Josie Sustaire, Resident Blogger (’14, University of Oregon School of Law)
I am a law student at the University of Oregon but this weekend I ventured out of the northwest and attended LSRJ’s northeast regional conference at Harvard Law, hosted by the Harvard Law Students for Reproductive Justice. At the conference, one of the panels was entitled RJ and Religion: Whose Conscience Matters? The speakers all did a wonderful job of unraveling the complexities of reproductive justice issues through a religious lens.
The first speaker from Mergerwatch Project enlightened me on the issues that arise from a hospital’s merger with a religious affiliated organization. Her talk was great! But I most identified with the last two speakers from Catholics for Choice and a Unitarian Universalist minister. Due to my Catholic upbringing I have both the blessing and the curse of the religion’s teachings. A baptized and confirmed Catholic, I have an understanding of the Bible that many others don’t have and less useful perhaps, I know the words to a number of hymnals and know when to kneel and make the sign of the holy trinity during mass. One of the “curses” of being a Catholic, for me, was being brought up to believe that a woman who exercises her right not to have children (by way of an abortion or use of EC like Plan B) is killing a life and must be excommunicated. Additionally, the Catholic teachings taught me that sex was a dirty word and that the only intercourse should be between a husband (a man) and his wife (a woman) in their marital bed…for the sole purpose of procreating. This all got complicated for me during my teen years. You see, I began to feel as though the religion was incompatible with my personal beliefs. I embraced my sexuality and felt that it was something that didn’t belong solely to the married hetero man and woman. I struggled, trying out different churches, searching for one that I better identified with. I didn’t find the elusive church that I longed for but I did find fellowship. First, it was among my theater friends in high school and then with my fellow nerdy English majors, and finally, alongside other LSRJ warriors.
What I have discovered and what the speakers at the LSRJ conference highlighted is that reproductive justice doesn’t have to conflict with your religion. Rather, RJ can exist in harmony with your faith. The speakers reiterated something that most folks already acknowledge – religious leaders, even though they may say they are, are not always speaking for their constituents. This is particularly true for Catholic bishops (Only 7% of Catholic voters believe strongly that Catholics have an obligation to vote only for candidates who are recommended by the Catholic bishops).
I am no longer a practicing Catholic but I don’t see this as a sad ending to the story of my religious quest. I see this as a moment of personal recognition. I recognized as a young adult that Catholicism did not align with my personal needs or beliefs. It was later in adulthood that I came to realized that organized religion in general did not agree with my faith. My story is personal and my story is a happy story. I feel blessed to have been raised in a Catholic environment; there are so many good things that came from it. However, I also feel blessed to have realized at a fairly young age what did and did not work for me when it came to religion and faith. Having engaged in self-discovery, I feel better prepared to speak to others about RJ issues through a religious/faith-based lens and understand the struggles that some folks feel when navigating the worlds of RJ and religion. I hope that along with the speakers that I met today, I can help others to understand that they don’t have to choose religion or RJ but can embrace both comfortably knowing they are not alone.