Catholics for choice: South Carolina personhood bill impedes on a woman's choice

Catholics for choice: South Carolina personhood bill impedes on a woman's choice
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Under the Trump administration, religious ultra-conservatives are pushing more than ever before to chip away at a women’s right to make her own decisions over her body—and they are expanding their fight in the states.

South Carolina legislators are considering a bill, the “Personhood Act," which would effectively ban all abortions in the state and limit access to birth control and in-vitro fertilization.

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Personhood laws fly in the face of Catholic values, preventing women from following their God-given consciences when making critical moral decisions about pregnancy and family planning.

 

As Catholics, we hold a deep respect for all life and an equally profound reverence for the respect due to every person’s conscience. We embrace a long tradition of fighting for social justice — the idea that each person has value and that all of us have a moral duty to stand up for those who are poor and marginalized.

Today, the Catholic hierarchy and its anti-choice allies argue that the fetus is a person from the moment of conception. But not a single opinion on this subject has been pronounced as the one true Catholic belief, because there isn’t one.

From Catholicism’s earliest times to today, scholars, saints and ordinary Catholics have had differing beliefs about when a developing life becomes a person.

In its last statement on abortion, the 1974 Declaration on Procured Abortion, the Vatican acknowledged that it does not know when the fetus becomes a person: “There is not a unanimous tradition on this point and authors are as yet in disagreement.”

Neither St. Augustine nor St. Thomas Aquinas, two important Catholic theologians, considered the fetus in the early stages of pregnancy to be a person. 

There are 1.2 billion Catholics around the world and 81.6 million in the United States—we will not always agree on all things.

There is no doubt, however, that our faith teaches us that a woman is a person with rights, responsibilities and a conscience that must guide her to make the best decisions for herself in light of her circumstances and beliefs. The vast majority of Catholics have taken this to heart.

Catholics and indeed most people of faith understand that it is unethical to impose on women a belief that stems from one set of religious teachings at the expense of allowing them the freedom to make the right choices for their wellbeing and their families. 

Don’t be fooled, those trying to insert personhood language into law are not just trying to codify one narrow viewpoint on when life begins. They are trying to force a reexamination of whether abortion or contraception should be available at all in our society. In countries where extreme proposals like South Carolina’s are the law, women die.

In El Salvador, where the national constitution includes language similar to South Carolina’s Personhood Act, hundreds of women have been jailed for having abortions or miscarriages. This kind of extremism has no place in the United States.

Individuals should always be free to act on their religious or moral beliefs in personal matters such as pregnancy and family planning. But they should not be able to turn that personal belief — even a deeply held personal belief — into civil law.

As Catholics committed to the right of women to moral autonomy over their own bodies, we believe that South Carolina’s attempt to usurp that right — to impede women’s consciences and to impose one narrow set of beliefs on all its citizens — is wrong. Women are people and those rights shouldn’t end as they consider how, when and whether to become pregnant.

Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe is a the vice president at Catholics for Choice.