Recently, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona co-hosted a workshop with Catholics for Choice, where we explored the intersections of faith and reproductive rights. Marissa Valeri, a Senior Associate in CFC’s Domestic Program, gave workshop attendees an overview of Catholic beliefs as they relate to abortion and birth control, and encouraged the audience to think about how their own religious background has influenced their views on abortion.
One of the points that really resonated with me is that Catholics believe that their individual conscience should be the ultimate guide to what is right, and what is wrong. If someone’s conscience tells them that something is morally right, they should follow their intuition, even if it contradicts a teaching from the Vatican.
I grew up in the Mormon Church. Mormons share a similar belief that everyone will be judged for their own lives and not be held accountable for something someone else does. Mormons also believe in personal revelation from God. I personally believe that if a woman prays about the decision to obtain an abortion and she feels that it is the right decision, no one is in a position to call her decision into question – not even her bishop.
Another thing that stood out for me was that even the Pope doesn’t know when life begins, or when the body receives a soul. If the Pope is the right hand of God and he doesn’t even know the answer to this question, I doubt that the debate will ever be settled.
Earlier this month, Catholics for Choice released a statement from pro-choice Catholic political leaders urging Congress to keep Title X funding for family planning services. This statement is just the most recent sign there is a strong pro-choice contingent within faith communities, and that reproductive rights advocates should find ways to work together with faith communities to help protect access to women’s health.
Marissa Valeri explains that she thinks it’s important for the pro-choice community and faith communities to work together because, “Faith and spirituality are essential parts of humanity. In order to look at any community in a truly holistic way, we need to address faith. This is also true when we are discussing reproductive health care issues. If you ignore faith, you are ignoring an integral part of people’s lives.”
“This is especially true in the Catholic community,” says Valeri. “There is a feeling from some that, because the hierarchy has a well-known position on abortion and contraception, there is no reason to try and connect with the Catholic faithful. Yet the vast majority of Catholics in the United States disagree with the hierarchy on issues like abortion, contraception, emergency contraception and condoms for HIV prevention. It’s absolutely critical that we connect and work together rather than to work off of assumptions that are too often wrong.”
When asked how pro-choice advocates can do a better job of reaching out to faith communities, Valeri has a very clear answer.
“I think we can all benefit from tearing down our own assumptions about people of faith or faith traditions,” she says. “We all hold our own views about religion, so the best place is to begin within ourselves and challenge these myths that we carry. A big goal of my own work is to shatter myths people hold about Catholics and Catholic teachings. I am often surprised at the reactions I get from progressive people on the left to the work that I do. There is a feeling among some on the left that mirrors the view of people like Bill Maher – if you are religious or identify with a particular faith it is no different than believing in a fairy tale. I believe strongly that you cannot connect with people if you cannot respect their beliefs. Outreach is only effective if it starts from a place of mutual respect.”
Valeri goes onto explain that “people of faith are already engaged in advocacy and volunteering within the pro-choice movement. We need to encourage everyone to speak from a place of faith when talking about reproductive health care issues, and they should encourage others within their communities to do so as well as they are able to. It is our role to provide the resources and spaces for these conversations and for this important advocacy.”