I am not usually one to take on the Vatican. In fact, I toured its lovely treasure-filled buildings only three months ago and marveled at the wealth and power it denoted. However, the Pope's recent pronouncements during his travels in Africa that condoms and abortions are morally wrong have filled me with righteous indignation. I too have spent time in Africa. But I wasn't there to make pronouncements from on high. I was there to make a documentary about the increasing number of married women with AIDS in Kenya. I walked through Kibera slum and saw for myself large families crammed into corrugated metal sheds without plumbing or heat. I spoke with women who longed for access to contraceptives so they could better care for the children they already had.
Even so, I probably wouldn't take on the Pope...except for an article in today's Washington Post. Apparently, the Vatican's top bioethics official said the two Brazilian doctors who performed an abortion on a nine-year-old rape victim "did not merit excommunication, because they acted to save her life." HELLO! In my book, that's called a pro-choice stand. Bravo for Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life. Perhaps he should have a chat with his boss.
Abortion is not a black and white issue for me, despite having worked for the better part of a decade for Planned Parenthood Federation of America and NARAL on reproductive health issues. That's why the pro-choice position has always seemed to me to be the reasoned one. It allows individuals to make decisions and encourages each of us to define for ourselves what is reasonable and acceptable. There is a trust factor in being pro-choice. For example, if there is the possibility that a nine-year-old may be raped by her stepfather, you want to believe that the pregnancy will be ended as swiftly and humanely as possible.
Good for Archbishop Fisichella for being able to see that issues related to reproductive health have gray areas! And that it is often possible to be both pro-life and pro-choice while having to accept difficult decisions. Is it too much to hope that Pope Benedict XVI might also see the light? If he truly listens to the people of Africa and other continents, and opens his eyes to their hopes for their own lives - I have faith that he may begin to understand the healing power of condoms and the life-affirming necessity for legal, safe abortions.