In 1981, just eight short years after Roe v. Wade passed, I was born to two fervent pro-life activists.
Our home was the headquarters of traditional yet uncompromising pro-life advocacy. My father and his friend vigilantly interviewed those running for office and published the Voter’s Guide for Oregon Right to Life. My mother and her friends stood outside local abortion clinics, attempting to make contact with women to help them see the value of the lives in their wombs. Then they threw them baby showers.
In high school and college, I wanted my turn fighting on the balance beam of life and death. But in my college town, there was (thankfully) no abortion clinic to protest. Where did I belong?
Then a troubling new theme emerged, which forced a new bent to my activism. I began to meet women who went through with abortion, but not because it was their choice. They were forced, one by an abusive boyfriend and another by unsupportive parents.
The polarized abortion movements offered them no options, either. They were either supposed to embrace with pride their right to an abortion, or slink into the shadows as a new accusation of “murderer” hung over their heads. How are these real “choices”?
During college I studied social work, and after a few years in the field, my advocacy continues to evolve. Today I find myself among one of the highest-stress populations: military families. Social workers are thoroughly trained to swallow personal opinions. But I know that lives are at stake here.
With the stories I’ve heard and the work I do, my advocacy had to evolve. As a voice for life in my culture and my occupation, these five beliefs and actions serve as my guide:
1. I believe that “every woman wants to raise her child.” I realize that this is not true in every circumstance, but this is the belief I operate under when talking with a woman sitting on the fence of abortion, adoption, or raising her child. The stories I’ve heard about women having abortions were nearly all out of fear and lack of options. But what if she had had real choices? What if she had felt supported? I believe that in these conditions, most women want to raise their own children.
2. I learn what I can about support and resources for pregnant women in my area. For me, my primary population of concern is a military population. They have unique needs. If they have a child, they could forfeit their entire career for lack of legitimate care options for their child. These are real issues. Knowing the resources available to them and helping them think through the motivations for their decision, as well as long-term benefits and consequences, is how I offer unbiased support.
3. I recognize that women who cannot raise their children are afforded only two excruciating options: adoption and abortion. In the pro-life movement, one of our favorite mottos is: “Adoption: the loving option.” But sometimes we forget how much of a sacrifice a mother must make, that she must birth a child and hand her over to someone else to raise. Do we understand this pain? I read a New York Times article once by a woman who had an abortion. She said her grief was most understood by another woman who placed her child for adoption. The pro-life movement often forgets this truth.
4. If her only two options really are adoption vs. abortion, I believe that “in 10 years, you’ll want to wonder how fifth grade is going, instead of wondering what your baby’s eyes would have looked like.” I know that it must feel so painful to choose between adoption and abortion, since both choices leave you without a child. However, one option gives two people a start, while the other affords only one a chance at life.
5. When a woman chooses abortion anyway, I support her and help her grieve. I don’t support the abortion. In fact, when she says she wants abortion, I start praying. I often alert friends to do the same. In my quiet activism mode, I call out to God to save this one. But if she goes through with it, she will experience some of the deepest pain she has ever felt. She needs no accuser. In that time, I try to talk with her about how to grieve, acknowledging that there was a life to mourn, not just a blob of tissue, since she doesn’t believe that anyway. She may even need to grieve her lack of options and the circumstances which led her to the decision.
This is only one aspect of my work with military families, but this part of my job sometimes feels a little crazy. Authentically supporting women on both sides of abortion is a strange place to live. But it’s the painful and real heart residence of pro-lifers who wish to be relevant. While we mourn the absence of the 55 million babies missing from our generation, we must seek to love and heal the 55 million mothers who feel the pain of their absence.
The pro-life movement is as big as all of us, but as small as one of us. It is necessary that we each arm ourselves not simply with rhetoric, but also with compassion, becoming an army of educated and empathic people who love all life in every form and know a great God who loves to heal.