The Catholic Church’s Stance on Sexual Abuse and Forced Pregnancy Are Both Rooted in Misogyny

catholic-church-bishops-abortion-sexual-abuse-children
Women take part in an abortion rights rally in front of the Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village of New York on May 21, 2019. (Timothy A. Clary / AFP via Getty Images)

This article was originally published by The Daily Hampshire Gazette.

With the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, American women and girls have lost their full citizenship rights. Women, transgender men and nonbinary people who can get pregnant no longer have bodily autonomy during pregnancy, or sexual freedom. The government now controls their bodies and behaviors. Politicians can force people to carry pregnancies against their will—a form of involuntary servitude that should be prohibited by the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, but which the current Supreme Court now allows.

The six right-wing members of the Court are current or former Catholics (Gorsuch grew up Catholic and now goes to an Episcopal church). They reversed long-standing U.S. law as part of a campaign to establish in its place the Catholic belief that abortion at any stage of pregnancy is a sin. The original instigator of the anti-abortion movement was the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and they remain one of its biggest funders.

Shortly after the Alito opinion leaked in May, a U.S. bishop barred Nancy Pelosi from taking communion if she did not follow Catholicism’s anti-abortion beliefs. This action was timed just as the seven Catholics on the Supreme Court were deciding Dobbs. All six conservative Catholics on the Supreme Court followed church doctrine, obeying the bishop’s demand. Only Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

Women have credibly accused two of the five Catholics in the Dobbs majority—Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh—of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse and forced pregnancy both violate women’s bodily autonomy and their right to control their lives. They both disrespect women and their human rights. And both have devastating physical, psychological and economic consequences.

Catholic bishops have a long history of perpetrating and condoning sexual abuse, and the church has been plagued with sexual abuse scandals for decades. Catholic priests and bishops have raped and abused tens of thousands of women and children with impunity, and bishops have covered up for them.

The bishops’ history of sexually abusing women and children is connected to their misogynist ban on women in the priesthood. Excluding women from positions of power and forcing them to bear unwanted children keeps women weak and vulnerable to men’s abuse and easy to control, leaving men to act as they please and control society’s important institutions.

The same Catholic bishops and priest raping young girls and covering up these attacks are then blocking their access to abortion and forcing them to carry the resulting pregnancies to term. How is it that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the men it protects, still has any moral authority whatsoever? Most Catholics do not agree with bishops’ beliefs on contraception and abortion and condemn their sexually abusive behavior.

Excluding women from positions of power and forcing them to bear unwanted children keeps women weak and vulnerable to men’s abuse and easy to control, leaving men to act as they please and control society’s important institutions.

Of course, U.S. bishops are not alone in this particularly harsh form of misogyny. Evangelical Christians have joined with Catholic bishops in fighting for abortion bans, all the while sexually abusing women and children and covering it up, allowing abuse to continue. Southern Baptists, who also exclude women from the clergy, have also tolerated widespread sexual abuse of women and children, which they have covered up and perpetuated. As Oregon State University gender studies professor Susan Shaw has argued, “Southern Baptist sexism undergirds clergy sexual abuse and evangelical theology about women and gender supports a culture of abuse.”

As a result of Dobbs, states are now allowed to ban abortion. Soon, abortion will be illegal in over half the country and 33 million women of childbearing age will live in states governed by these religious laws. The decision will severely endanger women seeking to carry pregnancies to term. But among those needing abortion care, young women and low-income women and girls will be hit hard by this decision. Women of color will be hardest hit.

The decision has wide-reaching impacts, not only for abortion access and women’s health, but for many other rights, including access to contraception, infertility treatments, freedom to engage in consensual adult sex and same-sex marriage—all of which the Catholic Church has organized against for years.

Dobbs is the first time in U.S. and Supreme Court history that a constitutional right has been taken away. And as countries like Ireland, Argentina, Mexico and Colombia—all countries with strong ties to the Catholic Church—are legalizing abortion, the U.S. is going in the opposite direction.

The decision has wide-reaching impacts, not only for abortion access and women’s health, but for many other rights, including access to contraception, infertility treatments, freedom to engage in consensual adult sex and same-sex marriage—all of which the Catholic Church has organized against for years.

And it is likely to be just the beginning: Dobbs mentions “unborn human lives” 23 times. The anti-abortion movement is teeing up cases now to establish fetal personhood in order to strike down laws that protect abortion rights in states like Massachusetts, New York, Illinois and California.

Abortion is a human right, not dependent on recognition by a particular religion or government. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Southern Baptists and the U.S. Supreme Court may refuse to recognize our human rights, but we have them nonetheless. U.S. law says Americans have no moral obligation to obey unjust laws pushed by sectarian religious groups and instituted by authoritarian governments. U.S. women will defy these unjust laws and continue to have abortions, as they have throughout history and across the world in countries where abortion is illegal.

For more information about Catholic clergy sexual abuse, see the documentary film Deliver Us from Evil or visit the website of SNAP (Survivor Network of Those Abused by Priests). For more information about Southern Baptist sexual abuse, read the 288-page Southern Baptist Convention abuse report.

Sign and share Ms.’s relaunched “We Have Had Abortions” petition—whether you yourself have had an abortion, or simply stand in solidarity with those who have—to let the Supreme Court, Congress and the White House know: We will not give up the right to safe, legal, accessible abortion.

Up next:

About

Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.