Reframing Social Justice, Feminism and Abortion: Isn't It Time We Combated the Bishops' Opposition to Reproductive Rights on Our Terms?

Article excerpt

I BECAME A FEMINIST BECAUSE or Roman Catholic social justice teachings. Born and raised Catholic, I found feminism totally compatible with what I had learned from my parents and my church. As reaffirmed in Cardinal Ratzinger's latest "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and the World," I believe that women and men are equal and made in the image of God. Supporting equality. and human dignity, for me, means supporting feminism. This is not the feminism characterized by Ratzinger, but the feminism that seeks to liberate women and men from any form of oppression. This to me is the essence of social justice--human liberation leading to the authentic advancement of all humankind.

The Roman Catholic church and the American bishops are well-known and respected for their statements on social justice issues. From papal encyclicals to bishops' letters, the church has long proclaimed the importance of social justice. The pope and the American bishops are publicly on record opposing the war in Iraq, the death penalty, poverty and racism. They proclaim their support for civil rights and equality. The American bishops are very much part of the Roman Catholic church's social justice tradition. In many ways, they support the American value of justice for all, but with one exception: reproductive justice.

I support reproductive justice for women and men because of Catholic teachings. I remain a Roman Catholic despite the hierarchy's attempts to ignore or disavow these teachings when it comes to women's lives. But I'm tired of fighting for reproductive justice using the same old arguments that the bishops have used for the past 30 years or more. I don't want to play on their terms anymore. While I don't want to repeat all their hoary old arguments, a brief review will illustrate a new way to frame the procreative issues.


The US bishops and their Committee for Pro-life Activities say that they work "to teach respect for all human life from conception to natural death, and organize for its protection." But they don't seem to do this consistently. Women consistently are forgotten and remain undefended in this church. This is particularly true for poor women and women with AIDS.

Those who do attempt to work on behalf of women in the field of reproductive justice are maligned and condemned; harsh words issue from the bishops and spokespersons on their behalf. Frances Kissling, president of CFFC, Senator Bar bara Mikulski, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and, of course, John Kerry are all characterized as bad Catholics. Ad hominem arguments abound, as well as outright lies in press releases and articles.

Take, for instance, statements by Cathleen Cleaver-Ruse. She is the director of Planning and Information for the Committee for Pro-Life Activities of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. She frequently issues statements and writes articles defending the church's antichoice stand and attacking those who work for reproductive justice. Utilizing the same tired, worn out arguments they've been using for over 30 years, the bishops, Cleaver and other spokespersons continue to accuse reproductive rights workers of being abortionists. The word "abortion" in this frame is imbued with negativity. It is used to impugn the motives of Catholics and anyone else who works for reproductive justice, including organizations such as Planned Parenthood and the Alan Guttmacher Institute. Both are well-respected organizations that have worked tirelessly for issues of reproductive justice for women and men.

In a press release from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Cleaver-Ruse talks about the "dirty secret of the pro-choice movement." What is this dirty secret? She replies, "Abortion is a reflection that we have flailed to meet the needs of women." (January 22, 2004) Amazing! This is exactly what the prochoice movement has been saying for decades. …