January 22, 2016 is the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. January 22, 2016 also lands 6 weeks into the Jubilee Year of Mercy, as declared by Pope Francis. What does this mean for the pro-life movement and, in particular, for Catholics?
The current conversation surrounding abortion is, by its very foundation, futile. We define ourselves as either "pro-life" or "pro-choice," but never as "anti-life" or "anti-choice." The fact of the matter remains, no one is really anti either of these things. One side is concerned with a woman's right to have a say in the course of her life -- which includes her reproduction. The other side is concerned with the new life's right to do just that -- live. (I have intentionally chosen the term "life" because I feel that, regardless of one's preferred wording of embryo/fetus or baby, one must be able to agree, simply by looking at an ultrasound, that the creature inside of the womb, is certainly living.)
There is one scenario, and one scenario only, in which I condone and understand abortion: when the mother and child are at serious risk of death, and aborting the child is the only way to save the mother. This scenario allows one life to continue living, rather than zero, and that, despite the intentional abortion, is inherently pro-life.
What about the instances of rape, you might ask? What about a woman who cannot afford to feed and care for her child? Please understand that I, like so many other pro-lifers, are not anti-woman, and we are not insensitive to the trials of female reproduction. Do I feel empathetic, if not also sympathetic, for these women? Of course I do. While I would never wish such a situation on any person, I simply do not believe that terminating the innocent new life will bring good out of such an evil and traumatic situation as rape, nor do I believe that, with the abundance of adults trying desperately to become parents, that abortion is preferable to adoption.
This raises the question that is so pertinent for us pro-lifers to consider, especially in this Year of Mercy: If we want women to choose life, we must show them that life is the better offer. Currently, as is made apparent by the alarming numbers of abortions happening on U.S. soil each year, that is not the case. When killing the new life inside of them seems like the best option, it is utterly clear that we have not created a world in which it is safe to be either a woman or a child.
Vilifying these women is unfair, unsympathetic, and, most importantly, unmerciful. These women are not sociopathic murderers; more often than not, they are scared and feel there is nowhere else to turn.
In America's secularized society of today, it is important we remember those who faced similar struggles, often more bravely then we do. Dorothy Day, a woman remembered equally for her civil rights activism and her Catholicism, was once the last person to be mentioned in a pro-life article. Day lived a self-described bohemian lifestyle and had multiple romantic relationships, including one that ended in a terminated pregnancy.
A convert to the Church, Day understood the struggle for survival faced by women, and she wrote,
"I thought about famous men who wrote about childbirth such as Tolstoy and ONeill and I thought, What do they know about it, the idiots. It gave me pleasure to imagine one of them in the throes of childbirth."
Let this serve as a lesson in this Year of Mercy, that this very woman was recently praised by Pope Francis.
Perhaps the answer, in particular on this day, is not to offer condemnation, but to offer mercy and a welcoming environment for women just like Day, who faced the challenges of life and of womanhood in a very human way. Perhaps before we are so quick to judge one for her sins, we should watch out for our own sins of omission. Perhaps this mercy that Pope Francis calls for will allow us to live up to the phrase "love the sinner, hate the sin."
Now every year at this time, religious and secular pro-lifers alike join together to combat this monumental Supreme Court decision. I, like so many others, have too often fallen into the trap of vilifying the mother, and this, frankly is not a pro-life stance. I, like so many others, have focused on other's actions and have neglected my own.
That does not help to create a pro-life society. That neither creates a world where women feel safe nor provides an environment in which one would want to bring a child. That is not merciful.
Being pro-life means so much more than being anti-abortion. Life, of course, does not stop at birth, and neither should our concern for and support of it. We must create a world that helps these women want to choose life, that helps them to care for their children long after they have left the hospital, that does not force them to bear a child like a scarlet letter. Such a world will not need to March for Life, will not need to shame women with videos of a life being cut from its mother's womb, will not need to combat abortion with anger, but rather with sympathy and mercy.
This Jubilee Year of Mercy is a calling, a reminder that we are all sinners. The Church must be seen as a "hospital for sinners," not a place of judgment and overzealous piousness constructed by those who throw stones. Pray for the scared women. Pray for their children. Just as importantly, though, pray for yourselves and that the world you create is, whole-heartedly, pro-life.