Time and Time Again…


Time and time again, we have seen the issue of reproductive rights and abortion broach the often-delicate fabric of our society. I have seen it divide colleagues, divide friends, and even divide families. Why has this issue become so sensitive in the society in which we live in today?

As an example, we can look no further than our own social media feeds to see the great depth and of emotion with which our peers have engaged last week’s recent news that Seattle University recently removed Planned Parenthood from a list of referrals for student resources.

I, for my part, cannot deny the importance of reproductive rights in allowing women to achieve a step closer to equity. More than fifty years ago, attempting to get an abortion in some parts of the United States seemed a task almost as insurmountable as winning the lottery. Now, with laws and court decisions, including the monumental Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 which protected a woman’s right to an abortion, many women do have unprecedented access to choose to receive an abortion. And without having to worry about an unplanned child, women, especially those in poverty, are seemingly freed from a financial, physical, and emotional responsibility that would have otherwise crippled them.

Yet the Church’s catechism outrightly opposes abortion. Why does this impasse exist? I think that some fail to understand that the church’s teaching on abortion is deeply connected with her teaching on sexual ethics and the sanctity of life. It regards sexual inter- course as a sacred act between a man and a woman because it has the power to give new life. Thus, the pleasure it grants comes with the knowledge and the possible responsibility of caring for a child, viewed as a source of great joy and privilege.

Yet for at least equally as many, I recognize that it is can be an unwelcome and at times burdensome responsibility, especially if a parent may not be physically or financially ready to care for the child. For the Church, and for many, raising the child is the source of great joy, of great privilege, of great responsibility—a holy vocation. But for our secularized society, raising a child has been reduced to a neoliberal numbers game: of time, of money, of health. The less it takes to do, all the better to give it less, especially on an economic level. To me, it is a sign of the deep failure and hypocrisy of many in the pro-life movement: their care for new life ends once it leaves its mother’s womb. Have “pro-life” policymakers shown their quality with the cost of our healthcare, of childcare, of education, or the state of disrepair of our foster care system? I believe that any discussion of reproductive rights comes with it a call to advocating for all life from conception until natural death, which is often ignored.

Yes, Planned Parenthood does provide counseling, connections to resources such as support groups for pregnant women, and even access to basic healthcare in some communities. And yes, they do provide access to abortions, birth control, and contraceptives. Can we make thoughtful choices that recognize both the value of the church’s teachings on the sanctity of life and the ever-changing and challenging world in which we live? No matter one’s stance on abortion, contraceptives, or birth control, can they also advocate for the sanctity of life? Can we understand the complexity of the context in which this issue is immersed?

Seattle University faces a unique challenge as a Jesuit and Catholic university in the heart of one of the most secularized cities in America. One thing that drew me to this university almost four years ago was the unique confluence of identities in the campus’ life: on the one hand, unprecedented growth in the technology sector, a city that grew bigger day by day, and inspiring new dialogues on women’s rights, LGBT rights, racial equity, and economic equity. On the other hand, the traditions of the Church, taught for thousands of years and practiced for just as long, sought continuously to meld their values into the very fabric of both the institution in which it had founded and inhabited and the larger community surrounding it, changing dynamically every day. And yet it seemed to occur so civilly, almost seamlessly. The traditions of the Church seemed to be upheld and respected while acknowledging and being in dialogue with the growth and change in the culture in which it inhabited. I hope that will always be true at Seattle University.