US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Respect for life and social justice

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Our first contributor in a series of guest blog posts from pro-life advocates says that respecting life involves respecting each other.

By Guest Blogger Stephanie Niedringhaus

I am pro-life, and for me, it's both a matter of faith and of the heart.

As a matter of faith, for example, I believe that abortion is the taking of a human life, just as the church teaches. And my heart grieves for all the lives lost as a result. As the mother of a much-loved son with a lifelong disability, I am terribly pained by the large number of babies with disabilities like Down's syndrome who lose their lives through abortion. I also grieve for a world that will never know the beauty they would have shared with all of us.

My definition of pro-life certainly includes my personal belief that abortion is wrong, but it also means that I believe that all people deserve access to food and all that is needed to sustain life. For example, I sincerely believe that access for everyone to medical care is a pro-life position because it saves the lives of the patients themselves and of their unborn babies.

Because my pro-life beliefs are rooted in both my faith and my heart, the vitriol generated by the health care reform debate last March was especially hard to take. As the communications director of the Catholic social justice lobby that originated the so-called "nuns" letter in support of passing the bill, my name appeared at the top of press statements and in other public arenas. As a result, my email inbox and voicemail were jammed with messages--both positive and negative.

I understood that people of good will had genuine disagreements about the legislation, especially because of the debate about whether abortion funding was included. But the anger of some quickly turned ugly. I was called pro-abortion and even worse. That was hard.

I don't think that re-arguing the whole health care bill is helpful here, but I do think we need to address the tone of that debate and others like it. The split between small segments of Catholic "pro-life" and "social justice" communities began long before the health care debate. People on both ends of the spectrum who resort to vitriol and personal attacks are in the minority, thank God. But in the end, the split and vitriol hurt all of us.

I choose to devote much of my personal energy to working with those in both communities who recognize our common goals. Advocating together for policies and practices that respect and value all stages of life can only make us more effective.

And I believe that pro-life advocates engaging in constructive dialogue with those who are pro-choice will also help.

Can we change the anger into positive energy for pro-life goals?

I can only hope.

Guest blogger Stephanie Niedringhaus is the Communications Coordinator for NETWORK, a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby.

Posts from other pro-life advocates will be posted throughout Respect Life Month (October) at

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.