I grew up attending mass at a Catholic church. The priest was a caring man with a disarming wit who outspokenly upheld “The Primacy of Conscience” — a theological argument that contends that a person’s conscience is ultimately responsible for judging what is morally right or wrong, even if it differs from church directives. My formative experience with the Catholic church left me with a belief that institutions like the church could empower the people they serve rather than control them. Mass was always a joyful, celebratory occasion. I never felt as though I was being instructed or pressured. I was part of a strong, unified community. I would leave feeling inspired by our pastor’s homily, and at the end of each Mass when he would declare “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” I would take that directive to heart. At the time I did not have any notion of why my experience was only ever positive, why I never felt coerced by religious doctrine and what that might have had to do with my sex. Only now, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, have I come to fully understand the broader impact of restrictive Catholic doctrine on the autonomy of the female sex.
It’s old news by now that on June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Roe v. Wade. In fact, it was old news on June 24 — the decision having been leaked earlier on May 2. This news could be interpreted as a victory for the Catholic Church. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable.”
But for the majority of Americans, it was a step in the wrong direction. In fact, the Pew Research Center, a self-described non-partisan “fact-tank,” reports that even “more than half of U.S. Catholics (56%) said abortion should be legal in all or most cases.” So if the majority of people — and Catholics — are pro-choice in polling, how did we get to where we are? With every passing day it seems that our government makes decisions that do not align with the majority of the population’s views, and frankly, well-being. For example, 70% of Republicans and 92% of Democrats are in favor of subjecting private gun sales and gun show sales to background checks, however the federal law that mandates those background checks still only applies to sales by federally licensed dealers.
Abortion is a divisive issue. Like gun control, it falls into the category of topics that contribute to the political polarization of the United States. There is no question that it is a taboo subject. Nevertheless, it demands that the people be vocal, and every voice matters.
I am Catholic and I am pro-choice. I don’t find that complicated. I believe that both things can be true. However, as a cisgender male, I have found it harder to know exactly how to best fight for women’s bodily autonomy. I spoke with Akhil Paleru, a rising University of Michigan sophomore who intends to major in Public Health, with minors in Biochemistry and Crime and Justice. He acknowledges that, as men, “we have privilege in the sense that the issue isn’t directly affecting us.”
There is no doubt that male privilege, a byproduct of the patriarchy, has contributed to our country’s denial of equal body autonomy for women.
“That is where using our privilege can go wrong,” Paleru said. “It is not our place to lead.”
Like Paleru, I am wary of overshadowing women’s voices on this topic. And although I want to fight back against the Supreme Court’s decision, a savior complex is no more helpful than ignorance.
It is immensely important to magnify women’s voices when it comes to their right to choose. Still, Paleru tells me that, for us guys, “silence is not a good option.” When it comes to this issue, “there is no such thing as neutral.” He continues, “an important place for men in this is being that backing — that support.”
A man’s support of women’s voices is more than just words. In a country with a patriarchy as deep-seated as our own, a man supporting rather than taking charge is in itself a subversive act.
Expressing our support as men demands that we be vocal, but it can be hard to know what to say. “(Abortion) is hard to talk about from an objective, scientific point of view,” Paleru admits. When it comes to being vocal about abortion as a healthcare procedure, his advice is “amplifying experts who know.”
As a guy, I will never know what it is like for my bodily autonomy to be under threat, but that can’t stop me from speaking out against that threat. As a Catholic man who believes in the primacy of the conscience, my conscience tells me so. But if I’ve learned anything, I don’t need to listen to my conscience on this one. My religion has stood in opposition to women’s liberty “since the first century”, as the catechism puts it. Instead, I will listen to and support the women I know who now have one less right than me — the right to control their own bodies. There could not be a more tangible demonstration of male privilege. However, men can defy that privilege by supporting women’s bodily autonomy — and we must be vocal in our support. Guys: we need to talk about abortion.
Statement Columnist Connor O’Leary Herreras can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.