Our post-Roe world makes it clear: Laws will never be enough to create a pro-life culture
The other day I was rushing out the door when I realized I had not brushed my teeth. I was in a huge hurry, so I grabbed my toothbrush, ran it under the faucet and proceeded to scrub my pearly whites with just water and the bristles. That is when I stopped, looked myself in the bathroom mirror and said out loud, “Anything worth doing is worth doing correctly.” I grabbed the tube of toothpaste and brushed my teeth...correctly.
This phrase is one of my mother’s favorites. I heard it 1,000 times growing up, and it runs through my head like an endless mantra whenever I am painting a bedroom wall or doing some other menial, tedious task. Whenever I want to give up on a project or cut corners or give in to exhaustion, I always repeat to myself: “Anything worth doing is worth doing correctly.”
My mother’s saying usually affects small, day-to-day things in my life, but every once in a while, her words have big implications. Lately they have had big implications for my work at New Wave Feminists. New Wave Feminists is a politically independent and religious agnostic pro-life feminist group that subscribes to a consistent life ethic, or “CLE.” The CLE is grounded in the belief that every human being should live a life free from violence, from the womb to the tomb.
Women need support and resources when that second line shows up on a pregnancy test.
Its practical application means we work with pregnant migrant mothers at the U.S.-Mexico border, with single or pregnant parents across the United States, and with heartbreakingly young victims of sexual violence in Uganda, many of whom have become pregnant as a result of sexual assault. The legality of abortion in each of these places is all over the map, but here’s the thing: Our work in these different parts of the world, in communities separated by thousands of miles, language and culture, never changes, because as distinct as they are—geographically, culturally and legally—the fear women feel when facing an unplanned pregnancy is universal.
Women need support and resources when that second line shows up on a pregnancy test. Their first thought is not to wonder how their senator, president or prime minister feels about abortion. They care that their family might kick them out if they remain pregnant. They care that their partner is going to leave or, worse, resort to violence if they do not abort. They care that they lack the social and economic resources—housing, employment, child care—to raise their child. Women need safety and security, food, clothing and shelter.
Laws Are Not Enough
At New Wave Feminists, we understand that many believe laws are necessary to lower the abortion rate, but we also know they are not sufficient. What about a pregnant woman’s particular needs? What are the deficiencies when it comes to meeting those needs where she lives? We have to remember that a service that might be available to a woman in Seattle might be impossible to access for another in rural Mississippi or Kampala. For example, in Uganda, New Wave Feminists funds prenatal care and corrective procedures for young women giving birth and healing from violent assaults. We also sponsor their education so they will be able to provide for themselves and their children. In South America, safe housing is the number one resource mothers need to provide security for their children; otherwise they can become easy prey for traffickers looking to use them as the price for a roof over their family’s heads. Here in the United States, housing, health care and transportation are the key resources we help women find.
Abortion laws—at either extreme—do not directly change any of that. Laws cannot love you. Only people can do that. So we build relationships with these women. We ask women what barriers are standing in their way and are potentially preventing them from continuing their pregnancies and then, one by one, we work to remove each of those hurdles.
Sometimes a scared young woman only needs to be told that she is strong enough to choose life for her child. Other mothers simply need assistance with their phone bill or new tires for their car so they can keep a food delivery job. Other women are sometimes starting from scratch and after going to the housing authority at two months pregnant, discover there is an 18-month- to five-year-long waitlist.
Sometimes a scared young woman only needs to be told that she is strong enough to choose life for her child.
The needs women face run the gamut. Some are small and easy to provide, while others are going to require significant systemic changes that I know feel overwhelming to many of us because we live in a patriarchy—a world built by men and for men, one that was never designed to accommodate the realities of female fertility. Changing those foundational realities is going to take time. But while we are voting on policies that create an equitable society for women and children, our work does not end at the ballot box. That is the easiest form of action.
The real work at the heart of what our organization does is helping the pregnant woman in our community with her $50 phone bill, or chipping in a few bucks to send a teenager on the other side of the world to trade school, or helping charities and ministries provide safe shelters for the invisible and often forgotten (or even worse, politicized) pregnant mothers at the border who are fleeing violence and just trying to protect their children the same way any one of us would. We must value all of these lives, inside and outside of the womb. Parts of that can feel daunting, I understand. But there is absolutely something, big or small, that every single one of us can do to contribute to a truly sustainable global culture of life. This is the reality many women and their unborn children are facing. For a woman to truly have a choice, her basic needs must be met.
An abortion is often the result of a series of breakdowns. Something failed. Something went wrong. Often, there is a plethora of failures from numerous people, programs and systems that all contribute to a woman’s decision to abort. This decision is frequently mislabeled as a “choice,” when in reality, for far too many women, it is not a choice at all, but rather something she sees as necessary for her very survival.
No one ever dreams of the day they will finally be able to get an abortion.
No one ever dreams of the day they will finally be able to get an abortion. It is not fun and it is not run-of-the-mill health care. Advocates often compare it to the unpleasantness of an appendectomy or having wisdom teeth removed—but abortion is infinitely more significant. It impacts the mind, body and spirit in a unique way. No one wonders how old their wisdom teeth would be had they not had them removed. They do not wonder what their life would look like now if only they had been able to keep their appendix.
The inability or unwillingness of people to be intellectually honest about these differences prevents many women from processing their decision to abort, because while many know (or feel) the impact it had on them, they are made to feel silly for harboring complex or nuanced thoughts about the experience of abortion. But those thoughts are always there, right below the surface, because we know abortion should not exist. It is never an action one wants to take, and always a decision made under duress.
I know this because I speak to women frequently. I hear the fear in their voices and see the pain in their hearts as they grapple with what to do next after becoming pregnant. I try to tell them their lives are not over. I know this personally because I became pregnant at 16 and now have an amazing 21-year-old son to show for it. But I also know that the only reason he is here, and our lives were able to flourish, is because I was privileged enough to have a village of people helping me.
That is what I want for all women—exactly what I received. I want women to have housing, food, clothing, quality health care and loving people who can step in and help them even if it means driving over at three o’clock in the morning to give a mother some relief from a colicky baby. That is the sisterhood. That is the village. That is the pro-life feminist vision that must become a reality in our communities.
In order for abortion-vulnerable women to truly feel like they can “choose life,” they need big-ticket items like assistance with housing and child care.
Since abortion was declared a constitutional right in 1973, the pro-life movement has focused on overturning Roe. In June this happened. Over the past 49 years another part of the movement, perhaps less visible than political fights hashed out on the front pages, has worked tirelessly to create a “culture of life,” or a world where pregnant women don’t feel a need for abortion because there are support systems in place make it unnecessary. These grassroots organizations have worked to make abortion unthinkable through direct action, offering practical resources to pregnant women in need—including diapers, cribs, car seats and formula. While that’s all wonderful, even they know it is not nearly enough. For so many of the women they serve, their actual needs are so much bigger.
In order for abortion-vulnerable women to truly feel like they can “choose life,” they need big-ticket items like assistance with housing, child care and transportation—and if they live in rural areas, medical services that they can actually access. All of these are things resource centers would no doubt love to provide, but the funding has simply not been there. When most are struggling just to keep their doors open, providing additional services is out of the question. Yet they already have the facilities, the heart and the staff to accomplish this big vision of a world without Roe. They simply need the funding and training to make this vision possible.
So, where does that leave us? While the legality of the abortion is going to be mixed across all 50 states, many of our communities need to bolster existing support networks—at the community, state and federal levels—to prepare for the reality of a post-Roe world, especially in states that have the strongest restrictions. For decades the movement has been working to address the supply side of abortion, but it cannot be to the detriment of addressing the diverse factors contributing to the demand side of abortion. The good news? Stepping up these efforts in whichever state you live in, no matter the law of the land, will ultimately help women and children not just to survive but to thrive.
The violence of abortion can never be the answer. The answer must be communities coming together to support and celebrate these new lives through our resources, time and talents. Yes, these are the very support systems that should already exist! The mantle of the grassroots side of the movement must now be taken up in pursuit of concrete legislative action. We have our work cut out for us. We must address this coming crisis of crisis pregnancies head on, and prepare a multitude of creative solutions now.
When the maternity homes are at capacity, and government housing becomes even more scarce, what then? When we have thousands of parents who need help with child care, how will we help to provide that? When mothers need to take time off work after giving birth, will we support policies like expanding paid family leave? These are the questions we should be asking ourselves now.
The pro-life movement has spent the last 49 years working toward this moment. We must take the necessary measures to map out what a truly post-Roe “culture of life” looks like. We cannot cut corners or get sloppy. My mother’s words ring truer now than ever: “Anything worth doing is worth doing correctly.” And helping women and children thrive is absolutely one of the most noble things worth doing.
Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa is the founder and president of the pro-life organization New Wave Feminists. She is also a frequent op-ed contributor for The Dallas Morning News. A version of this essay originally appeared in Church Life Journal, an online publication of the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame, and is reprinted here with permission.