Whose Morals Should Decide My Childbearing? -- An Open Letter to the Catholic Bishops

By Valerie Tarico

AbortionBas relief of a massage abortion from about A.D. 1150. Image via Wikipedia

Dear Bishops

In our struggle to get health care for all, you saw an opportunity to make sure that American women can’t afford abortions, a way to be the deciders for all of us.  You look at someone like me who has had an abortion, and you see a sin.  Perhaps you think that those of us who terminate pregnancies haven’t thought these things through from a moral standpoint.  Or maybe we are simply less moral than you are:  thoughtless, selfish, or promiscuous. 

On the other side of the equation, you believe you know the Divine will.  You claim a position of moral authority, confident that the God of love guides your judgment.  I don’t trust that this is true.   Time and again your predecessors made decisions in the name of God that in retrospect are shameful.

My abortion was a profoundly moral decision A council of Christian Bishops included texts in the Bible sanctioning sexual slavery, scorched earth policies, and human sacrifice.  Catholic Bishops said that God gave kings a divine right to wealth and power. Bishops oversaw the design of exquisite implements to torture infidels and prolong their dying. The Church authorities sanctioned a convert-or- kill approach to Native Americans. They endorsed the Vietnam War.  They looked the other way while thousands of children were molested by priests, confident that protecting the priesthood mattered more to God than the children’s suffering.  They told uneducated Africans that God doesn’t want them using condoms.  Church history should be a lesson in humility to us all.

Even so, you insist that this time you are right.  You are so sure God prizes every embryo that you are willing to trade on a world with more unwanted children, more women bleeding to death, more families in poverty, more extinctions, more starvation, and more desperation all around.  Not only would you make this trade, you would force it on the rest of us by making contraception and abortions illegal or financially impossible.  Please understand if I’m not ready to cede my moral judgment to yours.

While I’m confessing, I might as well say that my judgment differs from yours on a number of other issues:
  • I believe that slavery has always been evil, no matter which sacred text endorses it.
  • I believe it is immoral to bring more children into this world than we can care for. 
  • Whatever God may be, I believe that putting God’s name on human words, books and institutions is idolatry.
  • I don’t think that burnt offerings, substitutionary atonement and incense ever fixed anything.
  • I don’t believe that sex is dirty or virginity sacred. 
  • I suspect that if I can forgive those who sin against me without making someone bleed first, any perfect god can too.
  • I think that torturing people is wrong, even if you do it for eternity.

I can speak only for myself, but I want you to know that my abortion was a profoundly moral decision.  I chose abortion because of an infection during first trimester that causes serious fetal anomalies.  My husband and I weighed the decision together.  We didn’t make it lightly.  In your framework, my decision was immoral.  But in my ethical framework, it would have been immoral for me to go through with the pregnancy I aborted.  I am ever grateful for my life-loving daughter, my abortion baby who could not be alive today had I carried that other unhealthy pregnancy to term.  How many other chosen children will not be here if you get to decide for all of us?

There are few decisions that have greater moral impact than deciding whether to have children, when, and how many, and so I understand your attempts to intervene in our personal lives and political processes.  By forcing your priorities on the rest of us you think you are holding us to a higher standard of holiness.    I disagree.

When I was a child, I thought as a child, and I bowed to authority such as yours.  But now I am a woman.   It is my job, in community with those I love, to decide what it means for me to be a good parent, a wise steward, a loving partner, and true to my life calling.  My decisions about child bearing play a role in each of these, and so I claim them as my own.  This is a privilege and responsibility I do not relinquish to you or to anyone. 

Valerie Tarico
November 2009

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