On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Jan. 22, Catholics and Christians around this nation said a prayer for the unborn. Each year, thousands flood to Capitol Hill for the March for Life, where many believers make a public pledge against abortions. I reflect on this infamous law and all the victims it has taken, and ask myself as a new mother, what is the value of life?
I know many people who would say that life is a gift from God, therefore, it is priceless. Yet, we have declared otherwise. As a nation, we put a very real price to life. And I’m not referring to all the injustices on life such as poverty, income inequality, access to housing, the environmental crisis, etc. In this one instance, I’m referring to the literal price of giving birth.
With insurance, prenatal care and giving birth (with midwives in a regular hospital setting) is costing my husband and me nearly $8,000. This includes the 12 hours our son was in the neonatal intensive care unit as directed by the on-call pediatrician and neonatal specialist. We will be in medical debt for at least six months post-birth.
While I’m incredibly grateful for my birth story and the life of my son, this reality cannot be ignored as it is effecting every aspect of our lives as a family.
I cannot help but notice the paradox in this country. We live in a place where the right to life has become a central issue; an issue that many Christians have declared as their No. 1 priority. Ironically, though, too many of us Christians have turned our backs to families, the unborn and born, by ignoring the system by which most life is given. What an embarrassment.
We teach that life has to be protected from birth to natural death. But truly, life begins before birth. Life begins in the womb, the divine relationship between mother and child. In this journey, mothers should have access to the best prenatal care surrounded by a loving and supporting community.
Instead, too many times, our mothers spend this time worrying about the cost of prenatal care, the cost of giving birth, the lack of paid parental leave, the cost of child care, the cost of taking care of her child, etc. This is a result of reducing life to the simple act of birth. It hurts our witness to the world and further builds a secular society.
Yet life is a reflection of God himself, with many dimensions, depths and perceptions. Our conversations need to go beyond Roe v. Wade.
Let’s talk about affordable health care for our struggling families. Let’s talk about prioritizing affordable housing and living wages. Families need access to economic opportunities.
And let us not forget to discuss the racism permeated in these broken systems. We must include all injustices when we discuss the right to life — these are real life issues.
Yes, we should absolutely strive to end abortions across this nation and the world. It’s also just as important that we work to advocate for laws that protect our vulnerable families from the systems that quite possibly lead them to think an abortion is the best option. A culture of life can help dismantle this lie. Though we have much work to do to build this type of culture, it is a hope I still carry.
We live in an intertwined reality. We must be a voice of unity that protects all life at all times.
Edith Avila Olea is associate director of justice and peace for the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois. The 2015 winner of the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award, she holds a master’s degree in public policy and a bachelor’s degree in organizational communication.
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