08/06/2013 11:36 am ET Updated Oct 06, 2013

What About the State of Children Living Outside the Womb?

Now that some time has passed since our Texas Legislature debated on abortion, now that the nerves are not quite so raw, I feel the need to say something. No matter what your position is on the highly complex and deeply personal subject of abortion, I just have to know: Why do we seem to care so much about fetuses but then not so much after the big birth event? Is there something about traveling through the birth canal that erases the value of a human life?

Let's be real. America's children outside the womb are in a dreadful state. I realize I may be somewhat cynical, as I see the worst of the worst in how children are treated in our Children's Advocacy Center (CAC), a national best-practice model of coordinated care and service delivery for young victims of crime. We see children who have been molested, beaten, stabbed, locked away and malnourished, limbs broken -- most at the hands of those who are supposed to love and care for them. Where is our outrage, our fervor, and our passion for these children?

So, let me remove my jaded self from the equation and provide some additional national context. In the 2012 Children's Defense Fund's Report on the State of America's Children, Marian Wright Edelman states:

Millions of children are living hopeless, poverty and violence stricken lives in the war zones of our cities; in the educational deserts of our rural areas; in the moral deserts of our corrosive culture that saturates them with violent, materialistic, and individualistic messages; and in the leadership deserts of our political and economic life where greed and self interest trump the common good over and over. Homeless shelters, child hunger and child suffering have become normalized in the richest nation on earth.

More than 3 million referrals of child maltreatment are received by state and local agencies every year -- that's about six referrals every minute. Of the approximate 2,000 children with a cause of death listed as "homicide" each year in our country, about 80 percent of them are younger than four years old. Tragically, some children who die as a result of abuse have been physically abused over time. About 80 percent of these children are killed by a parent or parental figure. Our nation's child victims of homicide die from head injuries or from internal bleeding due to abdominal trauma. Other children die from hot water immersion, smothering or drowning.

Risk Factors for child fatalities include having a parent or caregiver with unrealistic expectations of child development; a parent under the age of 30; living in a low income, single-parent family experiencing major stress; or substance abuse among caregivers.

Our own state's Child Protective Services system, the feet-on-the-street system intended to protect children from abuse and neglect, to find homes for children who cannot safely remain in their families, is woefully underfunded. And what organization can really protect our most vulnerable children with a greater than 34 percent annual turnover in staff? When we do not as a society meet the funding needs of such agencies, they suffer from inadequate and under-trained workforces, and then we are surprised when children fall through the many, many cracks.

We gut and cut social welfare programs that support individuals who don't make a living wage, for those who are trapped in vicious cycles of poverty and despair. It's not as if we can't see the consequences of these shortsighted decisions. We are certainly willing to pay for this later through our bloated and now corporatized prison systems.

I know some will point to instances of "welfare mothers" who have "gamed" the system, have taken what they don't need; indeed that sometimes happens. We can often get fired up about that and then feel justified in stripping away safety net after safety net in the name of waste or fraud. But our cuts are now to the bone and come at a high price. Millions of children live in despair right here in the land of the free and home of the brave in neighborhoods where we wouldn't dare walk in the daylight, attending schools where we wouldn't dream of sending our own children. Visit a homeless shelter and just look at the number of children; visit a public school outside of your protected bubble; take a tour of a Children's Advocacy Center in your community and learn about what we see and what we do.

Let's bring some of that vehemence and concern displayed over the last few months at our State's capitol beyond the birth canal. If we are, as Deepak Chopra says, "luminous stardust beings," if every fetus is precious and should be protected at all costs from mothers who might choose to abort, if every life is a gift, what is wrong with this postpartum picture? Let's get out of our wombs and into the light of day. Let's protect the children who are here, right now, living among us, crying out for our attention.

Ellen Magnis is chief of external affairs at the Dallas Children's Advocacy Center in Dallas, Texas, and an OpEdProject Public Voices fellow at Texas Woman's University.