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Being Pro Life is Hard in a Consumer Culture

Decisions about life are affected by the dominance of the economic factor in our lives. In our culture, for a woman to accept an unwanted pregnancy may require heroic virtue. Pregnancy, for some mothers, is such an intrusion that it would completely turn their lives around.

Even for Catholic women, it is hard to avoid the temptation of abortion upon the arrival of an unwanted and unplanned pregnancy. This may be true not only of teenagers, but of married women when their life plans and careers are at stake.

Tremendous energy goes into the development of career plans. Having a child has frequently not been in the picture and does not fit into those future plans.

But it is not only a matter of careers. Acquisition is at the heart of our culture. Husbands and wives must both work to acquire the many things that are presented to us constantly through advertisement. Our style of life in the United States is so demanding that for many it destroys any thought of accepting an alternative to abortion. How could a woman, a couple, even think of having a child when it might change in so many ways the way they live? In a world where what you have and how well you live materially is the basis on which you are judged, it is hard to keep the perspective of the sacredness of life.

Having a child may mean the loss of a job, a home, an automobile, or certainly a life style that is imposed so rigidly in our culture that it borders on being a religion.

Somehow for women it has became the definition of freedom to work as a wage slave. Children may not enter the picture. The idea of “whatever the market will bear,” has captured any extra income people have had when two in a married couple work. Couples have been trapped into supporting a life style that requires two incomes.

This was true at the height of consumerism, before the economy crashed.

One thing we learned from Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin was our responsibility to make it easier for people to be good. For example, it is not enough to merely tell people that abortion is wrong as a solution to an unwanted pregnancy. We can also intervene in the life of the pregnant person and make it easier for people to follow their conscience and Catholic teaching. Dorothy said that Catholics, including Catholic hospitals, should help families having children so that following Church teaching would not require heroic virtue.

It is not enough to condemn abortion. We need to develop alternatives and support systems and assist those who are expecting a child.

A poor woman who is expecting a child may not have even a place to live. Her family may reject her if she does not have an abortion. At Casa Juan Diego we have received many women in this situation. Their situation is difficult, precarious. They need help for many months.

Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin spoke of locating the center of value somewhere other than wealth and accumulation. Making a living and having a place to live is important, but we are called to more—to a destiny. Dorothy and Peter emphasized the primacy of the spiritual in our lives. It is easy to see how the economic factor dominates in people’s lives. What one possesses (economically) is what counts, not what one is. What you drive, what you wear, where you live, what kind of house you have, which parish you belong to, how much wealth you possess is what counts. The problem is that this hurts other people. It goes like this: my house, my car, my yard, my clothes, my vacation, my money, my investments, myfigure, my body. MY GOD, MY GOD, why have you forsaken us for this pot of porridge of material things?

The economic crisis is bringing everyone to a re-evaluation of all of this. Pope Benedict XVI has said that the cause of the world financial crisis is the idolatry of money. This sense of values affects not only decisions about abortion, but all of our lives.

Dorothy Day (and now Pope Benedict) spoke about the need for a revolution—a revolution of the heart—to break away from the grip of materialism that tries to replace our values and take possession of our souls. For Dorothy, to tempt people constantly and to barrage them with advertisement is immoral and unethical.
Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXIX, No. 2, Mar.-April 2009.