Catholic Activist to Honor Reproductive Care Providers
As a Dublin teenager in the 1980s, Jon O’Brien began fighting for change in Ireland’s restrictive birth control laws.
Nearly two decades later, O’Brien continues to work on behalf of women’s reproductive rights in America. He is vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based Catholics for a Free Choice.
O’Brien will be in Albuquerque on March 9 to speak at the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice’s event honoring women’s reproductive health-care providers.
He will urge people of faith to support the doctors, nurses and staff who work at abortion clinics.
“Sadly, extremists have shot, blown up, maimed and killed providers,” said O’Brien, 37, during a recent telephone interview from his office.
He referred to the acts of extremists as “an abuse of faith.”
“It’s important for us to say no. The majority of the people in the United States do respect a woman’s right to choose.”
Catholics for a Free Choice has nothing to do with the Catholic Church, said Archbishop Michael Sheehan of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
“I understand it’s paid for by pro-abortion activists,” he said. “In no way does it represent Catholic teaching. It completely is opposed to solid Catholic teaching.”
O’Brien, a Catholic, said his group is an independent, nonprofit organization engaged in policy analysis, education and advocacy on issues of gender and reproductive health.
“I don’t want to be an official Catholic organization until the church hierarchy changes its view of women and changes the way it treats women,” he said. “Until they do that, I’m happy not to be an official Catholic organization.”
He said he looks at the Catholic Church as a big family. Even in the best of families, individuals disagree. He said Catholics have different opinions on abortion but “we are still a family.”
Born in Dublin, O’Brien was only 18 when he began helping to overturn his country’s birth control laws.
At one time, there were bans on contraception, divorce and sex-education books.
“Piece by piece, reality catches up with this type of law-making, and laws are overturned,” he said.
O’Brien said the separation of church and state was not established in Ireland as it is in the United States, so Catholic hierarchy “had an undue influence over politicians.”
He helped in the creation of a national government school-based sex education program.
Now, he said, Irish citizens now can make educated, responsible choices.
Meanwhile, a movement in the United States is making a major effort to overturn the Supreme Court’s 30-year-old decision to legalize abortion, O’Brien said.
He called the Bush administration “the biggest threat” to women’s reproductive rights.
O’Brien said there is a “serious fear” that action at the state level, as well as the president’s appointment of federal judges, will chip away at women’s choices.
“We really need to mobilize ourselves and educate others,” he said. “We need to insure that the right to choose is not taken away.”
The New Mexico coalition’s Web site says its members include the Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodist Church, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Unitarian Universalist Association and Jewish Federation of Albuquerque.
This article originally appeared in the 1 March 2003 edition of the Albuquerque Journal.