WASHINGTON (CNS) — Helen Alvare, former U.S. bishops’ pro-life spokeswoman, is the co-author and editor of a new book, “Breaking Through, Catholic Women Speak for Themselves,” the idea for which came about, she said, from pages of notes she’s been jotting down for the past 15 years.

However, the concept officially took off when the recently coined and politically charged phrase, “war on women” entered into the American lexicon, used by some to characterize opposition to a federal mandate requiring most religious employers to provide free coverage of contraceptives for employees.

“It forced me to make a response,” said Alvare, who with several of her co-contributors recently talked about the book at the Catholic Information Center in downtown Washington. “This is a book that tries to be the intersection of faith and reason.”


The recent claims about “war on women” fail to acknowledge Catholic women who value religious liberty, said Alvare, who is a law professor at George Mason University Law School.

Along with her co-authors and 36,000 women, Alvare signed an open letter she and fellow book contributor Kim Daniels wrote to the Obama administration, saying religious freedom must be preserved not only for private worship, but also for public expression.

In her remarks Oct. 5 and in a similar presentation at the National Press Club Oct. 16, Alvare said the book, “Breaking Through, Catholic Women Speak for Themselves,” grew out of a women’s movement, Women Speak for Themselves, established to defend religious freedom and to put forth a more thoughtful and complete vision of women’s freedom.

Published by Our Sunday Visitor, the book is a collection of essays on a range of topics, including dating, marriage, children, religious life, women as the family breadwinner and single motherhood. The authors are Catholic women, writing about how their faith has shaped their lives, guided them through the secularism of today’s society, and how they embraced the true freedom found by living according to the rich teachings of the Catholic Church.

“Nine Catholic women tell their stories of living out their faith joyfully, authentically and without fear,” said Alvare.

In her talk at the Catholic Information Center, she addressed religious liberty as it relates to the contraceptive mandate issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It requires all employers, including most religious employers, to cover the costs of contraceptives, including some that can cause abortions, and of sterilizations in employee health plans.

The mandate does not include a conscience clause for employers who object to such coverage on moral grounds. A narrow exemption applies only to those religious institutions that seek to inculcate their religious values and primarily employ and serve people of their own faith.

“Our government is now saying the freedoms we were founded upon have to go,” Alvare said. “It is a frightening shift.”

In her chapter “Fear of Children,” Alvare writes about how when she was growing up and as a young adult, she wasn’t always fond of the idea of having children. That notion changed, she said, when she looked to the Catholic Church and its wisdom on sacrificial love, and it opened her “heart and mind to children.”

“Living for myself — or as a couple — would be a terrible temptation toward materialism, ego and selfishness. Self-giving to a sacrificial extent is just more likely to happen when it’s in your face, in your house, where you get relentless opportunities to rise above your own weaknesses, and to take care of others for decades,” Alvare writes.

Dr. Marie Anderson, an obstetrician-gynecologist with the Tepeyac Family Center in Fairfax, Va., describes in her essay her journey from beginning her medical career as a doctor who prescribed contraception and returning to her return to the faith and joining a pro-life medical practice, a decision she has never regretted, she said.

As a child of the 1960s, Anderson said, she went to medical school and “checked my faith at the door.”

“When I came back to the church, I had to do this in a public arena and that meant leaving that practice, showing my interior soul, but I grew so much,” Anderson said.

Speaker Elise Italiano, another essayist, talked about life as a single Catholic young woman. She said her life at age 28 is very different from her mother’s life decades earlier. She also said many young adults’ lives mirror their college days, resulting in delayed marriage and careers as the driving force of their lives.

“There are lots of single Catholic women in the world, but not of the world,” she said. “And they have many questions.”

Italiano, who teaches at Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School in Washington, said the church needs to reach out pastorally to its single population, especially young Catholic women. “The church can help her battle against a life of mediocrity and offer crucial support toward a life of sanctity,” she writes.

Daniels, a mother of six, a lawyer and coordinator of Catholic Voices USA, who contributed an essay on “Beyond Politics — Everyday Catholic Life,” said Catholics can fight the tide of secularism and build up the culture through strong ties to one another in families, parishes and friendships.

“In our families, build a domestic church, where children learn beauty, goodness and truth. We need to root ourselves in a parish and build relationships” she said.


Boyle writes for the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Washington Archdiocese.