Recently, the LA Times reported that a Catholic school fired an unwed, pregnant teacher. The teacher, Michelle McCusker, has filed a complaint alleging that the archdiocese (which operates the school) violated a law banning discrimination against pregnant women. The school maintains that McCusker violated the contract she signed to uphold the Catholic faith, Gospel values, and Christian tradition. McCusker argues that by choosing to have the baby (even though the baby's father refuses to be involved in the child's life), she has lived out the values of her faith (bold emphasis mine):
"I don't understand how a religion that prides itself on being forgiving and on valuing life could terminate me because I'm pregnant and am choosing to have this baby," said McCusker, who was fired last month. "I held the Catholic religion to a higher standard."
The issue might have gone away, she said, if she had ended the pregnancy, which would have violated another tenet of the Catholic faith.
"They wouldn't have known," she said.
Like it or not, in an era where Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, every woman who bears a child resulting from an unplanned pregnancy has made a choice (often a difficult one) to have that baby. By punishing a woman for getting pregnant out of wedlock, the school is also implicitly condemning her choice to have the baby. Had McCusker secretly had an abortion, she would have kept her job and continued to serve as a role model for her students based on the school's criteria for her job.
For Christians who purport to value the lives of the unborn and have Jesus as an example for our conduct, this is particularly reprehensible. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated instance at one religious school. (I've seen similar condemnation with people in my own life and it has saddened me greatly.) When this school and other Christians denounce pregnant women who are unmarried (or young, or poor, or otherwise morally lacking by their standards), they send the message that choosing to bear unexpected babies is a sin to be punished rather than a joyful choice to be celebrated. How many other women who find themselves in Michelle McCusker's predicament will choose abortion based on this example?
Kiera McCaffrey, a representative of the Catholic League, explains the moral standards the school desires to uphold:
The key issue in McCusker's case, McCaffrey said, is that Catholic-school teachers don't simply teach subjects like math and history. They are also expected to teach morals and must lead by example.
"It's not like we're saying that she is a sinner and can't be a role model," McCaffrey said. "But there's a visible sign. She's pregnant. To have children looking at that, and say it's OK, is not the example the church wants to set."
There are many ways Christians can look at the example that McCusker is setting. Like the school, they can emphasize the moral behavior that got her pregnant in the first place. Or they could point out that this is a young woman who is making the difficult and courageous choice to bear and raise a child, on her own, and at great personal sacrifice, rather than have an abortion. They could support and affirm her decision to choose life. Now that would be a novel moral message to send.