In a corner of their Mexico City office, activists from Catholics for the Right to Decide keep an image of the Virgin Mary close to a green scarf that reads: “Mary was consulted to be mother of God.”

For these Catholic women, prayer does not conflict with their fight for abortion access nor does their devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe prevent them from supporting LGBTQ+ rights.

“You might think that one cannot be a feminist and a Catholic,” said activist Cinthya Ramírez. “But being women of faith does not mean that we oppose progressivity, human rights or sexual diversity.”

The organization was founded in 1994 by theologians and activists following in the footsteps of Catholics for Choice in the United States. Now present in 10 Latin American countries, its members denounce the invisibility of women in some religious environments and advocate for the reinterpretation of sacred texts with a feminist perspective.

“Assuming our right to decide and dissent with the ecclesiastic hierarchy allows us, as Catholics who embrace our faith, to make decisions in freedom and choose our own life project,” said activist Maribel Luna.

Believing the Virgin Mary made a choice to be a mother instead of just obediently fulfilling an archangel’s request is unusual in Mexico, where conservatives frequently dress in light blue to protest against the decriminalization of abortion.

The Catholic archbishop of Mexico City, Carlos Aguiar Retes, advocated for an anti-abortion presidential candidate months ago and religious groups are used to praying outside abortion clinics, using Catholic symbols to strengthen their message.

“May the Blessed Virgin intercede for all vulnerable lives and inspire us to be instruments of love and compassion,” the Mexican branch of 40 Days for Life published on Facebook recently.

To address the complexity of terminating a pregnancy in this context, Catholics for the Right to Decide created a spiritual accompaniment group. The team is led by theologians and faith leaders — among them, a Presbyterian and a Lutheran pastor — who listen and comfort women who struggle to reconcile their faith with their decision to get an abortion.

“We created a guide with a biblical and theological foundation, but it also has a sense of freedom,” said the Rev. Rebeca Montemayor, a Baptist pastor who is part of the group.

Most women make contact by phone or social media. Some communicate shortly after having an abortion, or when trying to decide whether to have one. Others contact the organization after decades of feeling overwhelmed with guilt.

“I have encountered women who have drawn this out for 30 years,” said the Rev. Julián Cruzalta, a Dominican friar and one of the founders of Catholics for the Right to Decide.

“They have never felt free,” Cruzalta said. “It is very difficult to remove years of guilt, to watch their anguished eyes.”

The group keeps the women’s identity anonymous, but its members discuss their general impressions to update their strategies and understand Mexico’s social context.

According to Montemayor and Cruzalta, many of the women who contact them feel tormented with remorse and doubt. “Did I commit murder? Will I go to hell?” they ask. Others think that not only them, but their families, will be condemned.

“It can take up several sessions for them to forgive themselves,” Cruzalta said.

As part of the spiritual healing process, some faith leaders ask the women to review booklets on guilt and reinterpret biblical texts. Meditations and healing rituals are encouraged too.

“I ask them to write in a notebook who they were. Not who they are now, but who they were when they made the decision,” Cruzalta said. “We judge ourselves from the present, but it helps to go back, to understand that they did the best they could.”

Outside the spiritual accompaniment group, Catholics for the Right to Decide offers lectures in universities during sexuality fairs, provides training for medical personnel — who frequently claim conscientious objection to avoid performing legal abortions — and produces ” Catolicadas,” an animated series that addresses religious themes.

People sometimes provide feedback, Ramírez said, and their words fill their hearts.

According to the activist, there was once a young man from the LGBTQ+ community who approached them and said that through a new reading of the Bible he could finally accept his own identity without feeling remorse. On another occasion, a woman who had an abortion and received spiritual accompaniment said that she was able to take communion again and sleep in peace for the first time in years.

“In the midst of so much violence, we want to bring together communities from different faiths to have a common understanding,” Montemayor said. “You can assume your faith in freedom, and regardless of your religion, someone will always be there to accompany you.”

María Teresa Hernández

Associated Press


Eduardo Verdugo (AP)