Thanks, But I Don’t Need the Pope to Forgive My Abortion

Hingston: Are we really still waiting for men to say what we do with our bodies is okay?


By the time I graduated from college in 1978, almost every one of my women friends had had an abortion. The circumstances in each case were different, but the choice we made was the same. I’ve written before about telling my pro-life daughter about my choice years later. I did so because the climate in this country had become so profoundly anti-choice—because male legislators and activists were doing their damnedest to outlaw my decision, and were burning down clinics and murdering doctors who provided this health service—a health service, by the way, that the Supreme Court has deemed perfectly legal—to women like me.

Now here comes Pope Francis, declaring in a letter on Tuesday that the “tragedy of abortion” is “an existential and moral ordeal,” and pitying the “many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision.” He even instructed priests to offer forgiveness to women who have had abortions.

To which I say, with the utmost respect: No thanks, Your Holiness.

Look, I like this pope way better than most popes. I think he’s right about so many items on the world’s agenda: about poverty, human rights, religious freedom. But he’s wrong, generally, about women. He’s a leftover, a relic from an antiquated religion that has seen fit to cover up monstrous crimes committed by its priesthood even as it refused to allow women to fully participate in its rituals. It has excommunicated the mother of a nine-year-old victim of rape who sought an abortion for her, but not her rapist. It has fought to make contraception less readily available to women even as it shamed women who became pregnant. And no sympathetic words from Pope Francis can erase the Catholic Church’s history of persecuting women and denying them their full human rights.

So now I’m supposed to be grateful to Francis for his special Jubilee Year in which any priest is authorized to forgive the grave sin of abortion? I’m supposed to grovel in thanks for this demonstration of, as Archbishop Charles Chaput put it, Francis’s “commitment to all those in need of healing”? I don’t think so. Not while those (male) legislators are still trying with all their might to prevent my gender from taking charge of our own reproductive lives, in places like Texas and Wisconsin and Michigan and Idaho and Louisiana and oh, hey, yeah, Pennsylvania

As I walked up to my office this morning, the news-display screen in the lobby was trumpeting the results of a new Pew survey showing a vast gulf between what American Catholics believe and their Church’s official stance on a whole host of social issues: cohabitation (65 percent say it’s not a sin); homosexuality (50 percent say it’s not a sin); contraception (more than 75 percent say it’s not a sin); abortion (33 percent say it’s not a sin). A priest who’s a senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter, Tom Reese, said of the survey’s results, “People are more educated and making up their minds on these issues, not just accepting what father says from the pulpit.” Amen to that. Education to the rescue, again.

Yet at the same time, the survey showed that seven out of 10 Catholics wouldn’t change their religion on any account. I’ll be damned if I understand the point of clinging to a Church so full of teachings that you disagree with. And it’s not much of a step toward equality for women to have to seek forgiveness from the men who make the rules in the first place. Maybe you just have to close your eyes.

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