When You are Ready to Retire: Teach

A friend recently called for advice about making the move to academia. Many nurses and other professionals in government civil service and uniformed services have doctoral degrees in their chosen professions and of those, a significant number have worked in policy, research and development, and administration. If they entered public service right out of college they are relatively young when they reach the years of service necessary to retire. I was 48 so I had time for another 20-year career and I couldn’t think of anything I would rather do than teach.

Why Make the Move

A life of service is hard to leave. Any person that has dedicated their life and professional career to the service of the country is unlikely to be fully satisfied in corporate America or staying at home. When you chose government service you clearly do not do it for the money and that is a characteristic that is unlikely to change. You may like having money, but most likely it is not the key driver for making a decision. The retirement check gives you the freedom to follow the heart and the ability to take a salary less than what you were making in the government and still break even.

When I left active duty I applied for four jobs. Three jobs were in academia and one was with the state government. I almost immediately had three interviews and three job offers. I took the one that paid the least but was most likely to be an easier transition. As my husband told me, I was used to people “kissing my ass” and doing what I said without question and in academia neither would happen. That would turn out to be a very pleasant change. There is little that is more limiting to personal growth than blind loyalty or loyalty out of fear of position.

You may have given a lot, but a lot was given to you.  If you are retiring you have given your entire adult life to service to the country. But, your country has been giving too. My Ph.D. was fully funded, every training course I took was paid for by the government, and every effort was made to help me succeed. I may have given, but I received in equal or greater measure. When the Ph.D. program in nursing began at the Uniformed Services University one of the hopes was that after completing service to the country those they educated would then teach as a way of giving back. Never forget the country you served also served you.

There is a difference between what is taught and what one needs to succeed. Senior officers and government official hire and train hundreds if not thousands of young people fresh out of college. They have seen what makes those young people successful and what leads to difficulties in their professional lives. It is true that what is taught in college is essential knowledge and if done well gives a young person the necessary skills to adapt, but in many cases, it is the skills of listening, respect, professional presentation, and teamwork that are missing. As an officer or a senior official, you know how to blend this information into impactful lessons in a way a person who spent their life in academia will not.

I am easily able to explain to students why it is important to always be early for work and to think before you speak. I have a dozen real-life stories of things that have happened. I also have stories of people that thought they were on the right path but didn’t recognize that they had strong talent that would take them further if they had the courage to chose a different path or make a career change. One of our Presidental Management Fellows who was a nurse turned out to be the best champion of the Combined Federal Campaign our office ever had. She was missing her calling in fundraising and went on to be very successful. Not every student in nursing wants to be a nurse. It is okay to point out other paths they may take after finishing their degree. It isn’t necessary to change majors. It is fine to take a nontraditional path.

Academia needs people with well-developed leadership skills. There are things universities do well, but teaching leadership is not one of them. From day one as an officer leadership is taught and emphasized. It is not about learning to administer, which is definitely emphasized, but about leading. Don’t misunderstand, there are some amazing Deans, Provosts, and Presidents of universities, but there are even more that have little formal leadership training. What makes a great researcher isn’t always what makes a great leader.

If you work for the federal government until retirement you will have been sent to courses on strategic planning, financial management, personnel management, and leadership. You have probably managed large numbers of people, large and small budgets, grants, pilot projects, policy development and implementation, and a plethora of special projects. You have in your toolbox things the average academic does not have and in addition, you have been tested under different leaders and multiple administrations with all the political appointees they bring with them who may are may not have any knowledge of the area they oversee. Most importantly you have grown a thick skin and learned how to work fast and under pressure.

I was privileged to work with an amazing President, Provost and Graduate Dean when I first came to academia. They hired me for my leadership skills and not my academic history. The department had been without a Chair for a couple of years and the one before me had left quickly. I had looked for the job that needed my skills and was also willing to let me teach. When those three job offers came in there was no doubt which one I wanted and which was the best fit. It was the small school where I could learn academia and help them to address several years without a department chair. It was a win-win.

Transition Planning

It is a good idea to start your transition plan one to two years before you retire. Here are 10 must for your transition plan:

  1. A curriculum vitae is a must and it should look like one in academia. There are many things in government that are the same as academia, but academics will not understand government speak and if you don’t use academic terminology you will hurt yourself.
  2. If you are not publishing you need to start. I would highly recommend two to three peer-reviewed articles a year. It may seem intimidating, but it is easier than it sounds.
  3. Never turn down an invited presentation. All of the invited presentations you did now need to be on your CV. You are most likely going to have to search for them.
  4. Make sure your CV includes the number of people you supervised, budgets managed, and major accomplishments by position.
  5. You didn’t get to retirement without serving on many committees, task forces, and probably at the national level. You need them all on your CV.
  6. Start teaching by working as an adjunct instructor or lecturer. You do not need to be paid but you do need a letter of appointment. If you have ever taught a government course, precepted students, or developed training it needs to be on your CV.
  7. If you haven’t practiced clinically in a while you may want to renew that skill. Most places will want to know that you still understand the clinical setting even if they will not expect you to teach clinical courses. Volunteering is a good way to make sure you are current.
  8. Attend professional conferences where you are likely to run into academics. Use all of the skills you ever learned about networking. You need to start a new Rolodex.
  9. Start looking at university requirements for tenure and rank and make sure you are writing to those requirements.
  10. You need a good mentor for the transition and you need to reconnect with your dissertation advisor. Both can couch you on negotiating rank, salary, and start-up packages. If any university tells you that a retired Captain O-6 or senior executive service needs to start as an Assistant Professor you need to look elsewhere and this is especially true for women as it is more likely to happen to you than your male counterparts.

Teaching is a great opportunity to continue your life of service and it will remind you on a daily basis why you chose your profession all those years ago.


Pride Month Equals Hanging My Catholic Head in Shame

As a nurse and an educator, it is important to address the impact of implicit bias. “Thoughts and feelings are “implicit” if we are unaware of them or mistaken about their nature”.  Most of us have some bias that influences the way we interact with others. One way to identify your implicit bias is to take an Implicit Association Test.

The best known is the Implicit Association Test (IAT). This measure assesses “strengths of associations between concepts by observing response latencies in computer-administered categorization tasks” (Greenwald, 2009). For example, in measuring implicit attitudes about Blacks and Caucasians, slower responses (longer response latencies) to African- American first names paired with positive words and Anglo-Saxon names paired with negative words, and faster responses to African-American first names paired with negative words and Anglo-Saxon names paired with positive words, indicate a more negative implicit attitude in response to African-Americans. Over the last 20 years, a significant amount of research has been conducted with various forms of the IAT to assess implicit biases about women, members of various racial/ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ individuals, persons of various religions, and rural vs. urban individuals.

Implicit association has a negative impact on people. If you train girls to expect they will do poorly in math and better in languages then that is exactly what will happen, but it goes further.

Studies have also demonstrated that implicit attitudes can also influence how teachers respond to student behavior, suggesting that implicit bias can have a powerful impact on educational access and academic achievement. https://www.verywellmind.com/implicit-bias-overview-4178401

Imagine the implicit associations the Priest and Bishops are inflicting when they say pride month is “toxic and immoral”. They are telling the doctor, the nurse, the teacher, and the police officer that people who are LGBTQ+ are dangerous. They are attempting to stereotype all who are LGBTQ+ even when there is abundant evidence that what they are saying is not accurate and will cause harm. Implicit bias results in prejudice and discrimination in schools and workplaces. It can impact hiring practices, performance reviews, and treatment provided to patients. Implicit bias can result in differential grading by teachers and thus have long term impacts on the lives of their children. Further, it can result in bullying of the children of people who are LGBTQ+. Screen Shot 2019-06-03 at 7.00.14 PMHomophobia and/or lack of respect for individuals that are LGBTQ are attitudes that cause great harm to people and especially when it comes from people that are supposed to be moral leaders and examples of love and compassion.

What is harmful to children? The greatest harm to children is a lack of love, safety, and not meeting their basic needs of food, shelter, education, and medical care.  It is harmful to children to be in the presence of those that should protect them and do not. It is harmful to children to expose them to bigotry and stereotype them or their parents as dangerous. It is harmful to children to separate them from parents and put them in cages. There are many things that are harmful to children, but there is no evidence that attending a Pride month event is harmful.

The church for decades has known all too well what is harmful to children. They have covered up sexual abuse of children and moved priests around in a manner that allowed them to prey on even more children. Screen Shot 2019-06-03 at 7.21.43 PMI think the moral authority to discuss what is a danger to children doesn’t belong to the church or its leaders. 

The Bishops and Priests along with all Catholics would be well served to focus on reducing implicit bias as one way to make lives better for children. Kendra Cherry recommends three ways to reduce your own implicit bias:

  1. Focus on seeing people as individuals
  2. Work on consciously changing your stereotypes
  3. Adjust your perspective.

I would recommend adding one more:

4.  Don’t preach hate and intolerance in the name of God.

I hope one day we have a church that will not deny anyone their human dignity. That the clergy at all levels, the lay ministers, and the faithful promote a culture that is welcoming. Sadly, I think to get there we have to reject the teaching that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered. We also have to reject the saying to “Love the sinner and hate the sin” because it all too often looks more like hate all the way around. How would you feel if your nurse told you I hate that you are _________ but I will provide you the same care as a normal person? Calling someone intrinsically disordered or a sinner is saying you don’t see them as normal or good. Would you believe the nurse was really going to provide you the same care? Would you not wonder how much implicit bias was going to seep out when she or he took care of you? I would request another nurse. Likewise, if I were LGBTQ+ and a priest said something like the Priest or Bishop did in the tweets I would find another Priest. Love isn’t in their words.

I do not have it in my heart to feel anything but happiness for a person that finds love and I refuse to be part of teaching intolerance.  I choose love over hate and fear. I will not blindly follow teaching that is morally dubious.

There is no fear in love…perfect love drives out fear. (1 Jn 4:18)



Greenwald, A. G. et al (2009). Understanding and using the Implicit Association Test: III. Meta-analysis of predictive validity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97(1), 17-41.

I Won’t be a Prayer Hitman

I’m a horrible Catholic. It isn’t intentional it just seems to come naturally to me. I don’t have it in my nature to blindly believe nonsense just because it comes out of the mouth of a Priest or Bishop. Don’t misunderstand I believe without question the Crede and I’m mesmerized by the miracle of the Mass. As much as there are things that I object to about the institutional Church I am drawn to it.

When I first came to Knoxville I joined a parish. It was a beautiful church with classic Catholic architecture. The priest was friendly and the parish was welcoming. After a few months, I was added to a prayer list. At first, it seemed normal enough. Then the prayer list stated naming people for whom to pray and the list was always of politicians that were Democrats. It was a prayer of those they hated. I don’t hate.

I may disapprove of an action, but I do not have it in my heart to hate people. I will not pray for people in a manner that says dear God I’m superior to that person whose views repulse me. I’m more likely to pray that I will understand them, be open to a conversation with the person, and strive to see what is good in the person. I prefer my prayer to focus on my failings rather the perceived failings of others because I absolutely do have it in my heart to judge people and to find their actions immoral and repulsive. I even have it in my heart to think I’m intellectually and morally superior at times. Fortunately, I recognize those as personal flaws. 

Prayer to end abortion

I will not pray to end abortion. I think abortion is often a bad decision made under difficult circumstances that are out of the control of the woman and other times it is the only decision to save the life of the mother. When we pray to end abortion we are saying that we have all the answers and at the same time we are using it to avoid painful conversations with women who are suffering. Do any of us doubt that a woman who chooses abortion is not suffering? I’m willing to pray with her that God answers her prayers and grants her peace, but I’m not willing to pray in a way that says I think I’m morally superior to you.

Prayer for victims of gun violence

There is not a single day in America that multiple people are not killed with guns. People send prayers but then do nothing. They have no intention of doing anything. The prayers are only a way of publicly saying I’m a good person despite the fact I have no intention to act to end gun violence and I may even fight against any action that limits access to guns even for those with serious mental illness. When my brother was murdered I didn’t need you to pray, I needed you to do something to get the guns out of the hands of people that should have never owned one. I needed you to write a letter to your representative to require gun locks, gun safes, safety classes, and mental health assessments. I needed action. Prayer should not stand alone and they should not be used with false intent.

For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy. – St. ThéRèse of Lisieux

If the heart is the dwelling place where God lives I don’t want anyone to ask me to put hate in the dwelling place of God. I left the parish that sent out the prayer list I perceived as a prayer hit list. I didn’t want to turn my relationship with God into something filled with animosity. I may be a bad Catholic because I won’t pray to end abortion or for people who disagree with me to agree with me, but I don’t think it makes me any less a Catholic.

I think I will pray for the insight to understand others, for the skills to make meaningful change in the world, and for the drive to work hard even when I’m not seeing progress. Prayer, meditations, and silence are too important to one’s spirit to use it as a political club. Twitter and the pen are my political clubs.

Prayer and meditation are my communion with God. I refuse to be a prayer hitman.




Pro-Human Dignity Revisited

“Those that proclaim themselves to be the sole measure of realities and of truth cannot live peacefully in society with their fellow men and cooperate with them.”

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

The last few weeks have been filled with angry people aligning with pro-choice versus gloating people aligning with pro-choice. I hate both terms. They do little to describe what many of the people in the groups actually want. Pro-life is associated with people that want to end abortion, but many if not most of those people have little use for programs that support women before, during, and after pregnancy. In fact, some propose the death penalty for people that perform abortions or life in prison. Likewise, some people that are pro-choice only mean as it relates to women’s choices about their bodies. They frequently are not in favor of choice about such things as school choice or open carry laws for guns.

It would seem obvious that human life is sacred and that there is inherent dignity in all humans.  However, a quick look at public policy, media, and even individual human actions reveal that it is not at all obvious that life is treated as sacred or that there is inherent dignity in all humans.  One only needs to ask what it means to respect life and a heated debate may ensue with all parties proclaiming to be the sole holder of truth.  Most such discussions never proceed beyond abortion, the death penalty, war, and guns. Recently, I have seen more people add LGBTQ+ as an issue where no one can hear the other and where some brave soles like James Martin, SJ proclaim it to be a life issue and especially in countries where you can be executed for being same-sex relations.

When asked what is human dignity, a frequently provided answer is the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  No, it was not a question about the Declaration of Independence.  Yet, it appears that the representatives that signed the declaration understood human dignity and its foundation in our creation in the likeness of God, in stating, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Why then is this not part of the intellectual reasoning process when discussing these issues among friends, family, and colleagues and in public policy?  And, why for our entire history have we failed to live up to these words in the Declaration of Independence?

As we approach challenges to Roe v. Wade, let us consider life.  Life is a right.  Unfortunately, it is a right that we appear not to value as a society and a right for which we too frequently fail to give meaningful thought.  Here are a few areas where there is significant disagreement, and where life is either not treated as a right, or the issue gets inadequate attention.

  • Abortion
  • Contraception
  • Culture of violence in video games, movies, and music
  • Death penalty
  • Domestic violence
  • Drug, alcohol, and substance use
  • Health care & mental health care- inadequate
  • Homelessness
  • Genocide
  • Guns
  • Malnutrition
  • Obesity
  • Poverty
  • Sex trafficking
  • Terrorism
  • Torture
  • Violence (rape, hate crimes, child sex abuse, etc.)
  • War

All of these either prevent, end, shorten, or seriously impact life or the quality of life.  There is no public consensus on how to address any of these issues.  Imagine what would be said if there was a gun law passed as restrictive as the Georgia or Missouri abortion laws. Imagine making it a crime to release a person from the hospital when you know they have no home and will be living on the streets. Imagine a 95-year sentence for the health care provider that over-prescribed opioids resulting in addiction and an overdose.

The next time someone asks you if you are pro-life be sure to consider whether life is sacred and whether it is the foundation of your moral vision of society.  We can only protect human dignity and have a healthy community if we protect human rights and fulfill our responsibilities to each other.  We cannot shrug off poverty because it will always exist and ignore our responsibility to the poor and claim to be pro-life.  We cannot justify rape because the vagina was not ripped to shreds or it was “consensual” and claim to be pro-life.  We cannot let our children be murdered or sexually assaulted (or cover up the same in our churches) and claim to be pro-life. We cannot turn a blind eye to sex-trafficking and claim to be pro-life.  We cannot fulfill our responsibility without first recognizing the value of sharing ideas, cooperating to advance policy that supports human dignity, and admitting that no one individual is the sole purveyor of truth.

As some states march toward an essential ban on abortion consider whether abortion is blinding us to all other aspects of life and human dignity and whether a sole focus on protecting the unborn has resulted in public policy that ignores the threats to life that are all around us.  Likewise, consider whether treating abortion as a bad decision made under difficult circumstances would impact our approach to human dignity in other areas.  Advancing the cause of human dignity in public discourse requires us to fulfill our responsibilities and that must begin by listening to other people and hearing those perspectives with an open mind.  Maybe we would be more successful if we became pro-human dignity.

I Want to Walk in Your Shoes

I have had a long career and a wonderful life that I look back on with joy. There are a few exceptions and most of those are the times I could not find it in myself to walk in the other person’s shoes before passing judgment. I excused my behavior as putting the mission before individual needs, including family needs, when in reality it was poor communication and a lack of trust.

As both a staff member and a leader I have been a horrible judge of how much time it takes to do a task. I’m not any better with home repairs. If you ask me how long it will take to paint my home office I imagine I can do it in one day. Having painted many rooms I know I can’t do it in a single day, but none the less my mind tells me I can.

One day our office was preparing a briefing for the White House. As the Assistant Secretary and staff worked on the brief I reminded them how much time we needed to print and collate the required copies. As they passed the last possible minute we could get it printed on time and leave adequate time for them to get in the car and make the trip to the White House I was stressed. A copier doesn’t work faster because the presentation is going to the White House and neither can a person. The Assistant Secretary was so angry that it wasn’t completed when he needed it that he threw his briefcase, but that also didn’t make the copier work any faster. It is a common failing of highly motivated and highly successful people to think the world revolves around their expectations and needs. It doesn’t.

In academia, the stakes are much lower, but the passions are just as high.  How many classes can a faculty member successfully teach and how many papers can be carefully graded in a normal work week? Is it more work to grade a graduate or an undergraduate paper? How many grants can be written and how many papers published? How much time does committee work actually take? How much time does it take to grade the work of a student after a nursing clinical and how early must the faculty member be at the clinical site before the students arrive so everything is ready for a seamless day? How much time is actually spent on research with and without a graduate research assistant?  And then there is all of the unaccounted for time of mentoring, advising, writing letters for jobs for former students, and being active in professional organizations. But work isn’t all that a person must do. My experience is that everyone is working hard and maybe even too hard. It is an American characteristic.

All people have things they need and want to do that are not related to work. Each person has tasks of self-care such as dental and medical appoints. There is the task we all hate but must do such as getting vehicle inspections and anything to do with the DMV.  Moms and dads must care for sick children and even attend the extracurricular activities of those children. Who hasn’t had to be home to sign for a package or wait on the plumber? We all will eventually have to attend a funeral. These are all tasks of life and they are not optional. A well-rounded person must do these things and a productive employee should be supported when doing them. Why do we judge them?

Judgment is not new. Consider that at the time of Jesus they were writing about the Father judging no one I assume that the message is that we have done it throughout history and it has always been an undesirable behavior.

22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son,23 that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. John 5:22-23

I know my inability to see the perspective of the other did not end at the office and I doubt I’m alone. How often do we try to walk in the shoes of our spouses, parents, or children?  How often do we try to understand the store clerk whose line is slow or the driver who makes a mistake or the person that doesn’t understand stand right and walk left on the metro escalator? How often do people try to understand issues of equality without trying to justify the current norm?

Ultimately to walk in the shoes of the other person we must be willing to trust the person is working as hard as we are, cares as much as we do, and has intentions that are honorable. We must see the other person as equal and deserving of respect.

I’m finally at the point in my career and my life that I would rather trust a person than find fault. I would rather underwrite the mistakes of others than limit them and me with my judgment.

See each person for what they bring to the table and not what you would bring if you were them.






Women Deacons Online Discussion

A couple of weeks ago I shared Women Deacons, A Discussion, A Community that received a fair amount of attention yet the purpose was to form an online discussion group and community of interested people. I’m convinced there are other Catholic women and men interested in the issue of women deacons and who would like to learn more.

All interested people are welcome to join the discussion of Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future utilizing the Reflection and Study Guide available for download. No preregistration is required and you do not need to commit to all of the session.

Like many of you, I have a very busy schedule and online discussion groups make it possible to engage with people that share an interest. The discussion does not require you to register and one of the beauties of an online discussion is that you can mute your end or turn off the video if you are camera shy.

The study guide walks us through four sessions. I added six sessions so there would be an opportunity to discuss next steps for anyone interested in continuing our support of the women deacons.

I hope that you will join.

Roberta Lavin is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Women DeaconsTopic: Women Deacons Discussion
Time: May 29, 2019 7:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Every 2 weeks on Wed, until Aug 21, 2019, 7 occurrence(s)
May 29, 2019 7:00 PM
Jun 12, 2019 7:00 PM
Jun 26, 2019 7:00 PM
Jul 10, 2019 7:00 PM
Jul 24, 2019 7:00 PM
Aug 7, 2019 7:00 PM
Aug 21, 2019 7:00 PM
Please download and import the following iCalendar (.ics) files to your calendar system.
Weekly: https://zoom.us/meeting/213000398/ics?icsToken=3fc503c4e3d2fe4227d6394fd3b48c99f49d202be7eda491fe01823f81026cfd

Join Zoom Meeting

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The link has a limit of 100 people, but I really doubt that will be an issue. Also, if you have never used Zoom before and email me at roberta.lavin@gmail.com and will happily send you instructions.


The Hypocrisy of Abortion Politics Revisited

Human dignity rests above all on the fact that humanity is called to communion with God. The invitation to converse with God is addressed to men and women as soon as they are born. For if people exist it is because God has created them through love, and through love continues to keep them in existence. They cannot live fully in the truth unless they freely acknowledge that love and entrust themselves to their creator.

Gaudium et Spes (“The Church in the Modern World”), Vatican II, 1965, #19.

As a Catholic, I struggle with the issues surrounding abortion. I am at one time horrified by taking a life and equally horrified by forcing a woman to be pregnant especially when that pregnancy endangers her life or results from rape. I recognize abortion as the most difficult decision a woman will ever make and know that whether legal or not ultimately the decision is hers alone.

This week we had one governor sign into law legislation that would ban abortion after six weeks with no exception for rape even if the person raped was 10 years old and the next day the same governor allowed the execution of a man.  Missouri has passed a law outlawing abortion after eight weeks with no exception for a medical emergency or rape of a child. In other words, it is acceptable to let a woman die which will also result in the death of the fetus but essentially says it is not acceptable to save the mother if you can’t save the fetus.

Thus we have learned this week that pro-life is an obsolete word that is without meaning. It isn’t obsolete because people of faith do not believe that abortion is morally wrong. It is obsolete because it has been co-opted by opportunistic politicians that are no more opposed to abortion than anything else they espouse and then do absolutely nothing to change. Worse, they focus solely on the act of abortion and ignore all the factors that lead to abortion.

The Catholic Church is consistent in its teaching that life begins at conception and many faith traditions agree, but certainly not all. Officially abortion can be forgiven, but it can also result in the most severe punishment in the Church – excommunication. It is maintained that from the moment of conception a human embryo is fully human and deserving of all the protections of any human being. If one viewed this statement simplistically, it seems compassionate. We must treat this new life as if it were the same as a school child or a treasured grandparent. It is when one realizes that in saying “all the same protections of any human” it must necessarily mean that the mother is subservient to the human embryo so what is clearly meant is the same protections as a man. She must give up the control of her body to that human embryo, which is why some people make caveats for rape, incest, and life of the mother. If we logically followed this reasoning a man should have to do the same, but there are no laws requiring a father to give an organ to save the life of his child or for that matter to even give blood for his child.

hypocrisy of abortionPoliticians and pro-life and pro-choice advocates were outraged by the statement of Donald Trump when he suggested that women who have abortions should be punished during his campaign and to avoid that we have decided that if a physician performs an abortion it is murder, but the person that contracted for the murder has no guilt. It is no surprise that pro-choice advocates and most women were outraged then as they are today. However, for pro-life advocates and politicians who build careers preying on the faithful, it is nothing short of hypocrisy. We have already heard of two politicians that had their children aborted. Those that claim outrage against Trump’s statements need to consider what he said and what they claim to believe. Claiming the woman should be punished is consistent with what I would expect of someone that believes that the human embryo is the same as a child or an adult in rights. If a mother killed her 6-year-old or her neighbor, it would be expected that she would be punished. If one believes abortion is murder, then it would be expected that the person who committed or hired someone to commit murder is punished. However, what isn’t consistent is not also punishing the person that incited the murder – the father, or the driver that waited in the getaway car while the murder was committed. If one believes life begins at conception, and the human embryo is fully human and deserving of human rights rather than potentially human from that moment, then one should support Donald Trump’s original statement. Likewise, we should do away with all those fertilized embryos waiting to be implanted. Isn’t the physician that isn’t implanting them holding them hostage and when they dispose of them doing the same as the person who performs an abortion?

What about rape? Even if one agrees that the fetus is fully human and endowed with human rights by six weeks then what is being said about the child of God that has been raped and is pregnant. We are saying it is acceptable to enslave her body for nine months against her will. We are saying it is acceptable to treat her like nothing more than a human incubator. We are saying it is acceptable to endanger her life, cause her pain, and attack her every day for nine months. If we say the child is innocent then we are saying the rape victim is not. We are saying her well being is less important than that of the child of a rapist. This is what I cannot reconcile with reason or my conscience.

The Compassionate Alternative

Wanting to punish a woman for having an abortion shows a complete lack of compassion for a woman in trouble. Isn’t that what we teach with excommunication. When we say we punish the woman and not the man we are clearly setting different standards for men and women, doctors that do abortions and women that hire them, and mothers, fathers, and significant others that drive women to the abortion appointment. If one truly believes that abortion is a mortal sin, then to condemn the woman as a murderer is too easy and self-satisfying. It is too easy because it allows us as a society, a faith community, and as individuals to do nothing to help her through the pregnancy, to dismiss her as immoral, and to condemn her and those who assist her as murders and consign them to the criminal justice system. Calling abortion criminal allows us to continue to advocate against abortion without showing the same concern for women before pregnancy, during pregnancy, or after birth.

The child/fetus in the mother’s womb is drawing its life directly from the mother, and she must be nurtured, nourished and protected. Only then will the child develop to its full capacity. Not only is it necessary for a mother, a woman, to be cared for during her pregnancy, but we know through medical science that nutrition is essential even before conception. What we are doing for all women of childbearing age we are also doing for the child she will one day nurture. When we fail her, we fail to defend the integrity of the human embryo that will grow into a child.

We can begin our compassion by ending the use of the terms pro-life and pro-choice. Let us start saying what we believe. In stating our beliefs, we may find common ground that brings us together to find solutions that don’t criminalize acts of fear and desperation and further grow our flawed criminal justice system. I reject be label as pro anything. Here is what I believe:

  • Women are fully human – not less than men or human embryos or human fetuses.
  • A human embryo has all the genetic material of a human being but is not sentient from the time of conception.
  • The human embryo/fetus is drawing its life from the mother.
  • Self-determination should be a right for all sentient beings – rights come with responsibilities to make moral decisions.
  • However, pregnancy is a choice in most circumstances – rape, incest, and the life of a mother are special circumstances that force choices between the good of the human embryo and human fetus and the good of the mother.
  • Contraception meant to prevent implantation is not equivalent to abortion – it does violate the teaching of the Church, but can result in a reduction of abortions.
  • Poverty, abuse, lack of child care, few education options for women with children, fewer job opportunities and discrimination against women with children, and inadequate support for those that are pregnant impact a woman’s decision to have an abortion.
  • Abortion is a moral decision – women are endowed with consciences and can make moral decisions.
  • Pregnancy is stigmatizing – society values fertility, but not the always the pregnant woman especially if she is unwed or poor.
  • The objective act of abortion being immoral does not equate to the person carrying out the act as being either good or evil.

The compassionate solution cannot be to build a wall between women and legal and safe abortion and expect it will end abortion. It cannot be to take away safe abortions and not explore laws to help women care for their children. We should begin with compassion and start by passing laws and making policy changes that will encourage women to give birth and value pregnancy.

  • Paid maternal leave for six months
  • Affordable child care based on income
  • Educational support for pregnant teens and new moms
  • Adequate nutritional assistance for all women of childbearing age
  • Free adoption that isn’t limited by religion, sexual orientation, or whether one has a fire extinguisher in their house (don’t ask as you will be angry)
  • Women’s health care in all communities that is free to all women of childbearing age
  • Corporations that don’t disadvantage women with children
  • Mental health care for all women that have been raped and all with unwanted pregnancies

If we put the same passion into supporting pregnant women as goes into preventing abortion, the result may be surprising. I look forward to the day we are praying in the streets outside of community health centers and family practice clinics insisting that they provide women’s healthcare including maternity care or that we march on Washington every year to insist that all women have paid maternity leave and affordable childcare. This week taught us one important lesson – justice must include compassion. It is inhumane to treat women seeking abortion and physicians that care for them as criminals.

I cannot find it in my heart to condemn a woman to carry the child of a rapist. I find it to be inhuman to not recognize rape as a crime that should not punish the woman by forcing her to carry the child thus being raped over every single day for nine months. I can understand the fetus as innocent, but I also understand the woman as innocent. If we ask a woman to suffer and recognize her as having equal human dignity then if she is forced to carry the child to term we must fully support her.  Certainly, we should not ask her to pay the medical bills, to forgo her education, to have anything less than the best and most nutritious food, to have a fully funded education for that child, and to provide her all the medical and mental health support she will need.

This is not an easy issue and I would never violate the teachings of my faith, but I will not ask others to abide by them. I will only encourage people to explore all the implications, consider the possibilities, and know I will never turn my back on a woman struggling with the most difficult decision of her life.

Catechism of the Catholic Church on Abortion


2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.72

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.73

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.74

2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:

You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.75

God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.76

2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,”77“by the very commission of the offense,”78 and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law.79 The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.

2273 The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation:

“The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.”80

“The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . . . As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child’s rights.”81

2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.

Prenatal diagnosis is morally licit, “if it respects the life and integrity of the embryo and the human fetus and is directed toward its safeguarding or healing as an individual. . . . It is gravely opposed to the moral law when this is done with the thought of possibly inducing an abortion, depending upon the results: a diagnosis must not be the equivalent of a death sentence.”82

2275 “One must hold as licit procedures carried out on the human embryo which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not involve disproportionate risks for it, but are directed toward its healing the improvement of its condition of health, or its individual survival.”83

“It is immoral to produce human embryos intended for exploitation as disposable biological material.”84

“Certain attempts to influence chromosomic or genetic inheritance are not therapeutic but are aimed at producing human beings selected according to sex or other predetermined qualities. Such manipulations are contrary to the personal dignity of the human being and his integrity and identity”85 which are unique and unrepeatable.