This November 1-3, progressive Catholics will converge for the world’s biggest church reform conference — the annual Call To Action conference, this year titled Living Our Baptismal Call. And here on Young Adult Catholics, we will feature some of this year’s conference speakers that we are excited to see. Find out about all conference speakers and young adult scholarships here. First up is Johanna Hatch – who will be featured in a pre-conference panel, Anchored in Hope: Navigating the Path to Conscience.
Religion is a hard topic to avoid in front of an abortion clinic. Images of Jesus or the Virgin Mary, threats of hell, and promises of God’s love or vengeance are common parts of protesters’ early-morning scripts. Seminarians walk up and down the block, praying the Rosary. I don’t realize how vicious the use of this imagery can be until I see the first patient escorted into the clinic. As the escort walks back to her station, the most vocal—and the only woman—protester produces a bottle of holy water and begins shaking it vigorously in the direction of the escort. I nervously finger my Virgin of Guadalupe necklace but quickly drop my hand. I’m not sure that I want to draw the attention of my fellow escorts to the religious symbol I share with the protestors.
After that, whenever one of us walks by with a patient, this protester starts her vocal loop over again: “Your baby wants to live and be adopted! Don’t do this! Don’t go in there! Your baby doesn’t want to be aborted! If you do this, it will haunt you the rest of your life!”
Once the patient is inside, she turns her wrath on the escorts.
“This baby’s blood is on your hands! This baby will be on your conscience and you’ll see it on your deathbed. God’s vengeance is freely given, but you have to beg for God’s mercy! You need to get down on your knees and repent and beg God to forgive you!”
I assume that she is a Christian, and judging by the holy water, a Catholic. What would she think if she knew I was also Catholic? Could we find common ground through our shared religious tradition, or would she see me as a traitor?
As a Catholic clinic escort, I experience a range of emotions, but the two strongest are offense and isolation. I am offended that those who protest outside the clinic use treasured symbols of my tradition as weapons to scare, to guilt, and to separate themselves from the escorts, who they see as accomplices to murder. The holy waters of baptism, the prayers my mother prayed for strength and sanity, and the image of our Blessed Mother that comforted me all my life have been hijacked and turned against me.
While my involvement as an escort isolates me from members of my faith, my faith isolates me from my political allies. Although I’m a committed reproductive justice activist, I have had long conversations with many who see my continued participation in the Church as unquestioned allegiance to an organization that continues to oppress women and the GLBT community. Because of this, I never reveal my religious tradition to my fellow clinic escorts.
I have always known that I have been called to walk with women as a companion and advocate in the face of the world’s cruelties. In my professional life, I’ve responded to this calling by working to prevent and address the root causes of sexual assault and working with immigrant, refugee, and battered women. As a volunteer clinic escort, I literally become a shield. I put my body between a woman—making what might be the most difficult choice she will ever make—and images of violence and voices of condemnation. I accompany these women for a brief part of their life journey—promising neither to judge or take any decision away from them, nor to alleviate the burden of their responsibility. I simply offer safe passage.
This text is an excerpt from “Gory Stuff and the Virgin Mary,” by Johanna Hatch in Hungering and Thirsting for Justice: Real Life Stories by Young Adult Catholics, Lacey Louwagie and Kate Ward, ed. ACTA Publications, 2012.
Johanna Hatch is a writer, doula, nursing student, and feminist Catholic whose writing has been published in the anthologies From the Pews in the Back: Young Women and Catholicism, and Hungering and Thirsting for Justice. Johanna will be speaking on the pre-conference panel Anchored in Hope: Navigating the Path of Conscience at the 2013 Call to Action conference. She currently serves as Co-President of the Women’s Ordination Conference Board of Directors and lives in Wisconsin with her family.