Written by Kim Daniels on The Catholic Voices Blog
Reprinted with permission
As the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade approaches, we should reflect on the great tragedy it represents, even as we pray for the children lost to abortion and for their mothers and families. We’re a country that’s at its best when it helps the helpless and gives voice to the voiceless, and yet we’ve lived for decades with this profound failure to protect the most vulnerable among us.
Despite divisions on this issue, all can agree that women facing unplanned pregnancies should be offered support and love, not left to struggle alone. For that reason we’re grateful for those who have used these long decades to build networks of pregnancy resource centers, offering women in need real choices by letting them know that someone is ready to stand with them even if no one else will.
The direct emotional and material support offered by these centers has been one of the great underreported stories of the past decade, so a recent New York Times’ article on their work was welcome (even if it had some problems). The Times reports that such centers now well outnumber abortion providers, serving an estimated “million clients annually, with another million attending abstinence and other programs.” As an example of the kind of work these centers do, the article describes a Texas CareNet group that let a pregnant woman stay in a house [the center's director] owns, found her a job, negotiated debt payment plans, offered Bible study and other classes. She gave birth in March. “Everybody here,” she said, was “like a different family.”
A Planned Parenthood employee quoted in the article rejected that approach: “‘We’re our patients’ medical provider,’ said Katie Wolfe, the health educator, ‘not their emotional support.’”
She’s right. Planned Parenthood’s $87.4 million in excess revenue last year didn’t come from the support business. According to its annual report, in 2011 abortions made up 92% of Planned Parenthood pregnancy-related services, and over the past three years Planned Parenthood has performed over one million abortions. On the other hand, since 2009 its provision of contraceptive services has dropped by 12%, and its cancer screening and prevention services have dropped by 29%. These impersonal clinics are not exactly the loving places — “like a different family”– that so many women hope for.
Along with the New York Times, last week Time magazine also turned its attention to abortion, declaring in a cover story that “40 years ago abortion-rights activists won an epic victory with Roe v Wade. They’ve been losing ever since.”
The Time article focuses on state-level abortion restrictions. The success of these laws at limiting abortions validates the incremental response to Roe pursued by pro-life groups like Americans United for Life, who’ve sought to reduce the number of abortions one legislative session at a time. In 2011, for instance, 92 abortion regulations passed in 24 states; as the article says, “at the state level, abortion rights activists are unequivocally losing.”
Why? According to Time, “part of the reason is that the public is siding more and more with their opponents,” and in large part because of that, “the pro-choice cause is in crisis.” Indeed, according to a recent Marist poll, 83% of Americans believe abortion should be significantly restricted; “this includes 56% who want, at most, to allow abortion only in cases of rape, incest, to save the life of the mother, or who think abortion should never be permitted.”
This shift in public opinion has a host of causes; among the most important is the development of the ultrasound. Here’s one of the young women interviewed by the New York Times:
One pregnant woman, Nasya Dotie, 21, single, worried about finishing college and disappointing her parents, said she was “almost positive I was going to have an abortion.”
A friend at her Christian university suggested visiting Care Net of Central Texas. She met with a counselor, went home and considered her options. She returned for an ultrasound, and though planning not to look at the screen, when a clinician offered, she agreed. Then, “I was like, ‘That’s my baby. I can’t not have him.’”
Millions of women and men have now grown up seeing an ultrasound as the first picture in their baby books, and this “ultrasound generation” knows from lived experience that those pictures show living, smiling, kicking, crying babies.
We should be grateful that Americans increasingly recognize that life in the womb deserves our protection and care. We should also be grateful for the pregnancy resource centers run by dedicated women and men around the country, offering hands-on help, material and emotional support, and most of all, love, from the moment of conception until after the baby is born and the mom has found the support she needs. This is love in action, and it’s changing hearts and minds. This is what it means to build a culture of life and love where all are welcomed and valued and protected.
Kim Daniels is director of Catholic Voices USA. She’s an attorney whose practice has focused on religious liberty issues, particularly rights of conscience in health care. Kim and her husband have six school-age children and are active members of their parish in Bethesda, Maryland. She’s a graduate of Princeton University and the University of Chicago Law School.