BEYOND THE ABORTION WARS by Charles Camosy
reviewed by Christopher White
There’s a common feeling of fatigue when the abortion debate is brought up—be it in dinner table conversation, at a cocktail party, or on the nightly news. “What’s left to say that hasn’t been said?”, “It’s a tired conversation,” and “It’s an unwinnable argument on both sides” are all common responses. While these expressions are not exactly unmerited or false sentiments, they are dismissive of a strange truth that is thoughtfully illuminated by theologian Charles Camosy in his new book, Beyond the Abortion Wars: A Way Forward for a New Generation: “a majority of Americans actually agree about broad ideas with respect to abortion morality and law.”
Consider just a few facts: A 2013 CNN poll revealed that only 25% of Americans believed abortion should be “always legal”—a strong indicator that most Americans do favor some type of restrictions on the practice. A Gallup poll that same year found that 80% of Americans believed that abortion should be illegal during the final three months of pregnancy. Yet at the same time, 88% percent of Americans believe it should be legal when a woman’s life is in danger, and 83% favor legality when the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest.
The tension that Camosy identifies is that a “a clear majority of Americans want to see abortion more restricted than it is now” and that “an overwhelming majority of Americans, including many who identify as ‘pro-life,’ want to see abortion legally available in the exceptional 2 percent of pregnancies (rape or incest and a threat to the life of the mother).”
It would seem then that the abortion debate isn’t as extreme as is often portrayed. Why then have disputes over abortion dominated our political and cultural debates over the past 50 years?
Camosy cleverly dubs our present public policy dilemma the “Costanza strategy,”—a throwback to the hit television show Seinfeld where George Costanza infamously goes against his natural instincts. This predicament is the result of decades of political turmoil where abortion became a wedge issue in partisan politics—and both sides using it as a cash machine for fundraising purposes—and the media eagerly pounced on the opportunity to capitalize on these divisions.
Just as Americans aren’t as split on abortion as is often portrayed, there are growing numbers of political moderates or independents—particularly among millenials, my generation—who are increasingly (and committedly) opposed to abortion in non-exceptional circumstances.
Camosy’s solution to bridge this divide is the “Mother and Prenatal Child Protection Act”—a legislative proposal that would grant “legal recognition of the fetus, protection and support of her mother, and circumstances in which one may be justified in refusing to sustain the prenatal child.” It’s a commonsense proposal that is buttressed on the idea that prenatal children deserve full protection under the law—and so do their mothers. As a Catholic theologian, Camosy reminds his fellow Catholics and all Christians that faith requires standing with both parties and not positioning them against one another. Hence, his proposal includes a reform of parental leave, ensuring equal pay for equal work, and ending pregnancy and “new mother” discrimination in the workplace. Indeed, it is a pro-life bill in the very best sense of the term.
Staunch opponents of abortion will decry the fact that the bill would allow for an abortion using the prescription drug RU-486 up to the eighth week for pregnancies resulting from rape. While some of Camosy’s critics have viewed this as too much of a concession, his reminder that faithful Catholics can and should support incremental legislative change must be heeded here. The alternative gridlock resulting in 1.2 million abortions in the United States every year is far worse.
For those of us who have dedicated much of our professional and personal lives working to promote the value of prenatal life and advocating for its protection, Camosy’s book is a welcome burst of energy to what has been a strenuous tug-of-war. If abortion is a tired topic to many Americans, it is Camosy’s indefatigable efforts to show that a better way is possible that may very well move this debate from argument to action. The growing consensus of citizens who seek improved policy and a better future for women and children alike have now been given a glimpse of not just what is achievable—but also a clear roadmap of how to accomplish it.
Christopher White is the director of research and education at the Center for Bioethics and Culture and co-author of Renewal: How a New Generation of Faithful Priests and Bishops Is Revitalizing the Catholic Church (Encounter Books).