Think you know what the Catholic view on abortion is? Well, Jon O’Brien is here to set you straight.
“This stereotypical view that being a Catholic means you’re anti-abortion is downright wrong around the world, and I think it’s downright wrong in Australia,” O’Brien says.
O’Brien, who is currently visiting Australia, is president of Catholics For Choice. The organisation was formed by three American women in the 1970s. It supports women’s right to follow their own conscience when it comes to birth control and abortion.
“Ninety-nine per cent of Catholic women who are sexually active in the United States of America use a method of birth control that the bishops don’t like,” O’Brien says. “Ninety-nine per cent! If you had a campaign against something, I think you might give up at some point if you knew that 99 per cent of those people you were supposed to be trying to convince didn’t agree with you.
“When it comes to abortion, Catholic women have abortions at the same rate as those of other faiths, or those of no faith.”
Catholics have abortions too. Photo via iStock.
O'Brien believes most Catholics don't listen to the church hierarchy's teachings on birth control anymore.
"Young Catholic women these days, their mums will tell them, 'Make sure you look after yourself, make sure you protect yourself, make sure that when you’re having sex that it’s in a situation that you feel good, and that when you decide to have a child, you’re ready for one.' I think that's the way we talk to one another in our Catholic communities today."
He says there's not much preaching against contraception at Sunday Mass anymore. Instead, the message has been taken to parliament.
"They’re putting politicians under pressure so that those politicians end up enacting policies that the Catholic hierarchy support but very few other people do."
O'Brien believes abortion should be legal and safe, and there should be no stigma attached to it.
"I think it’s only women that can be actually trusted with this decision," he says. "When a woman chooses to involve her partner, her family, her priest or whatever in that decision-making, all well and good. But the idea that we deal with abortion within a criminal code, I think that that’s antiquated thinking."
Obviously, there are people who disapprove of O'Brien's views. He says some people - usually the ones who are a "little bit ignorant" about Catholicism - try to tell him he's not Catholic.
"What makes you a Catholic is your baptism," he points out. "This idea that I have to agree about abortion with the bishops, and that makes me Catholic or not, that’s a little fairytale."
Not all Catholics agree with the teachings of the church hierarchy. Photo via iStock.
O'Brien says he likes going to Mass.
"I like the whole ceremony, I like the community of it, I like the social justice," he explains.
It's this sense of social justice that drives Catholics For Choice. O'Brien believes that putting restrictions on abortion discriminates against people who are less well off.
"If you have the right credit cards, you can circumvent any prohibition. You can get on a plane, you can get whatever procedure you want. The people who really suffer are the poor.
"As Catholics, we believe in social justice. It's not despite my faith but because of my faith that I actually believe in a woman’s right to make a decision."