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Black Catholic scholars sign open letter on reproductive justice

More than 30 Catholic women scholars and activists have signed on to a statement criticizing conservative hypocrisy on women's health and calling for a new era of dialogue.

(Faith in Public Life)

Ahead of a livestreamed event on April 18, Faith in Public Life (FIPL) has published a new open letter from Catholic women calling for reconsideration of abortion bans in the United States, and for social policies that will support women and families.

Released this week by the interfaith nonprofit, the document’s signatories include nearly three dozen scholars and advocates, among whom are a number of Black Catholics.

“We are theologians, scholars, advocates, mothers and daughters who watch in anguish as abortion bans make pregnancies even more dangerous for women,” the statement reads.

“We see how decades of disinvestment in the social safety net and more recent restrictions on women’s reproductive care disproportionately impact Black and Hispanic women.”

Open Letter from Catholic Women: Reclaiming Public Debates about Abortion & Reproductive Justice - Faith in Public Life
We write as Catholic women at a time when the opinions of judges and lawmakers are viewed as more valid than our own lived experiences with reproductive health.

Jeanné Lewis, a Black Catholic who serves as interim CEO of FIPL, signed on to the statement alongside Dr. Kimberly Lymore of Catholic Theological Union (CTU) and her fellow CTU professor Dr. C. Vanessa White. Dr. Stacy Davis of Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame is also a Black Catholic among the signatories.

The letter, which follows this month’s FIPL petition from Catholic nuns on the same issue, highlights the divisions of the “culture war” and the outsize influence of conservative politicians in the debate over abortion, especially with the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court last summer.

Catholic leaders—including bishops—are also criticized in the letter for adding fuel to the fire with calls to ban certain Catholic politicians from Communion for their stance on abortion.

“We are moved by compassion and conscience to say clearly that laws and policies celebrated as ‘pro-life’ by our Church leaders often hurt women and demean our dignity,” the letter reads.

The three primary motivations cited for the statement are the need for more robust dialogue on the issue of abortion, the importance of the perspective of women in a male-led church, and the need for politicians to support legislation that will address the intersectional issues facing pregnant women.

The authors say that the state-level abortion restrictions that followed the overturning of Roe, combined with lackluster considerations for women in crisis and with compounding health concerns, have left the nation in a dangerous place.

“In 2021, the United States had one of the worst rates of maternal mortality in the country’s history, according to a report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention,” it says.

“For Black women in the U.S, the maternal mortality rate is nearly three times higher than the rate for white women.”

Dr. Lymore, who also serves as convener for the Black Catholic Theological Symposium, will be among the panelists for a live virtual event next week with FIPL entitled “Catholic Women: Reclaiming Debates about Abortion & Reproductive Justice.”

The event, moderated by Lewis, will stream live on YouTube and Facebook on Tuesday at 1:30pm ET. Registration is not required but is available on the FIPL website.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger and a seminarian with the Josephites.

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