Pro-life sounds so simple. We love the vibrant life around us, right? The flowers, the trees, little puppies, sweet butterflies, soft squishy babies, and all things great and small that live and breathe. God created the world and thought it was good. It seems like a no-brainer to be pro-life. Why then do so many debates arise about the language we use, the “rules” we follow, or the laws we make regarding pro-life issues? How do we navigate the semantics and emotions tied to the idea of being pro-life?
Many times we debate this issue based on theories, principles, morals, economics, medical science, and crime statistics. Oftentimes the debate is heated. There is so much at stake for all parties involved. I saw this first hand when I was nine years old. I remember the phone call between my grandmother and my fourteen-year-old sister. The aged nurse with all her medical experience made this analogy: “Rub your hand across your arm! You just killed more cells by doing that than you would with an abortion.” My mother, in her sweetness, corrected her mom with kindness. “We aren’t killing a baby. We love babies.” I wasn’t exactly certain what the full impact of that heated phone call meant, but I knew things were tense.
What about the rare cases of rape. Why should a woman be punished with the burden of a baby when she has already suffered such a trauma? Who would want to force a mother to carry a child that would constantly remind her of the abuse? What about when the pregnancy places the mother at risk of medical complications? Shortly after the phone call, we began to pack up the house. We moved quite a bit, but this time was different. We were leaving our step family for good. My sister was pregnant, the father was our step brother, and their relationship was not consensual. All of our lives would change drastically, and needless to say, life was already quite difficult.
Economically, we were nearly destitute. My mother had four children and a grandbaby on the way. She did the best she could as a single mother, but it was a challenge to make ends meet. There were times of want for basic necessities. There were lessons in sacrifice that shaped my motherhood for the better. My sister qualified for WIC benefits. That charity provided her with the much needed nutrients to grow new life. I knew not to take her food even though I was hungry too. “Don’t eat the cheese, that’s for my baby’s brain development.” My sister took her role as mother seriously and guarded her unborn child with great love. She was an example of self-sacrifice, and I took notice. She herself was just a child, and I knew this cross was heaviest for her. She wouldn’t be able to attend school like her peers or have high school experiences like other girls who didn’t have criminal step brothers. She continued on with love and sacrifice, never complaining about life. She just focused on the life within her womb.
It’s hard to explain the private details of our situation. Many people passed judgment on my sister for her teen-pregnancy. She often felt shame for a situation she did not create. I wanted to yell at them that, if they were Catholic, they would be glad she didn’t kill my nephew. That same gossiping and condescension were reasons for some girls to secretly have abortions, so they wouldn’t have to suffer the embarrassment and ridicule of an unwed pregnancy. If we were truly pro-life, we wouldn’t make life more difficult for young mothers. How does a nine-year-old communicate that indignation? Deep in my soul I knew my sister was doing everything right even when those around her were not living as God would have us live. She demonstrated true charity toward neighbor even while she suffered hardships.
When the time came for my nephew to be born, my small-framed young sister struggled to give birth. She painfully labored for twenty-five hours. The staff didn’t make the experience any easier for her. God forbid she would ever choose to go through that again. They saw only a teen mother. They didn’t know what I knew. It would be best to teach her a lesson. I remember seeing her exhausted face with black eyes from the strain. My heart broke for her, but her heart was filled with love for her newborn son. She was the first example in my life of the verse, When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world (Jn 16:21).
As a young aunt, I learned what it meant to give of oneself for the greater good. I learned that even the “less than one percent” isn’t a justification for abortion. I learned that a child should never have to pay the ultimate price for the sins of their father. I learned that as a mother I would give up the last bite of my food to feed my child. I learned that I would rather face death than willfully kill my child. I learned that even in sadness and pain there is a love that transcends the burdens of this world. I learned that life is not perfect, but God, in his infinite wisdom, gives us everything we need to live now and forever. I learned that pro-life is not a word. Pro-life is a pathway to live and love fully.