Pro-Life for a New Generation
Q&A with ethicist Charles Camosy
by Kristyn Komarnicki
What do you think of the Pain-Capable Act that is in the Senate now? What does your book have to say about the political/theological/ethical situation brewing there?
Charles Camosy: It is a golden opportunity! And in at least two different-but-related ways. First, and most obviously, the more we can draw attention to the violent marginalization of prenatal children, the better. There is some debate about whether these babies feel pain, but when babies are born prematurely at this stage of development they are always given pain medication. The US is one of only a handful of nations that broadly permit abortion beyond 20 weeks, and we ought to get with the more progressive nations and protect children who are so far advanced in their development.
Second, and sadly, we are also one of only a handful of nations that don't guarantee paid maternity leave to women. This is simply outrageous, especially given our extreme wealth. I'm on the board of Democrats for Life, and we recently put out a press release calling for this and other supports for women to be added to the Pain-Capable Act. It is simply the right thing to do, period, full stop. But it is also the legally and politically smart thing to do. Without this kind of support for women, it is likely that the Supreme Court would find that the law poses an "undue burden" on women and strike it down. Furthermore, it is going to be important to get moderate Democrats in the Senate to vote for the bill in order to get a veto-proof majority. (Sadly, Obama has said that he would veto the bill.) This kind of amendment is the only way to give cover to such Democrats to vote for what is really moderate legislation. Otherwise we'll be left with the GOP saying "vote for us and wait until next term"…a refrain we've heard for decades now…with almost nothing to show for it at the federal level.
The US is one of only a handful of nations that don't guarantee paid maternity leave to women. This is simply outrageous, especially given our extreme wealth.
I encourage your readers to contact their senators and ask them to vote for this bill and to support its being amended to include mandatory paid maternity leave for women. It is an amazing opportunity to #ChooseBoth women and their prenatal children.
What you make of Ted Cruz's efforts to overturn the Reproductive-Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act (RHNDA)?
Camosy: I try to have respect for all people, and hear and understand their arguments, and I think this situation is pretty complex. I don't support much of what Ted Cruz stands for, but here I think he raises an important question. Non-Discrimination works both ways—not only for the employee but also for the employer. Recently they made sure that RHNDA wouldn't force employers to cover or otherwise provide abortions to their employees, and that's a good thing. But a question still remains: Would this act force pro-life employers to hire pro-choice people? Would saying "we only hire pro-lifers in our pro-life organization" be considered discrimination? I'm not sure this is clear, and to the extent that Ted Cruz is forcing us to make this clear, I think this is a good thing.
Who are some of the people you most respect in the abortion debate who hold a different position from you?
Camosy: One of the most famous—and infamous—figures in the abortion debate is the Princeton philosopher Peter Singer. Many consider him an extremist because he's pro-choice not only on abortion but also on infanticide. But as I show in a book I wrote on his work, all Singer does is follow many pro-choice principles to their logical conclusion. Indeed, he points out that before Christianity became dominant in the West, we really didn't have much of a problem with either abortion or infanticide. In addition to admiring its intellectual honesty, I think Singer's position is, ironically, one of the best pro-life arguments one could make. Almost no one is willing to go to infanticide, and when they are confronted with the fact that their position actually leads to such a horrible act, a moment for rethinking their position presents itself.
Another pro-choice person I admire is the journalist William Saletan from Slate magazine. Though strongly pro-choice, he is willing to dive into the complexities of the issue, and he even sees the irony of liberal pro-choicers actually taking the conservative, small-government position on abortion. I also very much admire another pro-choice journalist named Robin Marty. Though she is strongly pro-choice, she recently did a very fair and open-minded story coming out of her hanging out with pro-lifers during the March for Life.
These three pro-choice people have an intellectual honesty about them that is quite rare in the abortion debate, period, regardless of what position one holds. We need more of this if we are ever to move beyond the abortion wars and actually have a genuine and productive engagement of ideas.
What, if anything, gives you hope for the future of the pro-life movement?
Camosy: Changing demographics. For too long, the abortion debate has been dominated by a simplistic life/choice binary. You were either for it or against it. Easy story to report on the news. Easy way to raise money against your demonic opponents. It is also an easy way to keep the war going with no end in sight. The media and politicians benefit from this war.
However, a new generation is on the way that rejects both the media and politics of the 1980s that created this war. Millennials and Latino/as have no use for either the culture wars or traditional politics. They reject binary politics of liberal/conservative, and they don't fit into the life/choice binary. They are the future, and the future of the abortion debate looks to be quite different from that of the previous two generations. There is room for nuance and open-minded thinking. There is room, again, to refuse to choose between protecting babies and supporting their mothers.
Given the generational shift currently underway, the question is not "if" but when our abortion discourse and policy will be fundamentally changed. And this is a very, very good reason to be hopeful about the future of the pro-life movement.
Charles C. Camosy is Associate Professor of Theological and Social Ethics at Fordham University and author of Beyond the Abortion Wars: A Way Forward for a New Generation. Follow him on Twitter here.
Also of interest:
Building the Pro-Grace Movement by Kristyn Komarnicki
Our Current Abortion Law as a Product of Men by Charles C. Camosy
Sidney Callahan: Pro-Life Feminist by Charles C. Camosy
Common Ground on Abortion by David P. Gushee