Addressing Abortion and Contraceptives on a Catholic Campus

Each year, 50 percent of all pregnancies that occur in the United States are not planned, according to a Brookings Institution report. This is nearly 2.8 million women, a number far higher than that of other developed countries. Half of these unintended pregnancies are a result of not using contraception, while some are a result of the improper use of it, and thousands more are related to rape.

The debate surrounding abortion asks whether it is morally right to terminate a pregnancy.  Members of various branches of religion see it as undeniably wrong. For example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church has affirmed the “moral evil” of every procured abortion since the first century.

The traditional Jewish view on abortion strays from this, in that it neither bans abortion completely nor does it allow indiscriminate abortion. When considering abortion in Hinduism, their approach is to choose the action that will do the least harm to all involved; Hindus, like Christians, are traditionally opposed to abortion except where it is necessary to save the mother’s life. In Islam, abortion is forbidden.

Junior Bridget McEvoy voices her worries about women’s ability to gain access to reproductive health.

“I think that abortion and birth control should both be very accessible to women. I think that birth control right now is in a lot of danger because of the current administration. People don’t realize that keeping women from proper access to health services, is violence against women. There really isn’t any other way to put that,” she said.

McEvoy touches on a relevant issue. In January, President Trump reinstated the Mexico City Policy, also known as the global gag rule, which prohibits access to reproductive health on an international level. Nongovernmental organizations that offer family planning, even the ones that do not offer abortion-related services, will lose funding. This means that around 27 million women will lose access to contraceptives across the world. Republicans in the House have also taken the first steps to defund Planned Parenthood.

Religious arguments have pervaded the international political atmosphere, especially in the U.S., a country which prides itself on the separation of church and state. While the topic is divisive, many facets of both religion and politics have signaled progression.

Last year, Pope Francis, who has consistently expressed his vision of a more lenient and inclusive church, made a permanent policy that extended priests’ ability to forgive abortion. Not long before this, human rights experts at the United Nations called on States across the world to repeal restrictive abortion laws and policies, as well as all discriminatory barriers to access to safe reproductive health services. Their argument was cogent: unsafe abortions kill nearly 50,000 women each year across the world.

Perhaps approaching this issue of abortion and birth control, especially on a Catholic campus, calls for a different lens than that of the traditional. If the true religious effort is to prevent abortions from happening, it is crucial to look at the facts: When access to birth control is high, the abortion rate slumps dramatically.

A study by Washington University reports that providing birth control to women at no cost substantially reduced unplanned pregnancies and cut abortion rates by a range of 62-78 percent compared to the national rate. When President Obama signed The Affordable Care Act into law in 2010, private health insurance plans began to offer birth control and other preventive services, without copays or deductibles. Today, the abortion rate is lower than it has been since Roe vs. Wade, which was 44 years ago.

In a poll conducted by Gallup, 54 percent of women identify as pro-choice. This support for abortion access rises in younger women of reproductive age, as 62 percent of them are currently using birth control.

McEvoy states that abortion is something so life-changing that some women will take any measure in order to keep themselves from having to be mothers, which often results in mortality.

“It doesn’t take a lot of research to find out what happens to women when they don’t have abortion access. They don’t just not have an abortion. They do, and they can die or get serious infections,” McEvoy said. “I get that people see it [a fetus] as a life, but at a certain point you have to realize that women are living beings too. Nobody takes that into account. If you’re going to be pro-life, what about the life that’s already living?”

McEvoy, like many other women, is concerned with men writing policy and making life-altering decisions about what women can do with their bodies. Planned Parenthood reported that their requests for Intrauterine Devices (IUDs), which are the longest lasting form of contraception, went up by 900 percent after President Trump was elected in November.

One of the most controversial aspects of President Trump’s reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy was that he signed it in the Oval Office surrounded by men. A photo of the moment circulated the internet, and a tweet by Guardian Editor Martin Belam went viral: “As long as you live, you’ll never see a photograph of seven women signing legislation about what men can do with their reproductive organs.”

“People’s religious beliefs shouldn’t be involved in people’s personal choice. If women were the ones making the decisions, this wouldn’t be a debate if women had the power in government that men have,” McEvoy said.

When men debate a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body, “ it’s just commodifying women, it’s asking, ‘should she be able to get this abortion or should she not?’ She’s a person, and it’s not a topic of discussion – it’s somebody’s life,” McEvoy said.

McEvoy explains that most women she knows are or have been on birth control, and she thinks it’s controversial because of economic reasons.

“The birth control argument is not as much ethical as it is monetary. I think that people have a problem with tax dollars going towards access to contraception. People have this whole perception that you’re infringing on the rights of private companies if you’re forcing them to cover birth control for their employees, which is sad” she said.

McEvoy also touches on the importance of education in preventing unintended pregnancies and subsequent abortions.

“I think access to abortion should go along with comprehensive sex education for women. If you talk to women about their health and sexuality, these things are a lot less likely to happen. In countries where they have good sex-ed programs, as well as accessible abortion, there’s still very low rates of abortion compared to the U.S. We don’t have a mandatory sex-ed curriculum in this country,” she said.

Senior Jessica Risolo, the founding member of Take Back The Night, a campus organization that honors those who have survived sexual assault and works to combat sexual violence on and off campus, voiced her opinions about the topic as well.

“I would argue that in all faiths, respect for human dignity is paramount. I believe that at its core, respect for human dignity asks us to honor people’s ability and right to make decisions about what they do with their bodies, regardless of whether it interferes with our personal beliefs,” Risolo said.  “As a Catholic, I am vehemently pro-choice because I believe in a God that values the safety and autonomy of women everywhere.”

She also points out the ways in which abortion access impacts different demographics of women.

“I know that the women most negatively affected by anti-choice policies are the most marginalized; poor women, women of color, women in rural areas, etc., that religions with a dedication to social justice would actually want to help,” Risolo said.

Lois Harr, director of campus ministry and social action, is also concerned with this issue, especially when it comes to who is making these decisions.

“I don’t know why we can’t all be in charge, or at least in charge of our respective lives. But somehow or other, men got to have the say, and it’s still where women are not fully the normative human being. So that’s the frustrating thing. Before you talk about whether it’s right or wrong, my first question is, who should be talking about it?” she said.

In the U.S., the conservative Christian argument against birth control is often that it can allow for sex to become less sacred and monogamous.

“It goes to the idea that you’re going to have sex without consequences. I think that’s the ethical thing. People are worried about sexuality running rampant,” Harr said.

It is also argued that birth control is not natural and goes against God’s divine will, but recently, women, both in government and not, are making the argument that if this is how birth control is going to be perceived, then this is how viagra should be perceived too. Harr supports this.

“If we’re supposed to go along with the natural occurences of things, than men, after a certain age I guess, need viagra. Well, that’s their natural development, so no, they can’t get it because it’s unnatural,” she said.

She continues, “If women were in charge, if they had started things, if they had organized things, everything would be different… We would build the system around our bodies and our needs. Men designed the world we’re living in at the moment.”

Harr also discussed the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood and congress.

“It’s been true for a long time that you can’t use federal money for abortions in this country. So if you’re opposed to Planned Parenthood, what are you actually opposed to? Everything else they do,” she said.

What falls into “everything else they do” is this: cancer screening and prevention, access to contraceptives, testing and treatment for STDs, and general health services such as high blood pressure screenings, cholesterol screenings, diabetes screenings, physical exams, flu vaccines, help with quitting smoking, tetanus vaccines, and thyroid screenings – just to name a few.

Harr concludes: “Let women make decisions for women. They do, and they will make good decisions if they have the resources that they need.”