“The real heroes are the women. The mothers.” Those are the words of Jennifer Worth, a British nurse midwife whose memoirs are the basis of the British series “Call the Midwife.”
Set in the 1950s, “Call the Midwife” tells the story of a group of nuns and nurses who provided maternity care to women in East London. They were funded by the British National Health Service.
Before the NHS, nearly half the babies conceived in these poor London neighborhoods died and many of the mothers did, too. There was no reliable birth control, and some women, as Jennifer wrote in her memoirs, had as many as 24 children. The mothers knew very little about prenatal or postnatal care.
In 1946, in order to address poor health conditions in Great Britain, the Labour Party created the National Health Service. According to historians, “The NHS was born out of a long-held ideal that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth.” It was socialized medicine, but it was so popular that, when Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party took over in 1980, she vowed not to even touch the NHS.
In fact, the very notion of programs like the NHS is Christian in origin. It actually began in the 1700s out of a reform movement within the Church of England. That movement came to be called Methodism. Among the many missions of the Methodists was a call for social justice at home and abroad.
Methodism grew steadily through the Victorian Age, when the rich got richer and the poor were very poor. In Charles Dickens’ works, we see the contrast between the two approaches to Christianity. On the one hand were the conservative traditional Anglicans like Ebenezer Scrooge, who believed poverty was the Cratchit family’s lot in life and no concern of his. Methodists rejected that notion and instead called on all Christians to devote themselves to caring for the poor as Christ did.
Here in America, recent polling indicates that the economy has overtaken reproductive rights as the top issue in the 2022 midterms. We could have a lively discussion about which party is to blame for inflation. (Answer: it’s complicated.) But only one party took away women’s reproductive freedom in West Virginia — Republicans.
A small group of mostly men in the West Virginia Legislature are calling themselves heroes for protecting innocent life. But despite all the sanctimonious self-congratulations, abortions were already down in West Virginia according to the Centers for Disease Control. The vast majority of pregnant women choose life in our state when they have the choice – many more than the national average.
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Again: the real heroes are the women.
Their babies, though, are more at risk in West Virginia than those in other states. The most recent census data shows that our state is the fourth poorest in the nation. Out of every 20 babies born in the Mountain State, three of their mothers live below the poverty line. For 2020, that represents 2,700 children.
In March of this year, the National Center for Health Statistics ranked West Virginia among the 10 worst of all 50 states for at-risk babies: low birth weight, high cesarean rate and high rate of pre-term birth. What’s worse, almost half of all babies in West Virginia are born to unwed mothers. In addition, West Virginia is experiencing “maternity deserts” as there are increasingly fewer options for childbirth in rural areas.
Now that girls and women in West Virginia will pretty much be forced to bring all their pregnancies to term, the question becomes: which party will better support those babies and their families?
Only the Democrats have attempted to provide universal healthcare. The other party — the one that cares so much about the pre-born — has opposed every bill that would help mothers: family leave, child care, livable minimum wage, child tax credits, student loan forgiveness, lower drug prices, free school lunch and equity pay.
The so-called “pro-life” party will do next to nothing to stop the number one cause of child death: gun violence. They deride the refugee and the immigrant, even though Christ exhorts us to welcome them. Republicans favor unrestricted stock trading for themselves, tax breaks for the rich, and unchecked flow of dark money. You’d think they were special camels with a free pass through Christ’s “eye of the needle.”
Jesus told us dozens of times to care for the poor, the sick, the widow, the refugee, the marginalized. Only one of the two parties does that. So, if you want a government that protects all life from birth to grave, you can vote for Democrats in 2022 with a clear conscience.