Christian Humanist Profiles 49: Beyond the Abortion Wars

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For folks like me, born in the mid-seventies, abortion has always been standing judicial precedent, always the stuff of political elections, always a reality of American life.  In his new book Beyond the Abortion Wars Charles Camosy offers a strong philosophical examination of abortion practices and the arguments marshaled in favor of abortion rights and against them.  Then the book offers an outline for a new sort of abortion policy, neither Democrat nor Republican, one rooted in a strongly Catholic sense of where private option and public morality run into each other. 

3 thoughts on “Christian Humanist Profiles 49: Beyond the Abortion Wars

  1. Nathan – thank you for this interview.  Timely and extremely helpful.  Camosy – “I am a pro-life feminist.”  I like his vision.  I bought a copy of the book so I can keep learning from him.

  2. Thanks for a great interview on a very important topic. 
    I find myself intrigued by the question of ‘public theology,’ in part because it seems to presuppose that theology can make itself intelligible, and even justify itself, in the secular marketplace of ideas. This presupposition seems problematic to me on several levels, not least that secular culture contains heterogeneous visions of the good, some of which are diametrically opposed to each other, and some of which are nihilistic with respect to the existence of such hypergoods (even if they betray themselves in this claim)…so that a theological vision of the good can hardly accommodate itself to all metaphysical ‘members’ of the public sphere. To some its vision will be incommensurable, to others foolishness. This, in turn, reveals another level on which I find public theology problematic: I suppose I have enough (some would say too much) Kierkegaard or Barth (or St. Paul of course) in me to believe that at least some aspects of Christianity are absurdity, scandal, paradox–that cannot be mediated! As this applies more narrowly to the domain of moral theology, I’m not convinced that all ethical actions are ‘evidentially sound’: that they clearly conduce to our understanding of the good life in this-worldly terms. I don’t mean to imply that I’m fideistic, because I’m not: I believe that public theology is simply another form of contextual theology–or more simply put, missions–which involves the work of translating the good news into alien (even hostile) contexts. I’m just not entirely sure how far public theology can (should?) go towards secular rationality or appeal.
    As it relates to the foregoing, I am highly sympathetic to many of Camosy’s core positions, although I have trouble articulating (or justifying) their metaphysical grounding. I passionately agree that abortion is morally equivalent to infanticide or murder, although I think that this is less easily demonstrated than prophetically declared–here I stand, I can do no other (perhaps it’s vain to seek firm metaphysical or epistemic justification for these sorts of claims anyhow; perhaps they must simply become self-evident at a heart level).
    Camosy’s distinction between direct & indirect abortion is really just a reiteration of the old Thomist doctrine of ‘double effect.’ It is unclear to me, however, under what circumstances an act that is ‘foreseeable but unintended’ is ethically permissible when that same act is also avoidable. (There have been numerous criticisms of this doctrine.) Similarly, Camosy’s invocation of formal innocence vs. material innocence is the fetus seems hard to sustain. Again, the problem of grounding one’s metaphysics, and the distinctions compassed in it, presents itself. On quite another level, the distinction between formal/material innocence is susceptible of rebuttal on its own grounds: while it is quite clear that an ectopic fetus is formally, but not materially, innocent, further inspection reveals that no fetus is ever materially innocent: all pregnancies confer substantive risks upon a pregnant mother (medical and otherwise), just as the madman in Camosy’s analogy poses substantive risks to society, and may be justly targeted with lethal force.

    I found Camosy to be most compelling in his social arguments for indicting abortion providers while exonerating women who have obtained abortions (similar to the Norwegian model for prostitution), and in his claim for the ‘law as a moral teacher.’ Indeed, laws are part of the liturgy of the public square, and they have shaped what we believe and how we worship. This was a wise and encouraging summons to Christian engagement with these critical issues. 
    Again, really enjoyed listening to this, and ardently support Camosy’s programme writ large. Thank you,

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