While I understand that not every Catholic family is called to foster or adopt, a Catholic pro-life identity must include a highly visible commitment to those children who were not initially aborted, but whose lives of neglect and abuse leave them vulnerable and at risk.

Our Catholic pro-life voice is well-known. But what if we could become equally well-known for our commitment to providing safe families for foster children? If, alongside their work to change legislation regarding abortion, pro-life groups would work within the foster care arena, the movement would gain necessary credibility. A commitment to foster care, when put next to a commitment to end abortion, demonstrates an understanding of the complexity of the abortion question. It underlines our Catholic teaching about the sanctity of life – life threatened within the womb, but also facing just as serious danger outside the mother’s body. At a recent Catholic conference I attended in Chicago, there were four booths dedicated to the anti-abortion aspect of the pro-life movement. Yet, I didn’t see even one booth – or even one small part of a pro-life booth – dedicated to recruiting new foster parents.

Although “Adoption, not abortion!” is a catchy bumper sticker slogan, the issue of adopting would-be aborted children is not as simple as it might appear. Of the more than 100,000 children awaiting adoption in the U.S., almost half are African American, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Of this group, severely disabled children and black boys must wait the longest for adoption. At the same time, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s statistics show that more than a third of the U.S. women each year who choose abortion are black. When we, as a church, tell these women to put their children up for adoption, do we back up our words by pointing to families open to adopting black children?

Right now, the answer is no; there is a shortage of parents willing to adopt black children, and our words are hollow.

I recognize that some pro-life activists might bristle at the idea that they are not doing enough for children. Many of these people give tremendous amounts of time and energy trying to prevent the tragedy of abortion and the emotional fallout it causes for women. I am not suggesting that they stop, but I am suggesting that we, as Catholics, begin to look at the issue of abortion in a less simplistic way.

I’m suggesting that we open our arms even wider, that we challenge each other to create a line of households ready and waiting to accept unwanted, abused or neglected children. And when we do this, when the word “Catholic” is linked with foster care just as surely as it is with “pro-life,” then we will be able to hold our heads high when we tell others to “choose life.” Because others will have our assurance that life will be protected, once it is chosen.

(Scobey-Polacheck, her husband Bill and their children belong to St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Milwaukee and St. Monica Parish, Whitefish Bay. Her book, “Discovering Motherhood,” a compilation of her columns, is available at local bookstores or at www.discoveringmotherhood.com.)