I used to be pro-choice. I rolled my eyes with fierce contempt whenever the very active pro-life ministry at my college would have a table in the dining hall, or posters in my dorm. In fact, so adamant were my pro-choice views that I tried to start a Planned Parenthood “resource center” at a college on the Cardinal Newman list You can imagine how successful I was with that endeavor.
When I arrived at “The Mount” as a freshman, I was deeply interested in politics, veering left with rapid speed on every possible topic, including abortion. I read Ms. magazine with a passion and obviously I, in conjunction with the feminist movement, knew more than the collective wisdom of the holy Spirit and 2,000 years of unbroken teaching on the sanctity of life. It was easy to ignore those who upheld the Church’s teaching, and when necessary treat them with disdain until they left me alone. So imagine my surprise when I went from having a “Stop the War on Choice” poster hanging in my dorm room to praying in front of Planned Parenthood for an end to abortion as part of 40 Days for Life, all in the span of six years.
“How did it happen?”, you might be wondering. I often wonder that myself, and while I can trace points on the path, there was no magic moment, no immediate transformation. I suppose the nail in the coffin of my pro-choice views was when I attended the March for Life in 2006 as a “casual observer” and heard story after story of women whose lives were tragically altered by their choice to abort. The witness of the Silent No More campaign made me realize once and for all that killing someone can never be a social panacea or the solution to anyone’s problems. Violence only begets more violence and despair, as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta famously said, “But I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child…And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?…Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching the people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. That is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.”
However before that, there were a lot of things which came together and caused me to re-think my views on “choice”. While studying my required theology courses, I felt drawn more to the Church and her teachings, and it became more difficult to simply ignore those who were pro-life; they were my classmates and started becoming my friends. They wanted to know why I thought there was a “war on women”, and why I thought women had to have “abortion rights” to be free. They challenged me to really study the teachings, and to do so with an open mind. Mostly, they prayed for me. It was the prayers of many a pro-life friend that helped me have the humility to consider being open to the Church’s teaching.
As God is famous for doing, I opened the door an 1/8 of an inch; He blew it off the hinges. I forced myself to read through the Catechism and Evangelium Vitae. All the while, I prayed that if I was missing something, I would see it. There was so very much to see. I prayed for a well-formed conscience. That prayer softened my heart. After much soul searching and many hours spent in prayer and reflection, I saw the beautiful truth of these words:
“As far as the right to life is concerned, every innocent human being is absolutely equal to all others. This equality is the basis of all authentic social relationships which, to be truly such, can only be founded on truth and justice, recognizing and protecting every man and woman as a person and not as an object to be used.” (EV, 57)
This is the kind of statement that either is true, or is not true. It finally became that clear to me. It was the beginning of a fundamental shift in my attitude about the purpose of the human person, and the primacy of the social teaching of the Church as the thing that forms and guides my beliefs, choices, and attitudes.
We all struggle with Church teaching at some point. At least one aspect of Catholicism will stump, challenge, or make us uncomfortable during our journey. Part of growing in faith is to engage those questions and challenges. The primacy of conscience must be respected, yes, but too little attention is paid to how to create a conscience worth following. It is through prayer, reception of the Sacraments, and reading of Scripture and Catechism.
What I learned in my journey from pro-choice advocate to passionately pro-life is that the attitude with which we approach our questions and doubts will affect whether or not we are truly open to the Spirit. Once I approached the teachings on abortion and sexuality with the humility to admit that it was possible I could be wrong, and actively sought the direction of the holy Spirit, the rest, as they say, was history.