By Charles C. Camosy
Religious pro-life voices in the public debate are often marginalized.
First, the arguments they make are often simplistic and refuse to engage serious responses from their opponents. Second, secularists simply rule them out of bounds because ‘religion’ has no place in the debate. Third, they often marginalize themselves with their caustic and off-putting rhetoric.
This past weekend at Princeton there was a conference of diverse leaders in the abortion debate (both academic and activist) designed to find new ways to think and speak about abortion. But this time the trends mentioned above clearly didn’t hold. Christian thinkers like John Finnis, David Gushee, Helen Alvare, and Cathleen Kaveny all made strong and fair-minded arguments backed by the latest biological, social and legal science. When dismissive mention was made of the overt presence of ‘religious’ thinkers at the conference, even the famously atheist philosopher Peter Singer jumped to their defense by claiming that none of these thinkers were making explicitly religious arguments such that they were inappropriate for this kind of public exchange.
Indeed, the conference had some of the very best minds and hearts on abortion from around the country engaging their opponents, at worst, with mutual respect and civility…and, at best, with care and even charity. There was spirited discussion that was public of course (and will soon be available on video), but there were also many more private interactions that took place between people of very different points of view. These included even dinner conversation between an abortionist and someone who regularly prays and protests outside abortion clinics. An absolutely stunning moment.
Because we actually engaged rather than demonized, we learned that many (but not all) supposed ‘enemies’ on abortion actually share many values in common:
1. A default position against violence (both with regard to fetus-especially when she can feel pain-and also pregnant women)
2. A special concern for the most vulnerable (both with regard to the fetus-especially when she is unwanted because of race, gender or disability-and poor women in desperate circumstances)
3. A commitment to finding new ways to think and speak about abortion-something which, remarkably, major figures on both sides argued might require a more legislative approach (i.e. not Roe) in order to work through the political complexities of those discussions.
Though it will undoubtedly take hard work, many of us can take these discussions as solid evidence that many of us (but, again, not all) can move forward together on several important issues of public policy:
1. Protecting the consciences of health care workers.
2. Giving women full informed consent about the biologically-determined chances that her unborn child may or is likely to feel pain: both via abortion and different kinds of birth techniques or fetal surgeries.
3. Pushing back against practices which lead to the systematic killing of unborn children who have a race, gender, or disability that is inconvenient or unwanted.
4. Claiming that a pregnant woman’s full and equal moral status in society demands that we (in both our public and private lives) have an absolute, positive duty to provide for her current and future maternal needs.
5. In light of the best data available, working to create circumstances which reduce unintended pregnancies that lead to abortion.
There is difficult work ahead if any of these goals are to be accomplished, obviously.
But much of that work will come from the creative energy of the scores and scores of young people who filed a 400+ person lecture hall at Princeton this past weekend in order to find new ways to think and speak about abortion. I’m proud to say that they had many good role models who, despite some situations of deep discomfort, engaged with open hearts, open minds, and fair-minded words.