Friday, 23 August 2013

Feminism, Catholicism and Abortion

This post is a response to the interview with Caroline Farrow, a ‘pro-life feminist’ on the Faith in Feminism blog.

We are always interested to hear from people of faith on the ways in which their religion or spirituality plays into their thoughts on abortion and reproductive rights in general. In the pro-choice movement, people are often too quick to assume that all Christians, or all Muslims would automatically be against abortion. In fact, religious teachings vary, with many allowing for abortion in certain circumstances (and nearly always with regards to protecting the pregnant person’s health).

The Catholic Church however does prohibit abortion in all circumstances. Abortion, along with contraception and masturbation is forbidden by the church. However, this doesn't mean that Catholics do not masturbate, access abortion or use contraception to control their reproduction.

A 2011 report by Catholics For Choice showed that 98% of Catholic women in the U.S have used a form of contraception banned by the Vatican. Catholic women have abortions at the same rate as non-Catholics, and 86% of those surveyed disagreed with the church’s teaching on abortion.

These figures show us that individuals use their own personal conscience to make decisions which affect their lives, and their families. Farrow makes a convincing case for ‘Natural Family Planning’ (NFP) (which is indeed extremely effective if practised properly) and this may well be a favourable option for those who wish to avoid pregnancy without using condoms or hormonal methods of birth control. However, clearly, for many Catholic women other forms of contraception have proven to be a better fit for their lifestyles.  A pro-choice point of view would acknowledge the importance of allowing these women to make the choice which is right for them. If they wish to follow the church’s teachings and practice NFP, great, let’s make sure they have the support and information they need to do so. If they want to try other methods, or use condoms to help protect against STIs, then this should also be accessible for them.

Unfortunately a pro-life perspective tends to mean that this choice (which many make already, regardless of what their religion teaches) is disregarded and taken away. A ‘pro-life’ point of view holds that doctors were right to deny Savita an abortion because “it is not ethical to induce delivery of an unborn child if there is no prospect of the child surviving outside the womb”. An individual might decide that they would never have an abortion in any circumstance, but as soon as this decision is projected and extended to others it limits human rights. It limits women’s rights.

Farrow herself is extremely supportive of the 40 Days for Life ‘vigils’, which aim to shut down abortion clinics and therefore restrict women's access to abortion. Standing outside abortion clinics praying for women who have made a decision, which may or may not have been difficult for them, smacks of a desire to project one’s own position onto others, believing them unfit to decide for themselves. 

1 comment:

  1. Actually, the Catholic church does not prohibit masturbation - it is now seen as an indication of 'sexual immaturity' (or words to that effect - I think it was set out in some encyclical under the last Pope).