Who's listening to the women?
The leaked draft Supreme Court document that laid out the case for overturning Roe v. Wade making abortion a constitutional right has provoked an uproar.
Abortion advocates are furious that the forthcoming ruling may toss abortion back to the legislatures. Abortion opponents are working furiously to have laws in place at the state level to ban abortions. In either case, the struggle won't be ending. It will be punted to nearly level of government for the foreseeable future.
As we wait for the high court's final decision in June, we might do well to listen to Getty Israel, the founder and CEO of Sisters in Birth, located in Mississippi.
Sisters in Birth exists to help poor and underserved women in the poorest state in the union to give birth to healthy babies and to help mothers find the care they need. In a recent interview, Israel sounded fed up with the swirling national debate.
When interviewed on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition," Israel did not take the standard NPR line on abortion. She sounded ticked off at everybody.
"When we get calls from women -- and we do -- who are looking for an abortion, the first question I ask is, 'What's going on?'"
"Because, yes, I want to change her mind. Yes, I want to reduce the abortion rate. That's a lot of Black lives lost in an era of Black Lives Matter," she said.
"Pro-choice people are willing to wage a war . . . To protect (Roe v. Wade). But they're not willing to help create any community-based interventions to address the various underlying risk factors that will lead a woman to look for an abortion," Israel charged.
What's missing from the national debate, she added, are the voices of women who are considering abortion. "No one ever says, What do you need? What can we do to help improve your life so that you don't find that you need to have an abortion?"
"When a woman is seeking abortion, 9 times out of 10, she is alone," she continued. "Pro-choice people aren't walking down the path with her, and neither are the pro-life people, beyond beating her over the head with a Bible and Scripture."
Almost 38 percent of Mississippians are Black, the highest in the nation. Yet they account for 68 percent of abortions. Women looking for abortion often work minimum-wage jobs without health insurance. They are beset by poverty and a torn social net.
Mississippi also has the highest rate of infant deaths in the first 12 months of life. Sixty percent of those babies are Black, many of whom were born premature. Yet state medical care for pregnant women and for new mothers in poverty is minimal and underfunded.
Banning abortion will not make Mississippi a pro-life state.
The racist murder of Black shoppers in Buffalo, New York, has transfixed the nation, but Getty Israel is right: Hundreds of thousands of Black babies are being aborted or dying in their first year of life for lack of adequate health care and support.
Nationwide there are bold pro-life efforts like the Women's Care Centers that help expectant mothers, but so much more is needed. Passage of a new child tax credit program is one place to start.
Catholic bishops are calling for all Catholic institutions to step up and support moms in need. In the words of the New York bishops, if "every Catholic parish, every Catholic Charities program, every Catholic health facility, every Catholic school, every Catholic college and university" were asking women how they could help, the impact could be culture changing. The challenge is, how do we make this more than just a slogan?
- Greg Erlandson is director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service.