We need a new pro-life movement built on social justice

social justice

On the first day of class, each of us seated in the medium-sized lecture hall shared why we had decided to pursue a master’s in public health and what we intended to do with the degree.

Most students talked about wanting to work for clinics in underserved communities or for humanitarian programs abroad.

However, one colleague’s response stood out: “I want to work for Planned Parenthood, and someday, I want to be the president of Planned Parenthood.”

I was stunned by the statement.

No one else was.

During my 16 years of Catholic schooling, I had never heard Planned Parenthood mentioned so casually—and so favourably—in a classroom setting.

And in all my years living in the Midwest, where most people I knew were Christians of some stripe, it had never occurred to me that revealing my faith to someone might create tension.

But now I found myself on the East Coast, in public health school, and I was the only Catholic that I knew of in my cohort.

I kept my Catholic identity to myself for most of the first semester.

I worried how I would be perceived if I discussed my faith openly.

In a very pro-choice environment, I represented the other side of an issue and, I feared, all the stereotypes that come with it.

To some of my classmates, being pro-life meant protesting and shaming women outside abortion clinics—the same clinics at which they volunteered as patient escorts.

Eventually, it became difficult to hide my Catholicism.

Any classmate I became friends with on Facebook knew I loved two things: babies and Pope Francis.

But I decided that if I were to get along, make friends and not be seen as anti-woman or some sort of fanatic, I needed to avoid engaging in conversations about the morality of abortion—and I was happy to do just that.

I had long ago abandoned the pro-life movement of my high school and college years.

The people I walked beside at the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., trafficked in the extreme: graphic images of abortions or displays of faith that bordered on self-righteousness.

And it was these voices that seemed to have the most funding, publicity and political clout.

Groups like Feminists for life or Pro-Life Democrats were also present at the march, but their witness seemed overshadowed.

About a year into my graduate coursework, I was approached by the professor of a reproductive health advocacy course, a woman of faith I deeply admired.

Her request was surprising: Could I write up a brief summary of the Catholic view on abortion for her class to read?

She wanted students to be exposed to all sides of the issue, but most of all to understand “the other side” in the way they understood themselves.

I readily agreed and got to work.

The most natural place to begin was St. John Paul II’s “The Gospel of Life.”

I had not read the document in years, and upon revisiting it I realized: This encyclical is not just about being pro-life; it is also about social justice. Continue reading

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