I have a friend I follow on social media, who is driving across state lines this week, to rescue three people.
The three people are a pregnant mom, her unborn baby and their four-year-old. The family was almost murdered by gang violence– as it was, a neighbor child was killed in the crossfire. And the gang is threatening her again, so my friend is driving the family to a safe house.
This is the kind of mischief my friend gets into all the time. She just does things like this, regularly. She jokes that she runs a crisis pregnancy center out of her apartment, but it’s not really a joke. My friend goes to the local abortion clinic and talks to people going in– not the yelling and harassment and the bullhorns that you’ve seen other clinic protesters do, she just talks to them. She befriends them. And then she gets them the things that they need, so that they can feel free to have that baby instead of an abortion. And she doesn’t abandon them after that; she stays friends and looks out for them. She has helped moms with small children escape domestic violence. She has gotten homeless mothers into housing. She throws baby showers to get people all the supplies they need. She comes to the hospital to help them give birth. She gets help for families who might not meet your definition of “moms in a crisis pregnancy” such as LGBTQ couples, who can find themselves without anyone wanting to help them. Sometimes she has heart-pounding adventures, like spiriting this family away from danger. Sometimes she has tiny little victories– earlier today she was cheering and dancing at the cashier’s counter because she’d found a big box of baby onesies at a huge discount. Those will go into her stash for the next baby’s layette.
She’s not a bully, she’s not a celebrity, she doesn’t stump for politicians, she doesn’t have a podcast and a Patreon, she’s just a person who helps people all the time. She saves lives. She is pro-life.
I have another friend here in town– a group of friends, in fact, the people who run The Friendship Room. They’re always taking care of families. They pass out groceries and gift cards. They keep healthy after-school snacks on hand at all times to hand out to families with children who might have enough to make cheap meals but nothing extra. They ask around to get clothing and shoes for poor children. They have a safe house at an undisclosed location, where they hide people who are being abused. And at least twice this winter, one of the volunteers has suited up in a mask and face shield and gone to the hospital to coach a low-income mom through labor.
They don’t have a cable channel or a pulpit, I’m not even sure they have a newsletter, they just live the Gospel in their house. And they save lives, born and unborn. They are pro-life.
We are all supposed to be pro-life, in that way.
When I call out the obvious confidence game that is the mainstream, political, big money pro-life movement, people get frustrated– either with me or with the movement. Often they get frustrated with me and say I shouldn’t be talking so negatively about people who are only doing their best for “life,” despite the fact that what they’re doing doesn’t make abortion go away and hurts many actual human lives. It’s as if making noise is more important than helping actual people, to them. Sometimes they even claim I’m not really pro-life but just a “plant” of some kind, and I roll my eyes. But sometimes, people are not frustrated with me but with the big name pro-life movement. They ask “Who can I donate money to to help save lives, if not them?” or “what am I supposed to do then?”
Yes, money is one of the things that’s needed. My friend has a venmo and she’s scraping together gas money for her big rescue trip, if you please. And the Friendship Room always needs cash. That’s something you can do.
But beyond that… what can we do to defend life?
Well, why are we in this position in the first place? Why is there killing going on all around us?
Our culture here in America sees killing as an appropriate solution, because our culture is brutal. Brutality is plowing forward with something you want to do without caring if it hurts people. That’s what our culture does all the time. Our culture depends on war and the enormous amounts of money that war can bring in to keep the economy booming, and it doesn’t care about all the deaths that result because it’s brutal. Because it’s brutal, it depends on abortion– it’s easier and more economical to give a mom in trouble a pill than a safe place to live and obstetric care. It depends on police brutality and the brutality death penalty to scare people into compliant behavior. It dangles health insurance in front of people instead of ensuring everyone can get the healthcare they need, so that people will meekly go to work and be careful not to get fired. It refers to feeding the poor as “enabling laziness” because if we started feeding one another instead of hoarding our resources, we might stop participating in the culture of brutality altogether.
We’re so brutal we threaten and humiliate children rather than giving them a free lunch.
We’re so brutal, we punish people for misdemeanors by breaking up their families forever.
We are so brutal, we’re poisoning every ecosystem the Lord gave us to live in so that we can squeeze out every possible drop of cash.
Our culture is so brutal, it began by kidnapping human beings from Africa and forcing them into chattel slavery, which is what made America a booming economic power in the first place. That is a horrendous injustice and the stench of it has never gone away; we remain a deeply greedy, violent, racist society. This violence permeates everything we do. And while many people are excited to quote statistics at you about the vast majority of abortions being done to babies of color, I’ve never heard people follow that up by talking about the shameful racist history of coerced abortion and sterilization; they only want to use that statistic as an excuse to pretend that people of color don’t love their children.
It seems to me that the whole problem with the celebrity talking heads in the pro-life movement is that they confront a brutal culture with brutality. They’re the nastiest people I’ve met. Pavone is a raging bully. Johnson is a public racist who likes to call people names. Imbarrato never seems to do anything but bully. They are violent-tempered, nasty, abusive people. They conform themselves to a violent, nasty, abusive culture and then pretend they’re trying to protect life. But life is not protected by violence. Life is protected by compassion.
Compassion is the opposite of brutality. And the opposite of killing is not simply keeping your hands clean from killing; the opposite of killing is working to defend life.
So what are you doing to change the culture, to make it compassionate rather than brutal, to work against our culture’s brutality– in other words, to be pro-life?
Are there hungry people you can feed, without stopping to think whether they’ve earned it or not?
Are there poor children who need help with their homework or someone to organize after school activities so they don’t end up getting into trouble?
Is there a new mom in town who doesn’t have anybody to arrange a baby shower, or any friends to come to one?
Is there a mom with several kids in town desperately needs a babysitter or someone to tidy up her house so she can take a rest?
Are there disabled people being neglected and excluded, and can you think of a way to help them feel a part of the community?
Do you have a special talent that you can use to help the homeless, the way Shirley Raines used her love of makeup?
If you’re white, is there an anti-racism demonstration scheduled nearby, which might need “white shields” to show up and surround the protest to protect them?
If someone you knew was being abused, would she know she could come to you for a hiding place and a ride out of town?
These are pro-life things.
These are things that turn the culture away from brutality and toward compassion. Brutality depends on killing. Compassion can’t bear to kill or to see others killed.
Being brutal in the face of brutality just multiplies brutality. Compassion is pro-life.
When we exercise compassion, we save lives– yes, including unborn lives. I’ve seen it happen.
This is something you can do.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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