Part Two:

Willa slumped over the table, besieged: Peter whimpering, Tommy crooning, the baby-to-come awaiting.

And in the ceiling an ominous hole, head-sized.

A room full of poverty and desperation with the hint of violence confronts us. We feel with Willa as she fights the easy answer of a fast, cheap, legal abortion.

Our compassion for her (and thousands like her) moves us to help. And we sense that a stand against abortion has consequences, especially for the poor, that call for special action. What is involved?

To gain some practical answers, CT sent Deputy Editor Paul Fromer to an evangelical Christian who 25 years ago, as a young college graduate, left the comforts most of us take for granted, and immersed himself in the world of the urban poor. Life on Chicago’s South Side was the making of Scott Reed as God taught him to love the people there.

He merged with the people, felt with them, witnessed to Christ, helped converts become employable, located them jobs, advised them in marriage, expanded a mission into a church, and for their children set up a Christian school. Here are his thoughts, as told to Paul Fromer:

When i first moved to an impoverished section of chicago, my mind was jammed with misunderstandings. I was a good example of Josh Billings’s wry comment, “It is better to know nothing than to know what ain’t so.” I knew a lot that wasn’t so. But to help, I had to understand. As a Christian from a small town I had to do some hard thinking to learn enough about the ghetto to relate to it.

To gain understanding, we will first look at the implications for the city of a major interest we all have, prolife legislation. I think a realistic picture of urban life will emerge to help us see what place we can have in relating to poor people of all races there.

I base my prolife views on the belief that that heartbeat belongs to a human being, with rights to birth and life. And I believe no one should be deprived of life without due process of law. So I hate what abortion-on-demand does to a helpless child, and to the mother and perhaps the father, too.

This raises a critical question, though. What, by contrast, will be the effects of a prolife alternative? Clearly it will affect the child by guaranteeing him birth. But what then? The person who wants to relate to the poor needs to think through what the prolife position means to those who probably do not celebrate life very much, but rather endure it, or even hate it. Francis Schaeffer and Everett Koop have written, “Merely to say [to a married or unmarried woman], ‘You must not have an abortion,’ without being ready to involve ourselves in the problem—is another way of being inhuman” (Whatever Happened to the Human Race?). We must prepare to deal with the consequences of our commitment.

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If right-to-life legislation passes, thousands of babies will annually be born who otherwise would have been aborted. How many? The National Center for Health Statistics has estimated that there are about 1.25 million abortions in the U.S. annually.

Someone may point out here that if abortion becomes hard, women will be more careful to avoid conception by using the pill or an IUD. This is possibly true, but the difference, in the inner city at least, will not be great. Desperate people become ground down till they are possessed by a feeling of enervation that in time becomes a dreadful passivity. Life is so hopeless that they almost do not care anymore. It might be a bit hard for someone who has not lived in the inner city to identify with that stage of sorrow, but it is there. Because of it, I do not expect contraceptives to have much effect on that group of the 1.25 million babies who will be born to the urban poor. Surely we are talking about several hundred thousand children annually.

What kind of life will they face? Part One of this article strikes a responsive chord in me. It describes people like those I have lived among for years, and I feel for them, as you do. Do you recall that the previous tenant of Janey’s apartment was a woman who hated her son? The father, a “no-gooder,” had left, and the mother periodically took out her frustration on her son. Once she dunked him in a tub of boiling water, and another time may have smashed him into the ceiling, leaving a head-sized hole.

Some will say she should have saved herself and her child a good deal of grief by aborting. I cannot agree. But neither can I sit by and see the excruciating pains of the city made all the worse by the arrival of many more thousands of unwanted children.

Of course, the gospel will change the attitudes and situation of some who will not be able to abort. Motives are touched by the Lord, so that genuine Christians among the poor may react differently from their neighbors. I often hear them say, “I’m only making it because of the Lord.” I wish the number being reached were greater.

But we really are looking at several hundred thousand new babies each year who would otherwise have been aborted, and whose mothers are unmotivated by the gospel. How will these children fare?

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If we look at the situation with high optimism, we can assume that they will all be born in a hospital, not in some squalid room before being abandoned in shopping bags or garbage cans.

Further, suppose that half those born will be left at the hospital. Some of these will be adopted, but the rest must go to orphanages and foster homes. Here in Chicago foster homes have revolving doors: the children are often passed from one unsatisfactory place to another, and they bear in their personalities the marks of such a life.

For the moment we must pass on to the other group of children—those whom the mothers take home. Some will be accepted in love, but others will face at least two problems: poverty and rejection.


In Part One we saw how Willa resisted an abortion because she wanted to keep the baby. Poverty will be her big enemy, even with public aid.

Some might object that people are poor because they are lazy, and that the welfare system only rewards them. But if we think biblically, we see, as R. C. Sproul has noted (CT, March 5, 1982, p. 94), not one but four reasons for poverty. One, it is true, is laziness. “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a bandit” (Prov. 6:10–11, NIV).

But the other reasons are quite different. Some are poor because of disease, famine, or catastrophe; the fall of Samaria brought poverty to righteous and wicked alike. Others are poor because of exploitation, as Amos declares. Finally, some are poor by choice, pursuing low-income vocations; John the Baptist illustrates this group.

Clearly, the reasons for poverty are varied, though the main emphasis in Scripture falls on exploitation. We should not overemphasize laziness as the main cause, blaming the poor for being poor, and therefore resisting efforts to help them. Why was Willa facing poverty?

Most of the children we are considering will be financially destitute, even if social services remain at their present level. Some mothers will work if they can find jobs and inexpensive child care, but many more will have to try to live on inadequate income provided by public aid. (In Chicago, a welfare family considers an additional child not a financial boon but a financial burden.) Some mothers will continue in poverty; others will add to their public aid checks with income from live-in boyfriends; still others will reject both poverty and public aid pittances and turn instead to more socially destructive ways to support themselves.

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Part One referred to an unknown child who formerly lived in the apartment, and whose mother did not want him. He represents a large number of children in the inner urban area whose lives are tortured by rejection.

Just think. Some of the mothers are children themselves, not yet capable of mature motherhood; their children may grow up thinking of them as sisters until they learn differently. Too many children will be shuffled from one family member to another. Some will be hated because they are a burden. Others will be hated because the father—a rapist, a relative, or a short-term lover—is hated.

We must think of the children who are abused, or even killed, by mothers who are incapable of ever accepting them. We must also think about those children who grow to adulthood and reject themselves throughout their lives because they have always felt rejected. Many, angry at being born, will hate themselves, and God, when they learn that they are the children of rape or incest. I wish such problems did not exist, but I confess I have seen them all too often.

We can see that unwanted babies born to mothers who are poor or economically marginal are faced with the double deprivation of poverty and rejection.

Antisocial Behavior

Studies show that poverty does not in itself lead a young person to a life of crime or other antisocial acts, though it helps. But if that person’s family rejects him, he begins to reject himself, hate himself, and hate society; this leads to antisocial behavior.

If a person senses he is unwanted—rejected!—he faces a most debilitating force. It distorts his personality. Every pastor who has counseled someone with this rejection syndrome knows what I mean. In the poorer parts of the city, however, the young do not hold on until they find a pastor-counselor or psychiatrist. They take out their rejection on society, and they start early. This will be the pattern of many unwanted children.

Mothers, too, face problems. Consider the mental agonies of pregnant women who, resenting the ban on aborting their fetus, still do not want the baby, and may even hate it. Feeling guilty about their hostility and their inability to change their attitudes, they may turn to alcohol or narcotics to numb their misery, thereby creating a desperate environment sometimes characterized by depravity or insanity. In such an atmosphere child abuse comes easily. And the future children of these mothers may well be born with serious defects.

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It is difficult for us to empathize beyond our experience, but some readers who have passed through bitter sorrows may be able to grasp what it means to be miserable and wretched every hour of every day, as the meaning of life merges with death. I am sorry to say that this is likely to be the “life” into which children are often born in poor urban areas.

Quality Of Life

We can sum up the situation as a set of alternatives:

1. We could teach young people abstinence. But that is a gospel task, not likely of broad success across the spectrum of people involved.

2. We could provide contraceptive information and devices. But this is already being done, with only mild success in the inner city. More important, many Christians oppose such widespread distribution on moral grounds. Others, depressed by an environment infected by decades of poverty and rejection, fatalistically say, “Who cares?” They are not noted for using the pill. While programs to implement these first two alternatives are being carried out at present, the problem arises with the 1.25 million women annually who, in spite of them, still abort.

3. We could support abortion. But, believing this is the moral equivalent of murder, we reject it.

We see, therefore, that unwanted children will be born, and that those born to the poor will suffer a double setback of poverty and rejection; here we must face consequences of our position. This leaves us with two options:

4. Either we take care of these children after they become rejected, abused, antagonistic, and perhaps criminals, or,

5. We take care of the mother and children so as to prevent this kind of result.

Tersely stated, the approaches of abstinence, pill, and abortion are seriously flawed as widespread social answers; many unwanted children will be born if the prolife law passes. We can deal with them as they self-destruct, or we can deal with them before this occurs. Which will it be?

We are now in a better position to consider how to help mothers and children among the urban poor. Moved by compassion and conscience to demand that every woman carry her baby to birth, we find ourselves also urged by the same motives to help that woman and child find life of some quality. We say that the aborter rejects the child, but if we were indifferent to the kind of life the child would be forced into, in some sense we too would be rejecting him. We want to join right-to-birth with right-to-life, meaning quality-of-life.

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As Schaeffer and Koop say, “There is no universal formula, but we must recognize that saying that abortion is wrong immediately confronts us with a challenge to be willing to share in the consequences which our advice brings. For Christians who adhere to the truths of the Bible, the importance of doing what it teaches is imperative. We are to be compassionate about people’s needs. Christian love and humanness mean … giving up part of our own personal peace and affluence to share in the results that morally correct solutions produce. It is vital that we put first not economics or efficiency charts or plans, but being people—real flesh and blood people.”

Valuable Government Aid

We have used the prolife amendment as a case study to give us a more understanding heart toward life among the urban poor. Now we must broaden our view beyond the children who will be born if national legislation passes, to all children born, even under present law, in such a climate of poverty.

What kind of help do they and their mothers need, and what is our place in seeing that they get it?

Because the nation at large benefits from any help offered here, it is fair to say that not only compassionate Christians acting as church members, but also all citizens, can play a part. The help offered can come, justifiably, from both government and private programs, and, in fact, must, because the needs are greater than we can envision the present-day church immediately handling. Tax dollars can be wisely spent to employ suitable social service workers and to finance vital programs. And Christians can give from their over-tithes to provide money for a distinctive mix of evangelistic and social programs.

Let’s look first at the rudimentary needs of mothers and their children that either government or Christian groups might offer. Then we can look at some surprising and special ways Christians can help.

The basic needs either can help meet are medical, educational, and nutritional. First, medically, mothers must have adequate nutrition to produce a properly formed and adequately intelligent child; they also need prenatal and postnatal clinics conveniently located and offering nutritional guidance, psychological counseling, and child-care classes. I question whether the present system of clinics is adequate, and I know many are understaffed. In human terms, this means that if prenatal tests show a mother has diabetes, she may not be notified in time to get help before the baby is born. This could result in a child handicapped from birth.

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Nutrition is more important than once thought. Ten-thirteenths of the brain cells of a child are normally developed in the first five months of gestation. But if the baby is born small, and if his brain cells have developed too slowly, he can suffer his whole life from an injured nervous system. Studies show that because of low birth weight he may be blind, deaf, or retarded. The current government program to help, WIC (for “Women, Infants and Children”), is short of funds, and only half the needy, eligible women are getting the service. Yet a study has shown that one dollar spent here saves three dollars on the remedial programs otherwise necessary.

Educationally we can see that a very young mother is more likely to think of her child as a doll than a baby. And whatever “wisdom of the ages” was once passed from mother to daughter has pretty well dried up in present poor urban areas. (The average age of girls in one prenatal clinic is 15.) A young mother may have no idea of the importance of nutrition, for instance, and needs to be taught by a special program. Suburbanites who consider themselves better informed still buy books by the armload on marriage and parenting; the needs of those less fortunate are clearly immense.

Another aspect of education concerns counseling. Many badly need help with postpartum depression. Some who would have chosen to abort might best be encouraged to leave their baby at the hospital if, for instance, they cannot control their resentment toward the baby.

Other help is best centered not in the clinic but in a local board of education. School-age girls need to continue their education, and the community could provide it, along with vocational training for mothers who have difficulty with regular studies.

I have seen a dynamic evil relationship between patterns of poverty from generation to generation, and the lack of education from generation to generation. That cycle can be broken if a workable framework is provided, and if the mothers themselves can be brought to cooperate with it.

Financial help must supplement medical and educational help. We already have a welfare system, but it is such a patchwork of local, state, and federal plans that it is hard to use. It needs overhaul. Also, it would help to give financial incentive to those women in the medical and educational programs since their desire to cooperate is essential. I also wish we could provide social workers in such number that case loads would allow them to visit in the homes and neighborhoods of their clients, as they once did, rather than be merely office workers.

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