One Issue - Abortion - Should Not Divide Women

There has been a lot of attention to the Women's March on Washington and the exclusion by organizers of some pro-life women's groups. A lot of media commentary has lamented this "split" in the women's movement, as if a bunch of men never disagreed, even when they shared a number of fundamental values

The media seemed to be far less interested in covering the scores of women religious who actually did participate in marches in Washington and across the country, believing that their dedication to social justice lined up with the march's values in ways far greater than any lack of agreement about abortion.

I'm a practicing Catholic, and a feminist. I do not think I could opt to have an abortion. I am relieved to say I never had to face that choice. When I was pregnant, I was married with resources, and didn't face the prospect of carrying a baby with infirmities or disabilities that could have compromised life after birth, for both the child and me. I was neither a victim of rape or incest, nor a teen from an unstable family with an uncertain future.

And I would never want a governmental entity to dictate what any other woman should do. To me, the core value of feminism is the right of a woman to decide her own destiny. That belief does not negate my own feelings about abortion; it just doesn't give me the right to impose my feelings - or Catholic teachings - on other women.

So I would say to pro-life Catholic women that it is difficult to claim to be feminists while also endorsing laws that would curb the rights of women to make these very personal decisions guided by their own consciences.

Look, even the most ardent abortion opponent would not endorse prison for women who choose to terminate their pregnancies. When Donald Trump suggested that such women be punished, it was one of the few times that he actually had to walk back a statement. So that means that even the strongest pro-life advocates know that abortion is not the same as murder.

I would also say to activists on both sides of the issue that we face forces that require us to work together. In this new Trump era, with a Republican Congress eager to overturn the Affordable Care Act, cut food stamps and other aid to the poor, and reduce access to health care for women and their families, it is far more likely the number of abortions will increase, whether or not Congress or the Supreme Court try to limit them.

White women with resources will always have access to safe abortions. Poor women desperate to terminate a pregnancy will risk their lives and find a back-alley provider.

Perhaps we could agree to be pro-family-planning? By conservative estimates, about seven out of ten Catholic women use birth control, so that horse has already left the barn. I don't think any Catholic woman who wants to call herself a feminist can legitimately oppose birth control.

Consider this: An estimated three-quarters of all women in the U.S. who underwent abortions in 2014 were either living in poverty or low-income, with household incomes for a family of two roughly between $15,000 and $30,000 annually. Nearly a quarter of women who had this procedure identified themselves as Catholic.

If all women had access to effective birth control, we could reduce the number of abortions, simply because there would be fewer unwanted pregnancies.

As a Catholic, I want to live according to my conscience. As a woman, I want to afford all other women that same right, regardless of their race, wealth, or personal circumstances.

That is how democracy should work. That is what I hope we all can strive to achieve for our children.

Celia Wexler is the author of Catholic Women Confront Their Church: Stories of Hurt and Hope (Rowman & Littlefield).