“God overturned Roe v. Wade on your birthday,” a friend texted me on June 24th. She knew this was a big deal for me, having devoted my life to protecting the preborn and empowering women to feel they can choose life. Friends and family that joked that their birthday gifts could not compare to the Dobbs v. Jackson decision were right. When I heard this news, there was a lull in the flow of incoming clients at work, so I had the chance to immediately double check that it was true. I called the friend who told me and we rejoiced together for the lives that would be saved. As the reality sank in, I shed tears of joy.
The Supreme Court decided in the Dobbs v. Jackson case that there is no constitutional right to access an abortion, a decision opposite to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. In other words, Dobbs allows for states to legally protect the most vulnerable, the preborn. The news of this monumental change brought others tears of sorrow, fear, and desperation, I came to realize. Before this realization though, I experienced fear as well. You see, my place of work that day and every day of the week is a pregnancy resource center, a nonprofit 3-clinic operation. Organizations like ours cover the country and a shocking number of them have dealt with threats, vandalism, and in some cases firebombs. So, with the Summer of Rage ramping up, I was concerned for my safety.
Thankfully myself and my colleagues have remained safe. The hatred towards such institutions stems from disinformation about our work and accusations that we mislead and coerce women into not obtaining abortions. In reality, our mission is to offer free medical services, present the truth, love women out of their crisis, and be an uninvolved listening ear for them. Women should talk to their friends, families, and the father of their baby, but all these people can put pressure on her to choose what helps them in the long run. Women can go to abortion clinics to get options counseling, but it is hard to believe she will get unbiased guidance from the people whose bottom line is affected by her choice. We offer accurate information and encouragement. Our medical staff explain abortion and give the documentation any pregnant woman would need for health insurance. We provide referrals for a myriad of social services and provide some in-house. We meet them in their panic and make parenting or adoption feel more feasible. We do not refer for or perform abortions, but we do not let anyone believe that we do, either. The staff talks continuously about presenting the facts without applying any pressure and all of our actions are done to care for women, not to coerce them.
The empathy that this job requires of me has blessed me with growth. It is a gift to be allowed into the lives of women who are facing an unplanned pregnancy. It has taught me that the narratives about women in this position are oversimplified and interwoven with assumptions and stereotypes. This group includes:
A woman who has not been pregnant for two decades, but whose husband refused to sign off on her sterilization surgery after their second child;
A single mom of two young children. She told me she felt selfish choosing abortion, but she felt just as selfish considering bringing another child into a family she barely has time for because she works so many hours;
The 30-something girlfriend of the preacher’s son, who is not sure if the baby is his or her ex’s;
The college freshman who always planned to give her future children a better childhood than she had;
A woman in a long-term, committed relationship that has been experiencing homelessness for a few years now;
And yes, the high-school girl, whose dad does not even know she is sexually active, though she will make him a granddad in a matter of months.
The stories of these women rip my heart open over and over, but my journey to understand the struggles of such women really began during my time at the Mount. In my Sociology and Human Services courses I was stretched to understand the lives and circumstances of others. For my final major research project I chose to investigate what accommodations are made for pregnant and parenting students in institutions of higher education. I wanted to know what factors made it easier or harder for a girl to stay in school when she finds out that she is pregnant, and what schools were doing about it. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most schools were doing nothing or only the bare minimum, such as providing one lactation room on campus for students and staff. I then moved my focus to the Mount, where I happily found that some administrators were already working towards improving the experience of students with children. The Mount community has recently seen the introduction of a lactation/breastfeeding space being made available for anyone needing it, and this is a great improvement. Yet, when you consider the reasons pregnant college students drop out, this is a drop in the bucket. According to research done by Generation Hope, affordable and flexible childcare is one of the top three barriers student-parents face. When considering Mount St. Mary’s in particular, you can imagine finding family-friendly, affordable housing that is conveniently located is a challenge. Residence Life does not offer family housing options or publicly guarantee housing for students who get pregnant. I have no doubt that the administration and faculty of the Mount cares about the success of pregnant and parenting students and has historically helped them to achieve their degrees. Yet, if all schools have a responsibility to do more, a Catholic institution surely has a duty to go above and beyond for students and their vulnerable children, born and preborn.
Of course, universities are not the beginning or end of where change needs to occur. Good work is already being done by those of us who cannot stand by while innocent lives are lost to abortions. A long-standing pregnancy resource center in Emmitsburg, Catoctin Pregnancy Center, has been walking alongside women of all backgrounds as they navigate unplanned pregnancies and difficult circumstances for about 30 years. Another local nonprofit, Mary’s House, is a maternity home for girls and women who have nowhere else to live as they nurture new life. Places such as these and the clinic I work at can be found through websites like Optionline.org and HERPlan.org.
Here I break from the stereotype of a pro-lifer, in that I believe sweeping social reform to create substantial safety nets for women, children, and families is worth serious consideration by all political parties. In a Post-Roe America more than ever, self-identified pro-lifers, such as myself, have a duty to look beyond party politics and consider the state of American maternity and paternity leave, childcare access and cost, healthcare accessibility, sexual assault prevention, psychological support and resources, and maternal mortality and its racially disproportionate effects. Social safety nets and abortion restrictions do not have to be separate legislation. In Georgia, the LIFE Act restricted legal abortions to only before a heartbeat is detectable, while simultaneously granting legal personhood to fetuses. Now GA women can earn tax credits for their preborn children and request child support from the fetus’ biological father. In small but significant ways Georgia is respecting life and supporting its successful continuation.
If you will indulge me in one final story… One day a woman in her 30s came to our clinic with her fiance. She was pregnant and had already decided to make an adoption plan for the child. You see, this woman had been living in a tent in a Walmart parking lot for quite a while now. She deeply felt that she was not equipped to give her child a proper life and just wanted our help finding a safe place to sleep as she tried to carry this baby to term. For some it would be easy to tell this woman that she and the baby would be better off not continuing the pregnancy; that she has enough to do for her survival without attempting months of pregnancy. For others it may be easy to tell this woman she is doing the right thing, but if she would just go to a shelter and her fiance would get a job they could do the better thing and parent the child together. Instead, we met her where she was and started making calls. We spent hours calling shelters and organizations that should have been able to help, but they were full or they had a policy against accepting pregnant women. We dug in our metaphorical change purse and put them up in a hotel for the weekend, going beyond the scope of our usual capacity. In the end, though, there was not much we could do in the face of the systemic issues at play.
Those identifying with both major political parties feel they have the market cornered on empathy and on justice. In truth, we all need a better grasp on both justice and empathy. In a speech after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Elie Weisel said, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” We can protest the current state of things in small but powerful ways. An hour spent sorting through donated baby clothing, an open-minded discussion with someone of another political party, withholding judgement when a friend shares about a past abortion; these are the acts of protest and service, justice and empathy, that we are all called to.