By : Jana Zuniga , Vitae Foundation Intern

“How is your heart?”

This question is frequently asked among my family and friends to reach beyond the robotic “How are you?” that often receives a generic and shallow response back.  Instead this question invites the respondent to dig a little deeper.  It challenges someone to evaluate the overall status of their happiness and peace.  Lasting happiness, unwavering peace and a sustainable source of love are all desperately desired by every human being.

Imagine a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy.  She wasn’t expecting to get pregnant.  She may have a bad relationship with her parents, probably depends on the emotional support from her now angry boyfriend, and possibly doesn’t have a stable living environment.  She can’t afford not to work; she is scared, alone, and confused.  What message does she need to hear most at that moment in time?  Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to ask with compassion “How is your heart?”

I have considered myself pro-life for as long as I remember, but always focused on praying for the unborn, saving babies, and helping women to realize that their child’s life was immensely valuable.  What I didn’t focus on was helping women realize the value of their own life, restoring their hope for their future, and helping them see themselves as deserving of true and lasting happiness.  I wasn’t considering the paralyzing fear that fills her heart or the dreams she feels being abruptly shattered.

I was deeply impacted by the words of Cardinal Sean O’Malley during his homily on the eve of the 2014 March for Life in Washington, D.C.  In a crowded church, sitting on a pile of coats in the aisle among hundreds of other young people fighting for the cause of life, he told us something that changed my perspective forever.

“The truth is that we can save those babies only by saving the mothers.  When they experience God’s loving mercy then they will become capable of showing mercy to their children.  The Pro-Life Movement has to be about saving mothers.  The work of the pregnancy crisis centers has helped countless women to be able to choose Life.  We owe a great debt of gratitude to all the volunteers and workers.”

Christianity encourages us to protect the sanctity of all human life, but it also asks us to live with compassion towards our brothers and sisters.  In his book “Tattoos on the Heart,” Gregory Boyle shares his insights after his ministry of over 25 years with L.A. gang members. He speaks based on his experience with men and women with serious criminal backgrounds and victims of unjust gang violence.  He reminds us that Jesus was “moved with pity” when he saw sheep without a shepherd.  “Certainly compassion was the wallpaper of Jesus’ soul, the contour of his heart, it was who he was.”

Marcus Borg, internationally known Jesus and Biblical Scholar, states that “the principle suffering of the poor is shame and disgrace.  It is a toxic shame—a global sense of failure of the whole self.”

Some women experience this type of suffering because of their unplanned pregnancy, and some women experience this suffering because they have chosen abortion.  Regardless of the situation, when you meet someone in a crisis pregnancy, it’s usually safe to assume they are suffering to some degree.  We must instill confidence in these women to believe that their lives have dignity, restore their hope for the future, and strengthen them with unconditional love and support.  We must walk alongside them in solidarity, and realize that we are sometimes called not to fix their pain, but to feel their pain.

As we continue to fight for the restoration of the sanctity of human life, we must also fight to restore the dignity of these wounded women, who are desperate for someone to tell them they are worthy of authentic and unconditional love, regardless of their circumstances.  We must be the hand reaching out to them saying, “Get up.  YOU are going to make it.  YOU are forgiven.  YOU are strong.  YOU are courageous.  YOU are worthy.”