What is the difference between being pro-birth and holistically pro-life?

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Hi, I’m Valerie Huber, the President of The Institute for Women’s Health. We’re based here in Washington, DC, but most of our work, actually, is around the globe. We think it’s really unfortunate that women’s health has been very much simplified to take on an ideological mission, and that’s abortion. 

Women’s health is a lot more than that. And here at the Institute for Women’s Health, we believe that women are valued and that their health and their thriving needs to improve, whether it’s here in the United States or whether it’s in a developing country somewhere around the world. So, I’ll tell you our mission is to improve the health for women across the lifespan. So, that means in the first thousand days until that woman takes the last breath. So, we’re definitely pro-healthy birth. What do I mean by that?  

If you’re talking about the first thousand days, you’re talking about from the moment of conception until age two in that child’s life, and the research is really clear that shows if that life is valued and given every opportunity to not just survive but thrive, that’s going to set the place for that life then to have the greater likelihood of thriving into adulthood and throughout life. So, we’re definitely pro-healthy birth. But, when we talk about pro-life, the term pro-birth has been used in a disparaging way by those who think that the value of life and that those who call themselves pro-life is merely a concern about that preborn life. 

And once that child is born, pro-life people don’t really care beyond that. And, that woman who might be struggling with this unexpected pregnancy, a pro-life person certainly doesn’t care about them. That’s just not false. That’s just false. It’s not true at all. I’m so glad to be able to talk about this because we at the Institute for Women’s Health are a unique organization. 

We didn’t know until we actually were formed that we’re the only pro-life, pro-family, pro-woman organization, women’s health-policy organization in all of the United States, and in fact, as we travel around the world, we’ve not found another organization that has that as their goal and mission. So, it’s no wonder then, that the narrative surrounding women’s health has been misrepresented and has become inexcusably a platform for promoting abortion. 

We need to talk about really what it means to be holistically pro-life. That’s what the Institute for Women’s Health is. We’re actually not a pro-life organization. We are an organization that believes in the dignity and the value of every woman, whether preborn, whether a child, whether an adolescent, whether an adult woman, whether an aging woman, whether a woman or a girl who has a physical or mental disability. That there is a value in every single one of those lives.  

In some European countries, there’s not a single Down Syndrome child or adult, and it’s not because they’ve figured out how to prevent that. It’s because 100% of Down Syndrome preborn children are aborted. That shows the lack of dignity of a human life. 

At the Institute, we believe every life has value. And so, there needs to be an equal value and emphasis put on that life before birth to that child who might have physical or mental challenges or adult, to that woman who is in an impossible situation, she believes, because she just learned she was pregnant and for whatever reason, that seems untenable. 

That also means a concern and the dignity of a girl or a woman who is outcast for whatever reason in her society. It means improving the likelihood of thriving wherever she is a priority. And because we are the Institute for Women’s Health, of course, we are specifically focused on women and girls. But we’re really talking about the intrinsic value of humanity and of human life.  

So, how do you move from being, I would say, inaccurately called pro-birth, hard stop to being holistically pro-life? I think it begins, first of all, with an ethical conversation within yourself. If this is what I actually believe, if I actually believe in the dignity and value of every human life, then that has to be more than something I secretly believe. 

It has to be expressed in our day-to-day life, and that means there’s the dignity of the person we strongly disagree with. It means we are respectful and treat that person as that person of great value because they are created in the image of God. But there’s the next step, too. How do we express it in our lives? 

We have to recognize that there are human beings that are most vulnerable. And we talked about some of them. It begins with the unborn, but it doesn’t end there. So, we have to realize that being holistically pro-life really means from before birth, throughout every stage of life, there is a way that we show that inherent dignity and value of that human life holistically. 

So, if you think about that woman who just learned that she was pregnant for whatever reason, it seems like an impossibility for her to continue that pregnancy.In practical ways, how do we reinforce the dignity and value of that woman? Walk beside her and empathize. From a policy standpoint, I think we need to take it from the individual, which we never remove ourselves from, but it has to be a policy, not only a personal policy and mission, but I think that promoting and instituting policies in whatever sphere of influence we have is essential. 

And so how are we holistically pro-life in our policies? We know that life has the best chance of thriving within a healthy family. So, what are we doing in our policies to be pro-family? How are we incentivizing healthy families? How are we incentivizing that strong marriage relationship? There are other countries that have really taken that seriously and are putting a large percentage of their GDP toward incentivizing strong families and strong marriages, not just by tax credits, but by really making it easier to have those strong healthy families, to have marriage, to have children, and to take away some of those disincentives to continuing that pregnancy all the way to birth.  

And then, I think we also need to look beyond the borders where we live. So, whether we’re, we’ve never left our community, and our mission and our work is in that community, then holistically we need to look at what does it mean to be holistically pro-life in our community?  

If we have influence in our state, then how can we, in our area of influence, show that we actually believe what we say we believe and that it’s expressed in our area of influence within the United States as a national entity? How do we show that? But we can’t stop at our borders, because if we truly believe in the value and intrinsic honor of every human life, then we have to ask ourselves, how are we as the United States treating human life abroad? 

I’m sorry to say that for many years, including right now as we speak, we’re actually pressuring countries to change their laws on life. We’re pressuring countries to subjugate their own sovereignty to a demand that the U.S. is making that’s totally out of step with a great majority of Americans. But I’m sorry to say that most of us in America don’t even know that this is what we’re exporting. 

So, we need to be knowledgeable. We need to understand, and if we don’t know more, we can’t really do more. And then once we know more, this is actually biblical, we’re responsible. And so, not just here in the U.S., but in the countries abroad, where we can truly say that those women and girls are most vulnerable. 

This is a very expansive discussion, really, of what it means to be holistically pro-life, but hopefully, I gave you a couple of ideas in your own area of influence: how you can think more broadly, what it means to value every life, and to assert and reinforce the dignity of every person. And I can tell you from personal experience because I work almost exclusively internationally, it’s not always easy, but it is always worth it. And not only that, it’s the right thing to do.