Nina Nguyen – Being Catholic and Pro-Choice

Being Catholic and Pro-Choice
by Nina Nguyen, NAPAWF – Orange County

March 15, 2012

In the weeks since the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops appeared in front of Congress to testify against the Obama Administration’s new plan for contraceptive coverage, a series of public responses have inspired me to write my own reflection on this issue. As though the Bishops movement was not disappointing enough, Sandra Fluke’s online testimony received numerous criticisms from the public, including from Rush Limbaugh and even a writer from my University’s daily newspaper. Words like “slut” were thrown out with insensitivity as to how they affect others. These  remarks were not just targeting Sandra Fluke; they were targeting all women across our country. The negative remarks impacted me personally, because I am a Catholic woman who believes all women deserve access to contraceptives and should have the choice to decide what is right for their own bodies.

This controversial issue was a great test to my own faith, as I was still trying to find my own balance between being a progressive woman and being a woman of faith. I felt that by being pro-choice, I was going against the doctrines of the Catholic Church, against eight years of Catholic school education, against my parents who brought me into the Church and especially, against God’s will. It has been a constant struggle for me to put progressive and Catholic together, to find an intersection where I can feel proud of what I stand for. And surprisingly, I am not alone. According to the organization Catholics for Choice, 98% of Catholic women use contraceptives banned by the Bishops. Considering how many members of the Church are using contraceptives, I was surprised that the Bishops did not account for a woman’s perspective when they testified against the new rule. Why didn’t they at least provide one woman’s testimony? Isn’t this an issue regarding women in the first place?

When I went to mass recently, our parish priest urged the congregation to sign a petition against the rule. My parents stood beside me and whispered “Are you going to go sign it?” I replied “No.” After further explaining the recent debate to my parents over dinner, they were stumped about how to deal with the issue. This was the first time I’ve ever had a conversation with my parents about a sensitive issue such as contraceptives and the Catholic Church. It was the first time I suggested to them that, sexually active or not, all women should be able to receive comprehensive reproductive health care, including contraceptives.

At 21, I finally learned about sexual health for the first time through an Asian Pacific Islander Women’s Health course funded by the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) at Cal State Fullerton. Through this course, I found that hundreds of women on campus were sexually active. I also learned that many women only use the withdrawal method to prevent pregnancy. What if they, like me, had never learned about contraception? What if they, like so many college-aged women, could not access contraception because of the costs?

The course also made me more open with friends. I mean, after months of nagging them to get their Pap Smears, who wouldn’t be? After years of knowing one of my best friends, she finally revealed to me that she was sexually active. We discussed the forms of contraceptives she used and the type of birth control pill she was using. It was an intimate conversation that brought us closer together on a whole new level. I thought to myself how this would have all been different if I had not been open to talking about sexuality and sexual health. There was beauty in this dialogue, connecting woman to woman, as we concerned about each other’s reproductive health.

Today, I can say strongly that my progressive values, including my support for reproductive health, do not make me any less of a Catholic. During mass, my favorite song includes the verse “We are one body, one body in Christ, and we do not stand alone.” If women are part of this Church, the Church should stand with us, instead of against us. I hope the Bishops will shift their focus to the well-being of our community and toward ensuring Catholic women have access to the health care they need.