Over at dotcommonweal, a serious and thoughtful discussion on abortion by three Catholics of slightly divergent views — Dennis O’Brien, Peter Steinfels and Cathleen Kaveny — demonstrate how to talk about abortion like adults: with courtesy, humanity, a bit of breadth and not a clenched jaw in sight — and it is frankly, a very excellent thing.
I predict you will not agree with any of them, in totality — nor do I — but I believe you will be surprised at how much common ground may be found between “progressive” Catholics and “conservative” Catholics, on this issue. On fundamentals, there is barely a shadow’s worth of difference, although shadows can still startle; where there is difference, there is refreshing maturity. (I’ve heard brilliant and kind Peter Steinfels speak several times, and believe he would concede to “maturity” with a rueful chuckle.) And I am very pleased to see the difficult question of the criminality covered, here.
Read the three pieces, please — and if you’re going to go into the comboxes and declare “I read the first three lines and realized none of these people has anything to say to me,” please don’t. Be willing to suspend a habit-of-reaction for a few minutes, to more deeply consider a proper response. None of these people are denouncing the church teaching about life; none of them are recommending storming the Vatican or ousting the bishops. But they have opinions, thoughts and ideas that are all at least worth wondering about. As Gregory of Nyssa said, “only wondering leads to knowing.”
We mustn’t be afraid to wonder about and discuss any question — that is how our understanding grows, and as I noted in my presentation last May, our good pope models for us a willingness to engage, and “to put any idea throughout the wringer of Catholic analysis, because he is confident that a thorough discussion, rooted on the truth of Christ, will always lead us to the ends of Catholic orthodoxy, and so Pope Benedict is fearless and open, and in Christ’s truth, we can afford to be, too!”
I think you’ll actually enjoy this; it’s a nice change from, “Shut up, it’s a woman’s right” and “You shut up, it’s murder!” From, “You’re evil!” “No, you’re evil!
Three writers, three excerpts:
The Catholic position on abortion seems unassailable. From embryo on through birth, there is in existence a being with specific human DNA. This human being has a right to life commensurate with that of any human being. There is no direct way around this claim. It certainly cannot be that the woman has a simple “right to choose.” You have a simple right to choose when the issue at hand is indifferent. “Vanilla or chocolate, it’s your choice.” That cannot cover abortion. To accept that position one has to deny any moral status to the fetus. Putting down the family dog cannot be done as a matter of indifference, much less ending nascent human life.
The moral picture here seems heavily in favor of the Catholic position, yet I think there is something missing. What gets left out is the reality of pregnancy.
A number of women I know, having found themselves pregnant in difficult circumstances, have confronted the question of abortion. Some made choices only hinted at; some, acting in the teeth of social convention, gave birth to individuals whose fortunes as youngsters and adults I now follow.
None of them made me privy to their decision making at the time. Yet I can pretty safely say, with due respect to the bishops, that neither the Catholics nor non-Catholics who were faced with these decisions gave a tinker’s damn about episcopal rhetoric, one way or another, in working through the moral issue. Nor did they have to be told that pregnancy would drastically change themselves and imperil or transform their life plans. Being reasonably well informed, they simply knew that there was a distinct human life within them, even if not a “fully” independent one, and that it possessed a beating heart, an individual blood type, a rapidly forming and active brain, and a genetic make-up that, being different from either parent’s, would make it a unique he or she in the world.
In trying to understand the moral status of this tiny but dynamic human entity and to weigh its destruction against the impact of pregnancy and motherhood on their own future, they would get precious little help from [O'Brien]. At most, they would get the assurance, as Dennis writes in his book, that their own “life experience of pregnancy is determinative in assessing the moral situation.”
All law has a pedagogical function; it is a moral teacher. What do Roe and its progeny teach about the value of unborn life? Prolifers excoriate Roe’s decree that the unborn are not equally protected persons under the Constitution. The line that I have always found most chilling however, was penned by Justice William Brennan, who stated in more than one opinion that “abortion and childbirth, when stripped of the sensitive moral arguments surrounding the abortion controversy, are simply two alternative medical methods of dealing with pregnancy.”
No. They’re not.
Because Roe purported to interpret the Constitution, those who opposed it had very few options. They could try to push through a constitutional amendment undoing it, or they could try to remake the Supreme Court to overrule it. Neither approach was easy, quick, or certain—as the past forty years attests. [...] The best book on abortion policy I have read is Mary Ann Glendon’s Abortion and Divorce in Western Law. Glendon writes that “what is important is that the totality of abortion regulations—that is, all criminal, public health, and social welfare laws relating to abortion—be in proportion to the importance of the legal value of life, and that, as a whole, they work for the continuation of the pregnancy.”
Glendon’s approach gives us moral pedagogy about the value of unborn life without the hard edge of prophecy. It situates both the pregnant woman and the unborn child within a supportive society rather than consigning them to an all too isolating intimacy. It builds a culture of life, rather than merely castigating a culture of death.
UPDATE: And then this story out of Canada