By Ann Carey
NOTRE DAME — The Catholic Church’s teachings on abortion, sex, marriage and contraception were the topic of a Nov. 11 lecture at Saint Mary’s College by Erika Bachiochi, theologian, lawyer and mother of five.
Bachiochi attracted the rapt attention of her mostly female student audience of 125 as she recounted her own transformation from an out-of-control teenager who thought Church teachings on sexuality were anti-woman, to a young adult who came to realize that these very teachings demonstrate the Church’s love and respect for women.
Bachiochi said that she grew up “nominally Catholic” with a mother who married and divorced three times, so she never had a chance to bond with her father. As a teen, she used alcohol and drugs and sought out male attention through casual sexual encounters. The suicide of two of her friends led her to a 12-step program that helped her realize how much her out-of-control behavior damaged her emotionally and physically.
As a freshman at Middlebury College, she embraced radical feminist causes, for she thought the feminists on campus were the only people who were more interested in real life issues than in pursuing the “party” lifestyle she had recently rejected. Of course, abortion rights were a part of the feminist agenda because babies were seen to be “a drag” on women who had important things to do in life.
“I had taken for granted that women’s equality required abortion,” Bachiochi said.
However, during her junior year of college, she interned with a think tank in Washington, D.C., that assisted state legislatures in their effort to reform welfare. Then, she began to question the secularist feminist agenda when she studied the role of abortion in the lives of poor women. Suddenly, the pursuit of truth became more important to her than the pursuit of self.
“As I became more and more immersed in the problems of the poor, especially poor women, I became more and more disgusted with the argument put forth by abortion advocates that the availability of abortion would assist poor women on the road out of poverty,” Bachiochi recounted.
She said she was “haunted” by a solution to helping the poor that was based on helping them rid themselves of their own children. She also came to see the fallacy of the 1970s feminist mantra that bearing a child diminished a woman’s equality. In fact, she said, the unique ability of women to bear children does not take away from a woman’s fundamental human equality, but rather should be “honored and cherished” as the “most profound human experience” rather than ignored or, as in the case of abortion, rejected.
“Abortion is the problem, not the cure,” Bachiochi said. “Abortion eliminates the incentive to make institutional change” and is “a weapon to manipulate and abandon women.”
The real remedy for the women, she continued, is to “Rectify the imbalance of parental responsibility as well as the marketplace mentality that disfavors family obligation.” She suggested that society would be far better served if the energies expended by pro-abortion supporters would instead be focused on challenging “wayward men” to be fathers and challenging employers to be more flexible and family-friendly.
After her internship, Bachiochi returned to Middlebury a pro-life feminist and changed her major to political science. She rediscovered her Catholic faith, and came to see the Church teachings on sexuality not as repressive, but rather as “signposts” that “marked off dangerous territory,” teachings that protected women and were “liberating and dignified,” seeing fertility as a gift, not a burden. The departure from Church teachings has had a “devastating” effect on society, she continued, with abortion and contraception leading to the collapse of marriage and empowering men to use women merely as objects of pleasure.
Bachiochi recounted: “I came to see that the Catholic world view provided a far more satisfactory and compelling explanation of life as I knew it” than did radical feminism. “Like it or not, I was now playing for the other team.”
Playing for the Catholic “team” led Bachiochi to a master’s degree in theology from Boston College and a law degree from Boston University. She is a popular speaker, and has edited two books on life issues: “The Cost of ‘Choice’: Women Evaluate the Impact of Abortion” (Encounter Books, 2004) and “Women, Sex and the Church: A Case for Catholic Teaching” (2010, Pauline Books and Media).
Bachiochi’s lecture at Saint Mary’s was sponsored by the student club SMC for Life, Saint Mary’s Student Government Association, Saint Mary’s Campus Ministry and the Notre Dame Fund to Protect Human Life.
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