After new abortion laws, what the pro-life movement needs to learn from children’s hospitals

(iStock/Juanmonino)(iStock/Juanmonino)

I was caught off-guard when the doctor told me that my month-old son was about to be hospitalized. Was he really so sick? I had brought him to the clinic that morning because his cold was not improving; it turned out he had a respiratory virus that was likely to get worse before it got better. I had left my house expecting to be back in time for lunch, but instead it was days before I stepped back through my front door.

Sleeping on a hospital recliner is not comfortable. I was grateful to be close to my baby though, and it was interesting to get an extended look at the Children’s Minnesota hospital, which is quite different from other hospitals I have experienced. The colors are brighter, and community spaces are more abundant. I saw volunteers walking the halls in costume, sometimes carrying animals or musical instruments. The common areas offered a constantly rotating selection of freebies: snacks, T-shirts, playing cards, toiletries. One morning I wandered bleary-eyed into the Ronald McDonald House, and they gave me a cup of coffee and invited me back for dinner. That night the thermostat was 20 below, with a wind chill of minus 50, but the volunteers still showed up promptly at six with enormous trays of food.

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It was humbling. The hospitalized child was my fifth baby, but this was the first time I had occasion to see how much my community was willing to do to support sick kids. My own was not sovery sick as to throw our family into crisis, but I was keenly aware of being in a place where others were grappling with immense suffering and grief. If a hot meal was such a godsend to me, I could only imagine that others needed it far more. Compassionate gestures can have a value that far exceeds their monetary worth since they ease the crushing sense of isolation that suffering and illness can impose.

The hospitalized child was my fifth baby, but this was the first time I had occasion to see how much my community was willing to do to support sick kids.

The timing of this experience was interesting. Outside the warm walls of the hospital, the Midwest was enveloped in a polar blast, and the nation was enveloped in a bitter dispute about late-term abortion. As our nation’s judicial landscape changes, blue states are moving pre-emptively to ensure that abortion is readily available to all women, under all circumstances. It is difficult not to react with disgust when the political angles are so obvious and the potential consequences so harrowing. In the heat of political battle, some seem to have fixated on abortion almost as though it were a good in itself. They do not seem to see the child anymore.

But the child is still our best emissary. Babies are experts at instructing us in the preciousness of human life. It is almost impossible to hold one without feeling a strong desire to protect and cherish it. Sitting in that creaky recliner with my infant son, I found myself reflecting on the tremendous contrast between the sort of care he was receiving and the concern that was being directed at other infants of about the same size. He gets balloon animals, lullabies and attentive nurses, while others become bargaining chips in a rancorous social dispute. To be sure, the political battles can be important, but they are likelier to be won when we tap into that same well of compassion that keeps the pantries stocked in the Ronald McDonald House.

In a children’s hospital, a child’s life is of paramount concern. It is the reason the hospital exists, and almost everything doctors and nurses do there implicitly acknowledges the preciousness of young life. At the same time, the homey details speak to something else: the raw and painful emotions that naturally accompany a personal crisis. It is natural that these things should be connected in our effort to care for people. We do not choose whether to minister to the body or the soul, and thoughtful people understand that a child’s distress is not burdensome to him or her alone. The most effective pro-life responses are those that mirror these same insights. We should absolutely cherish all children. As much as possible, though, we need to do it in a way that ennobles their parents and enriches their community. Our advocacy for the unborn will be most effective when we allow it to transform us, making us more compassionate and more humane.

Thoughtful people understand that a child’s distress is not burdensome to him or her alone. The most effective pro-life responses are those that mirror these same insights.

Of course, that means working to ensure that expectant mothers get the medical care they need. It means supporting single parents and families in crisis and trying to revitalize institutions in less prosperous neighborhoods so that struggling parents have somewhere to go when they need help.

And it may mean more than that. If indeed our nation is on the cusp of a new era, when abortion law is settled by legislatures rather than courts, it may be time for pro-lifers to modify their strategy. For decades, the pro-life movement has focused on a single, crucial moral fact: The child is a human being with a right to life. Other points of controversy (contraceptives, artificial reproductive technologies or abstinence-only sex education) were largely pushed to the periphery for the sake of maintaining unity among people of diverse political persuasions. That approach was effective for marshaling opposition to a permissive abortion regime. It may not be as effective for winning the kind of widespread support that we will need to roll back a culture of death in the United States.

In our time, it is important for people to appreciate how opposition to abortion isconnected to a broader sexual ethic that underscores the dignity of both women and men. We should not avoid discussion of this sexual ethic for the sake of a more superficial political unity.

It is important for people to understand why someone who opposes abortion might simultaneously oppose commercial surrogacy contracts, despite the fact that surrogacy can be called, in some sense, “pro-life.” If we want babies to be born into situations where they will be welcomed and cherished, we have to have a frank public discussion on every facet of family formation. Pro-life advocacy has shaped the sensibilities of countless young people over the past quarter-century. But Americans who have not participated in the movement, many of whom have their own humbling memories of hot coffee in a Ronald McDonald House, may not grasp the breadth and depth of the pro-life vision. Now is the time to help them see it.

No parent wakes up in the morning hoping for a surprise visit to a children’s hospital. As it happened though, my experience there filled me with hope. Americans still have a great willingness to love and care for children. Now we just need to extend that care to those who need it the most.

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Nora Bolcon
5 months 3 weeks ago

Again we are dealing with people - Pro-lifers? who apparently don't know how to look up even basic research on a subject. If this woman is suggesting we don't support birth control to women then she is actually Pro-Death. On a global scale, in every single country of the world, where abortion has been criminalized or made difficult to obtain, the amount of abortion increases.
There are no exceptions to this statement and no contradictory evidence to this evidence.
This evidence is backed by solid sources which the church has trusted on many subjects - Both - Guttmacher and The World Health Organization. The amount of abortion also increases dramatically in every country that makes reliable birth contol hard, at all, to obtain.

There is little more one can add to this discussion. If you want less abortion - making laws to make abortion, or birth control, more difficult to obtain will give you the exact opposite response from what you claim to want. Meanwhile, maternal death rates go way up too with either of these things being more restricted. Wake Up!

Honestly, I have to wonder do Catholic Pro-lifers actually hate the unborn? I didn't think that was the reason for their stand, in the past. I thought it was ignorance to the facts but with having to write the same comments repeatedly, in the same magazine, while they argue the same destructive fact-less nonsense, one really must begin to wonder the motive, the why?

Monica Lavia
5 months 3 weeks ago

Nora, she does not say that "we don't support birth control to women" she is just saying that contraception issues get pushed aside. You say you have to write the same comments repeatedly in the same magazine, please do not feel obligated to do so any longer. This is a touching personal account of a mother with a sick child, written with sensitivity and tenderness to others. Your comments seem unnecessarily harsh.

Phillip Stone
5 months 3 weeks ago

Our Lord did not deal with statistics, He confines all His attention to each and every particular person in his encounter with them as is reported in the New Testament.
Your collectivist mentality completely eliminates even the possibility of considering the issue realistically.
You are not enlightened preaching to the blind, you are just wrong, muddle-headed and one wonders why.
Guilt, maybe?

Making a law against stealing will not stop stealing and that is no argument against that particular law.
Each law is a community guideline for every single particular individual and is educative.
An enormous number of murders occur whenever there is a complete breakdown of law and order and people act expecting no sanctions or punishment as a result of their evil deed.
Laws against theft are promulgated to establish a degree of protection for personal property; there is no expectation of the elimination of stealing.

Remember, if the Lord was subject to the judgement of statistics, He would be guilty of mass murder, torture, genocide and all the other neo-Marxist sins. Under His power and control, we all die.
Death of the babies is not the problem, death of the mothers is not the problem, it is how and at whose hand they die.

So, I am motivated by the conviction that it is better to have a law which stops bad behaviour than to let it continue uninterrupted and disapproved. Unrestrained bad behaviour leads to worse behaviour as moral degeneracy progresses.

It is plain fact that once conception has occurred, there exists a new and fully human and fully alive member of the human race with immortality a distant destiny.

The murder of an unborn child cannot send it to Hell, but it can send the murderers.

Crystal Watson
5 months 3 weeks ago

.

Bev Ceccanti
5 months 3 weeks ago

Simple. Just vote the baby-killers out and go from there. We can't wait for all problems to be solved before we do the one simple act that will save millions of little human beings.

Lea Brown
5 months 3 weeks ago

This was a beautiful article on how "every" child should be supported by the community. However, it gives an unreal picture of our materialistic, capitalistic society. Every child born in this countyr does not matter or they would be afforded the same kind of healthcare, and community support this article touts. The same pro-life supporters, marching against abortion, have no problem voting for people who end free school lunch and services for disadvantages children and their parents. Where is the love and support in that? Your white prriviledge affordes you the ability to see only your experience and not the suffering of those who are not like you. When the Church steps up and becomes a real force for social justice and change, them maybe I and millions like me will believe the pro-life groups when they say "all fetuses matter".

Mike Macrie
5 months 3 weeks ago

You are right on with the problems of the Pro Life Movement. Many scream Pro Life but are not willing to spend a dime of new taxes for health care programs to support these Mothers and Kids. Many scream Pro Life for your vote for another agenda.
The article is good but does not go out on a limb to detail the type of health care programs and child care support needed for the whole country. This is especially true for Single Mothers.

Ellery Klein
5 months 3 weeks ago

I appreciate Ms. Lu pointing out that pro-life voters need to think beyond "pro-birth," and that ongoing medical care and financial and community support for all kinds of families goes hand in hand with childbirth.
However, it is hard to have a serious conversation about this topic when once again late-term abortion is falsely presented as a cavalier, easy-to-get, murderous lark on the part of the mother...and pro-choice advocates as selfish baby-killers whose only aim is yet more abortions. Hardly.

Late-term abortions are almost always due to some grave medical issue, usually to do with the fetus. I invite Ms. Lu to read more about the conditions that lead a family, under medical advice, to seek a termination of pregnancy. It is rare, and almost always a painful, fraught decision for parents whose dreams have been shattered by a medical reality of a foetus that will die before birth, or shortly after. And most families have to travel, due to religiously-imposed restrictions on late term abortions, far across the country should they choose to terminate this pregnancy.
Every family in this diverse, multi-faith country is different----- and they aren't all Catholic. Good medical care needs to be based on giving people options, and allowing them, based on their own faith/beliefs, to make the decision that is right for them. That is all pro-choice is - not a quest for more abortions, but a respect for people's complicated lives and an understanding that legislation and politics is not the place to decide fraught medical situations, but rather, the doctor's office is.

Judith Jordan
5 months 3 weeks ago

The pro-birth people talk as though anyone can have a late term abortion for any reason. This exposes two things about them.

One, they are not doing due diligence in researching a topic in which they publicly proclaim their opinions based on erroneous “facts.” The other option is they know the truth, but lie about it.

Second, their implied view of women is of an immoral person who goes through almost a full-term pregnancy and then thinks to herself, “I think I’ll get a manicure and then drop by the clinic and have an abortion.”

I have even read and heard various pro-birth people claim that in this age of medicine, no woman should die from a pregnancy. To them, it is an impossibility.

Tim Donovan
5 months 3 weeks ago

Hello, Ellery. I'm not a father (I happen to be a Catholic who's gay) but I was a Special Education teacher for six years who instructed children who had brain damage. Some also were severely physically disabled, or had behavior disorders. I also worked in various capacities with disabled adults for another 20 years: direct care aide, group home supervisor, and in-home aide for a young man who had a form of muscular dystrophy called Friedrich's ataxia. I must admit it can be challenging to work with people who are disabled (the young man who had a form of muscular dystrophy died after my time caring for him). I recall the late Dr. C. Everett Koop, who was a pediatric surgeon at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, who performed many surgeries on children with complicated disabilities (once I believe he was successful at separating cojoined babies). You nay recall him as being Surgeon General under President Reagan. Koop was.strongly opposed to legal abortion, and wasn't Catholic, but a United Presbyterian. He once when interviewed said something to the effect that while some of the children he operated on had conditions that he would find difficult to live with, that he didn't believe it would gave been better if they had been aborted. I happen to live in a quality nursing home/rehabilitation center (I'm 57, and have lived here for over 3 years due to a chronic, serious but manageable health condition). A numbet of the residents (some of whom are my friends) are severely disabled, some are quite elderly (one woman is 106). The resident in the room next to mine has dementia, and although generally friendly, he can be difficult for the staff to care for. I sometimes become dismayed when he comes into my room (once he attempted to urinate in my trash can)!
I have 3 roommates, one of whom is a fairly close friend, though frankly I sometimes become impatient with him, since he fairly frequently asks me to do personal care for him, because the staff often are busy with people who are more debilitated). At times, I help the staff by pushing residents who are in wheelchairs to different activities (bingo, card games, etc.). This is a lengthy way of saying that, although I certainly have many faults(for which I'm fortunate that my pastor visits me monthly for the Sacrament of Reconciliation) I try to be a good person. I wouldn't want anyone I know, no matter how unfortunate their condition, to have been aborted.I
With respect, your assertion that women have late term abortions primarily when the unborn human being has been diagnosed as being disabled is incorrect. Nor is it typical for women who have (for instance) the particularly barbaric "partial birth abortions" due to the developing baby having a fatal birth "defect." The Washington Post, which is a respected news source, has long had an editorial position in favor of legal abortion as defined by Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. The latter Supreme Court decision, which is the companion to Roe, defined "health" as being not only physical health, but the pregnant woman's "pyschological, emotional, familial health, and age." In effect, health is so broadly defined that any abortion is legal, even after viability. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2 015, 1.3% of abortions were performed after 21 weeks of gestation. There are nearly 1 million abortions each year nationwide. So that means almost 13,000 fetuses are killed by abortion each year. Fetus means "young one" in latin. It seems reasonable to me to assume that the young one of a pregnant woman is also a member of the human species, that is, a human being. On September 17, 1996, two investigative reporters for the "pro-choice" Washington Post, Barbara Vojeba and David Brown, M. D., reported that it was "possible--and maybe even likely--that the majority of these (partial birth) abortions are performed on healthy fetuses." The two reporters interviewed several doctors who performed "partial birth abortions" to come to this conclusion. They also found that "in most cases, the physical health of the woman whose pregnancy is being terminated is not in jeopardy." Ruth Padawer, of the Record of Bergen, New Jersey, separately interviewed two abortion doctors at a single abortion clinic, Metropolitan Medical, in Englewood, N. J. They stated that they performed over 1,500 partial birth abortions (PBA) annually. One abortion stated, "We have an occasional amnio abnormality, but it's a miniscule amount." This was confirmed by the other abortion doctor.
In 1993, in an interview with American Medical News, Dr. Martin Haskell of
Ohio, who performed hundreds of PB abortions annually, stated that 80% were "purely elective." Tragically, it gets worse. Dr. James McMahon developed the particularly inhumane abortion method. On June 29, 1995, he submitted a document to the U. S. House Judiciary Committee. He stated that of the approximately 2,000 of such abortions that he performed, only 9% were for "maternal heakth" reasons. Of that group, the most common reason was depression. This last statement by Dr. McMahon in my view demonstrates the utter disregard for human life of some abortion doctors. He stated that he even performed during the last 3 months of pregnancy on women who were physically healthy and whose babies were normal, if he thought there were "psychiatric"reasons, or if the pregnant woman was especially young.

Crystal Watson
5 months 3 weeks ago

She writes " blue states are moving pre-emptively to ensure that abortion is readily available to all women, under all circumstances". This is not true, as there are still restrictions in states like NY. Also, it's not honest to conflate the way a child should be treated and the way an embryo/fetus should be treated - they are not the same thing. If pro-lifers care so much about children, why do they support putting migrant children in cages at the border?

Tim Donovan
5 months 3 weeks ago

With respect, I don't think that New York still has any significant legal restrictions on abortions due to the law Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently signed. Is an embryo the same as a child? Of course not. But neither is a newborn infant the same as an adult in terms of his or her physical abilities; nor does a newborn infant have the capacity to reason. Also, we've discussed this previously, so I won't belabor the point. However, I sincerely believe, based on my personal experience as a Special Education teacher and aide, based on caring for children and adults who are profoundly disabled both mentally and physically, that they require so much care that they are in most ways as dependent as a fetus or even an embryo. Finally, I have never claimed-nor do I believe-that because you are so-called pro-choice that you are entirely indifferent to abortion, or that you desire more women to have abortions. I would submit that we pro-lifers (call us anti-abortion if you like--I'm proud of my position, although I do believe that my support for stringent gun control laws and opposition to capital punishment, and support for the needs of pregnant women make it reasonable to call myself pro-life) aren't monolithic in our views about immigration. I worked in a group home caring for disabled men years ago. Several of my co-workers were immigrants from Liberia who had fled from a brutal civil war. A number of the staff where I now live are immigrants from Liberia or Sierra Leone. My favorite nurse from Kenya unfortunately left about two weeks ago. I 'm sure that there are more than a few pro-life people who like me DON'T favor putting any children in cages.

Tim Donovan
5 months 3 weeks ago

With respect, I don't think that New York still has any significant legal restrictions on abortions due to the law Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently signed. Is an embryo the same as a child? Of course not. But neither is a newborn infant the same as an adult in terms of his or her physical abilities; nor does a newborn infant have the capacity to reason. Also, we've discussed this previously, so I won't belabor the point. However, I sincerely believe, based on my personal experience as a Special Education teacher and aide, based on caring for children and adults who are profoundly disabled both mentally and physically, that they require so much care that they are in most ways as dependent as a fetus or even an embryo. Finally, I have never claimed-nor do I believe-that because you are so-called pro-choice that you are entirely indifferent to abortion, or that you desire more women to have abortions. I would submit that we pro-lifers (call us anti-abortion if you like--I'm proud of my position, although I do believe that my support for stringent gun control laws and opposition to capital punishment, and support for the needs of pregnant women make it reasonable to call myself pro-life) aren't monolithic in our views about immigration. I worked in a group home caring for disabled men years ago. Several of my co-workers were immigrants from Liberia who had fled from a brutal civil war. A number of the staff where I now live are immigrants from Liberia or Sierra Leone. My favorite nurse from Kenya unfortunately left about two weeks ago. I 'm sure that there are more than a few pro-life people who like me DON'T favor putting any children in cages.

Crystal Watson
5 months 3 weeks ago

The New York law has two restrictions. 1) one can have a late term abortion if the fetus is non-viable, 2) one can have a late term abortion if one's health is threatened.

Tim Donovan
5 months 3 weeks ago

According to Doe v. Bolton, the companion case,to the U. S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, health is broadly defined: "physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age...all these factors may relate to health." Since Roe and Doe are the, law,of the land, and apply in every state, it means that our law,is so extreme that any abortion at any time during pregnancy is legal. There's no reason to imagine that the New York law's,language is more restrictive than the unlimited so-called right to abortion.

Phillip Stone
5 months 3 weeks ago

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities, issued the following statement:

“There should be no bill easier for the Senate to pass than one that makes clear that killing newborn babies is wrong and should not be tolerated. That even one senator, let alone 44 senators voted against the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, is an injustice that should horrify and anger the American people and commit us to decisive political action. A vote against this bill is a vote to extend Roe v. Wade’s license for killing unborn children to killing newborn babies. The American people, the vast majority of whom support this bill, must demand justice for innocent children.”

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