Pro-life means supporting mothers too

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Part of the pro-life conversation must include our attitude toward motherhood, says a Catholic psychologist.

By Guest Blogger Sidney Callahan

I have to note how little economic and institutional support the United States affords women.

An article in the New York Times makes this case well. It describes a young French physician's working life with her four children, the last "unplanned" birth only three months ago. In their reproductive years French women can count on a great deal of support: free all-day nursery schools, generous family allowances, tax deductions for each child, family discounts on train, and four month maternity leaves. Health care, housing, and education is also guaranteed for citizens. A woman is supported in motherhood when she knows that she can be educated, employed, and provide a good life for her children. 

France's family policies are motivated by a patriotic desire to have a replacement birthrate for the economic good of the society and the problem of the birth dearth. A society makes a positive and central investment in its viability, welfare, and future productivity when it supports women and the reproduction of a next generation. The fact that our society does not give more support to women and families is in part due to the under appreciation of the supreme importance and value of women's education, health, and reproductive roles.

How can more support be initiated and given?

First, we can increase and extend social and economic supports now in place, making sure women know about relevant opportunities, such as volunteer shelters, new adoption options, and new programs for doulas or mentors. Peer support, through face-to-face groups or media communications, helps.

Information exchanges are rarely if ever value neutral or without implicit moral and emotional messages. Positive ideas, ideals, concepts, and perspectives that support pregnancy, child-rearing, and adoption can be openly identified and explicitly endorsed while giving others their equal voice. We can advocate the dignity and value of all lives, and practice a radical equality. Those most vulnerable can be given attention--a preferential option for the poor.

Childbirth and childrearing can be recognized and appreciated as vital and necessary to everyone in a society, ensuring its common good and future well being. It's not just an individual lifestyle choice. But in deciding to have a child, it is also important for women to consider the longer time frame of their live, including the rewarding and helpful friendship with their adult offspring. 

A positive attitude toward adoption, motivated by innate desires to nurture, love, and create family and kinship relationships, can be conveyed.  

I have been writing a book on happiness and have become immersed in psychological studies of human flourishing, which give attention to evolutionary processes and to the positive capacities of human beings. The import of all of this research is a new respect for human potentiality for resiliency, virtue, altruism, and nurturing other that results in happiness and the good life.

Infants are born with innate human strength and capacities and by their innate joy and playfulness and bring new life to their surroundings. 

All of these new findings counter the negative stereotypes that have flooded our perspective on giving birth and childrearing. Now that women are valued for more than their reproductive functions they can be free to value, appreciate and embrace them. 


Guest Blogger Sidney Callahan, Ph.D., is a pscychologist and Catholic writer of many articles and books, including Creating New Life, Nuturing Family: A Woman's Perspective. This blog post is an edited selection from her talk, "Providing Support for Pregnancy, Child Rearing, and Adoption: A social psychological comment," at the "Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Fair Minded Words" conference on the abortion debate.  

Posts from other pro-life advocates will be posted throughout Respect Life Month (October) at a uscatholic.org/pro-life.

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.