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.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Georgetown Symposium: A New Abortion Debate

Yet another excellent conference taking place in what appears to be the busiest week of MOJ-interest-related conferences in history was the one organized at Georgetown Law School by the Progressive Alliance for Life and the Law Students for Reproductive Justice:  A New Abortion Debate: Emerging Perspectives on Choice, Life and Law.

The program got off to an exceptionally strong start despite the fact that the flu had bested two of the planned speakers on the first panel on the topic:  "Beyond Roe:  The Costs of Constitutionalizing the Right to Abortion."  The last minute substitutes were fantastic.  One was our very own Susan Stabile, who previewed the talk she'll be presenting next week at the Murphy Institute's Christian Realism conference,  "An Effort to Articulate a Catholic Realist Approach to Abortion."  It's an extremely  thoughtful piece that ought to help all of us think through more clearly how we are called to engage the abortion debate.  I hope it will be ready for posting soon.

Another last minute substitute was one of the Georgetown faculty members instrumental in putting the conference together, the brilliant and always thoughtful Dean Robin West.  She presented her recent Yale Law Journal Article "From Choice to Reproductive Justice:  De-Constitutionalizing Abortion Rights", 118 Yale L.J. 1394 (2009).  Key quote: 

. . . constitutionalizing this . . . right to choose . . .  legitimates . . . the lack of public support given parents in fulfiling their caregiving obligations.  By giving pregnant women the choice to opt out  of parenting by purchasing an abortion, we render parenting a market commodity, and thereby systematically legitmate the various baselines to which she agrees when she opts in :  an almost entirely privatized system of childcare, a mixed private and public but prohibitively expensive healthcare system, and a publicly  provided education system that delivers a product, the quality of which is spotty at best and disastrously inadequate at worst.  Narrowly, by giving her a choice, her consent legitimates the parental burden to which she has consented.  . . . The choice-based argumnts for abortion rights strengthen the impulse to simply leave her with the consequences of her bargain.  She has chosen this route, so it is hers to travel alone.  To presume otherwise would be paternalistic.  The woman's 'choice' mutes any attempt to make her claims for assistance cognizable.

I moderated a panel on "Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Abortion, Reproduction and Human Rights," in which Shari Motro from the University of Richmond School of Law presented an article that will soon be appearing in Northwestern L. Rev., "The Price of Pleasure."  She argues for a need to reconceptualize the legal relationship between unmarried lovers who conceive a child, giving the mother the obligation to notify the father, and giving the father an obligation to share in the costs of the pregnancy.  Key quote from a draft of that article:

treating lovers who have conceived as strangers is wrong because treating all human beings as strangers is wrong.  Pregancy and the act of love that brings it about are the ultimate embodiment of our essential connectedness, of our vulnerability at the hands of another, of our lack of control in relationship.  What do men and women want when we conceive?  The first, the most important thing we want is not necessarily automony or equality or privacy.  We value all of these, but as importantly many of us want also not to be left alone.

Why do I single those two quotes as "key quotes"?  I saw both as striking examples of the natural law written on all of our hearts.  Both of these articles are written by women committed to defending the right to abortion.  Yet both are critiques of some aspects of contemporary feminist theory based on the same insights being articulated by the most died-in-the-wool, "conservative", Catholic JP2 "new feminists."  There are so many fronts on which the "culture of death" needs to be engaged, in addition to front of the legalization of abortion.  It is heartening to know that we have such strong allies on some of these other fronts. 

The conference also had superb presentations by people who were committed pro-lifers, such as Patrick Lee from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Rev. Joseph Isanga of Ave Maria, Pedro Pallares of the Universidad Panamericana in Guadalajara, Mexico (who was stopping here on his way to present at Notre Dame's Center for Ethics and Culture Conference), Charles Lugosi, and Kristen Day, of Democrats for Life.  From the dialogue at the conference and informal conversations during breaks, it was clear to me that the tone of the conference was succeeding in creating a space for more openness to the arguments being made by these panelists among the "pro-choicers."   If we can create the trust to work together on areas of common agreement -- like the need for more social support for parenting, and (to give another example from a presentation by Malika Saada Saar, founder of the Rebecca Project) the need to stop shackling women prisoners during childbirth  -- we can't help but be more persuasive, in the long run.  

(Ironically, I thought that the least "successful" panel in that regard was the panel directly addressing "Finding Common Ground in the Abortion Debate", because the majority of those panelists had been directly involved in the health care proposal debate, and tempers on both sides were still a bit raw.)  

The day ended with serious discussions on putting together a book on the conference.  Stay tuned...  

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Schiltz, Elizabeth | Permalink

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