Commentary Religion

Pope Says Couples Who Conceive Through In-Vitro Fertilization Are Guilty Of Arrogance

At a Vatican conference on infertility last week, Pope Benedict XVI railed against reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization. This attack on reproductive technologies is yet another display of the Vatican’s lack of empathy and understanding and a vain attempt to hold back scientific development as well as impede access to reproductive technologies for couples around the world.

At a Vatican conference on infertility last week, Pope Benedict XVI railed against reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization.

Speaking in the Vatican to an audience of conservative researchers and medical experts, the pope warned against the “easy income” that could be made from the “fascination of the technology of artificial fertility.” Both scientists and the families who benefit from scientific advances in fertility treatment are guilty of “the arrogance of taking the place of the creator,” Benedict said.

Catholics around the world will be saddened at the label ‘arrogant’ being applied to couples seeking help to have children and the doctors who try to help them. The pope’s remarks only serve to drive another wedge between people of faith and the church hierarchy.

This attack on reproductive technologies is yet another display of the Vatican’s lack of empathy and understanding and a vain attempt to hold back scientific development as well as impede access to reproductive technologies for couples around the world.

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Though the pope has spoken out frequently about the importance of protecting the family, he used a shockingly narrow definition of the kind of family that can count on his support. Matrimony ‘constitutes the only “place” worthy of the calling into existence of a new human being,’ he said. This is profoundly disrespectful to all the women who endure economic and social prejudice because they choose to carry a pregnancy to term outside of marriage. The pope’s comments expose a very narrow understanding and lack of meaningful commitment to a real prolife position by the Vatican.

Despite these disheartening comments, I am confident that millions of Catholic couples will continue to seek fertility assistance and that Catholic doctors and researchers will keep helping infertile couples, in good conscience, knowing that they are good Catholics working in good faith to help families make choices that are right for their lives.

In light of the pope’s statement, I urge policymakers to question both the global dominance of hospital systems controlled by the Catholic hierarchy and the use of taxpayer funds to provide services for the community when the hierarchy clearly has a commitment only to the services they deem permissible and not to the ones the community needs. The Catholic social justice tradition supports the provision of comprehensive healthcare services in a pluralistic society, and so there’s no excuse for lowering the bar for Catholic healthcare when it comes to serving individuals or couples wanting to conceive.

Infertility comes in all shapes and sizes, but parental love is remarkably the same. Parents put aside their own needs and desires for their families. The hierarchy’s agenda does not nurture or support those who want to expand their families using IVF. When the pope calls unmarried women and nontraditional couples ‘unworthy’ or ‘arrogant’ for wanting to share the gift of life with a new generation, the spiritual leader of the Catholic faith does a disservice to the entire church.”

Commentary Religion

Memo to Pope Francis: Women Who Have ‘Resorted’ to Abortion Don’t Need Forgiveness

Amanda Marcotte

The Pope has made it easier for women to get forgiveness for abortions. But it's he who should be asking forgiveness, for implying that women who get abortions don't know what they are doing or why.

The “cool Pope” narrative got another boost this week when Pope Francis downgraded the level of sinfulness of abortion, which has been often regarded as if it were worse than murder in the eyes of many Catholic authorities. This shift, which allows priests to forgive women for abortions, is a big one from the previous stance that almost all women who do it are hellbound.

However, while it’s certainly nice to see the church step away from an official policy of trying to using shunning and threats of eternal damnation in an effort to thwart women’s attempts to control their own bodies, the Pope’s decision clearly leaves a lot to be desired.

It’s not that the Pope is moving in the right direction, albeit at a slower pace than pro-choicers like. His letter on this matter actually suggests that instead of softening on the issue of abortion, Pope Francis is reframing it. Indeed, he appears to be adopting the narrative concocted by American anti-choicers in recent years: that abortion needs to be banned to protect women, who are simply too stupid and childish to be trusted with important decisions such as when and if to have children.

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Reading the relevant passage, you’d think that women barely play a role in the decision to have an abortion:

One of the serious problems of our time is clearly the changed relationship with respect to life. A widespread and insensitive mentality has led to the loss of the proper personal and social sensitivity to welcome new life. The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails. Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe that they have no other option. I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope.

“What has happened”….“The tragedy of abortion”….“not realizing”….“believe that they have no other option.” Pope Francis’ language portrays women both as children incapable of making a personal decision and as passive objects to whom abortion just happens, instead of decision-making people. His argument isn’t that women should be forgiven for abortion because it’s not that bad. (Although, as Reproaction’s Erin Matson pointed out on Twitter and for Rewire, his language still suggests that women have done something wrong by seeking abortions.) It’s that women should be forgiven because they are mental children who can’t be held responsible for their actions.

In making this argument, Pope Francis is falling in line with the stance that has become popular on the American right, which was mostly constructed to deflect completely accurate accusations that anti-choicers are motivated by misogyny. Rather than blaming women for their actions, conservatives have recently shifted to suggesting that they are “victims” of legal abortion, and that it needs to be banned to “protect” them.

There is nothing to back up this claim, of course. Pope Francis can say he meets women that were hurt by abortion all he likes, but the empirical evidence shows that nearly all women who get one feel that it was the right decision for them, even years after the fact.

Reading between the lines, though, you get the strong impression that the Pope is skeptical of the idea that women naturally want more sex than they want babies. On the contrary, he blames society for giving us ideas (“widespread and insensitive mentality”) and frames abortion as something that women only resort to under pressure.

In reality, common sense tells us that women, like men, frequently want to have a lot more sex over a lifetime than is strictly necessary for procreation, often by many, many orders of magnitude. And that means that as long as women want to have sex without having babies, many will see abortion as the best way to deal with any unintended pregnancies that result. Women know if they can have or want to have a baby. You can reduce the incidence of abortion with contraception, but you can’t eliminate this fact.

This disconnect between ideology and people’s lived realities, whether it comes from the Vatican or Congress, is what happens when fantasy instead of evidence shapes political and moral views. Where this narrative is concerned, the fantasy is that women only are having sex in an effort to please a man, and not because of any inherent pleasure they themselves derive from it. And that a woman’s reaction to an unplanned pregnancy is joy—the boyfriend is bound to produce that ring now!—but because abortion is available, caddish boyfriends, helped by money-grubbing doctors, bully women into abortion instead. And so abortion must be banned, so that women are “protected” and steered into what we all supposedly want, which apparently is shotgun marriages and not having to have all that icky sex without some babies to show for it.

It’s a narrative pushed, to varying degrees, by crisis pregnancy centers, Republican Party leaders, anti-feminist activists, anti-choicers pretending to be feminists, anti-choice doctors, and now the Pope. It’s a fantasy that ignores the fact that most women who have abortions are already mothers. It ignores the fact that married women have abortions. It ignores the fact that a lot of women have sex with—and risk unintended pregnancy with—men they have no intention of marrying or having babies with. It ignores the fact that there are couples who might eventually settle down but are currently unsure if they want to commit yet. It ignores the fact that there’s a ten-year gap between the average age of first intercourse and average age of marriage. It ignores the fact that this is a good thing, because people tend to have stronger, happier marriages if they know who they are and what they want before they pick a partner, instead of letting a stray sperm pick their spouse for them.

But above all, the line that the Pope is pushing ignores the fact that women really are the best authorities on their own lives. Women do not need to ask forgiveness for knowing what we want and making decisions within the framework of our lives. The only person here who needs forgiveness is the Pope, for daring to insult all the women around the world with his presumption that he can, without even knowing the details of our lives, make better decisions for us than we can make.

Commentary Religion

It’s Pope Francis Who Should Apologize on Abortion

Erin Matson

With his latest comments, Pope Francis has built a shiny new smokescreen to distract from the grave and immoral harms caused by the Vatican's opposition to abortion and women's equality.

Pope Francis has a limited-time offer just for women who have abortions: Confess, and you won’t be excommunicated. Hurry! Only women who confess to a priest before November 20, 2016—during the “Year of Mercy”—will remain eligible to kneel and pray at the instruction of an all-male hierarchy that insists upon the subordination of women.

“I am well aware of the pressure that has led [women who have abortions] to this decision,” the Pope said. He suggested women “believe they have no other option.” Priests will have the “discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it.”

It seems the Pope Francis Sex TalkTM brand is expanding. With his latest comments, Pope Francis has built a shiny new smokescreen to distract from the grave and immoral harms caused by the Vatican’s opposition to abortion and women’s equality.

This has practically become a formula: Cool Pope says something that sounds like he cares about the huge swaths of people routinely discriminated against by the biggest patriarchy in the world for being women, gay, or unwilling to have children. But the doctrine doesn’t change, which means that nice comments don’t make for nice policy. Lobbyists representing the Catholic Church’s leadership continue to wreak great destruction around the world, whether messing with the Affordable Care Act at home or insisting on denying condoms to people in AIDS-ravaged areas abroad. And billions of public dollars are funneled into Catholic institutions that insist they have a right to discriminate on the taxpayer dole.

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His latest ploy on abortion is more of the same. Yes, people love Pope Francis and his tone is different and refreshing. Many may also find his pastoral approach comforting. But although we need to start somewhere, we also need to look at the bigger picture. The Pope’s comments are just stigma masquerading as understanding.

A woman who has had an abortion has done nothing wrong. She doesn’t need to apologize, and she certainly doesn’t need to apologize to a man representing an institution that denies her equality. (Remember when Pope Benedict compared the ordination of women to pedophilia? Pope Francis has enforced the same toxic nonsense about keeping women out of the priesthood; he just says things that make it sound nicer.) So, then, this isn’t actually about reassuring women who have had abortions. This is about continuing to single them out and shame them.

In the context of women’s lives, access to abortion is a matter of human dignity. And that dignity includes being trusted to make moral decisions—such as the one to end a pregnancy—for ourselves. Any outsider looking in who thinks he knows better is frankly sexist, drawing upon awful ideas that women are too stupid and wicked to be trusted with the management of our own lives. Preventing a woman’s access to abortion through advocating for restrictions upon reproductive care, as the Vatican does, is immoral.

A few weeks ago I helped to transport an abortion fund patient from a clinic to a hotel room. Prior to her procedure, she’d been growing frustrated with the several weeks it was taking to raise the money, find someone to watch her kids, and manage travel to another city where abortion is available after the first trimester. She’d started to wonder openly if she could “do something’” to force a miscarriage at home. This is how a great variety of piecemeal abortion restrictions—funding restrictions, TRAP laws, waiting periods, bans on specific procedures—work together to put woman in potential danger. (Or serve time in prison for trying to take matters into their own hands.)

Women who decide to have abortions will have abortions, and the question is merely if we want them to be safe. Should the woman I met have put herself at risk from an illegal abortion instead? Or found herself in handcuffs, like Kenlissia Jones? We don’t know: Unfortunately, Pope Francis hasn’t issued statements on the dire need to replace illegal abortion with safe abortion, or the criminalization of pregnancy outcomes; he just wants women to apologize to priests.

Pope Francis has it all wrong on abortion. The Catholic Church’s leaders owe women a profound apology.

It is thanks to the Vatican’s terrible rules against reproductive health care that a woman in California was nearly driven to travel 160 miles away from her family to give birth, because her local “pro-life” Catholic hospital initially refused to give her a tubal ligation after a planned cesarean section. It is in the name of “a Catholic country” that women like Savita Halappanavar have been forced to die after begging for life-saving abortions. Some advocates even argue that it is in anticipation of the Pope’s visit and in deference to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that President Obama has continued his bad legacy on reproductive rights by failing to take executive action that would extend abortion funding to rape victims in war zones.

In 2010, Sister Margaret McBride was excommunicated for authorizing a life-saving abortion at a Phoenix hospital. Is Pope Francis really telling her, and the woman whose life she helped to save, that they are the ones who committed evil and need to come back and apologize?

Maybe the better thing would be for Pope Francis to listen. That’s why my organization, Reproaction, has launched a #HeyPopeFrancis campaign that invites people to tell Pope Francis what they think he should do next. The responses so far have been varied and creative; many folks are concerned by the Vatican’s stance against abortion, contraception, and women’s ordination, and take exception to Pope’s statements about LGBTQ families. Still others are urging him to do even more on the environment and immigration. The bottom line is that this Pope is presenting himself as an agent of hope and changeand it’s now on all of us to share with him our hopes for meaningful change.

This is 2015. Women are human beings. They have dignity, and they must be respected. Women must be treated as equals, and there is no such thing as equality without easy access to abortion. If we are to have a just society that upholds its moral obligation to ensure no one is held back on the basis of gender, abortion must be accessible and funded for every person who needs it—no harassment, stigma, or “religious liberty” attached. And if you think equality for women makes sense so long as women abstain from sex or are willing to accept the “consequences” of pregnancy, then you don’t believe in equality for women. That’s wrong, and it’s that simple.

Rather than a call to confession about abortion, it would be far more redemptive for Pope Francis to call for a new dialogue within the Catholic Church about gender equality that would elevate the voices of a diverse group of women—including women who have had abortions, women who aren’t sorry about their abortions, and, oh yeah, women priests. That would represent major progress too.