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After Five Years I Found this Love in Practice: Practical Help for those Who Choose not to have an Abortion

Rebecca, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, is a Catholic Worker in Houston.

During my senior year at Notre Dame, I took Social Ethics, a class in which we examined various contemporary social issues and the pertinent social teaching of the Church. The issue of abortion inevitably arose. I remember feeling frustrated during the discussions due to the conflict between my strong feelings against abortion, an inability to deny the harsh and unforgiving social and economic reality many women face, and the great schism between Church teaching and practice. Without the tools and support to make choosing to give life a viable option, many women see no other option save to abort. To me, it seemed self-righteous to uphold these principles, demanding all to abide by them, without taking into account the realities of our world- the economic challenges; the disintegration of community; the focus on “making it on one’s own”; and the judgment of young or single pregnancies (especially within Catholic families, but also in society at large), to name a few.

I remember coming to the seemingly obvious conclusion that some sort of social and economic support mechanisms needed to be created and implemented to allow for concordance with the Church’s teachings and for any woman to be more likely to choose to have the baby. But, we were all stymied as to the who, what, where and how of these mechanisms.

In the five years since taking that class, I have maintained my belief that abortion is wrong and should not be an option, although unable to present a solution that eliminates these factors. I recognize the limitations of both sides of the debate that derive from isolating the issue of abortion. What does “pro-life” really mean? What does “pro-choice” signify? If one is pro-life, how can one be pro-death penalty? Or pro-war? In terms of maintaining a consistent ethic of life (which I believe is the only accurate definition of being pro-life), shouldn’t that mean one is pro-social justice and pro-economic justice as well? As for pro-choice, many people I’ve met who have categorized themselves this way, have also been against the death penalty and involved with a variety of justice issues. With respect to abortion, it seems that both perspectives are often limited in scope, one side ignoring the harsh economic issues and social prejudices, the other side acknowledging them but opting for a short cut instead of addressing them. This shifts the focus from the real issues at hand–primarily the economic injustice that pervades our society, the disintegration of community, and a proclivity towards judgment and blame.

Pause a moment to reflect, how many people in this world would say they are against life, whatever their stance on social or economic issues may be? So, if we are all truly in favor of life, we must address this issue in light of that. The questions then become: Shouldn’t we be concerned and involved with creating the conditions in which the decision to abort is not whittled down to an absurd choice between the life of the mother and the life of the child? Wouldn’t the optimal conditions allow for choosing the lives of both?

Imagine a space where judgment is replaced with the joy that should accompany the bringing of another life into this world, a space where economic worries are displaced by economic support and acceptance. Many may say that this is but a dream, idealist and unlikely in the world in which we currently live.

But such a space does exist. Five years after that Social Ethics class, I find myself at Casa Juan Diego (CJD), Houston Catholic Worker. Not only rooted in the principles of Catholic Social Teaching and embracing life in all stages of existence and development, CJD is committed to putting those principles into action. Founded within the Catholic Worker Movement and teachings of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, this House of Hospitality aims to provide for whatever the basic needs of recently arrived undocumented immigrants may be. It is rooted in Matthew 25 and seeing Christ in the least of these- the poor, the sick; A non-exclusive teaching, for non-Christians, this translates into the idea of social justice being the respect for the life and dignity of each individual, regardless of class, creed, social status, etc. As such, CJD consistently promotes life through acknowledging the dignity of all immigrants who find their way to the door, providing for the basic needs of all, including healthcare, assisted living facilities for AIDS patients and paraplegics, while working to promote deep-seated economic and social change through their service and the production of this paper.

The rather informal system devised basically reduces to recognizing need and doing something about it, incor-porating elements the coopera-tive movement, promoted by Dorothy Day in House of Hospitality as “a chance for a real united front and for a peaceful and ethical accom-plishment of our aims.” The specific example of the Maternity Guilds put forth by Day and Maurin exists naturally in CJD as a means of respecting the sanctity of life and the dignity of the women who cross the threshold.

Ministering to the poorest of the poor, the often isolated undocumented, sometimes battered, immigrant women who are miles from family and with little to no economic resources, CJD provides a space that allows the mother-to-be freedom from economic concerns, and the support necessary to accompany her in the awesome challenge and joy of bringing forth and nurturing new life.

Laura, an undocumented and battered woman with two children arrived at CJD not too long ago. Upon discovering her pregnancy, Laura’s resolve and faith in herself to create a decent life for her other two children quickly disintegrated with the thought of having to go through a pregnancy alone and raise three children. She contacted her husband in search of some type of support. He said he’d take her back on the condition she abort the baby. If she had been in counseling with a center in Houston that provides such services to battered women approving and promoting abortion, who knows how they would have advised her. However, without restricting her freedom to make her own decisions, in the spirit of Dorothy Day’s teachings regarding the creation of Maternity Guilds, Casa Juan Diego offered as a community to provide sufficient economic support and no judgment regarding whatever decisions may have led one to the current situation.

Laura asked the inevitable question, “Until when will you provide such support?” The common assumption, both by these mothers and others who learn of CJD’s commitment to providing assistance, is that once the baby is born, that’s it. No more help. That’s the message handed out by organizations, government agencies, even families, who all put time limits on their willingness to proffer economic support in our economy-centered capitalist modern-day existence, where time is money, money is everything, and everyone must protect, first and foremost, their self-interest. I can only imagine Laura’s surprise to the answer of this question considering my own, when at one of our Friday night CW dinners, Mark shared the official response to the question above. With a smile and chuckle, but in all seriousness, he stated, “Until the baby is eighteen.”

So much of the fear in regards to unwanted or unexpected pregnancy even within marriage arises directly from economic concerns. With those removed or diminished, there is finally room for true freedom to choose what is natural and what should be a joyous occasion. I wish I could gather together the students from my Social Ethic class, along with the many Catholics and non-Catholics who critique the Church’s teaching regarding abortion as being incongruous given the realities of the day, and share with them this very real place in which the conditions are intentionally created to allow for choosing both the lives of mother and child. I would also share what I am learning through my experience here at Casa Juan Diego. To be “pro-life” is ultimately to be pro-community, pro-justice, and pro-active.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXIII, No. 1, January-February 2003.