The 2020 presidential election is still months away, and issues new and old have come to the fore in the national political scene. Abortion, of course, continues to be one of the most discussed of the “hot button” issues, and remains at the heart of debates about “the Catholic voter.”
The recently approved introductory letter to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility” states, “The threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself.” Later, the bishops reaffirm: “Abortion, the deliberate killing of a human being before birth, is never morally acceptable and must always be opposed. Cloning and destruction of human embryos for research or even for potential cures are always wrong. The purposeful taking of human life by assisted suicide and euthanasia is not an act of mercy, but an unjustifiable assault on human life” (64).
While the official Democratic Party platform maintains “that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion,” many groups and individuals have long worked to make room for pro-life voices within the Democratic Party. Among them is Dr. Charles C. Camosy, associate professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University, and author of Resisting Throwaway Culture: How a Consistent Life Ethic Can Unite a Fractured People (New City Press, 2019).
Last week Dr. Camosy published an op-ed in the New York Post expressing his intention to walk away from the Democratic Party, saying that he and other pro-lifers within the party have been “fighting a losing battle.”
“Anything even hinting that abortion is less than good now violates party orthodoxy,” Camosy wrote. He also stated that he has resigned from the board of the group Democrats for Life (DFLA), which he had served on since 2014.
Camosy recently spoke with CWR about his decision to resign from DFLA and about how the Catholic faithful can form and inform their consciences while exercising prudence in the coming election.
CWR: On February 6 you published an article in the New York Post announcing your decision to resign from the board of Democrats for Life (DFLA). Can you tell us more about DFLA?
Dr. Charles Camosy: Well, I had actually resigned this past summer. But both the Washington Post and New York Post got wind of it right about the same time that DFLA’s executive director, Kristen Day, recently asked Mayor Pete [Buttigieg] in a Fox News town hall whether he thinks pro-life Democrats are welcome in the party. His refusal to say yes, along with a growing realization on the part of at least some media about how radical the mainstream Democratic party has become on abortion in recent years, had made the goings-on surrounding a group like DFLA of more interest.
DFLA is a grassroots pro-life organization with a mission I admire and love: to promote a pro-life agenda within the Democratic Party as authentic Democrats. In some ways, the natural home of pro-lifers should be at least what used to be the Democratic Party: the party of energetic government in support of the vulnerable. Republicans, again, until recently, were the party of government staying out of our lives and protecting individual freedom and choice. Perhaps due in no small part to the incoherence of how the abortion debate functioned in older versions of these parties, the current realignment has seen Democrats embrace a total libertarian position on abortion: no restrictions at all. This while Republicans have become more comfortable with government policies and programs that, among other things, have exploded the national deficit and debt. We are living in strange political times.
CWR: Leaving DFLA could not have been an easy decision for someone like you who cares a great deal about women, family leave, labor union rights, climate change, refugees, and other issues. Why did you personally conclude that you could not remain in the Democratic Party as a progressive pro-lifer?
Camosy: Like Jesus in Matthew 25, Pope John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae, and Pope Francis in Laudato Si’, I take a broad view of what it means to be pro-life. Basically, any agenda which tries to the protect the vulnerable—especially from violence and death, and especially when our consumer culture puts them at special risk for being thrown away—I consider to be a pro-life agenda. Therefore, much of the Democratic agenda must be called pro-life: their focus on immigrants and refugees, catastrophic climate change, racial justice, working-class and poor communities, and much more. As I said, I think the pro-life movement actually has a more natural home in the Democratic Party.
Or at least in the Democratic Party that used to be. The one which exists now is largely run by wild extremists when it comes to abortion. Have you noticed how it is the one issue on which they agree, and are willing to defend most aggressively? Consider that most of progressive Europe has an abortion policy which restricts it with exceptions somewhere around weeks 12-16 of pregnancy. If a US pro-lifer proposed Europe’s abortion policies, those who run the current Democratic Party would describe it as anti-choice, a refusal to trust women, a product of right-wing extremism—and also with adjectives one shouldn’t use in polite company.…
It is totally worth working with a party which sees the need for abortion to be broadly legal though with common sense restrictions. A party which at least acknowledges that abortion is a tragedy and that we ought to take steps both on the supply and demand side to lower the number of abortions. At one point that party existed. It exists no longer. I could not in good conscience continue to work on behalf of a party which considered the mass killing of our most vulnerable children a right to promote without any restrictions or any sense that it is less than a social good.
CWR: Pope Francis has been very vocal against abortion, stating that “no human being can ever be incompatible with life” and that every child is “a gift that changes the history of a family…and this child needs to be welcomed, loved, and cared for.” Where do you see inconsistent applications—on the right or the left—of Pope Francis’ admonitions against a “throwaway culture”?
Camosy: It is so interesting that his hardcore stance against abortion rarely gets coverage from either the left of the right. It might be worth thinking for a moment about why that is. Pope Francis is consistent in applying his critique of throwaway culture—abortion is a preeminent issue for him, but he doesn’t back down from focusing on issues traditionally thought of as “on the left” as well: climate change, immigrants and refugees, the death penalty, poverty, war, and more. But he’s also very clear about how throwaway culture works in euthanasia and in a sexual culture which (sometimes quite literally) uses other people and throws them away. In short, he has a deeply Catholic vision of the good.
Given my views in support of Francis’ Catholic vision, I could never support the current version of the Republican Party, so I found myself looking around for other options. I landed on the American Solidarity Party. … We need to break up the stranglehold both parties have on electoral politics at the moment. There was will be a “most important election of our lifetimes” every four years for the foreseeable future. Especially at this time of political realignment, the parties need to know that we won’t dance to their tune every four years.
CWR: What is next for you?
Camosy: I’m working on another book. This one is diving deep into how, precisely, we’ve undermined fundamental human equality as a culture over the last 50 years or so. And as a result of my research, I fear that I can see a trajectory where the next major human population to lose their fundamental equality will be human beings with late-stage dementia. Especially given the large numbers of people entering their 60s, 70s, and 80s over the next 20 years, by all accounts we are going find many millions more human beings in this situation.
Will our culture face that crisis firm in the belief that they are the equals of human beings without dementia? If the past is any guide, I fear that the answer is no. Especially since we’ve rejected the idea that being human is good enough. One must be a human with a certain level of rationality, consciousness, and autonomy. So I’m writing the book to tell a historical story, but also to sound a warning about the horrific place we will end up if we don’t challenge our current cultural trajectory.
Editor’s note: CWR publishes interviews and other articles deemed of interest to Catholic readers and others. As a tax-exempt, church-affiliated publication, CWR does not support or oppose particular political candidates or parties, although it reserves the right to address, in a non-partisan way, issues touching on Catholic social teaching for the ongoing religious and moral education of its readers. The views expressed are solely those of the authors.
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