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Catholic: ‘Abortion stigma’ is real in the church. Forced pregnancy is worse.

August 29, 2023

Catholics for Choice Advocate Gabrielle Wonnell published this op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch on August 29, 2023. Click here to read the article on the Dispatch website.

Catholic: ‘Abortion stigma’ is real in the church. Forced pregnancy is worse.

By Gabrielle Wonnell

As a young child in Columbus in the 1980s, I learned that my Catholic faith was far more than just words in a book.

Our parish priests taught that we needed to put words into action — to follow the example of Jesus by serving the poor. I watched my mother march with legendary labor leader Cesar Chavez and for causes like the Equal Rights Amendment, which would finally guarantee equal protection under the Constitution regardless of sex.

Once I was older, I marched alongside her for racial justice, for the homeless, for peace. We were a family of “social justice warrior” Catholics. This mission extended to college and into my professional and volunteer career working with nonprofits.

When I first joined the workforce, my healthcare options were severely limited by a lack of health insurance and good transportation.

I knew Planned Parenthood helped people in my situation, but I’d also heard awful things about them from a priest my family was close to, who organized protests and had even been arrested for blocking the entrance.

Ultimately, I decided to seek care at Planned Parenthood, and the clinic was a lifeline for everything from contraception to antibiotics for a sinus infection.

Planned Parenthood upheld my Catholic social justice values by helping me and so many others access healthcare we needed, whatever our circumstance. The staff, following the science they learned in medical school, treated us with the compassion I learned in Catholic school and at mass.

As I grew in years and wisdom, the Catholic hierarchy’s outspokenness against contraception, marriage equality, and abortion rights triggered a real crisis of conscience for me.

Did I still have a place in my church, even though I disagreed with church leaders on these issues? A mentor who is evangelical said something that stuck with me: “Faithfulness doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with every single thing your church teaches on every single issue. This is your faith — it’s part of you. Nobody has the right to take it away from you.” 

Her wisdom helped me find my way back to faith. Encountering the group Catholics for Choice, which represents the majority of Catholics (who support abortion access), was life-changing.

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I learned from them that not only is it possible to be pro-choice and Catholic — it’s the faithful truth that most Catholics live by. We believe in individual conscience, and that decisions about if, when, and how to become a parent are intensely personal.

No one should ever be forced to be pregnant. Neither the government nor the church should have any role in the decision — it belongs to each individual pregnant person and their doctor.  As a faithful pro-choice Catholic, I am compelled to support The Right to Reproductive Freedom with Protections for Health and Safety Amendment, which is on the November ballot.

This measure would amend the Ohio constitution to protect each person’s right to make their own reproductive healthcare decisions, “including but not limited to decisions on contraception, fertility treatment, continuing one’s own pregnancy, miscarriage care, and abortion.”

Enshrining these principles will help protect vulnerable and marginalized people who face the biggest barriers to accessing care — the very same people whose needs Jesus teaches us to put first.

My Catholic faith shaped my commitment to social justice and my respect for individual conscience — and I know I am far from the only pro-choice Catholic in Ohio.

I understand why so many are afraid to speak out; abortion stigma in the church is real. But I hope my fellow pro-choice Catholics can dig deep and find the courage to add their voices to the chorus of support for the reproductive freedom amendment.

It’s going to take all of us, but together, guided by our faithfully pro-choice values, we can win this November.

Gabrielle Wonnell is a lifelong Columbus resident, lifelong Catholic, and a lifelong learner with a passion for public service. She works in her community and volunteers with numerous organizations.