Feminism | Posted by Reilly W on 11/4/2016

On Being Catholic and Pro-Choice

Being a pro-choice feminist

Many people might find the two identities I hold closest to be contradictory: I am a Catholic, but am also an ardent, sex-positive, Birkenstock-wearing feminist. But I don’t think these identities contradict each other. I believe that Catholics have a duty to be radically accepting of other people, Catholic or otherwise, and am therefore pro-gay marriage, anti-Islamaphobia, pro-contraception, and perhaps most notably, pro-choice.

Even so, these stances are undoubtedly hard to come to terms with as a Catholic. At some point in their lives, many Catholics feel they don’t personally align with the doctrines taught in Sunday School, like those regarding abortion and beyond. When you’ve been raised in the church, though, it’s somewhat disillusioning to think of yourself as somehow outside it. Beyond unsettling, many Catholics believe these inclinations are patently wrong: They are taught to assume that every stance the church has offered for every issue is the absolute word and will of God. But in reality, Jesus didn’t say much of anything about a fair amount of contemporary issues.

Take abortion, for example. I kept my identity as a pro-choice Catholic quietly in the back of my mind for years, but  have come to see there is no shame in these two identifiers co-existing. Abortion is consistently viewed in black and white terms, but what many don’t understand is that especially hot button issues must be viewed in shades of gray, with empathy. To me, abortion is a reality (and, statistically, the majority of women who obtain abortions identify as Christian, according to one recent study) and the right choice for many women.

Of course, pro-life Catholics are always quick to make the “Not all Catholics” assertion, to argue that I am a minority within our population. I am not here to say that the entirety of young Catholics are pro-choice or question the pro-life stance. I respect the right of anti-abortion Catholics everywhere to fight for what they believe in and feel grateful that they are able to do so within our faith.

But I also believe that they fail to see why abortion is necessary.

First, it’s important to understand that the Church’s modern views on abortion are less than two hundred years old and entirely political. The Bible does have passages that have been interpreted as anti-abortion, from Jeremiah saying God knows us before we are conceived, to Exodus expressing that death with be brought upon women who end pregnancies. But even so, none of the passages used by the anti-choice movement specifically address abortion, nor cite the words of Jesus himself. Just as we now interpret certain Biblical laws as frivolous — like wearing clothes of mixed fabrics (Lev. 19:19) — we must observe reproductive justice through both a biblical and a modern lens.

The Church’s opinions on abortion are different from what Jesus taught. Jesus was the original Christian radical feminist. I believe He would firmly agree that women should be able to live without fearing motherhood and that some women are (and should be) able to live their most fruitful and faithful lives without children. What’s more, the Bible does not explicitly condemn abortion. We do have evidence, though, that Jesus would stand against people (even the Church) who tried to make decisions for a woman other than her and her doctor.

The first time I really understood my duty to be an outwardly pro-choice Catholic was when House Bill Two passed some three years ago and then was recently overturned by the Supreme Court. This law closed a majority of the state’s reproductive health clinics, restricting not only Texan women’s abortion access, but also their healthcare. The clinics that did stay open were in predominantly wealthier areas. The closure of clinics in poorer areas essentially means that reproductive healthcare, not just abortion, is a luxury that only wealthy Texans could access. When this legislation was challenged before the Supreme Court this year, the court had to determine whether or not this bill created an “undue burden” for women. They took a stand to say that it was undue to ask a woman to travel hundreds of miles for her rightful care.

And I agree. In 2015, I heard the story of a girl who came into a clinic in Texas that did not perform abortions. She was fifteen and had been repeatedly raped by men in her community. After becoming pregnant, she sought help from a local clinic, but was informed that they were not legally allowed to perform the procedure on her. Her only option was to travel for it to be done, which was out of the question. This legislation essentially condemned this teenager to motherhood. Jesus wanted what was best for women — surely, he would not have wanted this young woman to be forced into motherhood.

Perhaps the best argument for Catholic choice, though, is looking at what happens when we take choice away from women. Given that women are going to get abortions whether they’re legal and safe or not, we have a duty as Catholics to understand the absurdity in lobbying for abortion restriction in the name of “saving lives.” If you really would like to save lives, know that many lives are put in danger as a result of abortion restriction resulting in illegal abortion.

In this way, being pro-choice doesn’t necessarily have to be “pro-abortion” but an understanding that we must lift the women choosing to make this decision up instead of shaming them for ultimately making their own choices. Understanding that abortion is something that will take place whether it is legal or not is vital and the horrendous implications of illegal abortion should more frequently considered in any pro-life argument.

But even if Catholics still cannot compromise being pro-choice with being Catholic, it seems that they should still advocate for comprehensive sex education. If you want to prevent abortion, then you should logically want to provide all Catholics and non-Catholics alike who are choosing to have sex with contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies from occurring in the first place.

The bottom line is this: Being pro-choice is not the same as being  “pro-abortion.” There is no doubt that abortions produce a range of emotions, from fear, to relief, to guilt. But we must also recognize that forced motherhood evokes this same range of emotions — but with extreme, lasting consequences. What’s more, Catholic women are not the same women alive when Jesus was. We have the ability to speak out against social injustices across all boards, whether they be feminist issues or those of other minorities, and it’s time for us to be advocates for women everywhere.

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