Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Reading the Instruction and its antecedents

In the post-Humanae vitae addition to his book Contraception, John Noonan said (I paraphrase, not having the book at hand):  "Now the magisterium has spoken; our task is to understand what what has been spoken means."  There was a live question in the 1960s about whether the teaching on artificial contraception would be reaffirmed; the story of the path from John XXIII to Humanae vitae, including Paul VI's personal resolution of the question that many had investigated at the instance of the Bishop of Rome, is well known.  I agree with Rich:  There should be little cause for surprise in the contents of the Congregation's recent Instruction, at least as concerns homosexuality.  Certainly, the documents adduced by Fr. Araujo show a continuity of teaching on homosexual attaction's being a "disorder."  The textual evidence does not support the claim that the teaching on homosexuality (rather than homosexual acts) is a surprise; though I have the documents here on my desk and could quote the material passages, I'm sure others will want to read and re-read them for themselves.  The adduced documents' different purposes account for varying emphases as between homosexual acts and homosexuality; no Church document affirms that homosexuality is not a disorder.  Just as violations of human dignity call for fresh declarations of human rights, so too do new assaults on the Church's teaching and work and new challenges in the life of the People of God call for new declarations of the Church's teaching.  We hear things we haven't heard before because the Church speaks to the ever-new present, but does anyone suggest that the Church's teaching on homosexuality's being a disorder is not in continuity?  The continuity is, I suggest, clear; the separate question is whether the teaching is true.  Some will answer in the negative.  That the Church's teaching develops, I do not dispute; the question is whether the development is authentic.

The Instruction's particular way of applying the Church's teaching on homosexuality to her teaching on the vocation to the ministerial priesthood was not exactly what I expected.  I'm a slow learner.  But here, at the heart of the Church where what is at issue is whom God calls to the priesthood of Jesus Christ, I feel little capacity to do more than try to learn.  The Bishops as such may not be particularly competent to pass prudential judgment on the contemporary sufficiency of alternatives to capital punishment, but they'd better be, by virtue of their office, competent to judge whom God calls to the ministerial priesthood.  The competing theologies that assign responsibility and authority for this judgment to the lay community are just that, competing theologies.  Perhaps the recent Instruction will incite more people to embrace such theologies.  Still, it is the Bishop alone who can confer priesthood. 

I agree with Michael Scaperlanda that we Catholics in the legal academy are called upon to translate, as best we can, what the Church teaches about herself to that wider world in which we the Church must make our way under the mandate to share with all the Good News.  I see that already (in my old-home diocese of Phoenix) a man has "resigned" from the priesthood on account of this Instruction.  This is very sad.  In the words of Cardinal Grocholewski referring to priests with homosexual attractions: "These priestly ordinations are valid, because we not not affirm their invalidity."  To abandon the exercise of the priestly ministry for a higher calling strikes this layman, at least, as a path not to be taken.   


November 30, 2005 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Being Married or Being a Woman versus Being Gay

In response to Richard, I just don't see a way around the view of this document as treating gay people as an inferior class.  You and I chose to become married people, something that (under current practice) prohibits us from becoming priests, just as being married to one person prevents us from marrying another.  We can debate whether the Church (in practice) treats married people as inferior to celibate clergy, but I think you would have to concede a difference between preventing someone from becoming a priest because they made a life choice to assume an incompatible state and preventing someone from becoming a priest because they are (despite the lack of any choice in the matter) subject to "homosexual tendencies." 

The comparison to women is a trickier one.  On the one hand, women, like homosexuals, are excluded from the ministry because of who they are, not what they've chosen.  And, personally, I do think their exclusion from ordination is based upon a view of them as inferior in some ways, but I can see your argument.  (In fact, as I mentioned in my original post, there are some interesting overlaps between the arguments the Church made in this document and some of the more philosophical arguments against female priests.  Those arguments, as distinct from the arguments from the scripture and tradition, in the end boil down to an assertion of the "essential maleness" of Christ, an assertion I find to be very weird.)  I think this case is different from the case of women, however, because the Church has explicitly said that gay people are to be excluded because they suffer from an objective "disorder."  The most relevant of the definitions of "disorder" in the OED is "a disturbance of the bodily (or mental) functions; an ailment, disease."  This suggests to me that gay men are excluded from the ministry, not becasue they are essentially different in some evaluatively neutral way, as is (arguably) the Church's position with respect to women, but because they are objectively defective or morally unworthy in some way.  It's very hard to read that in a way that does not amount to treating gay people as an inferior class of persons.

The question of willingness to adhere to Church teachings is a separate one, and I'm not sure why, if that is the concern, there is not a direct focus on that issue.  Surely there are some gay men out there who are willing (enthusiastically) to tow the Church line on sexuality.  I've met some of them.  Why shouldn't they be permitted to serve as priests?  Instead, the document maligns the ability of gay people as a whole to relate to men and women in a healthy way.

For the record, I do vigorously dissent from many Church teachings on sexuality, and on gay sexuality in particular.  I think the natural law arguments that have been deployed in opposition to homosexuality (and birth control) are utterly implausible.  I'm sure that admission will lead some people to compeltely disregard my objections to this document.  That said, my confusion with this document is totally severable from my dissent.  I find this document troubling, even on the Church's own terms.  The Church on the one hand says we should not discriminate against gay people and that, in fact, people are not fundamentally gay or straight, but rather children of God.  On the other hand, however, it has authored a document that discriminates against gay people precisely by treating them as fundamentally gay and, on that basis alone, disqualifying them from the priesthood.  I have a hard time seeing how it can reconcile those two propositions.

November 30, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Congregation for Catholic Education's Instruction

I am a bit surprised by the reaction to the Congregation's recent instruction on "persons with homosexual tendencies" and the priesthood. Unless people thought that the document was going to reverse the Catechism's treatment of homosexual acts and homosexual tendencies, this instruction was entirely to be expected. A couple of points.

First, no one has a right to ordination, and the Church's refusal to ordain someone does not mean that the Church regards that person as part of an "inferior class of persons." I can't be ordained because I am married. That doesn't mean that the Church thinks that married state is not a great good. Woman can't be ordained, but that is not because the Church thinks that women are an inferior class of persons. I know that some people think so, but I think that is difficult to maintain about the Church that holds up Mary as the model Christian and that recently named Saints Bridget, Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein), and Catherine of Siena as co-patrons of Europe.

Second, I don't understand the argument that a Church that believes what the Catechism says about homosexual tendencies (that they are objectively disordered) could endorse the view that ordaining men with such tendencies is a good idea. (For a statement about homosexuality that expresses the pyschological perspective that seems to underlie the Congregation's point of view, see the Catholic Medical Association's website under the "publication" heading.) Maybe this view is wrong, but I don't think anyone expected that the Congregation was about to reverse the Catechism. 

Third, I think Amy Welborn's comments on this are well taken. Priests ought to be able to communicate the fullness of the Faith, including the Church's teaching on sexual morality. Is it likely that someone who identifies himself as a "gay" priest--and recall that this identification (this celebration) is with a condition that the Church teaches is an objective disorder--will be able to do this effectively.         


November 30, 2005 in Myers, Richard | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Friendly Amendment - Theology and Catholic Legal Theory

Patrick Brennan offered a friendly amendment to my posting on homosexuality and Catholic Legal Theory.  I appreciate Patrick's post, but speaking solely for myself I must in friendship decline his amendment.  I agree with Patrick that "what we face are, in the first instance, questions of theology, not of Catholic legal theory."  In developing Catholic Legal Theory, a Catholic worldview (including its theology and philosophy) are brought to interact with the law and legal institutions. 

As a lay person involved in the law, I view my vocation as attempting to bring Christ into the world within the particulars (as a law professor at a public unviversity) of my life.  To do this, I struggle to learn some theology and philosophy, and I also beg God daily for the grace to conform my life and my will to His.  (As you know, I need a lot more grace in this department).  For me, this is a full plate.

When it comes to the teachings of the Church (on issues of faith and morals), I try to understand and adhere to them to the best of my ability knowing that professionally these teachings - with a rich 2000 year history of intellectual thought and fervor addressing almost every aspect of life - provide a firm and thick launching pad for my work. 

I do not, however, have a professional vocation when it comes to the internal workings of the Church - to the development of doctrine within the Church, to debating whether particular matters are even open for development, etc.  I'll leave these internal issues to those who have been called to address them.  This does not mean that I am a wilting flower blindly deferring to priests and the institution.  More than once, I have privately (as a parishoner not as a law prof) helped our priest to become a better pastor by criticizing (sometimes severely) his behavior. 

In the end, I view my professional call as outward looking, helping the world see through the Church's eyes (as Frank Sheed once said), and not inward.  Again, I speak only for myself and my calling.   

Pax Christi,


November 30, 2005 in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

The More Things Stay the Same...

Thanks to Fr. Araujo for passing along the cites to previous discussions of homosexuality. I was intending to post on the Cardinal’s statement (posted below) that there is nothing really new in most recent instruction. In particular, I considered the instruction’s treatment of sexual orientation as a disorder that renders homosexuals unfit for the ministry to be a new wrinkle on the Church’s previous focus on the immorality of homosexual acts (as opposed to homosexual persons). The Church, like the Supreme Court, is forever innovating and then denying that it has ever held a different view, so I’m always suspicious when it protests its consistency.

These earlier documents complicate my view to a degree, because the Church did previously describe “homosexual orientation” as a disorder, but they also provide a vivid example of the point I am making. At first, the Church adheres to a distinction between homosexual acts (which it treats as sinful) and homosexual orientation (which it views as largely artificial).  The Church gradually abandons this distinction in favor (in its most recent instruction) of outright discrimination against homosexuals as a  separate class of persons.


In the pastoral field, these homosexuals must certainly be treated with understanding and sustained in the hope of overcoming their personal difficulties and their inability to fit into society. Their culpability will be judged with prudence. But no pastoral method can be employed which would give moral justification to these acts on the grounds that they would be consonant with the condition of such people. For according to the objective moral order, homosexual relations are acts which lack an essential and indispensable finality. In Sacred Scripture they are condemned as a serious depravity and even presented as the sad consequence of rejecting God.[18] This judgment of Scripture does not of course permit us to conclude that all those who suffer from this anomaly are personally responsible for it, but it does attest to the fact that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and can in no case be approved of.

The important thing to note is that the discussion in this document is entirely focused on homosexual acts, not on homosexuals as a separate class of persons. Importantly, the document treats homosexual behavior alongside premarital sex and masturbation, actually giving it the shortest discussion of the three.

The next document is at times even more explicit in this regard, although it begins to hedge a bit. LETTER TO THE BISHOPS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON THE PASTORAL CARE OF HOMOSEXUAL PERSONS (1986):

What, then, are homosexual persons to do who seek to follow the Lord? Fundamentally, they are called to enact the will of God in their life by joining whatever sufferings and difficulties they experience in virtue of their condition to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross. That Cross, for the believer, is a fruitful sacrifice since from that death come life and redemption. While any call to carry the cross or to understand a Christian's suffering in this way will predictably be met with bitter ridicule by some, it should be remembered that this is the way to eternal life for all who follow Christ….The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation. Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a "heterosexual" or a "homosexual" and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.

The document also introduces the notion that homosexual orientation is itself a disorder, though it does not make much use of the shift:

Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.

In other words, the Church initially focuses its attention on the sinfulness of homosexual acts and treats the concept of sexual orientation as, for the most part, artificial.  But the Church changes direction in the 1992 document, SOME CONSIDERATIONS CONCERNING THE RESPONSE TO LEGISLATIVE PROPOSALS ON THE NON-DISCRIMINATION OF HOMOSEXUAL PERSONS, and begins to focus a great deal of attention on sexual orientation as such:

"Sexual orientation" does not constitute a quality comparable to race, ethnic background, etc. in respect to non-discrimination. Unlike these, homosexual orientation is an objective disorder (cf. "Letter," No. 3) and evokes moral concern.

The most recent instruction takes this focus on “homosexual orientation” even farther. Whereas earlier documents appeared to view homosexual orientation as a “cross,” and homosexual chastity as “fruitful sacrifice,” analogous to other areas in which human beings are prone to sinfulness, this document views it as a factor that pollutes homosexuals’ relationships with other human beings to such an extent that it disqualifies them categorically from positions in the ministry. I see no way to square the Church’s most recent statement, with its treatment of homosexuals as something of an inferior class of persons, with its far more moderate and optimistic statement in the 1986 letter that the Church “refuses to consider the person as a ‘heterosexual’ or a ‘homosexual’ and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.”

November 30, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

The Congregation for Education's Recent Text

I have read with great interest the recent postings by MOJ members on the Congregation for Education's text, and I would like to offer my own reflections. However, since several provincials (major superiors) of my religious institute have instructed our men not to offer any public comment at this time, I must honor their instruction. For those who continue this discussion, it would be helpful to keep in mind the following Church texts that have addressed elements of the issues associated with the discussion during the past 30 years: (1) the December 29, 1975 "Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics" HERE ; (2) the October 1, 1986 "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons" HERE ; (3) the July 23, 1992 document "Some Considerations Concerning the Response to Legislative Proposals on Nondiscrimination of Homosexual Persons" HERE ; and, (4) the July 31, 2003 "Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons" HERE.    RJA sj

November 30, 2005 in Araujo, Robert | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

"The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth"

In Sunday's New York Times, Gregg Easterbrook had this review, "The Capitalist Manifesto", of Benjamin Friedman's book, "The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth."  Here is the intro:

ECONOMIC growth has gotten a bad name in recent decades - seen in many quarters as a cause of resource depletion, stress and sprawl, and as an excuse for pro-business policies that mainly benefit plutocrats. Some have described growth as a false god: after all, the spending caused by car crashes and lawsuits increases the gross domestic product. One nonprofit organization, Redefining Progress, proposes tossing out growth as the first economic yardstick and substituting a "Genuine Progress Indicator" that, among other things, weighs volunteer work as well as the output of goods and services. By this group's measure, American society peaked in 1976 and has been declining ever since. Others think ending the fascination with economic growth would make Western life less materialistic and more fulfilling. Modern families "work themselves to exhaustion to pay for stuff that sits around not being used," Thomas Naylor, a professor emeritus of economics at Duke University, has written. If economic growth were no longer the goal, there would be less anxiety and more leisurely meals.

But would there be more social justice? No, says Benjamin Friedman, a professor of economics at Harvard University, in "The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth." Friedman argues that economic growth is essential to "greater opportunity, tolerance of diversity, social mobility, commitment to fairness and dedication to democracy." During times of expansion, he writes, nations tend to liberalize - increasing rights, reducing restrictions, expanding benefits for the needy. During times of stagnation, they veer toward authoritarianism. Economic growth not only raises living standards and makes liberal social policies possible, it causes people to be optimistic about the future, which improves human happiness. "It is simply not true that moral considerations argue wholly against economic growth," Friedman contends. Instead, moral considerations argue that large-scale growth must continue at least for several generations, both in the West and the developing world.


November 29, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Clemency, the Death Penalty, and Reform

Here is an interesting piece:  "Death Row:  Does Personal Reform Count?"  It opens with this:

Exactly 229 death-row inmates have been granted clemency since the United States reinstated capital punishment in 1976, and the list of reasons is short. The 16 governors who have given such pardons cited just three reasons: lingering doubt about guilt, a governor's own philosophical opposition to the death penalty, and mental disability of the accused.

Starkly absent from the list - notable because of a high-profile clemency request now pending in California - is character reform of the guilty.

After discussing that California case (involving "Tookie" Williams, the founder of the Crips and a "four-time murderer"), the essay continues:

"If he goes ahead and puts to death a man who has clearly shown he has turned himself around, [and] is not the man he once was, what does that say to all other prisoners who are similarly incarcerated and are trying to reform themselves - that personal reform doesn't matter?" asks Jan Handzlik, a member of Williams's defense team.

Similarly, what message does a commuted death sentence send to prosecutors and law-enforcement officers, who daily work to fulfill the requirements of the legal system to obtain proper prosecutions? Or to victims' families and other convicts?

"It sends the worst signal to the criminal element if you commute someone," says Michael Paranzino, who runs a nonpartisan research group dedicated to crime victims and their families. "What are other criminals supposed to think ... that if you suddenly write poetry, say all the right things, and find a champion on the outside that you get a 'get out of jail free' card?"

Because of all this, "clemency is a very lonely decision," says Margaret Love, former head of the pardon office in the US Justice Department. "It is a question of how to blend mercy with justice, the human and the legal in light of all circumstances before you, with life on the line."

Putting aside (for now) questions concerning the morality or wisdom of capital punishment, and putting aside also (for now) any questions about the scope, under the relevant legal regime, of an executive's clemency power, should clemency be extended on the (sole) ground that a convict has reformed?

November 29, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

More on Ave Maria Town

A few weeks ago, in the Wall Street Journal, an editorial -- "Bringing a Catholic Law School Down" -- appeared about the debates going on at Ave Maria about the possibility of a move to Florida.  The editorial prompted, among other things, a ton of comments over at Volokh's blog, and also this post (with some important clarifications) by Professor Althouse.  Now, Professor Andy Morriss, at the (very interesting) blog, "St. Maximos' Hut," weighs in, and writes:

The interesting issue here - i.e. the one I haven't puzzled out yet - is why people with whom I usually find myself in agreement think it is a bad idea to move the law school into Ave Maria town independently of whether they think that moving the law school at all is a bad idea. Those who find it "creepy" (like Juan) seem to do so because they object to the closing off of the community from the wider community. The very idea of a university, however, is to some extent a place where people are to a degree sheltered from the "real world" to allow them to focus on learning. What's particularly creepy about people wanting to be in an environment free from pornography, etc.? This doesn't strike me as any different from, say, people at a law school in a rural town touting the atmosphere available from rural living. Given UPS, the internet, Amazon.com, Netflix, and so on, I don't think "Ave Maria town" is likely to be particularly more closed off from the "real world" than most small towns in rural areas are today. What will be different is that it will be a community that shares values, Catholic values as it turns out, and that, in turn, strikes me as sounding a bit like what you might find in a monastic community.

And, in response, Althouse has revisited the debate:

. . .  Morriss is missing one huge thing. There is an existing community of scholars in Ann Arbor that is not volunteering to move. They like it where they are, in a lively university town, where they've established lives for themselves and contributed to the building of an institution. (Don't believe me? Ask them!) The move is to be imposed, top-down, by one man who happens to have the money.

Now (thanks to Juan Non-Volokh for the link), the Dean of the Ave Maria School of Law, Bernard Dobranski, has weighed in with a letter to the editor of the Journal.  (The letter itself is available only to subscribers).  Here is a taste:

Ave Maria University and the Barron Collier Companies have agreed that the town will promote the traditional family values that prospective residents are seeking. We believe this can best be achieved by attracting retail establishments that share this commitment to, for example, an environment free of the degradation of women that pornography represents. Retailers who know their market can be expected to stock only those products that sell. Although restrictions on both pornography and contraception effectively will be imposed by the marketplace, it is Ave Maria's fervent hope that Catholics will shun both of these. It is an outrage that this sincere desire to help fellow Catholics live in accord with their faith invites a comparison with Jonestown's infamous Jim Jones. . . .

Ave Maria University includes . . . on its board of trustees and board of regents (advisory) such prominent clerics and Catholic intellectuals as Father Benedict Groeschel, Prof. Robert George of Princeton, Prof. Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School and Michael Novak of the American Enterprise Institute. The idea that any of these people would countenance the sort of Catholic ghetto Ms. Riley imagines is patently absurd. Ave Maria seeks to be no more than mainstream Catholic; meaning, of course, unreserved fidelity to the teaching of the Catholic Church. This may be offensive to the secular left in the culture wars now raging, but it ought to be applauded even by a dissident faculty member of a Catholic law school, even if he prefers to remain in Michigan.

UPDATE:  D'oh!  I just realized that Rob already blogged about this letter.  Sorry!

November 29, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)


[From The American Prospect online edition, Nov. 28, 2005.  Thanks to Chris Eberle for calling this to my attention.]

Over at The New Republic I have a story up about the rising numbers of repeat abortions in America (link requires free registration):

Amy's experience with multiple abortions was life-changing enough that she decided to volunteer at Exhale, a telephone hotline where women who have had abortions can speak openly about their experiences. Exhale, which calls itself "pro-voice," is part of a new approach to abortion that eschews dogmas, left and right. Through the organization, which went national in June, Amy counsels women like herself, some of whom have been through multiple abortions. Their numbers are growing. According to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights organization respected for its data collection, close to half of the 1.3 million abortions performed in the United States each year are repeat abortions, up from just 12 percent in 1973. Most repeat abortions are, like Amy's, a woman's second, yet the number of third abortions is not insubstantial. In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that 18 percent of abortions were performed on women seeking at least their third pregnancy termination. In contrast, studies have shown that rape and incest victims, the most politically sympathetic and high-profile group of abortion-seekers, account for about 1 percent of abortions.

Despite its prevalence, repeat abortion is the least discussed or researched aspect of abortion in the United States. In the past year, liberals and Democrats have increasingly focused on preventing unwanted pregnancies as a means of preventing abortion. But they have yet to address the specific needs of women who have already had abortions, partly out of fear of affirming conservative stereotypes about why women abort or how they react to an abortion....

The sad fact is that, three decades after legalization, abortion is no longer mainly a tool women use to shape their own destinies, but rather a symptom of larger social problems that ought to be addressed by policymakers.

"Talkback to TNR" writers, in the main, agreed with my policy proposals, but disliked my criticism of liberals for not talking about the still-taboo subject of repeat abortions. And yet, I think it's noteworthy that in recent months, I have hardly been the only younger, liberally-situated woman to raise questions about the way pro-choice professionals talk and think about abortion, or to suggest that pro-choice liberals could benefit from some fresh thinking. The younger set, it seems, is increasingly disturbed by our rhetorical and conceptual inheritence on this issue, even as abortion rights face greater challenges than at any time since the 1970s.

Last December, Prospect deputy editor Sarah Blustain wrote about her dislike of pro-choice rhetoric in our pages:

Ok, I’ve unlisted my phone number, changed my name, and moved to a different (red) state. Now I can safely say it: The Democratic defense of abortion makes me cringe.

It’s the stridency, the insistence, the repetition of a “woman’s right to choose.” It rubs me the wrong way -- and I’m one of those classic 30-something, northeastern, educated, pro-choice women who believes the message. I’m tormented by the idea that even as I support Democratic candidates -- and, yes, on this issue -- I’m turned off by their abortion rhetoric.

I’m not alone. Poll after poll shows that a majority, albeit a slim one, of Americans favor access to abortion. An ABC News/Washington Post poll from May of this year found that 54 percent of those asked said they thought that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Similarly, 55 percent told a Time/CNN poll in January 2003 that they favored the Supreme Court ruling “that women have the right to have an abortion during the first three months of pregnancy.” And yet, as our most recent election made clear, some percentage of those poll respondents obviously support anti-abortion candidates. Put more precisely, fully one-third of pro-choice Americans voted for George W. Bush, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America. So the question is, how can Democrats soften their rhetoric while maintaining their support for safe, accessible abortion?

As long as I can remember, the tone of the liberal message on abortion has been defiant, sometimes even celebratory. It’s an attitude that reflects the victory of legal abortion over back-alley dangers three decades ago -- a success that many who remember it still experience with deep emotion...

Still, for those of us who came after Roe v. Wade, there is a significantly different reality. The context has changed. Back alleys and coat hangers are not part of our visceral memory. To this generation, the “choice” of a legal abortion is no longer something to celebrate. It is a decision made in crisis, and it is never one made happily.

More recently, the literate smut website Nerve.com, of all places, ran a couple of very provocative articles about abortion, including one on repeat abortions by Third Wave feminist Jennifer Baumgardner that describes an abortion clinic director who "thinks multiple abortions points to something larger than an individual snafu."

The delightful Ada Calhoun (a Nerve editor who, I might add, is also a friend of TAP Online editor Tara McKelvey's and the daughter of New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldal, as well as one of the few people I've met in adult life who also had Mr. Tobin as her fourth grade teacher at P.S. 41) bravely laid out her very un-P.C. qualms about second-term abortions, thinking back to the time when she was in high school and her family hosted a young woman seeking a second-term abortion who was in town from upstate:

...looking at Andrea, I felt revulsion. Politically, I still felt I had to defend her right to do what she was doing, but personally and morally I felt it was wrong. Even though I was a godless, liberal native New Yorker, I saw second-term abortion as a sin. If there had been a Bible in our home, I would have thumped it.

I've never said this out loud before, that I have such reluctance about abortion past a certain point — which in my case is definitely before Andrea's five months, when the fetus kicks, has a heartbeat, and sucks its thumb. Being pro-choice with reservations is taboo. It is to wrestle with guilt and doubt and feel that you must be silent. And I understand why. Last year, my colleague Lynn Harris wrote a great essay about how she and her husband help women get access to second-term abortions. I hear and agree with everything she says. I see how it's a class issue, and I appreciate the many totally legitimate reasons why many women can't or don't get them before they're so far along. I applaud Lynn. But privately, I still can't get over this deep moral anxiety about it. And I think that's something we should talk about. At the same time, I fear that by saying such a thing I'm stoking the fire of the fundamentalists, giving comfort to a political enemy that would also restrict access to safe and effective birth control if they could.

...I do wonder if maybe we pro-choice advocates aren't more conflicted than we let on, and therefore if maybe pro-life advocates aren't as well. Maybe the deal is that pro-choicers have to say, "Allow abortion up until the ninth month! Free and on every corner!" And pro-lifers have to say, "We can never, ever allow it, even in cases of rape and incest, even if the mother might die!" That way, we meet in an awkward demilitarized zone, the first trimester, with restrictions and obstacles that hurt the poor and the young. And so we fight back and forth and make it easier this month and harder the next, so everyone's almost okay with the way things are, but no one really is.

I think Ada is quite right that it has been nearly impossible for people in public life to talk honestly about abortion, and that it can be especially difficult to do so in pro-choice circles. Indeed, there are two conversations we have about abortion in this country. There is, as Ada describes, the public confrontation between rigid ideological camps, and then there is the nuanced private conversation we have among ourselves. I am more interested in the latter, because I think that a politics that is not based on the truth of life as it is really lived is worthless. And sometimes even worse than that.

I don't expect professional political actors or activists to necessarily agree, but if the gap between the private conversation and the public one grows too wide, they may find abortion rights themselves falling into the breach.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

November 29, 2005 in Perry, Michael | Permalink | TrackBack (0)