It’s been more than a year since I read this book. Thinking of what to write was nearly as difficult as starting the book. At first it seemed to be a banal attempt by yet another Catholic moralist to justify certain allowances in the abortion arena. It read initially as a way to justify political horse-trading with pro-abortion politicians from a Catholic point of view. What Charles Camosy’s argument became, however, was an intelligent and thoughtful way to approach the abortion debate in the United States today. The end goal, as Camosy describes it, is to enact public policy that protects both mother and child in ways that people on both sides of the debate claim they want to see. Although I do not agree with all of Camosy’s arguments or conclusions, this is an important addition to the discussion surrounding abortion and, I think, can help move various factions to some agreement on a majority of the issues in the debate. It’s at least something that pro-life advocates should read and be aware of in the full panoply of the debate.
Camosy’s book offers a historical background, an evaluation of various arguments for and against recognition of the personhood of the unborn child (or “prenatal child,” in Camosy’s words), and a discussion of how those arguments may play out in legal and societal terms. He ends with an appeal for legislation he called the “Act,” a sweeping list of protections for mothers and their children–born and unborn.
Through the heart of Camosy’s argument run a theme that Catholics should pay particular attention to, and which they will disregard at their own peril. That is, we need to have a more complete approach to the abortion debate rather than the binary language to which Camosy points throughout the book. As he notes, churches and religious leaders must be completely pro-life, offering shelters for women in difficult situations so they have the support they need to bring their babies to term, increased access to affordable healthcare, support for women who need to work so that financial considerations do not motivate someone to obtain an abortion, and myriad other provisions that would recognize and support the gift that is motherhood and the important–the irreplaceable–role that women play in society. He notes:
We should be lining up to adopt babies of various races and health conditions; we should be using our free time to provide free child-care for needy women in our local communities and churches; every parish and church should offer shelter and assistance to pregnant women in difficult situations and offer programs of counseling and healing for women who have had abortions.
I totally agree. And I know so many people who are doing these very things. Some have devoted their lives to it. Yet the fact that some have devoted their lives to such a pursuit underscores how Carmosy’s compromises ultimately make his overall argument fail.
Where Camosy’s argument fails is in his allowance of abortion by another name. What he labels “Refusal to Aid,” which he also labels an “indirect” abortion, still is the killing of an unborn child. He admits that it would still be “perhaps morally wrong” but believes it to be justified because a woman may have, in his mind, “a proportionately serious reason for choosing not to aid the prenatal child.” And if she has such a reason, then the pregnancy is an “undue burden.” This is a euphemism to end all euphemisms. As two examples, Camosy offers “(1) a clear and unambiguous terminal diagnosis, confirmed by more than one OB-GYN, and agreed to by the attending neonatologist, and (2) a situation in which there is a significant chance the baby will die in utero, labor could be induced prematurely.” In both cases, it is hard to see how a premature induction of labor is not a direct act to kill the baby, no matter what the supposed diagnosis. In two lines, Camosy undermines the first part of the book extolling the dignity of human life and the need to protect it. Countless examples of misdiagnoses are documented every day, not to mention that allowing a baby to be born and die in the arms of its mother and father and family members carries a dignity of its own that is absent when a life is snuffed out in the womb.
Camosy’s argument, although beneficial to the debate–particularly the need for legislation helping both women and children–is inadequate and unconvincing as a solution. It still results in too many abortions and too subjective a standard for evaluating an “undue burden.”
My analysis of this book comes a year after I read it and with the perspective of a sad Supreme Court opinion that firmly entrenched the flimsy rationale of Casey into future of Supreme Court precedent. The political will to end abortion has been dealt a sharp blow so that even proposals like Camosy’s have little to no chance of success.
As noted before, Camosy’s book is an important addition to the abortion discussion and should be required reading for anyone who is going to be engaging in it. Ultimately, however, I find Camosy’s arguments unavailing and lacking in the firm conviction we need to address the problem head on and protect innocent life.
For a complimentary review copy of this book, I offered to write a fair review. You can find this book at http://www.eerdmans.com/Products/7128/beyond-the-abortion-wars.aspx.