Helping mothers despite their choice
If a pro-lifer wants to make headlines these days, he could bomb an abortion clinic. It's not a course of action I would recommend, to put it mildly, but the sad reality is that it happens, and it undermines the cause.
America's obsession with President Clinton's sexual exploits affirmed our fascination with seeing people in high places brought crashing down. In the following months, Congress treated the public to a collective cackle when several prominent conservatives also toppled from their righteous pedestals, forced to confess their own extramarital affairs after condemning the president. Likewise, people who falsely claim to be pro-life in attacking abortion clinics could not have given abortion advocates a more effective cause to rally around: protecting women from "right wing extremists."
But we get sick of the harshness of the abortion rhetoric, just as we tire of hearing the same stories about Clinton and Monica day after day. We know the slogans and we know the players, and certainly, we all have our own stereotypes that we attach to people on both sides of the debate. I won't repeat them.
I want to talk instead about women who are pro-life to their very core, who truly practice what they preach, but without so much of the preaching. A refreshing change, you say? These women will probably never reach newspaper headlines aside from the one that I am creating here, but that matters little to them. In fact, I think they prefer it that way. As a rapidly growing but rarely acknowledged part of the pro-life movement, counselors and volunteers at thousands of crisis pregnancy centers across the nation quietly serve pregnant women in their time of need.
We have one such center here in South Bend — a whole network of them actually — called the Women's Care Center. Founded by Notre Dame professor Janet Smith in 1983, the Women's Care Center now offers a variety of services at eight offices in South Bend, Mishawaka, Elkhart, Plymouth and Bremen. One of these offices is on Ironwood Circle, within walking distance of campus.
The Women's Care Center does not show pictures of aborted babies. The Women's Care Center does not evangelize. The center keeps politics outside its doors and asks that its volunteers and counselors not participate in demonstrations outside the local abortion clinic or interact with sidewalk counselors. Sometimes women enter, mistaking the care center for the nearby abortion facilities. Contrary to what prominent abortion organizations may have you believe, counselors at the Women's Care Center do not resort to trickery, and they do not plead and threaten and tug at a woman's wrist to keep her from leaving.
The Women's Care Center does offer material and emotional support to the people who sometimes get ignored in the whole abortion debate — mothers. "Our mission is simple," states the Women's Care Center. "We offer loving support to women facing problem pregnancies. We'll calm your fears and answer your questions. If you are pregnant, we'll help you find the support you need. We offer encouragement and hope when you most need it. You don't need to go it alone."
The Women's Care Center can connect women to housing, food, medical assistance, baby clothes and equipment, parenting classes, support groups and many other forms of care. The center is a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold, and its doors are always open for long-term counseling. Its work reflects the philosophy held by many crisis pregnancy centers: that the best thing a pro-lifer can do for a woman is to be there for her, to listen to her, to affirm her dignity, to replace judgement with compassion, to find out what her needs are and to try to meet them.
I have met few people who display the same genuine compassion and love that I see within the staff of the Women's Care Center. They welcome women of all races, ages and nationalities, women who have had abortions, women considering abortion, women who would never dream of abortion but just need extra financial or emotional help. For many women, this kind of care makes all the difference in helping them find the strength to give life to their babies, sometimes in the face of pressure from parents, boyfriends, peers or employers. Many women do not want to undergo abortion but feel it is the only way to escape from a desperate situation. The Women's Care Center offers another life-affirming way which promotes the dignity of the mother as well as her baby.
I have been at the Women's Care Center as a volunteer on a couple of occasions when young mothers have left our doors still desperate and still planning to abort their tiny children. Letting the first one go out the door was one of the hardest things I have done, and I still feel a burden upon my shoulders to this day. But we do what we can in those situations. We gently remind her that we are here if she changes her mind or ever needs us again. We tell her that if she needs to talk to someone after the abortion, we are here for her as well. And then all we can do is pray that the woman will change her mind and that somewhere she will find the help she needs.
If you or anyone you know might be pregnant, the Women's Care Center offers free, confidential pregnancy tests — and so much more. Their number can be found in the back of the Notre Dame phone book and also on fliers soon to be posted by Right to Life dorm reps. But their presence does not excuse the rest of us — roommates, classmates, girlfriends and boyfriends — from showing the same compassion on campus.
The abortion debate churns on, and women face pregnancy alone every day. Political action has its place, and prayer does too, but being pro-life means more than making headlines for being anti-abortion. It involves a quiet compassion that, to a woman in need, speaks much louder than we would ever believe.
Laura Antkowiak is a senior Hesburgh program and government major from Lewis Hall and co-president of ND Right to Life. She will swear up and down that yes, pro-lifers do care about women.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Tuesday, September 21, 1999