The Bigger Vision of a World Without Roe v. Wade

The other day I was rushing out the door when I realized I had not brushed my teeth. I was in a huge hurry so I grabbed my toothbrush, ran it under the faucet, and proceeded to scrub my pearly whites with just water and the bristles. That is when I stopped, looked myself in the bathroom mirror, and said out loud, “Anything worth doing is worth doing correctly.” I grabbed the tube of toothpaste and brushed my teeth . . . correctly. 

This phrase is one of my mom’s favorites. I heard it a thousand times growing up. And because of that, it continually runs through my head like an endless mantra whenever I am painting a bedroom wall or doing some other menial, tedious task. Whenever I want to give up on a project or cut corners or get sloppy from exhaustion, I always repeat it to myself: “Anything worth doing is worth doing correctly.” And on that particular day, this simple mantra was a call for toothpaste.

My mom’s saying usually only impacts small day-to-day things in my life, but every once in a while, her words have big implications. Or I should say, lately they have also had big implications for my work at New Wave Feminists. New Wave Feminists is a politically independent and religious agnostic pro-life feminist group that subscribes to a consistent life ethic, or the “CLE” as we call it. The CLE is grounded in the belief that every human being should live a life free from violence, from the womb to the tomb.

Its practical application means we work with pregnant migrant moms at the border, single or pregnant parents across the United States, and with heartbreakingly young victims of sexual violence in Uganda, many of whom have become pregnant as a as a result of sexual assault. The legality of abortion in each of these places is as all over the map, as are the countries themselves, but here’s the thing: our work in these different parts of the world, in communities separated by thousands of miles, language, and culture, never changes because, as distinct as they are—geographically, culturally, and legally—the fear women feel when facing an unplanned pregnancy is surprisingly universal.

Women need support and resources when that second line shows up. Their first thought is not to wonder how their Senator, or President, or Prime Minister feels about abortion. They care that their family might kick them out if they remain pregnant. They care that their partner is going to leave, or worse, resort to violence if they do not abort. They care that they lack the social and economic resources—housing, employment, childcare—to raise their child. Women need safety and security, food, clothing, and shelter.

At New Wave Feminist, we understand many believe laws are necessary to lower the abortion rate, but we also know they are not sufficient. What are her particular needs? What are the deficiencies when it comes to meeting those needs where she lives? We have to remember that a service that might be available to a woman in Seattle, might be impossible to access for another in rural Mississippi or Kampala. For example, in Uganda New Wave Feminists funds prenatal care and corrective procedures for young women giving birth and healing from violent assaults. We also sponsor their education so they will be able to provide for themselves and their children. In South America, safe housing is the number one resource mothers need to provide security for their children without becoming easy prey to traffickers looking to use them in exchange for a roof over their family’s head. Here in the States, housing, healthcare, and transportation are the key resources we help women find.

Abortion laws—at either extreme—do not directly change any of that. Laws cannot love you. Only people can do that. So we build relationships with these women. We ask women what barriers are standing in their way and potentially prevent them from continuing their pregnancies and then, one-by-one, work to remove each of those hurdles.

Sometimes a scared young woman only needs to be told that she is strong enough to choose life for her child. Other mother’s simply need assistance with their phone bill or new tires for their car so she can keep her food delivery job. Other women are sometimes starting from scratch and after going to the housing authority at two months pregnant, discover there is an 18-month to 5-year long waitlist. The needs women face run the gamut. Some are small and easy to provide, while others are going to take big systemic changes that I know feel incredibly overwhelming to many of us because we live in a patriarchy—a world built by men and for men, that was never designed to accommodate female fertility. Changing those foundational realities is going to take time. But while we are voting on policies that create an equitable society for women and children, our work does not end at the ballot box. That is the easiest form of action.

The real work at the heart of what our organization does is helping the pregnant woman in our community with her $50 phone bill, or chipping in a few bucks to send a teenager on the other side of the world to trade school, or helping charities and ministries provide safe shelters for the invisible and often forgotten (or even worse, politicized) pregnant migrant mothers at the border who are fleeing violence and just trying to protect their children the same way any one of us would. We must value all of these lives, inside and outside of the womb. Parts of that can feel daunting, I understand. But there is absolutely something, big or small, that every single one of us can do to contribute to a truly sustainable global culture of life. This is the reality many women and their unborn children are facing. For a woman to truly have a choice, her basic needs must be met. This is a basic principle of Maslow’s social theory.

I recently read a tweet from pastor Matt Smethurst that said, “There are wrong ways to be right.” No context, just this simple truth. I do not know whether Smethurst intended for his tweet to be applied to the current climate of a post-Roe world. But it gave words to what I have been feeling in my heart for months now. I am a CLE feminist after all. I oppose all forms of violence, including abortion, which is often result of a series of breakdowns. Something failed. Something went wrong. Some fundamental safeguard along the way broke down. Often, it is a plethora of failures from numerous people, programs, and systems that all contribute to a woman’s decision to abort. This decision is frequently mislabeled as a “choice,” when in reality, for far too many women it is not a choice at all, but rather something she sees as necessary for her very survival.

No one ever dreams of the day they will finally be able to get an abortion. It is not fun and it is not run-of-the-mill healthcare. Advocates often compare it to the unpleasantness of an appendectomy or having their wisdom teeth removed—but abortion is something infinitely more significant. It impacts the mind, body, and spirit in a unique way. No one wonders how old their wisdom teeth would be had they not had them removed. They do not wonder what their life would look like now if only they had been able to keep their appendix.

The inability or unwillingness of people to be intellectually honest about these differences gaslights many women into never being able to process their decision to abort, because while many know (or feel) the impact it had on them, they are made to feel silly for harboring complex or nuanced thoughts about the experience of abortion. I mean, we are supposed to celebrate it, right?! But those thoughts are always there, right below the surface, because we know abortion should not exist. It is always a response to the unplanned, the unintended, or the unprepared for. It is never an action one wants to take, and always a decision made under duress.

I know this because I speak to women frequently. I hear the fear in their voices and see the pain in their hearts as they grapple with what to do next. I try to tell them their lives are not over. I know this personally because I became pregnant at 16, and now have an amazing 21-year-old son to show for it. But I also know that the only reason he is here, and our lives were able to flourish, is because I was privileged enough to have a village of people helping me.

That is what I want for all women—exactly what I received. I want women to have a roof over their head, food, clothing, quality healthcare, and loving people who can step in and help them even if it means driving over at three o’clock in the morning to give them some relief from a colicky baby because she is so tired she cannot see straight. That is the sisterhood. That is the village. That is the pro-life feminist vision that must become a reality in our communities.

Since abortion was declared a fundamental constitutional right in 1973, the pro-life movement has focused on overturning Roe. Last Friday this happened. In a highly contentious 6-3 decision the Supreme Court sent the regulation of abortion back to the states.

Over the past forty-nine years another part of the movement, perhaps less visible than political fights hashed out on the front pages, has worked tirelessly to create a “culture of life,” or in layman’s terms, “a world where pregnant women don’t feel a need for abortion because there are support systems in place make it unnecessary.” These grassroots organizations have worked to make abortion unthinkable through direct action, offering practical resources to pregnant women in need—diapers, cribs, car seats, and formula. While that’s all wonderful, even they know it is not nearly enough. For so many of the women they serve, the actual needs are so much bigger.

In order for abortion-vulnerable women to truly feel like they can “choose life,” they need big ticket items such as assistance with housing, childcare, and transportation—and if they live in rural areas, medical services that they can actually access. All of these are things resource centers would no doubt love to provide, but the funding has simply not been there. When most are struggling to even keep their doors open, providing additional services like those is out of the question. That said, they already have the facilities, the heart, and the staff to accomplish this big vision of a world without Roe, they simply need the funding and training to make this vision possible.

So, where does that leave us? Well, the political investments have now paid off with the Dobb’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, and subsequently sending abortion laws back to the states. While the legality of the abortion is going to be mixed across all 50 states, many of our communities need to bolster existing support networks—at the community, state, and federal levels to prepare for the reality of a post-Roe world, especially in states that have strongest restrictions. Do not get me wrong, I believe the vulnerable and marginalized child in the womb deserves to be protected, but I also think there is a wrong way to do the right thing. For decades the movement has been working to address the supply side of abortion, but it cannot be to the detriment of addressing the diverse factors contributing to the demand side of abortion. And the good news? Stepping up these efforts in whichever state you live, no matter the law of the land, will ultimately help women and children not just survive but thrive.

It is going to be a lot of work, but anything worth doing is worth doing correctly. To do that we must acknowledge the reality beyond the legality. 

The violence of abortion can never be the answer. The answer must be communities coming together to support and celebrate these new lives through our resources, time, and talents. Yes, these are the very support systems that should already exist! The mantle of the grassroots side of the movement must now be taken up in concrete legislative action. We have got our work cut out for us. I propose we address this coming crisis of crisis pregnancies head on, and prepare a multitude of creative solutions now

When the maternity homes are at capacity, and government housing becomes even more scarce, what then? When we have thousands of parents who need help with childcare, how will we help to provide that? When mothers need to take time off of work after giving birth, will we then support policies like expanding paid family leave? These are all the questions we should be asking ourselves now.

Because while their pregnancies might have been unexpected, the pro-life movement has spent the last forty-nine years working towards this moment. We must take the necessary measures to map out what a truly post-Roe “Culture of Life” looks like. We cannot cut corners, or get sloppy. My mother’s words ring truer now than ever: “Anything worth doing is worth doing correctly.” And helping women and children thrive is absolutely one of the most noble things worth doing.