During my 33-year career as a social worker in northeast Indiana, I witnessed thousands of children experiencing pain and suffering because of abuse. It was not unusual for 1,000-plus cases of child abuse to be reported each year in Allen County alone.
A 22-year-old woman had three children younger than 10 after surviving incest with her father since her early teens. A woman was beaten repeatedly by her husband while her children watched. A teen girl was forbidden to leave the house to attend school because she was not allowed to socialize. Children were tied to radiators for days. Toddlers wandered the streets at night looking for food. Sometimes children were so physically dirty that it was difficult to be in the same room with them.
After decades of pondering the meaning of “pro-life,” I came to believe it means much more than protecting the unborn. It must be a cradle-to-grave philosophy, starting with ensuring children, the most vulnerable members of society, have adequate food, shelter, clothing and love.
Yet year after year, social workers on the front lines helping families move beyond abusive situations were paid less than a living wage. Foster parents who took in abused children were paid minimally. Residential homes caring for children were paid the same amount for years without an increase.
Pro-life cannot stop with preventing abortion. It must permeate all our thinking on how we treat people in our community, including:
• Caring for people with disabilities and ensuring they have fair access to jobs.
• Making sure the elderly have socialization and nutritious food.
• Working toward a law-enforcement system grounded in fairness for all people no matter the color of their skin.
• Striving to end capital punishment. How can we fight for the rights of the unborn and be proud of leaders who execute?
• Honoring everyone's religion so they can practice their faith without fear of persecution.
• Creating a good economy that we use to benefit all by paying fair living wages.
Pro-life also means access to health care. Recently, I was with a group of women who are conservative, liberal and somewhere in the middle.
Some said access to birth control, meaning free or low-cost health care, would make abortion unnecessary. And yet what about the 13-year-old incest victim and hundreds of other rape and incest victims? Should they be forced to have a child? Is that pro-life?
My grandmother escaped Russia because the government was jailing men and burning villages. She carried my father with her, a child in her arms. Luckily, she came to an America that was pro-life and believed she was a refugee and a victim of violence. She came to an America that believed in the broad definition of pro-life – that every human has value.
As I approach this year's election, I support such a broad definition of pro-life. I believe we must have compassionate people in office who understand that life is not a straight line.
I want leaders who work to provide access to health care, money to help families suffering from child maltreatment, prisons that not only punish but reform, and a criminal justice system where skin color doesn't determine how you are treated by police.
I want a government that makes sure basic health care, such as birth control that can prevent the need for abortions, is available and inexpensive.
I want leaders who live by one of the teachings of Jesus Christ: “What you do to the least of my brethren, that you do unto me.”
Rachel Tobin-Smith is former CEO of SCAN.