Choice is a Jesuit Value

31 Jan

By Morgan McDaniel 


This picture is of me, standing proudly in the free speech zone of Red Square, holding a piece of paper with a statement that some people might find controversial, disrespectful, or downright heretical.  To me, it is one of many beautiful pockets of truth amid the messy contradictions that are part of our Jesuit Georgetown identity.

Choice is a Jesuit value.  Let me tell you what I mean.

This week, H*yas for Choice launched our “Choice Is . . . ” campaign.  We wanted to show that even though people see abortion as a black-and-white issue, in reality to be pro-choice is to embrace all the shades of gray of human experience.  We want to show that no one’s life fits the same mold, and to be pro-choice is to respect every woman and man’s right to make decisions about their bodies for themselves.  That applies whether the decision is to have sex, to remain abstinent, to use birth control, to get an abortion, or to raise a child.  As Planned Parenthood’s newest campaign puts it, “nobody knows a woman’s specific situation – we’re not in her shoes.”

The reason H*yas for Choice has to use an asterisk instead of an o, and the reason we can only give out condoms in a free speech zone, is that the Vatican finds contraception and abortion morally unacceptable under any circumstances, so our Catholic University is prohibited from giving us access to benefits.  If we look at the history, this prohibition is completely arbitrary, and following it blindly is completely out of step with the Jesuit values I was taught to embrace since my first moment on Georgetown’s campus.  Let’s take a look at three of those Jesuit values, straight from Georgetown’s website for Mission and Ministry:

Cura Personalis

“Cura Personalis suggests individualized attention to the needs of the other, distinct respect for his or her unique circumstances and concerns, and an appropriate appreciation for his or her particular gifts and insights.”  I quote this sentence with pride because it has been the foundation of my personal growth and development around service and social justice at Georgetown.  I’ve learned that true service is based in humility and solidarity – that service based in privilege and the assumption that “I know best” is likely to do more harm than good.   It is not for us to judge or presume we know best.  We can only make a positive impact when we truly listen to those we serve.

Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that this language so closely echoes Planned Parenthood’s talking points – that we must respect each woman’s knowledge and understanding of her own situation, and respect her needs and priorities.

Faith and Justice

“This commitment links the authentic following of the Gospel of Jesus with an obligation to address the social realities of poverty, oppression, and injustice.”  This is an important point.  People who oppose contraception and abortion rush right past living breathing women in need to worry about justice for the unborn or unconceived.  I want to talk about justice for the women themselves , women who are part of our community.

Poverty and oppression are inextricably linked to a woman’s ability to control when she has children and how many she has.  Without being able to control her own reproduction, a woman cannot control her own income, ensure access to education, or have any job security.  Studies on this issue tend to focus on women in developing countries, but this is still true for women in the US and is absolutely true for many women at Georgetown.  We should especially consider the high rate of rape and sexual assault in the US and yes, right here on campus, even though people don’t like to talk about it.  One in four women will be sexually assaulted or raped over the course of her four years at college, and blocking access to contraception or abortion is perpetuating an injustice.

Community in Diversity

“Approximately 52 percent of our student body are women,” says Mission and Ministry.  That’s 52 percent of the student body who will face choices that the male authorities of the Catholic Church will never have to face.  How can Georgetown value diversity if it expects all students to conform to the same behaviors, same ideas, and same morality system?  To value diversity is to seek out and incorporate different perspectives, to learn from each other, and to understand and accept that different people have different needs and different contexts.

That extends to the ways that gender intersects with other identities and factors that make us diverse – race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status.  All of these things affect us differently and make our situations and choices that much more complicated.  If we want to respect and value the diversity of our community, we must abandon judgment in favor of compassion for everyone’s unique circumstances.

We’ve heard people say that H*yas for Choice is anti-religion, anti-Catholic, anti-Georgetown.  That’s not it at all.  Dig a little deeper under the doctrine and you’ll see what I mean.  When we say we are pro-choice, we mean we hold distinct respect for each person’s unique circumstances and concerns, and an appreciation for his or her particular gifts and insights.  We mean we feel and obligation to address the social realities of poverty, oppression, and injustice.  We mean we value the diverse needs, contexts, and choices of every member of our community.

Choice is a Jesuit value.  Pass it on.


3 Responses to “Choice is a Jesuit Value”

    • Nick January 31, 2013 at 8:52 pm #

      … @Ignatius of Loyola- You proved that the official stance of the Jesuits is pro-life. What an accomplishment, what a shocker. Morgan intelligently explained how her beliefs are inline with Jesuit principles, but didn’t assert that the Jesuits’ official doctrine was pro-choice.

      If you disagree.. at least try to justify it. Defend it. All you’ve proved is that you can listen, and regurgitate.

      • Kelly February 1, 2013 at 6:10 am #

        Actually Nick, what Ignatius did was provide a clear definition of exactly what Jesuit ideas are regarding the stance on choice. And he/she did so, not by providing a personal interpretation, but by going right to the Jesuits themselves, an action which has the added bonus of avoiding confusion. What Morgan did was very eloquently and conveniently state the Jesuit values in such a way that they aligned perfectly with her beliefs. Unfortunately, in doing so, she utterly twisted the very core of the Catholic Jesuit identity.
        First, she discussed the concept of Cura Personalis. Morgan attempted to justify the pro-choice argument by saying that they were only following the Jesuits idea of caring for the whole person. However, by doing so, they are blatantly ignoring the life of a child. The Jesuits view life as starting at conception, therefore, to say that they would support the harming of an innocent and vulnerable life is a gross misunderstanding of Cura Personalis. Rather, they would look at the mother of the child, and they would provide her with as much support and resources as possible (I suggest Morgan look into the various resources offered on campus for student others, and perhaps attend the annual pregnancy resource forum which is held in April, to gain a better understanding of how the Jesuits here on the Hilltop seek to serve women), while also seeking to protect the child she carries as well. Morgan is right in stating that Cura Personalis is care of the whole person, she just conveniently forgets that there’s another person (albeit a much smaller one) in the picture, and the violation of this little one’s right to life is a grave violation of the Jesuit value of Cura Personalis.
        Second, Morgan discussed Faith and Justice. Yes those are two concepts that are linked with the Jesuit identity here at Georgetown. But again, she forgets a key component: Jesuits do not believe that people should be used as a means to an end. That is what she advocates in her argument for Choice. She talks about the horrible things that can come with unplanned pregnancy, and her logic is that since it’s unjust that a woman has to deal with all of that, it must be just to overlook the fact that there’s a child’s life at stake. That child’s life cannot be sacrificed as a means for the mother’s career or education. To be truly Just, one must address the underlying social injustices, such as job insecurity and poverty for pregnant women, that make so many perceive a child to be a threat to their welfare, and the solution will never be to condone the taking of innocent life, and no Jesuit will ever say that it is.
        Finally, Morgan dropped the term “community in diversity” and that is once again something the Jesuits are big on. They recognize different cultures, religions, and backgrounds. And, as she says, they need to recognize the social injustices faces by many. But they don’t recognize what the pro-choice argument represents. They do not, and never will, recognize a perspective that allows for the deaths of 3300 innocent lives a day.
        The problem with Morgan’s article is that she takes the headlines of Jesuit values, and she talks about how, with the proper manipulation, they seem to fit with the argument for having the choice of abortion available, and how they’re in line with her own beliefs, but if she really wanted to know what the Jesuits stood for, she’d have to -as she says- “dig deeper into doctrine”, which I suggest she do, if only to prevent further confusion about exactly what Catholic doctrine and the Jesuits think of the choice argument and its attack on the sanctity of human life.

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