The Portland State Women’s Resource Center hosted Catholics for Choice, an event exploring misconceptions about abortion and Catholicism and its role in reproductive rights on June 29 at 3:30 p.m.
Guest speakers Kate Parke, domestic associate from Catholics for Choice, and Dr. Amy Cantor from the Center for Women’s health spoke to and answered questions from around 20 community members, staff and students.
Catholics for Choice is a nonprofit organization working on a national and global level based out of Washington, D.C.
“So we’ve done polling, community outreach, and the truth of the matter is that the Catholic hierarchy—that is the bishops, the priests, the pope, although maybe not this one—sometimes claim to speak for all Catholics on these issues: reproductive rights and religious liberty,” Parke said. “They really are missing the mark when it comes to majority catholic opinion.”
Parke described three aspects of Catholicism she saw as a religious foundation for being pro-choice. She claimed that at the core of Catholicism lies the idea of preferential option for the poor, or as she alternatively puts it, social justice. For Parke, this means all members of society should have access to the same health care.
“In Catholicism, not only do you have a right to follow your conscience in moral decision making, but you actually have an obligation to do so,” Parke said. “So, if your conscience is telling you to seek contraception because you’re in college and you would like to finish your education and not start a family at this time, then you could follow your conscience and seek contraception. If your conscience is telling you that you are already trying to feed four kids and you can’t afford to have another child, you may follow your conscience and seek an abortion.”
Parke also brought up the topic of religious liberty, which has two parts: freedom to practice one’s religion and freedom from the imposition of another person’s religion.
“I think that’s really important when it comes to the bishops and the Catholic conference, which is the lobbying arm of the Catholic church,” Parke said. “When they’re down in Salem and they’re lobbying for further restrictions on abortion or family planning options, that is their religious, conservative narrow-minded perspective being imposed on Catholics who disagree, or people of other faiths, or people of no faith.”
According to Catholics for Choice, Catholic-owned or Catholic-affiliated hospitals are governed by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare, authored by the U.S. Conference of Bishops. The directives explicitly prohibit certain health services, including abortion (Directive 45), contraception (Directive 52), in vitro fertilization (Directives 37, 38, 39), and embryonic stem-cell research (Directive 51), among others. Doctors are required to follow these directives regardless of their own religious beliefs or the beliefs of their patients.
“We don’t want to just have access to contraceptives because there are non-contraceptive uses for a lot of contraceptive options,” Cantor said. “And the importance of having access to those, even in the context of these Catholic health care systems where we should be able to provide them for managing all sorts of diseases that don’t have to do with preventing pregnancy, although that is sometimes a helpful side effect.”
Hannah Rosenau, program director at NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, also talked about Bill HB3391, a reproductive health equity bill, which passed through the Oregon House of Representatives July 1.
“One of the major things about this bill is that it actually will establish the right to safe and legal abortion in Oregon,” Rosenau said. “So right now we actually have great laws protecting that right, but it’s not in our constitution. So this actually will allow, especially if something nationally were to happen, [us to] make sure that we continue to be a really pro-choice state when it comes to abortion access.”
Rosenau hopes this bill will protect Oregonians from losing contraceptive coverage if the Affordable Healthcare Act were repealed.