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Former pro-choice feminist tells of conversion to pro-life advocate

Posted By May 2, 2013 | 1:02 pm | Lead Story #2
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By Tanya Connor

The mere idea of a place like Visitation House was enough to make a pro-choice activist take a hard look at the pro-life message.
Erika Bachiochi, that pro-choice activist turned pro-life writer and speaker, shared her story at the 8th annual benefit dinner for Visitation House April 25 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel-St. Ann Parish Center.
“If we truly want to stand in solidarity with the poor – a nonnegotiable for the Christian, whatever his economic or political theory – we have to admit that however unpopular the Church’s teaching on sex and   marriage, it is a prerequisite for authentic social justice,” she concluded.
She praised Visitation House, a Worcester home that provides material, emotional, and spiritual assistance for pregnant women.
Bishop McManus received Visitation House’s Ruth V.K. Pakaluk Award.
Introducing the bishop, Joseph Williams, president of the board, said,  “He will fight to defend any of us from any evil.” He said the bishop supports Visitation House and stands up for the teachings of Christ and the Church, no matter how unpopular.
“I do hope your fellow bishops are watching,” Mrs. Bachiochi told him later, to listeners’ applause.
Bishop McManus said he was proud to receive the award named for a late, local pro-life leader about whom he’s heard great things.
He said he thinks protecting life in the womb is the “most important civil rights issue in our time” and that “it is our duty to see that that victory” which Jesus won takes root now. He praised lay and young pro-lifers and Visitation House and said, “I think we priests should be edified and humbled. … What you are doing is what the Church wants you to do – to evangelize the culture.”
Bishop Reilly invoked God’s blessing on Visitation House’s life-saving, life-giving work. Visitation House reported attendance of about 350 people and an expected profit of $30,000.
Mrs. Bachiochi, wife, mother of six and member of the Catholic Women’s Forum, a group that advises the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission at the United Nations, shared experiences and thinking that shaped her. She is editor of “The Cost of ‘Choice’: Women Evaluate the Impact of Abortion,” (2004) and “Women, Sex and the Church: A Case for Catholic Teaching,” (2010).
Her parents divorced when she was 4; her mother remarried and divorced twice more, she said. She herself began acting out and getting into trouble as an early teen-ager. A few years later, a friend took his life, which caused her to examine and change her life.
In college, everyone else seemed to be getting drunk and “hooking up.” For her, “sexual activity…spelled emotional doom,” but not for religious reasons; she had no church.
“I sought out the protective confines of the Women’s Center on campus,” she said. Secular, pro-choice feminists offered reasons for her experiences, and were the only ones she’d met who seemed to care more about social justice and gender inequality than going to parties.    Her support for abortion as a teenager was to defend a sexual permissiveness she no longer practiced nor believed in, she said. As a college student, her pro-choice views were “ensconced in feminist rationales,” which she did not question until working on welfare reform as an intern.
“The thought that we, as a nation, would attempt to solve the problems of the poor by helping them rid themselves of their own children haunted me,” she said. “It especially offended me that the poor were not among the membership of the elitist women’s groups that supposedly spoke for them.
“But some who hold the pro-choice position do so precisely because they think abortion provides a means to manage the burden the poor place on the rest of society.”
“Opposite this widespread view … sat Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon’s book, ‘Rights Talk’” she was assigned to read for class.
“Rather than offer legal autonomy (or ‘privacy’) to the pregnant woman in crisis, the right to rid herself of her child, Mary Ann suggested that we might actually go out to meet her needs, hear her story, her pain, and offer her the counsel, assistance and support she needed to be able to care for her child.
“Mary Ann’s beautiful prose, cast within my wounded and now prayerful and searching heart, opened the same to something new. This way, the pro-life way, I could then see, was far more difficult, more time-intensive, more messy, but I also knew, then and there, that it was true, right, good.  Authentic compassion was not sending a woman away to ‘fix her problem’ alone; it was suffering alongside her, meeting her eyes, her heart.”
While good arguments are necessary, love – like Visitation House shows – is what suffices, Mrs. Bachiochi said.
Pro-life feminists, from the 19th century to today, would agree that the public sphere is often not structured in a way that values the work of parenting, but would argue that abortion is the problem, not the cure, Mrs. Bachiochi said. It perpetuates the devaluation of parenting and of “social conditions … inhospitable to childrearing” and “eliminates the incentive to make institutional change.”
The remedy, she said, is “to rectify the imbalance of parental responsibility as well as the marketplace mentality that disfavors family obligation, changes that would surely be welcomed by men … who devote themselves unreservedly to the life of the family.”
But women are told, in effect, “You choose: either your baby or yourself … your future … your success. This is a man’s world, and you had better become like a man (that is, not pregnant) if you want to succeed.”
Men have a “reproductive autonomy … being physically apart from pregnancy” that enables them to “shirk the responsibilities that come with begetting children,” Mrs.  Bachiochi said. Legal abortion offers them the illusion that sex can be consequence-free, which it’s not for women, who must kill and risk their own health to gain autonomy like men’s.
Women, especially poor women, have “disproportionately borne the negative consequences of the new sexual ethic” brought by contraception and abortion, Mrs. Bachiochi said. These have weakened women’s ability to find committed men and have led to a rise in single motherhood and cohabitation – “all associated with the feminization of poverty.” So Church teaching about sex and marriage is a prerequisite for social justice, she said.
“What God has specially designed women to do is undervalued because the human being – both born and unborn – is undervalued in comparison to riches, prestige, and creature comforts,” Mrs. Bachiochi said. “Indeed, were we to truly understand the profound dignity of the human being, a task Visitation House and all of us here work tirelessly to advance, society may yet come to relish the true magnificence of women. There is little women cannot do as well as men, and yet, the most profound human experience is reserved to women alone. Would that pro-choice feminists understood this.”