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‘Where’s the sense of urgency?’ - Making the pro-life movement personal

Kathryn Jean Lopez.

Since the overturn of Roe v. Wade earlier this year, much ink has been spilled in pro-life circles about the need to support women in difficult pregnancies.

But these efforts must not only be institutional - they must be personal, says Kathryn Jean Lopez, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review magazine, and chair of Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s Pro-Life Commission in New York.

Lopez believes Catholics should be praying and thinking creatively about ways to connect with pregnant women in challenging circumstances, and to show them that they are welcome and they are loved.

Charles Camosy spoke with Lopez this week about how individuals can take seriously the call to “radical solidarity” with women and their children after Dobbs.

It is heartening that a pro-life hero like Archbishop William Lori now has the voice of vice president of the conference. In particular, I think we were both heartened by a homily he gave to the U.S. bishops during their recent fall meeting on "Radical Solidarity" with women after Dobbs. What was your reaction to this address?

It’s exactly where we need to be: We all need to be people of radical hospitality in new and innovative ways. I keep thinking of Mother Cabrini and Dorothy Day. Maybe it’s parochial of me – they both walked the streets of New York City as I do. But they made sure people had a home. They saw Christ in people.

It’s not enough to oppose abortion. Motherhood is hard. It’s crazy hard without a husband. All pro-life people need to be walking with women. Unless you run a maternity home or are raising your grandchild, most of us can be doing more.

What I’ve seen since the solemnity of the Sacred Heart in June, when Roe was undone, is how used to abortion we have become. Where’s the sense of urgency? Where’s the making sure there isn’t a surge in the foster-care system in states where unborn life is newly protected? How are we making sure that people know we are serious about helping them? Do we really care about family life? What new things can we be doing to witness to that? What new relationships can we be forging? Pope Francis talks about going out to the peripheries. They are not always so far away.

I need to add that there are people doing beautiful work on the frontlines. So many people working and volunteering at pregnancy-care centers that are under attack do remarkable, lifesaving work. They truly care for women, making sure they can actually choose life.

But what exists is not enough. We need more people stepping up to the plate – think big! When you talk to people, like at Mary’s Shelter in Fredericksburg, Va., you hear stories of God’s Providence at work. People who never intended on founding something doing amazing things.

Start praying about things you would never expect yourself praying about doing. Read Evangelium Vitae and ask John Paul II to intercede for something healing and life-giving.

Obviously we need to think about how best to turn these beautiful words into action. How do you think about doing so?

One of the things I worry the most about is that precisely the people who would love on a woman or girl in an unplanned and frightening pregnancy are the last people she would go to.

Whenever I’m praying outside of an abortion clinic, it’s so obvious that people passing by – or walking into the clinic – feel judged. That’s not why we’re out there. We are out there because we have failed them. That’s why they are there.

How do we stop failing them? First of all, by making sure the young people in our lives know that we are there for them. It’s possible to teach – and witness – to the beauty of love and marriage as God intends it and also have mercy! We live in the world, we know things happen. We will love you in communion with God’s eternal love for you!

You and I both know how woefully lacking resources are in a place like New York. When we lost our Catholic hospitals, we lost a lot. And yet, I remember being at St. Vincent’s a time or two toward the end and had to wonder how Catholic it really was.

We have to trust in God’s mercy and Providence.

We need to be inspired by the saints. It’s no breaking news that the institutional Church has its challenges – even aside from the fallout from abuse, people don’t go to church like they used to, and they certainly don’t support their local church like they used to.

I remember Mary Ann Glendon writing about the hour of the laity beautifully in 2002 and I’m not sure everyone got the memo. Every Catholic is the Church. Don’t sit around waiting for a bishop to do something. Get creative. Think thoughts you’ve never thought before about putting the Sermon on the Mount into action to create a culture of life and civilization of love.

These can’t just be words. Open a maternity home. Help start a women’s health center. Offer housing to a mom in need. Foster a teenager so he doesn’t have to age out of the foster-care system in a few years and get himself arrested, so he has somewhere to sleep and shower and eat.

For a long time, I’ve said “not everyone is called to foster or adopt, but everyone has a role.” That’s true. But, especially now, post-Roe, I worry saying that gets too many of us off the hook. Think crazy thoughts you are afraid of. Pray on it. As I’m told over and over when I interview people who have fostered and never thought they could: God will give you the grace.

I just moderated a conversation co-sponsored by the National Review Institute, the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, a new foster-care and adoption ministry called Springs of Love, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth.

[The goal was] to light a fire under faith-based pro-life people in practical ways about the urgency of caring for the orphan. Now. Anyone can watch it here at their convenience. (Archbishop Joseph Naumann joined us for opening remarks – I’m grateful to him for his leadership on life -- including on foster care and adoption. He gets it.)

Those personal considerations seem foundational. How do we build on those foundations and do things together as a Church which bring these words to life?

To the extent that people listen to the bishops – sorry to be a little cynical, but probably realistic – they have the right idea with the Walking with Moms in Need initiative. The idea is essentially a parish-by-parish examination of conscience. What are we doing for moms? What do moms in our community need? What can we be doing that we’re not?

I do fear that if a pregnant woman or mother of young children walked into a church or knocked on the door of a rectory, no one would know what to say about how to help. No one would give them a gaze of love, to start with.

You know I’m a friend of the Sisters of Life, who have given their lives to God and the protection of human life. When an abortion-minded woman finds herself talking to a Sister of Life, the first topic of conversation is not how to avoid an abortion.

“You must be cold. Would you like some tea? Oh, please, sit on this couch, it’s the comfy-est.”

They let her know she is loved before they ever talk about the baby she’s carrying. How can we all do that? The Sisters of Life charism is a charism for the whole Church, especially after Roe. An unjust law that lied about humanity and law and history and science was undone. Thanks be to God. Now what more are we all going to do? How are we going to inundate women with love and resources? How are we going to show men how they need to love women and step up to the plate when there are life-and-death challenges before them?

The Knights of Columbus have a wonderful "Into the Breach" series of videos online that I just wish by some miracle public-school kids could see. The girls, too, so they know they need to insist on better from the boys in their lives.

One other thing about the Church. In New York City churches, I hear petitions for an end to the war in Ukraine. I support and join in those prayers absolutely. What about the war in New York City? More black babies die than are born here. Why are we not praying for an end to the genocide here? It will be controversial, but do we believe an unborn child is a life to be protected or not? What more can we do? Praying is a good start. WHY ARE WE NOT PRAYING?

And do we know about post-abortion healing? Because there is so much suffering in need of the balm of God’s mercy.

And what about public policies? Do you think we work in this area as well in ways that reflect this kind of radical solidarity?

Of course. Frankly, in many ways, I hate that abortion has to involve politics, because hearing the political back-and-forth is all too often salt in the wounds of women in a particular way who have had abortions. Choice is the euphemism, but so many girls and women had no semblance of a choice. They were being pressured. They couldn’t see a way out. Abortion lies about what women are capable of, so they really didn’t know what amazing things they were capable of – the feminine genius is real!

I’m not calling for a pro-life New Deal, but we live in a time when there are real challenges to religious liberty. Don’t make faith-based ministries make choices that don’t help anyone and hurt the most vulnerable.

And in addition to protecting the unborn in the law, let’s debate the best policies that will help families. Health care, housing – the costs are so high. I don’t want the government to fix it all, but how can we have the healthiest civil society and make sure government is not an impediment to family life – to human life. It is in too many ways today.

And let’s be realistic – family life is beautiful, it is also brutal. How are we going to help – individually, as a parish, in our community organizations – and, yes, public policy? Every way we can.

You and I both have a concern for the pro-life vs. social-justice antagonistic polarization in the culture at large, but especially as it has creeped into the Church. Might this call to radical solidarity be a meeting ground for folks tempted to identify with "one side" to the exclusion of the other?

Oh, how we pray! Can’t we help the human babies and their moms, already?

The story of Maria [that] Archbishop Lori began with in that homily from last month you mentioned at the start of this interview involved pregnancy, homelessness, immigration status. The divide between so-called pro-life and social justice Catholics is of the devil.

You have seen me bang my head against the walk trying to bridge these divides. (Banging your head only gives you headaches, I’ve found, in case anyone is looking for free advice.)

You do it too (not the banging so much as the bridge-building). But this again is where we are not praying enough. It’s stubbornness and laziness. It’s easier to stay in our ideological silos, as Pope Francis has put it.

It’s also powers and principalities. They won’t know we are Christian if we’re not fighting against the divide in love, begging for the grace to be instruments of something better.


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