Note: This post was originally written for Feminists at Large, and published on January 31, 2013 .
This picture is of me, standing proudly in the free speech zone of Red Square, holding a piece of paper with a statement that some people might find controversial, disrespectful, or downright heretical. To me, it is one of many beautiful pockets of truth amid the messy contradictions that are part of our Jesuit Georgetown identity.
Choice is a Jesuit value. Let me tell you what I mean.
This week, H*yas for Choice launched our “Choice Is . . . ” campaign. We wanted to show that even though people see abortion as a black-and-white issue, in reality to be pro-choice is to embrace all the shades of gray of human experience. We want to show that no one’s life fits the same mold, and to be pro-choice is to respect every woman and man’s right to make decisions about their bodies for themselves. That applies whether the decision is to have sex, to remain abstinent, to use birth control, to get an abortion, or to raise a child. As Planned Parenthood’s newest campaign puts it, “nobody knows a woman’s specific situation – we’re not in her shoes.”
The reason H*yas for Choice has to use an asterisk instead of an o, and the reason we can only give out condoms in a free speech zone, is that the Vatican finds contraception and abortion morally unacceptable under any circumstances, so our Catholic University is prohibited from giving us access to benefits. If we look at the history, this prohibition is completely arbitrary, and following it blindly is completely out of step with the Jesuit values I was taught to embrace since my first moment on Georgetown’s campus. Let’s take a look at three of those Jesuit values, straight from Georgetown’s website for Mission and Ministry:
“Cura Personalis suggests individualized attention to the needs of the other, distinct respect for his or her unique circumstances and concerns, and an appropriate appreciation for his or her particular gifts and insights.” I quote this sentence with pride because it has been the foundation of my personal growth and development around service and social justice at Georgetown. I’ve learned that true service is based in humility and solidarity – that service based in privilege and the assumption that “I know best” is likely to do more harm than good. It is not for us to judge or presume we know best. We can only make a positive impact when we truly listen to those we serve.
Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that this language so closely echoes Planned Parenthood’s talking points – that we must respect each woman’s knowledge and understanding of her own situation, and respect her needs and priorities.
Faith and Justice
“This commitment links the authentic following of the Gospel of Jesus with an obligation to address the social realities of poverty, oppression, and injustice.” This is an important point. People who oppose contraception and abortion rush right past living breathing women in need to worry about justice for the unborn or unconceived. I want to talk about justice for the women themselves, women who are part of our community.
Poverty and oppression are inextricably linked to a woman’s ability to control when she has children and how many she has. Without being able to control her own reproduction, a woman cannot control her own income, ensure access to education, or have any job security. Studies on this issue tend to focus on women in developing countries, but this is still true for women in the US and is absolutely true for many women at Georgetown. We should especially consider the high rate of rape and sexual assault in the US and yes, right here on campus, even though people don’t like to talk about it. One in four women will be sexually assaulted or raped over the course of her four years at college, and blocking access to contraception or abortion is perpetuating an injustice.
Community in Diversity
“Approximately 52 percent of our student body are women,” says Mission and Ministry. That’s 52 percent of the student body who will face choices that the male authorities of the Catholic Church will never have to face. How can Georgetown value diversity if it expects all students to conform to the same behaviors, same ideas, and same morality system? To value diversity is to seek out and incorporate different perspectives, to learn from each other, and to understand and accept that different people have different needs and different contexts.
That extends to the ways that gender intersects with other identities and factors that make us diverse – race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status. All of these things affect us differently and make our situations and choices that much more complicated. If we want to respect and value the diversity of our community, we must abandon judgment in favor of compassion for everyone’s unique circumstances.
We’ve heard people say that H*yas for Choice is anti-religion, anti-Catholic, anti-Georgetown. That’s not it at all. Dig a little deeper under the doctrine and you’ll see what I mean. When we say we are pro-choice, we mean we hold distinct respect for each person’s unique circumstances and concerns, and an appreciation for his or her particular gifts and insights. We mean we feel an obligation to address the social realities of poverty, oppression, and injustice. We mean we value the diverse needs, contexts, and choices of every member of our community.
Choice is a Jesuit value. Pass it on.