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Respect life: Offer mothers-to-be support, not judgment

Diocesan Respect Life Office says more to be done to make abortion unthinkable option

Published: October 19, 2021   
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Jamie, who does not wish to use her real name, holds her pregnant belly Oct. 8, four days before labor is induced. She was an 18-year-old college student when she became pregnant.

Respecting Life Series, Part 2 of 3

Just five days ahead of induced labor, Jamie was stressed about giving birth to her daughter. This was not the plan for her life. “I’m very excited, but at the same time I'm anxious because I don't know anything about raising a baby,” the 19-year-old River Valley Catholic said. 

Jamie, who preferred not to use her real name for this story, was a freshman in college when she discovered she was pregnant at 18, shortly after breaking up with her baby’s father. Adopted herself, she said she never considered abortion.

“I’ve always had a strong belief never to abort kids because it’s murder. I wouldn't want to be the one that murdered someone,” she said. 

"While it’s important to advocate for changes in the law, there is also need to consider what it would take to make abortion 'unthinkable' as a society."

In different circumstances, abortion could have looked like a viable option. She could have been unemployed or in a low-wage job with no way to get to doctor’s appointments. She could have had no supportive family or been homeless.

As legal challenges test Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationally, diocesan respect life director Catherine Phillips said it’s important to not only consider a world where abortion is suddenly illegal, but how to change the circumstances that drive women to abortion. 

“All of us want to reach out and save that baby that's in danger of abortion, but what are we doing really to help that mom in need? Sometimes, when they get to those doors (of the abortion clinic), their mind is made up, their heart is set and it's really hard to change that,” Phillips said. “But what if we worked so hard in our world to change things that they didn't ever get to those doors?”


Not so simple 

The Catholic Church teaches that abortion is a “moral evil” and one of the preeminent pro-life issues today. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.” (no. 2271:75) 

The legal challenges to abortion continue front and center in the news, most prominently with the United States Supreme Court agreeing to hear oral arguments Dec. 1 on an abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy in Mississippi, triggering a look at the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade. The Texas legislature also banned nearly all abortions, but a federal judge blocked that ban Oct. 6. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the federal ruling, reinstating the ban Oct. 8, with the Department of Justice set to reply to the ruling Oct. 12. 

While it’s important to advocate for changes in the law, there is also need to consider what it would take to make abortion “unthinkable” as a society, Phillips said. 

“If we really want to be pro-life and end abortion and live in a world where abortion is no more, we have to be that support network,” Phillips said. “More than just prayer and good wishes, we have to be there with the resources that moms need. And again, that's not so simple as diapers.” 

According to the latest data from the Arkansas Department of Health, there were 2,963 abortions in the state in 2019. The poverty rate in Arkansas is 18.9 percent, with child poverty at 26 percent, according to statistics from the United States Department of Agriculture. 

In a June 2020 CBS News article, Hospital Pricing Specialists collected data from 4,500 hospitals across the United States to determine the cost of no-complications vaginal birth, before health insurance in each state. Arkansas’ price for giving birth, which includes hospital fees, room and board charges, operating room, lab work and pharmacy expenses, is $15,005, about the national average. 

Phillips said top concerns for single mothers in crisis pregnancy have been safe and affordable housing, a well-paying job, health care and education.

“Can I give this child a good life? A lot of times, moms already have children, and they’re already struggling. They struggle with things like, how do I work and have time with my children?” Phillips said. “Many abortions happen when a mother is not married. And so she's trying to raise children by herself, or a child just by herself. And again, support is critical, but how do we balance raising a child and going to work? Educating our child; sometimes, educating ourselves. Many abortions happen when a woman is between 18 and 20 years old. She's trying to pursue an education, start off in a career, and she says, ‘I can't do this with a baby.’” 


The unexpected 

At 11:30 p.m. in her college dorm room, the then-18-year-old Jamie took a pregnancy test. It was positive. 

“‘Oh crap, my parents are going to kill me,’” were her first thoughts, she said. “I really didn’t think it was true at first.” 

She called her then ex-boyfriend that night to tell him the news. 

“He told me to quit crying and man up and just accept it. Which is something I never want to be told again,” Jamie said. “I didn’t know how to tell anyone else.” 

On her 19th birthday, she told her parents she was pregnant. They took it hard and were disappointed, she said, not the response she was hoping for at that time. Since then, her parents have been a strong support system. If they were not, “I honestly would probably give this baby up for adoption. I don’t think I could do it,” she said. 

Jamie dropped out of college, moved back in with her parents and started working 12-hour shifts as a certified nursing assistant. 

“I had a fear about judgment from people. My anxiety and depression got really bad, and I was scared to go around anyone. I would just hide behind my mom when I did,” Jamie said. 

She began attending Mass again but hid the pregnancy until she no longer could. 

“I actually started going to counseling with my priest, and they were supportive. Everyone just started supporting me. I was shocked,” Jamie said. 

Though thankful for the support, she has a lot of fears, including her ability to go back to college in the spring to study sonography, while still working as a CNA and being a mother. 

“Just being single and a mom, you don't know how you’re going to pay for things. So working that long shift is not something you want to do, especially with a newborn. (My family) will help, but right now it’s just my mom and dad and me at home, everyone else is at college,” Jamie said. “I did have people offer to help babysit so that’s something I'll not have to struggle with.” 

Despite all the unknowns, Jamie said she believes “everything is possible with God.” 


What can I do? 

During Respect Life month in October, Catholics and others who advocate for life can join prayer movements like 40 Days for Life in Little Rock and Rogers. At the parish level, the Gabriel Project is a national initiative that encourages parishes to put a sign on church grounds and information in their bulletin that simply states, “Pregnant? Worried? Need Help?” and a number to call for an expectant mother to be mentored and supported by the Catholic community, which can mean transportation, navigating social services, babysitting and prayer. 

Catholic business owners, crisis pregnancy centers, parishes and dioceses can work with employees to provide affordable health insurance, paid maternity and paternity leave, a flexible schedule to allow for doctor’s appointments for both mother and child and a just wage to account for living expenses and childcare. According to the Economic Policy Institute, childcare in Arkansas is an estimated $6,890 annually or $574 a month. 

Employer policies supporting families are pro-life. 

“Do we conduct our own businesses in a manner in which supports life, in a manner that's really truly pro-life?” Phillips said. “And what about our policies -- how do we support moms? Do we have paid maternity leave, do we consider offering childcare, are we supportive of moms if a child has to be picked up unexpectedly because they get sick at daycare? Do we allow time for fathers to be with their wives when they're pregnant, when they need extra support?” 

Jamie said one thing every Catholic can do is simply be accepting.  

“If they have something (a negative judgment) in their head, don’t show it. It does tear us down, and we don’t need that right now. We need support and if you do tell us that, it will make us lean toward abortion instead of that healthier option,” Jamie said. “If they know anybody just having a rough time with anything, don’t tear them down for a mistake they’ve made.”

Read Respecting Life Series, Part 1: The Death Penalty

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