Skip to Content

Open Letter from Catholic Women: Reclaiming Public Debates about Abortion & Reproductive Justice

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

Culture wars over abortion have divided our Church, coarsened political discourse and left a legacy of mistrust and resentment. Pregnancy, parenthood and the totality of women’s lives have been turned into simplistic slogans. We are told to “choose life” even as the policies needed to build a culture of life and dignity for women and families are rejected by the same politicians who criminalize our reproductive decisions. 

We applaud Church leaders who walk with people as pastors, but a vocal segment of clergy has created a culture of stigma and shame that shuts down conversations about women’s health. This culture contributes to retaliation in the public square as some bishops weaponize Communion against Catholic politicians. In addition, when bishops describe abortion as the “preeminent priority” in elections, the fullness of Catholic social teaching is narrowed in ways that are exploited by partisan agendas and that devalue the theological and spiritual role of discernment in making difficult decisions.  

We have three core reasons for speaking out.

Our nation’s social safety nets fail to provide women with the support they need to have children and raise families in safe and healthy environments. The March of Dimes reports that more than two million women of childbearing age live in maternity care deserts where there is no hospital offering obstetric care, no birth center and no obstetric provider. Women in states with abortion bans are now nearly three times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth or soon after giving birth, according to a January 2023 report from the Gender Equity Policy Institute. 

Some states that ban abortion have chosen not to expand Medicaid, which covers about 40 percent of all births and the majority of births for low-income families. 

Even before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, states with the most restrictive abortion laws had some of the worst maternal and child health outcomes in the country. 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. For Black women in the U.S, the maternal mortality rate is nearly three times higher than the rate for white women. In Mississippi, bipartisan legislation recently passed that extends postpartum Medicaid coverage for new mothers to one year after birth, a move that we applaud and that addresses the moral scandal that most new mothers in the state lose Medicaid coverage after sixty days. 

We call on lawmakers to expand Medicaid; implement child tax credits that have proven to significantly decrease child poverty; support full, paid parental leave after the birth of a child; do more to help families cover the high cost of childcare; and ensure that workers are paid living wages. All of these policies are rooted in principles of solidarity, the dignity of work and the common good found in Catholic social teaching. We recognize that even many of our own Catholic institutions are not doing nearly enough to support policies that help women, children and families flourish. Catholic institutions should be national models for paying just wages to our workers, offering comprehensive pre-and post-natal health insurance coverage, and guaranteeing fully paid parental leave after the birth of a child.

We end with an invitation for more Catholics and other people of faith to join us in our effort to create better public conversations about abortion and reproductive justice that reject tired labels and grapple with complexity. Each of us have deeply personal and often different views about abortion, and we respect the fact that people of goodwill have sincere disagreements on these issues. By sharing our stories, convening dialogues and building new coalitions, together we can do our part to reject divisive culture wars and focus on uniting behind a comprehensive agenda that supports women and families.

Natalia Imperatori-Lee, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair, Religious Studies
Director, Catholic Studies Program
Manhattan College

María Teresa (MT) Dávila, Ph.D.
Associate Professor and Chair, Religious and Theological Studies
Merrimack College

Lisa Sowle Cahill
Professor of Theology
Boston College 

Jeanné Lewis
Faith in Public Life

Neomi De Anda, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Religious Studies
Marianist Educational Associate (MEA)
Human Rights Center Research Associate
University of Dayton
Past President, Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States

Amy M. Doorley, M.A., M.S., P.C.C.
Coordinator of Graduate Studies
Department of Religious Studies
University of Dayton

Cecilia González-Andrieu
Professor of Theology
Loyola Marymount University 

Nancy Pineda-Madrid
Professor and T. Marie Chilton Chair of Catholic Theology
Loyola Marymount University

Nicole M. Flores
Associate Professor of Religious Studies
Director of Health, Ethics, & Society Minor
University of Virginia

Jeannine Hill Fletcher
Professor of Theology
Fordham University

Nancy Dallavalle
Associate Professor of Religious Studies
Special Assistant to the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
Fairfield University

Brenna Moore
Professor, Department of Theology
Fordham University 

M. Therese Lysaught, Ph.D.
Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy, Stritch School of Medicine
Loyola University Chicago
Pontifical Academy for Life
Editor, The Journal of Moral Theology

Kathleen Maas Weigert 
Professor Emerita, Department of Sociology
Loyola University Chicago

Hille Haker
Professor of Catholic Ethics
Loyola University Chicago

Susan A. Ross, Ph.D.
Professor of Theology, Emerita
Loyola University Chicago

Mariana M Miller, M.A.
Assistant Dean for Continuing Education
Institute of Pastoral Studies
Loyola University Chicago

Mollie Wilson O’Reilly
Editor at Large, Commonweal magazine

Marie Dennis
Senior Program Director, Catholic Nonviolence Initiative
Pax Christi International

Emily Reimer-Barry, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Theology and Religious Studies
University of San Diego 

Susie Paulik Babka, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Studies
University of San Diego

Karen Teel, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Theology and Religious Studies
University of San Diego

Mary Doak, Ph.D.
Professor of Theology
University of San Diego

Elisabeth T. Vasko
Associate Professor of Theology
Duquesne University 

Jacqueline M. Hidalgo
Professor of Latina/o Studies and Religion
Williams College

Christina R. Zaker, D. Min.
Director, Field Education
Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry
Catholic Theological Union

C. Vanessa White, OFS, D.Min.
Associate Professor of Spirituality and Ministry
Catholic Theological Union

Kimberly M. Lymore, M.Div., D.Min.
Director, Augustus Tolton Pastoral Ministry Program
Catholic Theological Union
Convener, Black Catholic Theological Symposium

Michele Saracino
Professor, Department of Religious Studies 
Manhattan College

Stacy Davis
Professor of Religious Studies and Theology
Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame IN 

Lisa Fullam, D.V.M., Th.D.
Professor emerita, Moral Theology
Jesuit School of Theology 
Santa Clara University

Dolores L. Christie, Ph.D.
Retired Executive Director
Catholic Theological Society of America

Kaya Oakes
Continuing Lecturer
College Writing Programs
University of California, Berkeley

Kate Ward
Assistant Professor of Theology
Marquette University

Colleges and universities are included for identification purposes only.

Back to top