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Pro-Life vs. Pro-Birth

07/11/2013 09:57 am ET | Updated Sep 10, 2013

I've gotten called some awful things when I tell people that I'm both a practicing Catholic and an advocate for women's choice -- from baby killer to hypocrite. But hear me out.

I was raised with a strong sense of faith in a "cafeteria Catholic" family -- that is, a family that picked and chose from doctrine and tradition what we would actually practice. There was an overarching idea of being good to other people, whether you agreed with them or not, and trying to stand in someone else's shoes when considering situations. I was raised to help the poor, to speak up for those who couldn't, and to be as good of a person as I could be.

I was raised in a church where my LGBT friends weren't accepted, but in a family where they were welcomed; in a church where stem cell research wasn't embraced because it killed live embryos, but in a family with history of diabetes and dementia, diseases that could be potentially cured by such research; in a church where women aren't allowed to be priests, but in a family that sees it as a practical and natural progression for an aging priest population.

This isn't to say that I was raised in a family that espoused abortion. They didn't. I formed that opinion on my own. But it comes back around to the idea of thinking of others first, and trying to see a situation from their perspective. I consider myself pro-choice, and pro-quality of life, rather than pro-life.

Let me explain.

In states like Texas, Virginia, Kansas, and Wisconsin, legislators are not necessarily banning abortion and pre-natal care, but making it harder and harder to obtain. By instituting waiting periods, enacting parental consent requirements, building specifications that are nearly impossible to meet, and other hurdles, they have created a de facto ban on abortion in their states, tearing away at the freedom and rights that Roe v. Wade guaranteed to American women over 40 years ago. But what these politicians fail to acknowledge is that women have been having abortions for years, and will continue to have them whether they're legal or not. The difference is that by keeping them legal, regulated, and performed by doctors, we can save more lives than the abortions end and keep thousands of women from shoddily performed procedures that result in their sickness or death.

These legislators, and their supporters, consider themselves to be a righteous, "pro-life" movement, where every life is sacred (except for the mother in question), and where we as people have no right to end a life (unless it's someone on death row). What I argue is that these people are not pro-life. They are pro-birth.

Legislators who are against women terminating their pregnancies are also the ones who want to cut funds to programs helping families. They aim to slash the budgets for SNAP, food assistance, child care credits, education, and health care. Parents who couldn't afford to have a child to begin with, but couldn't abort the pregnancy, are now faced with the challenge of raising a child without the means to do so, and with little to no assistance. Not only is this difficult for the parents, but for the child. Yes, the child is alive, and that's wonderful. But what is the quality of his or her life like? Is it really best for a child to be born when their quality of life is subpar?

I mention this argument and tie it to my religious upbringing because many of the legislators making it difficult for women to have abortions and nearly impossible for them to receive government assistance once they deliver claim to be Christian men and women of high moral standing -- they're just trying to stop people from killing babies, they say.

I don't agree with this misguided sense of morality.

As Christians, as Americans, as people, we cannot let this counter-intuitive, counter-productive set of principles guide our legislation and limit a woman's ability to plan her family and access health care. We must help women do what is best for themselves, their partners, and their families, even if we don't personally agree with their choices. It is not our place, and it goes against the sort of Christianity I was taught growing up -- the "judge not, lest ye be judged" kind that Bible thumpers seem to forget about when they're spewing t their hateful ideas and claiming them as Christian doctrine.

Am I comfortable with abortion? Not really, no. But as a woman, I could never deny or legislate against a sister or a friend or a mother or a stranger seeking one because it was her best option. As a woman, I can't bear to watch states domino one-by-one into legislating against half of the population. And as a Catholic, I cannot bear to watch legislators who fail to listen to the voices of their constituents and who refuse to care for their brothers and sisters and children as they were elected to do.

I wanted to end with a quote by Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine Catholic nun who talks about human rights, war, poverty and women's rights. I think she sums up my position more succinctly and eloquently than I ever could when she said:

I do not believe that just because you're opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don't? Because you don't want any tax money to go there. That's not pro-life. That's pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.

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