Today we’re talking to Meghan Smith, the Domestic Program Associate for Catholics for Choice, which was founded in 1973 to serve as a voice for Catholics who believe that the Catholic tradition supports a woman’s moral and legal right to follow her conscience in matters of sexuality and reproductive health. Meghan integrates CFC’s US policy activities and advocacy throughout the country by fostering relationships with collegial organizations and compiling legislative and policy analyses. Meghan also develops educational materials outlining CFC’s unique perspective on issues of reproductive health and rights and engages in other efforts supporting CFC’s mission at the state level. She holds a bachelor’s of arts degree in English and Creative Writing from Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts.
When did you get involved with Catholics for Choice, and what was your motivation for working with them?
When I began working for Catholics for Choice several years ago, I knew that it was an organization that perfectly complemented my upbringing and my theological and political inclinations. I grew up in rural New England, where the interplays between Catholicism and public life were as obvious as the photos of the my mother’s big Irish clan, the Pope, and the Kennedys hanging side by side on my grandparents’ walls. From union organizing to initiating an elementary school penny drive to make sure that everyone had mittens, I saw my family members living out their faith, one centered in sisterhood, compassion and social justice.
I knew firsthand the good that Catholicism could accomplish then, but I also knew that some of what I heard from the pulpit didn’t represent this. When I was told that my aunts who were so active in the church were seen as unworthy of ordination, or that anything related to sexuality, including abortion, was supposed to be swept under the rug, this represented a profound break from the Catholicism that I knew, the kind that supported the people I loved even in difficult times. When Senator John Kerry was called to the carpet by his bishop for being pro-choice or when I was told during a Sunday homily that I had to vote a certain way on my state’s gay marriage legislation, I didn’t see compassionate and socially just Catholicism at work. At Catholics for Choice, though, I’m able to live out the faith that I love and to speak everyday to others about being pro-choice and Catholic in a way that demonstrates how both beliefs support each other.
How can pro-choice advocates reach out to people of faith?
The first step, and I think the biggest challenge, for pro-choice advocates in reaching out to faith communities is simply recognizing that people of faith are pro-choice. As a movement, we need to embrace the fact that religion is not the bailiwick of anti-choice conservatives – it is a domain where the pro-choice majority happily resides. In the case of Catholicism, the word “church” refers not the Vatican but to the people who live quite different lives from the hierarchy. It is this church, the folks bending their knees in the pews or bringing their families to basement fish fries on Lenten Fridays, that is mostly pro-choice and that the pro-choice community needs to acknowledge. As a progressive Catholic, I’ve received push back and side-eyes, not just from anti-choice conservatives, but from members of the progressive community who sometimes view faith with suspicion, or who can fall into the trap of repeating the hierarchy’s rhetoric as if it is representative of the whole.
Reaching out to faith communities, then, requires some self-reflection from pro-choice advocates regarding our own biases and assumptions. Women don’t leave their faith at the door when seeking or performing reproductive health care services. We know, then, that faith is just as important to reproductive justice outreach as any other form of identity that shapes a person’s life. In order to speak in a way that applies to people’s experiences and that illustrates how pro-choice standpoints are in accord with what people already believe, we need to truly understand, appreciate, and appeal to faith traditions.
“Get your rosaries off my ovaries” protest signs, in other words, aren’t helpful. Understanding that our rosaries already support ovaries, but lifting up those who are willing to speak that truth, most certainly is.
If you could meet a famous feminist, past or present, who would it be, and why?
I really like the idea of hosting a feminist dinner party, because I could just listen and learn from people who have lived this life, and can pass on the experiences they have gained. In that spirit, I would place Catholic feminist theologians Elizabeth Johnson and Rosemary Radford Reuther around a table with Audre Lorde, Sarah Weddington, Cherríe Moraga and Chandra Mohanty—each of these women recognized, or recognizes, the importance of faith and spirituality to feminism and to individual women, and I’d love to hear their conversation about those intersections.
When you’re not busy talking about pro-choice issues, how do you amuse yourself?
I’m a poetry nerd, so in addition to reading, writing, and attending poetic protests for myself, I also work as an editorial assistant for a feminist literary magazine. When I’m not playing with words, I’m cheering on my beloved Boston Celtics and New England Patriots or experimenting, mostly less-than-successfully, with vegetarian cooking.
Serena is a freelance writer who enjoys baking, protesting, and playing with little dogs.