Story Corner: Four Catholics Share How Abortion Has Touched Their Lives
The Right Choice for My Family: Finding surprising compassion in a home parish
I’ll probably never know my mother’s history or struggle with accessing reproductive rights. Raised in a pre-Vatican II church, she marched for the Equal Rights Amendment. When she talks about having me, I know I was wanted. It’s a story of talking my father into having another baby — which hints that she used some sort of birth control because I was the only child they had together, though both had children from previous marriages. We never talked about sex though. Despite having the privilege of attending excellent Catholic schools for 12 years, I knew little about reproductive health and navigating relationships. These things were not discussed, including by my mother. An outdated and — in hindsight — hilariously bad book about how babies were made appeared one day, and that was it.
We attended Mass led by a priest who was fierce in his judgment of women. Homilies about how women were less than men were unsurprising on holidays like Mother’s Day. That same priest was arrested for blocking people’s entry to a women’s health clinic. My mother, a lawyer, represented him in criminal court. Her choice to take his case felt like a betrayal of so many of the ideals she taught me.
Then in my early 20s I was employed in a low-wage job with no health benefits. Throughout this time, I relied on Planned Parenthood as the only healthcare provider I could afford for any kind of care. I found myself in an abusive relationship and an unstable living situation. As I worked toward finding the courage to leave, I discovered I was pregnant. I wasn’t ready to be a parent. I could hardly take care of myself. I also knew a child would be a way to trap me, keeping me poor and dependent. And I knew that it was no kind of life for a child. I turned to my local Planned Parenthood office, where I found kindness, support, and a necessary abortion. While I have ultimately kept this decision to myself, when I think about what might have been, I never regret the choice I made.
“When I think about what might have been, I never regret the choice I made.”
Even so, it was with trepidation that, 17 years after my abortion, I entered a confessional. The welcome that I received from a new kind of parish priest was unwavering — and surprising. When we talked about why it had been so long since my last confession, I did not feel the anger or judgment I feared from him. I felt only the grace and compassion that my faith taught me.
My Catholic faith is an integral part of who I am, but it is not without an internal struggle. The church I was raised in judged women harshly, and current church hierarchy still does. However, a few years ago at Mass, flanked by my children, I wept silently as my parish priest acknowledged how much pressure and poor treatment the church has put on women over the centuries. Even as I see lawmakers in my state and federal government use the church hierarchy to push pro-birth agendas, I still believe there is hope for us to move forward with grace and compassion. And I know for certain that I never want my own daughter to carry doubt or shame about doing what she knows to be right — so we will have uncomfortable conversations and open discussions when the church gets it wrong.
GABRIELLE WONNELL, Ohio
Abortion Is Our Liberation Theology: Thank God For Abortion’s founder on how abortion shapes her faith
I have had two abortions, and God loves me. The abortions I had allowed a space for unending miracles. It is because of my abortions that I returned to Jesus and Catholicism and Christianity after years of disgust with the church. The actual doctrine of unconditional love — the reason I believed as a child — has been restored and is fortified every day because of my multiple abortions. At last, those core teachings that I first loved have come alive. I understand now that the church is a living thing. The church is the people, not the Vatican. We have individually and collectively been a ministry, and we will continue that work as long as God says to.
I’m an artist who was a sex worker for many years. I am community and nightlife educated, have had multiple abortions, and love God more every day through the work of abortion liberation. Abortion movement work is a cornerstone of collective liberation, which cannot be separated from trans liberation, which cannot be separated from racial equity and class equity. We are ecstatically both pro-abortion and pro-God. Abortion is our liberation theology. Our abortions have opened all the doors and windows into the promised land of our own body, and we can’t rest until everyone all over the world has the freedom to determine their own selves the way I did. Anything less is blasphemy.
We have heard countless abortion stories through this work. We have been called to hold and listen and share with every single person that abortion is good and holy. That is my irrefutable personal testimony. As an artist and an advocate, Thank God for Abortion is how we tell our abortion story: We create parties and performance around our abortion story, and everyone is invited to that party. We have FUN. Join us.
VIVA RUIZ (she/they), New York
Learning from the Past: The abortion she witnessed in 1969 will stay with her forever
The year was 1969. I was 15 years old, growing up in a small town in Nebraska, and excited to spend the weekend with my sister at college. I was fairly innocent about many things. I arrived at the school eager to see college life up close. After seeing my sister’s dorm room, we went into another room where all the girls were gathered. “How exciting,” I thought. “Just like I read about.”
It was nothing like I had read about.
A girl was “in trouble,” and all the girls had congregated to help her. Sue was the girl who was pregnant. She had already tried taking an extremely hot bath after drinking a lot of gin, jumping off high places, and laxatives. But nothing was working. I sat and listened. It was interesting at first, but then it turned horrifying. They talked about which worked better: knitting needles or coat hangers. This was unimaginable to me. They decided to try to find a backstreet person to do it. They just had to raise the money. I learned many things that weekend. I learned the importance of women helping women. I learned of extremely difficult decisions women had to make. I learned about the possible consequences.
I never saw Sue again. I asked my sister what had happened, and all she said was that Sue was no longer in school. The horribleness of this situation left scars on my sister and me. I believe it left scars on all involved. These scars cannot be erased. The actions girls and women were forced to take must not happen again. Too many women died or were mutilated, sterilized, and terrorized by hospital staff and the police. Never again. We must protect the rights of our daughters and granddaughters.
I believe in social justice. We have made progress, but many rights are under attack. As a Catholic pro-choice woman, I have a voice. I literally talk to everyone I see about the upcoming vote on adding an anti-abortion amendment to the constitution in Kansas, where I live. We must use our voices to protect ourselves, our neighbors, and people we will never know.
Sisterhood is indeed powerful! We cannot go backwards.
MARY REYNOLDS, Kansas
You Never Know — Until You Ask: They thought abortion hadn’t touched their personal life, but they were wrong
On a sticky summer night in D.C., I sat on a patio catching up with a few friends in the repro movement. We tried — as best we could — not to talk about work, but inevitably fell into fruitful conversations about our activism. Suddenly, one friend broke a brief moment of silence to ask, “Does anybody feel weird about doing this work not having had an abortion?”
I never knew this could become a deep sense of insecurity for me. Several months later, I was interviewed for a book. One of the first questions was, “How has abortion touched your personal life?” I gave the equivalent of a whimpered “pass” and moved on. I genuinely didn’t know the answer.
On a phone call with my mom days after my interview, I felt the question bubble up: “Mom, have you had an abortion?” Her response shocked me: “I thought I had told you!” She’d had two abortions. I immediately texted my sisters. Soon, I heard seven abortion stories from women in my family. Their feelings, reflections, and hopes filled my cup. I was in awe of the complexity that spread across their narratives. These abortion stories were as much a part of my family history as our stories of migration and paella at Thanksgiving. Why didn’t I know this? Why did it take 23 years for me to ask?
“These abortion stories were as much a part of my family history as our stories of migration and paella at Thanksgiving”.
Photo caption: Lauren’s mom with all her kids.
My mother had her first abortion when she was 18. She was a single mom to a nine-month-old living in a one-bedroom apartment with her parents and nine siblings. When they found out she was pregnant for a second time in the span of a year, her parents threatened to leave her on the streets. She described it as “life or death.” She would not die, per se, but the rest of her life would drastically change if she carried the fetus to term. Mere months before the Hyde Amendment passed in 1976, my mom was the recipient of a Medicaid abortion. It saved her life.
“I do not regret it,” she said. “But I don’t like to talk about it. Being Catholic, and colombiana, mija, it makes me sick to my stomach thinking of how it all made me feel.” Her community, her family, and her faith turned their backs on her for her abortion and her pregnancy. It was a lose-lose situation. Enter my sisters, who’ve had their own abortions. “Mom drilled it into our heads pregnancy outside of marriage was not an option. So, when it happened, we did what we had to do. We never told her. We don’t know what she told you about sex and pregnancy, and we weren’t going to tell you either, in fear. We didn’t want it to get back to her.” To protect her daughters, my mother warned us of her fate, laced with the unchristlike messages that flooded in during her first pregnancy and after her first abortion.
“Each abortion in my family was a blessing.”
Photo caption: Lauren with their sisters and niece.Click to Tweet
My Catholic faith — the vitriol, patronization, and blatant discrimination toward people who’ve had abortions —silenced the people most important to me. My sisters were not raised Catholic, but they inherited Catholic guilt. This twisted aspect of our faith robbed us of the connection and affirmation we all needed.
I claim the label, loudly and publicly, of being Catholic and pro-abortion. When I identify as pro-abortion, I aim to address the acute stigma abortion has in religious communities. I observed firsthand through my family narrative that abortion is still a dirty word. Most Catholics describe abortion as a “tough decision” or “nothing to do with God, just a patient and their doctor.” I resent that, because of Catholic guilt, this is the only acceptable framing. I believe that abortion is sacred, and each abortion in my family was a blessing. The generational stigma must stop with me. With us.
Abortion impacts my personal life. It is woven into the fabric of all our lives in so many ways. We are built by our abortion experiences, including the experiences of people in our lives who have had abortions. The abortion stories in my family allowed me to be the first to flip the script. All I had to do was ask.
LAUREN MORRISSEY (she/they), Washington, DC