Throughout the month of January, we participate in Poverty Awareness Month and from January 14th through the 22nd we observed the 9 Days for Life Campaign. All Catholics must work together to protect the life and dignity of all persons, at every stage of life, and this demands we both join the work to end abortion and also address the systems and structures that perpetuate the cycle of poverty.
In the United States, nearly 40 million people live in poverty. In addition, 75% of women who received abortions in 2014 were categorized as low income, and 49% lived beneath the federal poverty line. Taken together, these facts suggest important systemic issues that have significant implications for how to work towards creating a society that supports life and the flourishing of life from conception to natural death.
The Guttmacher Institute reported that 75% of women who received abortions cited the inability to afford to have a child as the reason for seeking an abortion. No parent should have to worry about being able to feed, clothe, and care for children or make choices between paying rent and buying food. Yet so many are in exactly this situation.
Access to quality maternal and prenatal healthcare is a challenge for many across the country. For example, in Washington, D.C., where the maternal mortality rate is twice the national rate, several hospitals closed their maternity wards in recent years, leaving many women and families in low-income neighborhoods multiple bus rides away from access to maternal and pediatric healthcare. The infant mortality rate in these low-income neighborhoods is ten times the rate in wealthier areas of Washington, D.C. Access to quality healthcare throughout every stage of life is an important part of upholding the preferential option for the poor and defending the dignity of human life.
In addition to advocating for comprehensive health care, benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), access to affordable housing, quality education and child care, paid family leaves, all create conditions which help families to thrive. We must also invest in family stability by ensuring that job training opportunities, family-sustaining wages and adequate benefits are available for all. Catholic Social Teaching tells us that support of these initiatives is imperative to living out the Gospel call to justice.
Watch this video about the cycle of poverty, and then imagine that you found out that you would soon be having a child. For many families living at or close to the poverty line, a missed paycheck or broken-down car can be enough to upset the delicate balance between making it and not. The time and cost associated with having a baby can seem insurmountable. The immense pressure and lack of accessible resources available to those living in poverty may leave many feeling that abortion is the only option.
It is a tragedy that in the United States many women and families feel forced into abortions because of their economic plight. The high rates of abortion among low-income families is a clear indication that we have not met the needs of low-income moms and families. For this reason, it is key for pro-life Catholics to support families and to help them bring new life into this world, and to support them beyond the birth of the child through access to quality food, education, and healthcare. As a Church, we must see the connection between abortion and poverty as a pivotal point of the pro-life work. We must advocate for systems and structures that support life in every stage and support and empower parents and families in every situation. Only then will we truly be a people of life.
Much of my work with my college’s pro-life group has centered around supporting low-income mothers. On campus, I have organized an annual Pregnancy and Parenting Resource Forum to raise awareness for an understanding of the options and support available to students should they become pregnant. My club has also been involved with a local pregnancy resource center and maternity home that offers counseling, parenting materials and supplies, and even housing for low-income and immigrant woman who need support during their pregnancies and early years of parenting. I have babysat at their maternity home, collected diapers from Safeway, and hosted fundraisers for the center.
The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) seeks to do more than the charitable works that I have participated in at my pregnancy center. CCHD transforms communities and addresses the root causes of poverty. Addressing why so many families living in poverty seek out abortions requires more than diapers; it requires an evaluation of issues such as affordable housing, access to healthcare, and paid family leave. CCHD funded organizations set the stage for women to choose life in moments of crisis.
Join CCHD in this work to address the root causes of poverty. First, take our Poverty Quiz and test your knowledge about poverty and the systems and structures that impact our communities. Then, discover a local CCHD funded group in your area and get involved in the work to end the cycle of poverty.
MyLan Metzger is an intern with the Education and Outreach office of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and a student at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.