We all know the beautiful pro-life saying: “Love them both.” The reference is to the mother and the child in a crisis pregnancy. Both are made in the image and likeness of God, and both must be loved and cared for as the Lord commands.
I propose that we go one better and expand our message of love and care with a new saying: “Love all three.” With every crisis pregnancy, there are three persons involved—mother, father, and child. The fathers of the unborn have been kicked far off the radar screen. We should bring them squarely back into the equation.
Perhaps we should even bring marriage back into the equation.
Consider this. What if—excepting cases of rape, malice, incapacity, or dangerous addictions—we encourage the child’s father to draw close to the natural family being created? What if, instead of immediately discouraging marriage, we discuss it as a viable option? What if God’s design for families is carefully, beautifully introduced to mom and dad? What if, without hesitation or apology, the truth and meaning of human sexuality (and thus the truth and meaning of marriage) is taught to the couple? What if something begun in sin and disorder can, with grace, truth, love, and support, be brought into healing and right order?
This “crazy idea” of encouraging marriage when a child is conceived out of wedlock used to be the norm. It was universally understood that, generally speaking, two married parents raising their own biological child together is best. In fact, it’s the most important and impactful “privilege” possessed by anyone, driving the healthiest outcomes. The Church herself understands this as a natural law truth, and she teaches that in the area of human procreation, it is the child who possesses genuine rights, over and above the desires of the adults.
Yet here’s what I’ve seen in my years of pro-marriage work: We reflexively discourage expecting couples from considering marriage as a highly desirable option. Why? Because we have been conditioned to believe that any suggestion of marriage made to a pregnant woman is coercion (bad) instead of a move toward the good.
Most couples who make a baby are at least emotionally and physically attracted to each other (usually not enemies or strangers). Even when pregnant couples are in love and inclined to marriage, well-meaning friends and family will often scare them away from that commitment, in the belief that such a choice could never be sufficiently free. But as one tribunal judge I know asks, “Why is there freedom in the decision to have sex but not in the consequent decision to marry?”
Let’s go even farther: As Catholics, we rightly believe that a mother is able to consent to place her child for adoption while in the midst of a crisis pregnancy. We understand, as does the mother, that adoption is a permanent commitment with serious lifelong implications. Yet we believe that the same pregnant woman is somehow not fully free to consent to marry her baby’s father—also a permanent commitment with serious lifelong implications. We need to be consistent: If women can consent to sex and can consent to adoption, they can consent to marriage as well.
A default to moral norms and a preference for the primary good of marriage should not be decried as “coercion.” It shouldn’t be controversial to restore God’s created order, or at least to consider it an acceptable option.
Note carefully: I am not suggesting that marriage is the best option for every mother and father of an unborn child. Clearly, there are cases where it won’t be. But I am suggesting that marriage should be considered the first and best option far more often than it is today—and yes, that would require a change in mindset, even among Catholics.
At the very least, we must bring fathers back into the discussion, because, except for danger, abandonment, or adoption, the child’s father will be an ongoing part of the child’s life in some form. Fathers and mothers are not interchangeable to a child, and we must not pretend they are. So if your friend or family member is unmarried and facing a pregnancy, put the idea of marriage on the table, even as the first and best consideration.
In addition to family and friends, crisis pregnancy centers throughout the nation are also touch points for grace and truth for those pregnant out of wedlock. Even better, at least one center is blazing a trail: First Way Pregnancy Center in Phoenix, Arizona is spearheading a revolution through its extraordinary men’s program, helping to heal and mentor fathers as well as mothers. According to First Way’s executive director, Katie Wing:
Men receive many mixed messages about their God-given roles as protectors and providers. What comes naturally to them is belittled and often marketed as male dominance over women. They may be frightened about the prospect of becoming a father, especially if they have had no role models. Where can men go for the help they need when navigating an unplanned pregnancy? Men need to know that they are valued. They have worth. They have dignity. They need to know that they are supported, too. Perhaps this is the first time anyone has ever really listened to their story or given them the educational and practical tools they need to help raise their children. Men, when supported in their roles as fathers, can recognize the beauty and the responsibility in making a commitment to the mother of their baby. They can create a family.
Is it easy? No! But who ever said it would be? Is the couple immature, morally confused, or from a broken background? Work with them! Who among us has not been immature, sinful, or damaged, needing help, healing, forgiveness, and mentoring to know what is right and how to get there? Who among us, or what set of circumstances, is beyond redemption? God created a rightly ordered world that we lost through the Fall, but we should look to that design as a template for getting back to where he wants us.
A pregnancy out of wedlock means moving toward restoration and redemption for all involved, as our faith teaches us. It’s truly good to “love them both,” but it’s even more profound and Christlike to “love all three.”