Ruth Ann Dailey: Protection for unborn is a lifelong effort

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Since both of Amy Cammarata's parents were alcoholics and drug addicts, she was raised mostly by her grandmother.

But the loss was still very real when her mother died during Amy's eighth-grade year and when her father died several years later. Amy threw herself into hard partying. "I was sad, I was depressed, I was lost."

And she was soon pregnant, at 20. When that happened, "it was like a click in my head: 'It's not about me anymore.' "

She took a pregnant girlfriend's advice to check out Young Lives, a nationwide faith-based charity that supports teenagers through their pregnancies and far beyond.

Erica Reedy's story is different. She was raped by an adult family friend at age 11. "I didn't want to be around any boys after that. I isolated myself from everybody," she recalls.

Her early teens were troubled. "I was always being arrested -- for fighting, for graffiti," she says. "My mom wouldn't know where I was for days."

Not long after Erica turned 16, she got pregnant, and even then, she kept brawling. A Facebook friend urged her to try Young Lives, but Erica held out, thinking she'd have to get the baby's reluctant father involved.

It wasn't until son Ky'reem was born 18 months ago that she tried the program. Now she and Amy sit together before a Friday night Bible study and marvel at how things have changed.

Erica has learned how to handle conflict without using her fists. "If it weren't for this, I'd be locked up in the county jail," she states as she feeds Ky'reem some mac'n'cheese that Amy pushed her way before taking off after her own little boy, Dominick, who's 14 months old and eager to explore every last thing.

Erica shared her story at church last Sunday, where congregants were later reminded of the words from Proverbs 31: "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. ... Defend the rights of the poor and needy."

And many did that at Wednesday's March For Life in Washington, D.C., which drew thousands of people from the Pittsburgh region. The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh alone sent around 50 buses -- a few canceled due to frigid temperatures -- and local Protestant congregations typically send additional dozens.

Pittsburgh is renowned for always fielding "one of the largest contingents" at the national march, says Helene Paharik, associate general secretary of the diocese.

But contrary to caricature, the effort to protect the unborn doesn't start and finish on one January day or involve only the sidewalks outside abortion clinics.

In the decadeslong struggle over legalized abortion, one of the most harmful falsehoods bandied about is that anti-abortion people care about the fetus but leave mother and child to fend for themselves.

This isn't harmful to the activists: People who enter the public fray on any issue should expect to be misrepresented by the other side.

No, the harm is in misleading pregnant women who might choose not to abort their babies if they knew that such tremendous support systems exist.

Through Catholic Charities, for instance, women can get food, prenatal care, diapers, strollers, snowsuits, parenting classes, help with housing and more.

"We walk with women and provide them all the emotional, spiritual and material support they need," says executive director Susan Rauscher.

The false charge about not supporting women and babies post-birth is often a political ploy, launched by those who are content to let government do their charity work for them.

But such programs, though necessary, cannot bring hope and real change.

Many of the 2,500 or so women who receive assistance of some sort from Catholic Charities each year come at first just for the physical necessities.

"They may start out hesitant," Ms. Rauscher says, but most eventually embrace the counseling and spiritual side too.

Young Lives provides a similarly wide array of services, as does the Rosebud Project, a newer Catholic effort in the city's eastern suburbs. Angel's Place helps single moms complete their educations by providing free day care at several locations.

There's also Genesis of Pittsburgh, Pregnancy Resource Centers, Women's Choice Network, and so on: The list is impressive and, in the Internet age, easy to access. In six years, the Christ Church at Grove Farm chapter of Young Lives that Amy and Erica attend has shepherded 50 teen moms to and through identifiable milestones, says founder Judy Pytlik.

Before they move on, "they need to be empowered, not under the control of a man, independent."

Government programs can provide a minimal material safety net, but they can never give the one-to-one mentoring -- the love, frankly -- that truly transforms lives.

Erica says simply: "I never knew people could care this much."

Ruth Ann Dailey:

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