By Jessica Semler
Pittsburgh Current Columnist
There’s a thought that keeps flashing through my mind when I pour through the news about reproductive health access, immigration, and government; do these folks realize that Jesus was an immigrant?
A pregnant woman in Texas lost 20 pounds in an immigration detention center, and her experience is not unique. ICE admitted that nearly 30 women have miscarried while in their custody in the past couple years. My knee jerk reaction is to ask what folks who are Christian, or identity as pro-life have to say about this. During my years at Planned Parenthood, I consistently found that the folks who are the most vocal against abortion care use religion as the driving reason for their fight. Whether it was folks yelling at women outside of clinics with posters and rosaries, or anti-choice legislators voting for abortion bans, it always came back to their religious beliefs.
This feels personal to me. I was raised Catholic, and my dad was the most religious person in my life. In his youth, he even attended the seminary for years and almost became a priest. He was the most compassionate, empathetic man in the world and he was vehemently pro-choice, pro-welfare, pro-gay rights. He held all of these beliefs and they were informed by his faith, not in spite of it.
Because of this, it’s always struck me as intellectually lazy when people are anti-choice and say it’s due to their sincere religious beliefs. Denying people access to healthcare; cancer screenings, birth control, prenatal care, general assistance for people just trying to pay rent and put food on their table. Not exactly the Good Samaritan’s way of doing things, right? I spent eight years in Catholic school, and I guess I just missed the allegories about Jesus helping and healing the poor for a $100 copay.
In an effort to remind myself that people who spew right-wing rhetoric don’t own Christianity, I recently read a book by ordained Baptist minister Katey Zeh, Women Rise Up: Sacred Stories of Resistance for Today’s Revolution. In particular, I was struck by Zeh’s chapter about Mary, mother of Jesus. “I see Mary in the women today who cross borders and give birth in a land far from their homes.”
For example, an Armenian-American pregnant woman in California began to experience contractions before her US citizenship ceremony. She refused to go to the hospital until she was sworn in as a citizen, fearful of losing her green card and her baby growing up without protections.
Last year, Diana Sanchez gave birth to a baby in jail, alone, despite her cries for help. “That pain was indescribable, and what hurts me more though is the fact that nobody cared.” Sanchez said last year. Days ago, Time reported that a woman who crossed the Mexican border was 8.5 months pregnant and experiencing contractions when she was detained by the US Border Patrol. She was taken to a hospital where doctors gave her medications to STOP her contractions, and she was immediately sent back to Mexico. For my friends who’ve gone to medical school, how do those actions square with a physician’s Hippocratic Oath? Imagine being a pregnant person, and enduring miles and miles of hardship, despite your condition because you want your baby to have a better life. Where is the pro-life outrage for her? Where is the outrage from pro-life folks who love babies so much, but say nothing of the treatment of these pregnant women?
I come back to Katey Leh’s words about Jesus’ mother, which are deeply impactful:
“When I consider the circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy- young, unplanned, high-risk; and her birthing conditions- unsanitary, possibly unattended, I strongly believe that the miracle of the nativity is not that Jesus, the Son of God, is born among humans, but also that Mary survives the labor and recovers birthing him into our world. We take this for granted. Even in the best circumstances, pregnancy is risky, and childbirth is dangerous, even life-threatening. Every day hundreds of women lose their health or their lives while bringing new life into existence.”