my family receives into engaging in concrete care for other women and children in need. This is the only appropriate response.