A letter to the editor in July chastised Catholic voters for voting for Hillary Clinton for president in the 2016 election, in clear conflict with their religious beliefs.
I'd like to present a different view of Catholicism.
Traditionally, Catholic scripture and theology have viewed women as vessels, exemplified by the role of the Blessed Virgin in the creation of Christ. Women become a place where men and gods grow and, as with the story of Eve, a place where the devil can take root. This has been used to justify the Catholic Church’s emphasis on the soul of the fetus and not the body that it must live in, with or without the consent of the person involved.
However, we must recognize that without the choices and strength of many holy women, the church would not exist today. Women's voices and power shaped the direction of the Catholic Church, and to ignore women's role and place of primacy in the church is to disrespect our holy dead and the living communion of Catholic women globally.
The Catholic Church throughout its history has affirmed the right to life, in addition to the right to bodily autonomy. We see the themes of reproductive autonomy threaded through Mary's story, as a teenage girl in occupied land giving birth to a son she chose to have, who she knew would suffer and die. That affirmative consent is part of why we venerate her. She was given a choice, and her answer was yes. If we believe in a just God, we have to assume that had the answer been no, the mother of Jesus would have a different name or none at all.
The right to life plays out in the depiction of the crucifixion, as a graphic criticism of state violence and the death penalty. Yet, even as Jesus himself prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, God required his permission to enact a sacrifice.
Over and over again, the early Catholic Church and the experiences of our martyrs repeated the same story arc: challenges to the state as the center of all authority, a willingness to sacrifice oneself for one's beliefs, and the ability of the faithful to freely make their choices and consent to what was asked of them.
Somehow, that story doesn't jibe well with state control of women's reproductive choices. A religion that started with a god asking for permission from a teenage girl is a religion that, at its core, should understand the right of an individual to consent to pregnancy as an extension and as the right of an individual to bodily autonomy. That religion should be fanatical in its devotion to the protection of that autonomy.
The Catholic Church's stance on abortion, like papal infallibility and many other decisions, has always been in flux. There was a time when abortions were celebrated as miracles, performed by saints, as induced miscarriages. Saints Ciarán of Saigir, Brigid of Kildare, Cainnech of Aghaboe, and Áed mac Bricc (and those were just ones in Ireland) all performed abortions. Do we really believe that in the intervening 1,000 years the will of God has changed so drastically that the definition of a soul has changed so much? Or can we recognize that sin itself as a concept has been used as a tool of social control and engage critically with the doctrine of the Catholic Church?
If we want to live in the image of Christ, we should be like him and question the provenance and validity of the moral laws we allow to govern our lives. If Christ can challenge the Sabbath to the religious leaders of his time, we, too, can challenge the decisions of the pope and yet believe.
Annemarie Prescott is a lifelong Catholic with a strong interest in theology and folk tradition. She is studying mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota Duluth.