Erika Bachiochi on Being a Pro-Life Catholic, Feminist Intellectual and Mother of 7: ‘Our Hearts Long for the Good’
Scholar and mom Erika Bachiochi on winning hearts for life: ‘Charity has to be ahead of every argument.’
To worldly ears, words describing Erika Bachiochi — a pro-life Catholic, feminist intellectual and mother of seven — likely stir confusion.
Indeed, elements of this Holy-Spirit-driven legal scholar do not fit tidily in a box.
Her longtime friend Katie Elrod, agrees, saying Bachiochi represents “the third way” in her unique ability to foster difficult conversations. “She’s very even-handed and fair-minded and is always looking to see the best in every argument, to bring people closer to God and the Church,” Elrod told the Register. “But if she’s seemingly paradoxical, that’s because we’re limited in our thinking.”
Elrod calls Bachiochi’s responses in a recent interview with New York Times writer Ezra Klein “masterful,” exhibiting clarity, charity, warmth and humor, while presenting “a really bold, new vision of what it means to be a woman.”
“She has developed a lot of mercy for women, while striving to be an excellent wife, mother and friend, and does it with a lot of sincerity,” Elrod continued. “There are no precepts or false modesty with her. I find that to be rare.”
Alexandra DeSanctis, an Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague, said Bachiochi seeks to be a bridge in helping bring those from the pro-choice position to a pro-life view, “just as she herself was helped across the bridge.”
“I’ve been thinking about that more in the wake of Dobbs,” DeSanctis told the Register. “Her writing and speaking has formed and shaped my own, of why abortion is not a feminist proposal at all.”
The Early Years
Baptized as an infant, Bachiochi did not grow up in a religious household. Her mother’s three divorces, and suicides of two friends, set her on a path of recklessness and addiction as a teen, she said, plunging her into introspection at a young age.
By 17, she had begun attending 12-step meetings and cultivating a prayer life.
Bachiochi attended Middlebury College in Vermont, taking up women’s studies and sociology. “I called myself a socialist feminist,” she told the Register, even volunteering one summer for her congressman, Bernie Sanders.
As addiction recovery took hold, healing family wounds, she began to work to see her own part in her past. “I stopped blaming everyone around me — especially my mother,” she said, and she began praying constantly, relying on God for her sanity.
Bachiochi spent time her junior year in Washington, D.C., at a program for the study of American politics and public law, discovering the work of Mary Ann Glendon and the Communitarian Movement, a 1990s bipartisan critique of liberal individualism in favor of robust communities. Though “adamantly pro-choice,” when law professor Helen Alvaré, in charge at the time of pro-life communications for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was invited in as a guest to describe the pro-life position in one of her classes, Bachiochi was struck by her “affect and evident joy.” Her experience in D.C. caused a pivot in Bachiochi’s studies, with a new focus on constitutional law and political theory, with her becoming “reoriented toward the pursuit of truth” and away from self through reading ancient philosophy.
Later, Bachiochi accepted an invitation to Middlebury's Newman Club by a Catholic lecturer she had met at a seminar and found the Catholic students demonstrating a surprising humility, love of God and depth. “They were seeking what I wanted, but it intertwined with all this Catholic talk that made me very uncomfortable,” she recalled. “So I went back to my dorm, got on my knees — which was my habit — and asked God if he had a son. And that was the beginning of my religious conversion.”
Soon thereafter, she found herself at Mass — and was hooked. “I don’t know if it’s because I’d been baptized as a child, that there was some sort of rootedness, or whether it was just the crucifix that spoke to my heart,” she said, but she knew she was home.
Friendship and Family
It was at Boston College, where she studied theology, that Bachiochi met Elrod, a Catholic revert, who became her confirmation sponsor upon her entrance into the Church in 1997, in her early 20s.
“From the beginning, we became instant soulmates,” Elrod said, calling her “a great example of Aristotelian friendship — of trying to become a better version of herself for the world.”
Now head of an independent school for girls in grades 6 to 12 located just outside Boston, Elrod said “the student surpassed the teacher,” with Bachiochi becoming a mentor. “It was rare for me to find a woman who had the intellectual acumen, drive and intensity — and at the same time is incredibly humble.”
Bachiochi met her husband, a Catholic, following her conversion. They married during her time at Boston University School of Law, while she sought her law degree, welcoming their first child in her third year there.
Though intending to be exclusively at home with her children, Bachiochi says her “overactive intellect” eventually demanded an outlet, and the family needed the money. She edited her first book, The Cost of Choice, a series of essays, during her first and second children’s naptimes. Her second book, Women, Sex and the Church: A Case for Catholic Teaching, also comprised a series of essays.
Bachiochi knew well both sides of the abortion argument. “I agree with a lot of feminist legal arguments, so I see my work as separating the wheat from the chaff,” she said, adding that the mind always ultimately “searches for truth, and our hearts long for the good.”
She approaches feminist legal theory “with a lot of respect,” she added, challenging conservatives who are inclined to “just shout, ‘No’ and thereby miss the underlying rationale for feminism, as though that’s going to be convincing.”
A Vision of Interdependence
Katie Brizek, a graduate student focusing on the intellectual history of the Catholic Church in the United States, met Bachiochi during a summer seminar Bachiochi co-teaches through the Abigail Adams Institute soon after reading her article, “Embodied Caregiving,” in First Things, which argued that humans are more interdependent, and less autonomous, than we often believe.
“The relationships between human beings are better characterized as an alliance of trust that are interdependent, and there are seasons of greater versus lesser giving. Family, and also larger society, is premised on this,” Brizek said in recollection to the Register.
It made her feel hopeful, she says, about how to meld her own thoughts on being human — and a woman in particular — in ways honoring her Catholic faith. “I was struck that she was married and had a family, but was also clearly excellent at what she did — and seemed to be doing something new.”
The two stayed in touch, and, recently, Bachiochi offered to review some of Brizek’s own scholarly work. “Her generosity and humility in her intellectual endeavors is something that, as a human being, makes you feel good,” Brizek said. “It’s like a mentoring relationship, but not one that is condescending or patronizing.”
DeSanctis agrees, noting that Bachiochi is both intellectual and sharp, with a lively mind, along with being engaging and personable.
She also appreciates her intent on “getting to the root of why women seek abortion,” while pointing out its harms for women. “We need to have a better solution than pitting [women] against their unborn children.”
School of Motherhood
Bachiochi says melding motherhood with her professional work wasn’t as impressive as some might think. “I didn’t have to be in an office, and I wasn’t beholden to a boss. So I could just read alongside [the kids], like any mother,” she said. “I just happened to be reading feminist legal theory.”
She discovered her niche after writing a 2011 law-review article, which “captured the intuitions of many pro-life feminists,” debunking the idea that women need abortion to be equal to men.
It was a time in which the phrase “The duty of the moment” became prominent in her life; when “pushing swings while reading law-review articles” happened routinely. Tending to her kids’ needs, then going about her work, whether professional or of the home, “fosters for them an independence and an ability to provide for, and take care of, one another.”
Marriage, she added, also has provided a training ground for developing virtues together. “If you parent the younger children well, and give of yourself the way young children need, it provides wisdom and can become the necessary cross we need” for refinement of self.
Our Current Discontent
Bachiochi believes the debates over the nature of rights, especially regarding abortion, forms “the heart of our discontent” at the moment. “The incredible vitriol we experience in this space is due to the fact that it’s at the juncture of two competing worldviews,” reaching who we are as humans. Bachiochi centrally addresses the topic in her latest book, The Rights of Women: Reclaiming a Lost Vision (Catholic Ideas for a Secular World).
For pro-lifers, abortion is understood as a human-rights violation, so asserting the rights of vulnerable children is the overarching goal, she said, “but I think it’s better if we understand the issue from the perspective of the duties of care the mother and father owe their child — and each other.”
“Rights are the correlative of our responsibilities to one another,” Bachiochi said. “Fulfilling our responsibilities virtuously is what makes us happy as human beings. It begins a virtuous cycle of caring for one another.”
That also means paying attention to laws; those built upon an incorrect understanding of who we are as humans, she says, will distort our culture.
But for meaningful conversations, we must seek the dignity in each other, despite diverse views, just as how her own heart had to be open before seeing the truth. “We have to encounter other human beings as human beings. That’s really broken down in our culture right now,” Bachiochi said. “Charity has to be ahead of every argument.”
Women in particular are often able to view a person’s development in a way that “goes straight to the heart,” she added, and must be central in engaging the culture in all its facets. “From playgrounds to neighborhoods, to emergency rooms to Congress, these are all places where women with maternal hearts can help each other see what we owe one another.”
- erika bachiochi
- catholic feminism
- Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization
- PRO-LIFE LEADERSHIP
- conversion of heart