Abortion and the U.S. Election

As so many conservative Christians, including some prominent evangelicals, seem to be fixated on the single question of abortion and eventual Supreme Court appointments they hope will undo Roe v. Wade etc., I thought it might be well to revisit a review I published a year ago of a fine book on the matter. A slightly edited version appeared in Christianity Today magazine (April 2015), and I post it here with their permission:


Review of Charles C. Comosy, Beyond the Abortion Wars: A Way Forward for a New Generation (Eerdmans, 2015).

“The test of a democracy,” G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “is not whether the people vote, but whether the people rule.” Does the average citizen see his or her values and concerns reflected in the actions of the state?

Charles C. Camosy, an ethicist at Fordham University, argues that a moral consensus has recently emerged in the United States around the vexed issue of abortion. Yet neither of the major parties, nor the federal government, reflects that consensus. Citing poll after poll, from sources across the political spectrum, Camosy demonstrates that the vast majority of Americans prefer abortion to be limited much more than it is now.

Indeed, Camosy avers that abortion policy should shift in a much more conservative direction, allowing abortion only in the cases of imminent danger to the life of the mother, conception by rape or incest, and a few other extraordinary instances. To that end, Camosy outlines an actual legislative proposal, what he calls The Mother and Prenatal Child Protection Act (MPCPA).

It is this sense of a new political moment opening up the possibility of new political action that is most exciting about this book.

Camosy argues persuasively that the interests of the major news media, major political parties, and major advocacy groups all are advanced by an abortion debate that is deadlocked between extremes. Polarization and demonization attract viewers and listeners, galvanize supporters, and mobilize volunteers. Binary categories harden edges, stiffen spines, and arouse passions. It is in the interests of the powerful, Camosy shows, to keep mediating and moderating views out of sight and instead to go on fanning the flames of partisanship.

The polls show, however, that two-thirds of Americans nowadays identify with both “pro-choice” and “pro-life” labels. Record numbers of voters describe themselves as independents (40%). And at a time when women, Millennials, and Hispanics are increasingly involved in American public life, it is crucial to note that these three demographic groups are among the least supportive of abortion.