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Francis’ Statement on Abortion and What Catholic Women Really Want

September 1, 2015

Once again, Pope Francis practices what he preaches in his statement today about women and abortion. Francis has announced that priests have the discretion to formally forgive women who have had abortions and seek absolution during the Roman Catholic church’s upcoming Holy Year. Francis has a far more pastoral, not political, approach to abortion—one of the most contentious issues in the Catholic church today. Pope Francis—unlike his two predecessors, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI—is trying to bridge the gulf between what the hierarchy says and what ordinary Catholics really do in their lives.

Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, said, “It’s abundantly clear and the statistics are stark: What Catholics practice is different than the dictates of the bishops. Ninety-nine percent of US Catholic women have used a method of birth control the bishops don’t like, and we know that Catholic women have abortions at the same rate as those of other faiths and no faiths.”

“However, despite what Pope Francis has said, I do not believe that Catholic women will be queuing up to ask for forgiveness,” continued O’Brien. “A long time ago, Catholic women around the world worked out that they can make moral and ethical decisions about sexual and reproductive issues. Catholic women know that they can in good conscience disagree with the hierarchy and still be good Catholics in good faith. The very narrowness of Francis’ statement on having a particular year of forgiveness suggests that he still has a blind spot when it comes to women and what they want.

“Nevertheless, as an overall gesture that evokes images of sitting down with women and listening to them, this is a symbol that could be considered a very good one. As Pope Francis prepares to visit the United States, this is a warning shot fired across the bow, to the bishops who have waged culture wars over the bodies and lives of women. This is a pope who is not stuck in the pelvic zone, and perhaps his message on how he thinks about abortion is more for his brother bishops than Catholics in the pew.”