I am a practicing Catholic. Being a Catholic is part of who I am. I subscribe to the Church’s message of hope, love, mercy, kindness and social justice. I like to think I try my best to practice these teachings in my daily interactions. And in the places where I’ve failed, I should try harder.
I also believe in the sanctity of life. I believe life begins at conception and ends with the last draw of natural breath. I believe life is the most precious thing and needs to be preserved, during any stage, at any age, with equal consideration to the health and wellbeing of all parties (mother and child). I am always moved to tears to see premature babies in the NICU, hooked up to tubes and machines, struggling for every breath, living in the incubator with the hope that they can exit this man-made cocoon and join its parents. It is equally moving to see mothers and fathers make the ultimate sacrifice for their children at the drop of a hat.
Life should be treated with the respect it deserves. And this includes people in which society has discarded: criminals, gangsters, serial rapists, child molesters, the scums of the earth, members of the LGBTQ community, poor and disenfranchised people, all of these people’s lives are important, not just unborn children and cute cuddly babies. The Catholic church deems all human life important regardless what they’ve done or who they’ve become. For the most hardened of criminals or people, as long as they still have breath in their body, there is a chance for reform and redemption. My confirmation priest worked with juvenile delinquents, he has personally seen people transform before him, with his quiet guidance, counsel and non-judgement, some people can and do change. When people change and when they know they’ve been forgiven, you can literally see a weight come off of their shoulders.
So, in a perfect world, where ideal circumstances always prevail, abortion should not have to happen. Forget about politics, the law, medical science or religion; in a perfect world, abortion does not need to happen. Period.
I am pro-choice. And I am Catholic.
I am not a simpleton. We do not live in a perfect world and circumstances are far from ideal for the majority of women in this world. Sometimes, a woman being with child, besides being an inconvenience due to circumstance, can be dangerous and perilous to her physical person. In parts of the world where young girls are trafficked and sold, where child bride practices are rampant, it can be unsafe, dangerous and perhaps deadly for a physically immature young girl to have a baby. A ten year old girl is not fit to have a child, the fact that she got pregnant doesn’t mean she’s physically ready and able to have a child. For people (such as Mike Huckabee) to believe just because she’s able to get pregnant (she was raped by her step-father), therefore, she must be physically fit to carry a child to term and deliver said baby from the hips of a ten year old child, is ignorance and misogyny of the first order. To disregard the human rights and wellbeing of a ten year old girl (also a child) in favor of her unborn child is barbarous and depraved.
Most mothers are willing to sacrifice themselves for their children (unborn or not). Mothers will endure untold physical pain and discomfort if that is what’s best for her unborn child. So, in cases where a decision needs to be made between mother or unborn child, the focus of the medical team should be placed more on the mother and not the unborn child. The unborn child already has an advocate in its mother. The mother has no advocate.
So if a ten year old gets pregnant as a result of a rape, then an abortion needs to happen. If a child bride who was sold so her family won’t starve and her pregnancy is presenting mortal harm to her physical person, the pregnancy should be terminated if she wishes. If a pregnant woman is wheeled into the emergency room and she’s got uncontrollable bleeding and the only way to stop it is to terminate her pregnancy or deliver her child early, it should be done without hemming and hawing and deliberating about the ‘rights’ of the unborn child and consulting the lawyers and state laws (I am talking to you Texas). Of course, if the mother is conscious, it is to be done with her consent.
Most women in the world do not have the choice to become pregnant when they wish. They have very little to no control over their reproductive cycles. In third world and some developing countries, young girls and women are still routinely trafficked and sold. Many women are married against their wishes, sometimes when they are just children. Quality maternity care is often rare to non-existent in some parts of the world. Many women still risk their lives during labor and delivery. Safe and legal abortions needs to be readily available for all women, especially in times of medical emergencies. A medical emergency is when the mother is in physical danger and the only way to stop the emergency, when all other efforts have failed, is to terminate the pregnancy or early delivery of baby if she’s in later stages of her pregnancy. It is not what the church or a conservative pro-life doctor considers as a medical emergency.
I have been pregnant three times in my life, one resulted in a miscarriage, two healthy children were born and I am beyond blessed. What’s more, all three of my pregnancies were planned. I am one of the few lucky and privileged women where the possibility of getting an abortion did not factor into my childbearing years. Since I became an adult, I had the resources to be in full control of my reproductive cycle because I could always access contraceptives. What a woman does with her body is one of the most controversial debates which is still ongoing today. Just how much control should a woman have over her own body? When is permissible to override her decision about her body? (The answers are total control and never).
There is also an emotional aspect too. For every aborted child, there is a couple desperate to have a child of their own. For every woman who is suffering from infertility and has endured multiple painful miscarriages and failed fertility treatments, there is another teenage mother about to deliver her child or another woman about to give birth to yet another unplanned baby. For every woman (guilty as charged) who is complaining about the tedium, rigors and boredom of childrearing, there is another woman desperate for a baby of her own. The Universe works in mysterious ways in which we do not understand. Life is unfair, most people know and accept that, but when applied to sensitive issues such as pregnancy, childbearing, infertility and abortion, the lines get blurred.
Society, or patriarchal institutions rather, was always able to control women through our bodies. Pregnancy, childbirth and childrearing renders us vulnerable and totally dependent on the father of the children. More vulnerable than say an unmarried woman or a woman who’s passed her childbearing years. Childbearing and childrearing kept women chained and tied to their homes and and the inability to control how many children a woman wants to have makes that chain even more unbreakable. Women and their children are often derisively described as the ‘ball and chain’ of her husband, but the real ball and chain is the inability to control what happens to our bodies. Throughout history, until the invention and wide distribution and use of contraceptives, childbearing was a double edged sword. A woman must have children with her husband to maintain her position in society or at least in her social group, but if she has too many children, her health, wellbeing and family economics can be threatened. The key was always for women to be able to effectively control how many children she wants to have. Only this will shift the balance from men to women.
The one glaring in truth which the Catholic church and right-wing, misogynist conservatives refuse to acknowledge is having more children than you can support contributes to long term, entrenched, generational poverty. One way of reducing poverty everywhere, not just the developing and third world countries is to make female contraceptives available and accessible to all women who wish to use it. This not political positioning, it’s not flouting religious dogma, it’s common sense. It’s basic math. When a family has more children than the parent or parents can support with their income, poverty arises and women bear most of the brunt of this poverty.
All life is precious. All life is deserving and worthy of having the basic necessities met. No one deserves to live in squalor and deprivation. No woman or young girl deserves to die due to a high risk pregnancy and nothing was done about it in the name of her ‘unborn child’. This is not valuing life, this is desecrating the life of a woman, a child, a mother (if she already has other children) or a future mother. Sometimes we are forced to make tough choices in life, we are forced to choose between no-good options and hope for the best. In the case of a mother and her unborn child, especially if the child is not yet viable outside of the uterus, the choice is obvious. You choose life. The life of the mother. Risking the life of a woman for the unborn child, especially when the baby is not yet viable, is devaluing and debasing the life of the mother.