Catherine reconciles her faith with her pro-choice beliefs.
Catherine Rosales is a 22-year-old senior at the University of California, San Diego. She is the Chair of the Associated Students Women's Commission, and a former Choice USA intern.
Choice USA: Tell us about your work at UC San Diego.
Catherine Rosales: Coming into my junior year of college, I realized that, with over 16,000 students, we didn't have a women's group. I knew UC Santa Barbara had a fantastic group -- my friend was involved in the Women’s Commission there. That inspired me to start the Women's Commission at UC San Diego.
It wasn't as hard as I expected. The hardest part was just getting people together for the first time, and all that took was talking to people about it and passing out flyers. I got together with a friend in student government, and we started publicizing it. Around that time, I went to a Choice USA Affiliate Training. We learned about how to get people involved, how to get started… I learned that to keep people coming back you have to get them involved, and there have to be things for them to do. So, the strategy was to hit the ground running. We took on organizing our campus's Take Back the Night march, and attendance tripled from the previous year.
Now, we have four women's groups on campus, it's great. Last fall, for National Young Women's Day of Action, we put on an event through CARE (Campaign for Access and Reproductive Equity): a screening of the movie Legal But Out of Reach, to talk about disproportionate access to reproductive health care for poor women and women of color.
Do you remember when you first decided you were pro-choice?
It's not an issue that was discussed when I was a kid. Most parents don’t just say, “Lets sit down and talk about abortion." I remember in sixth grade, we had these little scholastic journals all the students got, and there was a pro/con thing in it about abortion. I didn't understand the issue, but one thing I latched onto was that the "anti-" side was Catholic. I thought, “I'm Catholic!” So, I thought I was against legal abortion. As I talked about it with one of my friends, my view started to evolve a little, into, "Well, maybe its not something I'd do, but I totally respect the right of other people to make that decision." And that view, of course, is exactly what it means to be pro-choice.
When I interned with Choice USA, I learned about RCRC (the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice) and CFFC (Catholics for a Free Choice). That’s not something they tell you about at church. The priest never announced during mass, “By the way, if you're a pro-choice Catholic, here are some resources for you….” That meant a lot to me, as a Catholic.
What has it been like for you to be a pro-choice activist in the Catholic Church?
Being Catholic can present a special challenge for pro-choice activists. If you’ve chosen Catholicism as your religion, but you don’t adhere to all of their social platforms, you don’t get a lot of reinforcement from the church. It's difficult being in a setting where you're trying to connect with your faith, and people are trying to use that space to tell you how you should feel about reproductive choice issues.
It’s really interesting. When we had an information table for CARE, one of the people who approached the table to start an argument, I recognized as someone who had spoken to our church and was starting youth groups around San Diego. Whenever you staff an information table for pro-choice issues, you're going to get a couple of anti-choice people who want to talk to you for like five hours to make you realize your point of view is “wrong”, or make you feel like you're going to hell.
I think that for some of my friends, dealing with that is a little easier, because they’re not religious, and they hear the same comments for not being religious. They can just shrug it off. But I’ll actually talk to the religious anti-choice people for a while. And they listen differently, because I'm coming from a place where I'm not dismissing their entire worldview. They're really shocked; they don't expect me to be a religious person. They haven't thought about the crossroads of religion and pro-choice perspectives. It's important that they hear from people in their faith who don't agree with them. It's important because I think there are a lot of pro-choice people in the church who are just too afraid to say anything about it in that community, because they think they're alone.
I think groups like RCRC and CFFC are really important resources. Until I found out about them, I had my opinions that differed from my church, but I didn't know of Bible passages I could refer to that affirmed my point of view. The discussions I've been able to attend at Choice USA GSLIs (Gloria Steinem Leadership Institutes) have been very important to me. Before, I didn't realize that the position of the Catholic Church on abortion is not canon law: as a Catholic, it's completely within my rights to disagree with the church's position on that issue, and several Catholic theologians do. Religious pro-choice groups are incredible sources that helped me reconcile whatever struggle I had between my faith and my pro-choice views.