The Connection Between Catholicism and Feminism

Feminist Conversations is a regular series here at Feminists For Choice. We spotlight feminists to find out what feminism means to them. Today I’m talking to Meghan Smith, who integrates Catholic for Choice’s US policy activities and advocacy throughout the country by fostering relationships with collegial organizations and compiling legislative and policy analyses. She develops educational materials outlining CFC’s unique perspective on issues of reproductive health and right,s and engages in other efforts supporting CFC’s mission at the state level. Ms. Smith holds a bachelor of arts degree in English and Creative Writing from Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts.

1. When was Catholics for Choice founded, and what was the motivation for starting the organization?
Catholics for Choice is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. CFC was founded in 1973, the same year as the Roe v Wade decision, to serve as a voice for the majority of Catholics, who believe that our faith tradition supports every woman’s moral agency and right to follow her own conscience when making decisions about her reproductive health. We’ve a long and storied history, but, as a global movement, Catholics for Choice has worked internationally and throughout the United States to raise the voices of Catholics who disagree with the Vatican and who support access to safe, legal reproductive healthcare services for themselves and their neighbors.

2. What are some of the stereotypes that you feel people have about the Catholic Church’s position on abortion? Why do you feel those stereotypes exist?
It is certainly true that some people think that the opinions of the Catholic hierarchy represent the opinions of all Catholics. However, that is not the case at all. There are more than one billion Catholics around the world and almost 70 million here in the United States. The Catholic Church includes all of us, not just our bishops and the Vatican—who interpret Catholic teachings very narrowly. When it comes to reproductive health, people on both sides of the issue sometimes wrongly assume that all Catholics are anti-choice, or that you cannot be a pro-choice Catholic. In truth, the majority of Catholics are pro-choice not in spite of our faith, but because of it. Catholic women use birth control and have abortions at rates similar to women from other religions and no religion, and Catholics as a whole support access to those services for ourselves and our neighbors.
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Book Review: Generation Roe

Sarah Erdreich has been very busy, ya’ll. She has published a book called Generation Roe: The Future of the Prochoice Movement. I admire Sarah’s tenacity and her ability to get so many abortion patients and providers to talk to her. Many of them were willing to use their own names.

1. How were you able to gather so many statistics to support your arguments?A lot of research!
I spent hours falling down the research rabbit hole—reading a paper to get information on one specific issue, but then learning about something else that I wanted to include, so going to the footnotes to find that source, and so on. The biggest challenge was finding sources that were reputable and nonpartisan, and for that the Guttmacher Institute and Centers for Disease Control in particular were really invaluable.

2. How were you able to get so many doctors to share their stories? You mention that many of them have received death threats at their homes. How did you convince them to speak out? [Read more...]

Notes From Pro-Choice Parenting

A few weeks ago, a friend and I were talking about the intersection of personal beliefs and independent thought. Specifically, she was wondering if buying a onesie that said, “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” for her infant son would be expressing her beliefs through her child’s clothing or if it would just be cute. (We agreed that it would be both.) I was reminded of this conversation recently, thanks to a situation that caught me totally off-guard.

As part of our seemingly endless quest to find reliable daycare for our child, my husband and I set up an appointment at a small, local center. I did some research on the facility before our meeting, and came across information that indicated that one of the directors worked at a crisis pregnancy center (CPC). Since it’s not uncommon for online searches to turn up misleading information, I decided to keep the appointment, and was impressed with the facility. Yet my concern lingered, and further conversation with the director revealed that she did, in fact, work at the CPC.

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Second-Chance Mother Unravels the Adoption Story

I recently read Second-Chance Mother, by Denise Roessle. The book describes Roessle’s experience of putting her son up for adoption in 1969, and then reuniting with him many years later. Roessle’s story is very powerful, and anyone who reads it realizes that adoption is not an easy decision for anyone involved. Second-Chance Mother is currently the #1 title in the adoption section at Amazon. Over Mother’s Day weekend, over 12,000 readers downloaded a copy of the book.

I caught up with Denise Roessle to ask her a few questions about Second-Chance Mother. When you read what she has to say, I know you’ll have a lot of things to marinate in your brain.

1. What was your motivation for writing Second-Chance Mother?
My initial plan was to write a guide to adoption search and reunion for mothers. After four years in reunion, attending support groups and reading others’ stories, I realized that mothers like me needed help navigating the rough course of reunion. What I had in mind was a book with specifics, real information and advice, not just personal stories, that would help mothers (and possibly adoptees) figure out how to handle things like initial contact, the first meeting, how to deal with adoptive parents’ reactions, etc. Of course I didn’t have all the answers, but I knew where to get them and was planning to research: consulting searchers, adoption therapists, mothers and adoptees who were long into reunion. I had a detailed proposal for the book with a table of contents and sample chapters, which I pitched to various agents and publishers at a writing conference in 2000. I couldn’t convince anyone that this book was viable and needed, even though there were/are six million birthmothers in the U.S. alone. Everyone I talked to, especially after hearing my multi-generational adoption story, said, “write the memoir.” So I began.

My motivation was the same as it was at the beginning: to help other mothers get through this difficult process. As it turned out, in writing the memoir, I helped myself. It was cathartic, working through painful memories and coming to terms with the past. [Read more...]

Would You Choose Abortion if Your Baby Had Down Syndrome?

I recently had an interesting discussion with someone on Twitter about whether women should choose abortion if an amniocentesis revealed that the baby had Down Syndrome. Understandably, many women do chose an abortion at this point in their pregnancy because they feel that they are not ready to accept the challenges of raising a child with special needs. However, I do not think that I would choose an abortion in this situation, primarily because I have multiple family members with developmental delays.

ABC news reported a few years ago that 92% of women who find out that their baby has Down Syndrome choose abortion. I’m not sure how reliable that statistic is, because the doctor the article quotes doesn’t explain how those results were garnered. But I don’t doubt that the number of women who choose abortion in the case of a Down Syndrome diagnosis is high. Raising a child with special needs of any kind, be it Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, or physical challenges, can be difficult. Every family is different in terms of their ability to handle those challenges. It is not my place to say what decision is right or wrong. [Read more...]

Nancy Pitts of Women Have Options Describes the Rewards of Pro-Choice Activism

This month’s focus on gratitude would be totally incomplete without a conversation with Nancy Pitts from Women Have Options in Ohio. I met Nancy at the 2011 National Network of Abortions Funds summit. Nancy has been an incredible mentor – and she has helped the Abortion Access Network of Arizona get started.

Find out how Nancy got involved with pro-choice activism, and what drives her work today. And be sure to check out the WHOO Facebook page – you’re guaranteed to receive a daily dose of inspiration if you do.

1. How did you first get involved in the pro-choice movement? And what motivates you to stay involved?
My serious commitment to the movement began just a few years back, when I learned of Women Have Options, Ohio’s statewide abortion fund. Something had been missing in my life: passion, purpose, drive. So I started getting connected with the pro-choice movement. As with many things in life, a chain of introductions and meetings and connections turned into something I could not have foreseen at the outset: joining the board of Women Have Options.

When I first met with the board’s founder and chair, I had never heard of an abortion fund. I was profoundly moved by the discussion. When I had my abortion 15 years ago, I was terrified about being pregnant. But I didn’t worry about how to pay for my abortion. Today, through my work with Women Have Options, I’m paying back my good fortune, because if a woman can’t afford her choice, she doesn’t really have one. [Read more...]

Texas Ultrasound Law Challenged

The bad news: Texas recently passed a mandatory ultrasound law. The good news: the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) has filed a class action lawsuit challenging the law on behalf of Texas medical providers performing abortions and their patients.

Let me backup a minute to explain what the Texas law entails. In a nutshell, it requires doctors to show women seeking abortions a sonogram. Specifically, as the CRR points out:

The doctor must personally place the images where the woman can see them, and describe the images in detail, regardless of her wishes. The woman must then wait at least 24-hours before she can obtain an abortion (the waiting period is two-hours for women who live more than 100 miles from an abortion provider).

In essence, this bill is not about health care or providing medical information to patients. It is about political interference and sends a clear, misogynistic message: that women are too stupid — or untrustworthy — to make decisions regarding their own body and futures. As CRR president Nancy Northup poignantly puts it, “When you go to the doctor, you expect to be given information that is relevant to your particular medical decisions and circumstances, not to be held hostage and subjected to an anti-choice agenda.” [Read more...]

Exploring the Intersections of Faith and Reproductive Rights

Editor’s Note: Feminist Conversations is a regular feature here at Feminists for Choice, where we talk to feminists from across the interwebs to find out what type of activism they’re engaged in, and what feminism means to them. Today we’re spotlight Marissa Valeri from Catholics for Choice. Catholics for Choice 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.

1. What was your motivation for working with Catholics for Choice?
It sounds clichéd, but this is the organization I was always meant to work for. From an early age, I knew that I was a prochoice Catholic and have constantly worked to resolve my faith with my belief in the ability of women and men to make the decisions that are best for them and their families. I was even sent to the principal’s office back in grade school for asking questions about abortion in cases of rape or incest so I knew even back then that there truly was no space for Catholics to engage in even the slightest bit of conversation on the topic of abortion and I knew that was wrong.

I started off my volunteering and marching and protesting before I dedicated myself to finding a job within the progressive community so that I could work on issues close to my heart. I enjoy the ability to help others to feel comfortable being both prochoice and Catholic and I enjoy sharing resources on our faith tradition and the support for a prochoice position within church teachings.

2. When did you first call yourself a feminist? And what inspired that decision?
I remember being a young girl and talking to my dad a lot about feminism. He was a high school teacher, and we would have these great long conversations about movements and important issues of the day since he loves to talk politics and I do as well. We had one such conversation about Geraldine Ferraro and her bid to become the first female vice president. I remembered watching her speak at the Democratic National Convention and being in awe – not quite understanding everything she said since I was just 7 years old at the time but just seeing her on the stage was a powerful visual for me. It was only afterward that the enormity of the moment hit me: not only was she a woman but Catholic and prochoice as well. It was in talking about that moment and what it meant to me personally that I realized that I truly was a feminist.
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Chilly Day to Table for Choice

I woke up to frozen pipes this morning. Believe it or not, it was only 19 degrees in Tucson today. What a chilly day to be headed out to table for choice on the U of A campus!

This week, the U of A has been the host to abortion protesters from a group called Justice for All. The group travels around the country visiting college campuses to speak out against abortion. Their mission is “to make abortion unthinkable.” They do this by putting up graphic photos of aborted fetuses. But they also do try to engage visitors in conversations about abortion.

I was tabling with the Community Action Team from Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, as well as the U of A chapter of VOX. We gave out information about Planned Parenthood’s health services, and asked folks to sign our petition for no-cost birth control. Many people thanked us for being there, and a few promised to get involved on campus.

This was actually one of my more positive experiences with anti-choice protesters. When I’ve done clinic escorting, I’ve had to sit and listen to people yell horrible things at me and the patients going into the clinic. And I’ve also been told how stupid I am for supporting a woman’s right to choose. Today’s protesters were actually very polite. One of them came over to the Planned Parenthood table to engage us in a friendly debate. I was really impressed, even though we ended the conversation with the agreement to disagree.

I’m happy to be back home, despite the frozen pipes. As civilized as the debate was today, I’d rather curl up with a mug of cocoa and cuddle my dog than sit outside in the cold.  Thanks to all the pro-choice volunteers who signed up to table today, I was only outside for a few hours.   Now if I could just figure out how to thaw my pipes . . .

Prochoice and Antiabortion Advocates Square Off

Following the annual March for Life in Washington, DC, Russia Today featured a segment about the continued debate over abortion in the United States. Following the segment, RT hosted a debate between pro-choice and anti-choice advocates. I represented Feminists for Choice, and Anna Franzonello represented Americans United for Life.


We debated several aspects of the abortion debate, including whether the Supreme Court was the best mechanism for legalizing abortion, or whether states should have been given the opportunity to make the decision themselves. We discussed taxpayer funding for abortion, and also explained why we attended the March for Life. It was my first television appearance so naturally I was incredibly nervous, but I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. The show’s host was great, and the Ms. Franzonello was a good co-panelist.