Abortion, Autonomy, and Community

Lisa Sowle Cahill


Within the circle of Christian theological ethicists who converse in "the academy," as I do, it is definitely not in vogue to voice opposition to the prochoice position. This position is often believed to be entailed in a serious commitment to sexual autonomy, to feminism, and to enlightened, humanistic causes in general. To some extent, my contribution to this project is a reaction against that assumption.

In formulating my position, and in evaluating the relation of positions on abortion generally to the values affirmed and denied in contemporary North American culture, I have drawn on resources both theological and philosophical. The relevant religious resources are those biblical stories, symbols, and thematic patterns that support a willingness to sacrifice personal interests in order to protect the weakest or the "neighbor" most in need. (The latter category includes both women, who suffer the effects of injustices in the spheres of sexuality, domesticity, and reproduction, and fetuses, as dependent and unable effectively to assert claims.) Also central are the resources of the Roman Catholic tradition in social ethics, which has been considerably more "progressive" than the tradition in personal ethics, medical and sexual.1 However, I dissent from the proposition that abortion is a narrowly religious issue. Both biblical themes and Catholic natural-law social analysis are presented here in terms congruent with many secular or humanistic perspectives on the relations of persons in community (though not all, e.g., utilitarianism). The possibility of assuming in principle an alliance between religious and rational ethics is itself a fruit of the Catholic, Thomistic, natural law tradition of moral insight.

The principal value at stake in this essay is the existence of the fetus itself, for it must be established who are considered members of the "human community" before the moral relationships among these members can be addressed. The question of the status of fetal life in the human community is the most divisive and the least easy to resolve in the entire abortion debate; it is also the most fundamental. Although it is not my purpose here to defend a certain view of the fetus, of its rights, or of the rights of its mother, I have yet to be persuaded that these issues can be avoided successfully. For this reason, I feel a need to briefly indicate my own evaluation of fetal life, fully realizing that any position on the status of the fetus is vulnerable. I then proceed to my major task of broader reflections on abortion and the culture, where assumptions about the fetus also influence social attitudes and policies.I am convinced that the fetus is from conception a member of the human species (having an identifiably human genotype, and being of human parentage), and, as such, is an entity to which at least some protection is due, even though its status may not at every phase be equivalent to that of postnatal life. (See the following section on "Dualism and Corporeality" for a further discussion of the relation between biological facts and moral value.) Further, I believe that there exists, even in our pluralist culture, a relatively broad consensus that the fetus does have some value and status in the human community, even among those who maintain that "hard choices" about sustaining its life must be left finally to the woman who bears it. My position on fetal status might be characterized as "developmentalist"2 insofar as I view its value as incremental throughout gestation. The fact that few, if any, give absolutely equal value to the mother and the fetus is attested to by the fact that all are willing to prefer the mother in at least some "life-against-life" cases, and by the fact that virtually no one perceives the abortion of a seven-month-old fetus as the moral equivalent of the use of an abortifacient method of birth control, such as the IUD (even though both may be viewed as wrong). Nonetheless, I see the fetus as having a value at conception that is quite significant and that quickly increases; but it never overrides the right of the mother to preserve her own life. Even relatively early in pregnancy (for example, in the first trimester), I think serious considerations must be present to justify abortion. Threat to life is the classic case, although I would not exclude the possibility that other threats might justify abortion, particularly when the interest that the mother has at stake is equal to or greater than her interest in her life. (To specify such interests and to stipulate circumstances in which they might be threatened remains a perplexing task.) In summary, I endorse a strong bias in favor of the fetus and rest a heavy burden of proof on those who would choose abortion. This endorsement will in obvious ways influence my assessment of the values that form the backdrop for our culture's permissive policies regarding abortion. At the same time, I trust that much of what I have to say about such things as community, corporeality, suffering, physical or mental disabilities, and family will find agreement among many who do not share my evaluation of fetal life or my grounding in Catholic Christianity.

Liberalism and the Common Good

A central focus of my analysis of abortion and the culture is the relations between individuals and the communities in which they associate. Often, these relations are articulated in terms of "rights" and "duties." It has been observed, however, that these terms encourage moral individualism and isolation of the moral agent(s) from the social relationships in which decision making occurs.3

I continue to think it legitimate to use "rights" language to discuss abortion, but I want to remove that language from the context of moral and political liberalism. To shift attention away from the rights of the fetus or the woman understood individualistically does not mean that the value and rights of either thereby become irrelevant. It means, rather, that their respective rights must be defined in relation to one another (and, in a less immediate sense, to the rights of others, for example, family members). Where those rights can conflict, neither can be absolute. The rights of both are limited, but still significant.

Fundamentally, then, I want to speak of rights in the context of sociality and of community. Of particular relevance to the abortion dilemma is the fact that duties or obligations can bind humans to their fellows in ways to which they have not explicitly consented. Such obligations originate simply in the sorts of reciprocal relatedness that constitute being a human. The mother-fetus relation is characterized by obligations of this sort, as are all parent-child relations.

Abortion represents a conflict between, most directly, the rights of the mother and the rights of the fetus. In contemporary American culture, this conflict is settled in favor of the pregnant woman's right to dispose of the fetus as she deems necessary to protect her own rights or interests. A warrant often adduced in support of such an adjudication of claims is the woman's right to autonomous self-determination, particularly regarding her body and its reproductive capacities. Thus, a restriction of the right to choose abortion is perceived as an infringement of personal liberty in a most intimate and private sphere.

The present dominance of the prochoice position on abortion (that is, every woman has a right to decide for herself, and on the basis of her own religious and moral convictions, whether or not to have an abortion) represents positively the view that women must be taken seriously as autonomous moral agents. Societal and legal protection of the freedom to control childbearing, through abortion if necessary, represents a challenge to those dimensions of marriage, family, and employment that continue to oppress and subordinate the female sex. In addition, to leave abortion decisions to the discretion of the agent most directly involved is to acknowledge the individuality that attends every moral decision, especially decisions that are complex, filled with conflict, and even tragic.

However, I believe that our culture's general willingness to grant to women the exclusive power to terminate their pregnancies has other, too frequently unexamined, implications that can be described negatively. First, and perhaps most fundamentally, the single-minded affirmation of the rights of the pregnant woman (e.g., her "right to privacy" or "right to reproductive freedom") virtually circumvents the equally important but incorrigibly difficult problem of the status of fetal life. What sort of being is it that threatens the welfare of the pregnant woman? Does it in turn have rights? And if so, how do they weigh in the balance against those of the woman? Furthermore, the subordination in the legal and practical spheres of any right to life of the fetus (at least, if pre-viable) to a whole spectrum of rights, needs, or interests of the mother manifests a widespread and often uncritical cultural acceptance of political and moral liberalism.

By liberalism, I mean a family of views concerning the person and the society resembling or rooted in the social contract theories of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and Jean Jacques Rousseau, who have influenced, at least indirectly, Western democracy and the American constitutional tradition. In such views, persons are seen essentially as free and autonomous agents who come into society to protect self-interest by a series of mutually advantageous agreements. Society or community is thus secondary to the existence of the individual; persons are not social by nature and have no natural obligations antecedent to their free consent.4 A woman, for example, has no prima facie moral obligation to sustain a pregnancy that she has not undertaken voluntarily; to do so would constitute a supererogatory act (Judith Jarvis Thomson5).

Other competing theories--for example, some Marxist and feminist social theories, or the Thomistic notion of the "common good" as reinterpreted by the modern papal social encyclicals--begin from the contrary premise. That is, persons are by definition interrelated in a social whole whose fabric of reciprocal rights and duties constitutes the very condition of their individual and communal fulfillment. The concept of the common good envisions society in a way that is neither liberal nor utilitarian. The community is understood as prior to the individual; however, each individual is equally entitled to share in the benefits that inhere in the community. The common good is not identified with the interests of any particular group. Rather, it is a normative standard or ideal by which to criticize and reform any existing social order. Undeniably associated with this notion are some intransigent problems of definition shared with other attempts to elucidate "normative" or "essential" humanity or human community. Still, fidelity to the common good as the primary framework for social analysis guarantees, at least, that individual and Community, as well as rights and duties, will be taken as a pair of complementary terms. Above all, it suggests that human society is characterized by an intrinsic interdependence or cohesiveness for which paradigms that construe society as voluntary affiliations of individuals whose mutual obligations are purely contractual do not adequately account.6

From the viewpoint of the common good, understood in these terms, one indeed has a duty, premised on the mutual interdependence and obligations implied by common humanity, to help another person when to do so involves relatively little self-sacrifice and a proportionate gain for the other. Because gestation is a primordial, prototypical, and physically concrete form of sociality and interdependence, some obligations to the fetus may exist even when they have not been undertaken deliberately. One consequence of the individualistic liberal view of the pregnant woman as moral agent, besides the obvious one of minimizing restraints on her free power of self-determination, is that it reduces the obligations of other individuals or of the community to offer support during and after a burdensome pregnancy. Moral and social dilemmas are regarded as the business and the burden of individuals, to be resolved or borne alone.7


Dualism and Corporeality

Twentieth-century philosophy and theology have been accustomed to repudiating the "dualism" of ancient Greece and its remnants in Christianity or its facsimile in Rene Descartes. In sexual ethics, for example, we resist any attempts to define the body as "bad" and the spirit as resistant to it, and instead, we insist on attention to bodily experience in definitions of moral obligation.8 The unity of body and spirit in human experience should also be taken into account seriously in discussions of pregnancy. The facts that a fetus is ineluctably dependent for its very existence on the body of another, and that this relation of dependence is not prima facie pathological or unjust, but physiologically normal and natural for a human being in its earliest stages of existence, should count as one factor in a moral evaluation of pregnancy and abortion. The morality of abortion is not reducible to the issue of "free consent" to pregnancy. This is not to say that abortion can never be justified (given the presence of countervailing factors), but only that we have not grasped the reality of the moral situation when we define freedom only as "freedom over" the body and not also as "freedom in" or "freedom through" the body. The body makes peculiar demands, creates peculiar relationships, and grounds peculiar obligations.

The Catholic moral theologian Louis Janssens has reformulated the notion of a normative human nature in a way that affirms the historicity, equality, sociality, and corporeality of all persons:

That we are corporeal means in the first place that our body forms a part of the integrated subject that we are; corporeal and spiritual, nonetheless a singular being. What concerns the human body, therefore, also affects the person himself. That we are a subjectivity, or a conscious interiority, in corporeality . . . is the basis for a number of moral demands.9

Conversely, our culture as liberal denies both determinations of "freedom" by our concrete embodied nature and obligation without consent (as a contradiction in terms). The former denial is related to the latter as partial cause. Examples of the tendency to ignore, repress, or negate the demands of corporeality can be seen at many levels: in the rapid increase in medical litigation over the past two decades, which seems to represent the unrealistic demand that the physician free us from the vulnerability of the human body and the fallibility of the medical arts; in the denial in popular mores and in sexual ethics that there is any morally significant connection whatsoever between sex and procreation; and in the recalcitrant refusal of denizens of the developed nations to curtail their supposed right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness at the expense of the material needs of Third World citizens.

At the same time that we avoid the exaltation of autonomy to the detriment of corporeality, it is important to avoid biologism, another form of dualism, in which freedom is completely constrained by physiological functions or conditions. Examples of the latter can be found in traditional Roman Catholic analyses of sexual and medical ethics. Since the negative response of the Holy Office of the Vatican in 1869 to the inquiry whether craniotomy is licit, magisterial reaching regarding abortion has been that a fetus may be sacrificed to preserve its mother's life only when the procedure that destroys it is aimed physically at some other objective. Thus, the removal of the cancerous uterus of a pregnant woman would be allowed, insofar as the physically indirect method of killing the fetus (though a surgical procedure related directly to a condition other than pregnancy) "guarantees" that the intention of the agents involved is not primarily to bring about the death of the fetus, but to protect the woman. By the same token, it would be permissible to remove the entire fallopian tube in a case of ectopic pregnancy; but it would not be permissible to remove the embryo from the tube, leaving intact the tube and the woman's potential to conceive again. Much less would it be justified to remove a potentially viable fetus directly from the womb to curtail the potentially fatal strain of pregnancy on a woman suffering from renal or coronary disease. The crucial question in such dilemmas is whether the moral key ought to be the indirectness of the physical procedure of resolution or the simple fact of two lives in conflict.10

Another nexus of dualistic arguments about abortion is the problematic relationship of the biological development of the fetus (for example, its appearance) to its status in the human community. Equally prone to oversimplification are those who claim that a recognizably human genotype or human form is of no relevance at all to the respect accorded some particular being and those who assume that a demonstration of the membership of the fetus in the species Homo sapiens, or its resemblance to a baby, settles the issue of full "humanity" or "personhood," and thus of abortion. Few are unfamiliar with the attempts of some prolife advocates to substitute enlarged photographs of aborted fetuses for rational argument. More subtle are the efforts of prochoice proponents to eliminate critical recognition of the matter-spirit link in abortion. Michael Tooley and Laura Purdy asked rhetorically, "If pig fetuses resembled adult humans, would it be seriously wrong to kill pig fetuses?"11 Dualism is the premise that allows such a question to be posed at all, as it requires us to dissociate from our notion of "humanity" what it means to exist materially and corporeally in a human (or porcine) manner. The reader is induced to answer, "No," and thus to agree with the proabortion argument framing the question, because the hypothetical situation is nonsensical.

A more thoughtful treatment of the problem is presented by Joseph Donceel's revival of the Aristotelian-Thomistic notion of "hylomorphism."12 Donceel suggested that the material aspect of any being is naturally appropriate to its "form" or spirit. Thus, the increasingly human appearance of human offspring during gestation may be relevant to their developing status within the community of persons. Donceel suggested that the possibility of the "delayed hominization" of the fetus is not inconsistent with the acceptance by some traditional Christian authors (such as Anselm, Aquinas, and Alphonsus Liguori) of the idea that "ensoulment" takes place at some point subsequent to conception, for example, at "quickening." Abortion, although always sinful, becomes the sin of homicide only after that point.

The merit of a position such as Donceel's lies in its recognition that scientific or empirical evidence (e.g., about genotype or appearance) can be relevant to moral decisions, even if it is not in itself decisive. An integral view of the person urges recognition that neither human spirit, freedom, and valuing, on the one hand, nor the material conditions, realizations, and manifestations of same, on the other, ought to be taken alone as definitive of moral obligation. Normative ethics is dependent on the empirical sciences and other "descriptive" (as distinct from "normative") accounts of the human situation for two reasons at least: ( l) the ethicist must have a realistic appreciation of the act or the relation that he or she proposes to evaluate; and (2) the fact that an entity or relation is "normal" or "abnormal" in, for example, a sociological, physiological, or psychological sense will count for or against the conclusion that its existence ought or ought not to be chosen or encouraged. (However, to determine the precise weight that empirical or statistical normality or abnormality ought to have in normative ethics is not a simple matter. It joins the ranks of the highly debated questions in ethics.) Donceel's point is not only that the entity to be evaluated, the fetus, has a corporeal dimension, but also that what is known about normal fetal development should be correlated with any normative account of fetal status.


The liberal ethos discourages making personal sacrifices and encourages at best a minimal appreciation of the virtue and even the necessity of constructive suffering. Our culture has a low tolerance of the burdens and failures of life and tends to deny that life has value when conducted in irremediably painful conditions. There is an expectation of ready resort to the "technological fix" and an inability to appropriate suffering in meaningful ways.13 To these sorts of attitudes might be contrasted the Christian ideals of reconciliation or redemption of the conditions of brokenness and evil in which we consistently find ourselves.

The notion of ability and responsibility to constructively redeem tragedy under circumstances of difficulty is not incompatible with the feminist concern that women be regarded as and regard themselves as mature moral agents who do not need protection from and do not avoid the exigencies of adulthood in the human community. I do not recommend masochism, nor the martyrdom of women who sacrifice themselves out of unwillingness or inability to assert their legitimate claims; rather, I recommend a recognition that some human situations have unavoidably tragic elements and that to be human is to bear these burdens. We cannot be freed from all infringements on our self-fulfillment, and to persistently demand that is to avoid moral agency in the complete sense. The decision to continue a pregnancy might be construed as a decision by the stronger to assume burdens that would otherwise fall on the most defenceless. However, "the stronger" includes not only the woman, who is also a victim, but the larger community of which she and the fetus are a part. (This is not to deny that the tragic elements of conflictual pregnancies may justify some decisions to abort.) As a final note, an important element in constructively assimilating suffering, and also in alleviating suffering to the extent possible, is communal support, both of the difficult pregnancy and of the abnormal fetus, child, or adult. In another context, Daniel Callahan (himself a prochoice advocate) has perceptively commented on the kind of community needed to successfully weather moral conflicts for which there appears to be a dearth of satisfactory resolutions:

Hard times require self-sacrifice and altruism--but there is nothing in an ethic of moral autonomy to sustain or nourish those values. Hard times necessitate a sense of community and the common good--but the putative virtues of autonomy are primarily directed toward the cultivation of independent selfhood.... Hard rimes need a broad sense of duty toward others, especially those out of sight--but an ethic of autonomy stresses responsibility only for one's freely chosen, consenting adult relationships.

Whether suffering brings out the best or the worst in people is an old question, and the historical evidence is mixed. Yet a people's capacity to endure suffering without turning on each other is closely linked to the way they have envisioned, and earlier embodied, their relationship to each other.14


Standards of Human Existence

Our culture tends to estimate the value of human life in direct proportion to its level of physical and intellectual perfection or achievement. This attitude leads to the inability of parents and others to envision creatively or positively the task of raising an abnormal child, and it creates widespread support of abortion for so-called fetal indications. A question that often could be pressed more critically is whether the abortion is intended primarily to serve the interests of the family (in its "freedom") or of the fetus (in a "happy" life), and in either case, what criteria of evaluation are used.15

The liberal individualistic theory of moral responsibility comes into play not only in the moral weight usually given to freedom, but also because society often seems to see parents as responsible for avoiding the births of defective (and hence burdensome) children; social willingness to provide structures of assistance for severely handicapped individuals and their families decreases correspondingly.16

One Christian ethicist, Stanley Hauerwas, has developed a critique of the further implications of liberalism for the nature of the family.17 Hauerwas, who is noted for his emphasis on the narrative qualities of religion and theology, on the centrality of character in morality and ethics, and on the importance of community in embodying religious and moral commitment in life and action, observed that the modern nuclear family is perceived as a complex of intimate relationships whose purpose is the personal fulfillment of its members. Such an account of family life has lost both the connection of the "self-sufficient" family with the larger community and its institutions and any resources for understanding the purposes of family life, including having children, beyond the gratification of the couple. Hauerwas proposed that the family ought not to be understood as "a contractual social unit"18 and that "marriage is not sustained by being a fulfilling experience for all involved, but by embodying moral and social purposes that give it a basis in the wider community."19

The language of rights is criticized by Hauerwas because it seems to represent the liberal commitment to the autonomy of the individual and his or her freedom to enter into moral obligations electively via contracts.20 He also seems to detect a liberal agenda hidden behind attempts to hinge the abortion discussion on whether the fetus has or has not a "right to life." Hauerwas suggested that the precise status of the fetus as a "human being" may not be crucial as long as it is agreed that it is a "child." (These terms are not clarified precisely, but by human being I take Hauerwas to mean a member of the human community with full status and by child to mean human offspring.)

Thus the preliminary question must be inverted: "What kind of people should we be to welcome children into the world?" Note that the question is not "Is the fetus a human being with a right to life?" but "How should a Christian regard and care for the fetus as a child?"21

I concur with Hauerwas that our evaluations of the morality of abortion, and particularly a commitment to its avoidance, cannot be understood apart from communal values and commitments. My discussion, too, concerns essentially the kinds of community (the kinds of values, attitudes, and virtues that community encourages) that will support or not support nascent life in difficult circumstances. However, I am not convinced of the wisdom or even the possibility of setting aside the question of the status of the unborn offspring, because the presupposition that we should support it (even as a sign of hope in the future) seems to involve a certain understanding of its value. Our protectiveness and hope do not include in the same way other forms of sentient and nonsentient life. The point is well taken, however, that the virtue of hope embodied in inauspicious situations enables the perception of at least a prima facie obligation to sustain fetal life, even if that life is not clearly of equal value to postnatal human life. Indeed, this takes us far from the position that it must be demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that the fetus is a "person" in the full sense of the word as a precondition for according it protection. If relatedness to and concern for others and for the sort of community in which we all associate is more important to us than "defending our own territory" (by defining the precise limits of our minimal obligations not to prevent other equal beings from promoting their own self-interested welfare), then it becomes less important to show whether or not the fetus is a human with exactly the same right to consideration as our own. If we are able to foster a sense of duty to others and to our common society, a duty that precedes and grounds our own rights as individuals, then it also becomes possible to envision a moral obligation to support the cohesion in the human community of even its weakest members, those with the least forceful claim to consideration, whether they be the unborn, the sick, the poor, or the socially powerless.22


The precise value and rights of human fetal life remain questions awaiting resolution, perhaps indefinitely. However, without at least a provisional answer, the abortion discussion cannot proceed coherently, for the participants will not avoid hidden presuppositions about the consideration due the fetus as such. My own conviction that the fetus deserves considerable respect from conception may not represent a common denominator in the abortion debate. Nevertheless, I believe that there is now more of a consensus in our culture than is usually recognized that a policy on abortion attributing to the fetus no value that can ever outweigh its mother's choice to terminate pregnancy is not consonant with its membership in the human community, disputed though the exact nature of that membership may be. Failing agreement on the precise status of the fetus, we may hope still for concurrence in a generally protective attitude toward the fetus, a bias in its favor, and an expectation that those seeking to kill it will be able to claim reasonably that its continued existence imposes on others unjust and intolerable burdens. For such an attitude to be genuinely life-enhancing, rather than simply restrictive and destructive of the lives of pregnant women and their families, will require a move beyond the liberal ethos. It will require nourishment by a renewed and even redirected sense of community, one in which not only the fetus is protected, but also all who suffer disadvantage at the hands of fellow humans, nature, or chance. "Human 'flourishing'" is a phrase invented by G. E. M. Anscombe to describe what grounds, defines, and constitutes the virtues that human beings ought to cultivate.23 A community in which the "right to abort" could be overshadowed by rather than entailed in the "duty to encourage human well-being" would be one in which human interdependence in the spheres not only of personal freedoms and civil liberties, but also of physical prosperity and amelioration of suffering, corporal and spiritual, is recognized as the very condition of human flourishing, and so as bounty, not burden.

Cahill's Notes

l. The twentieth-centUry popes have taken a persistent and sometimes prophetic interest in redressing imbalances in the social and economic orders, whether precipitated by socialism or by capitalism. Examples are Leo Xlll's Rerum novarum (1891), Pius XI's Quadragesima anno (1931), John XXIlI's Mater e magistra (1961) and Pacem in terris (1963), Paul Vl s Popolorum progressio (1967) and Octogesima adveniens (1971), and John Paul lI's Laborem exerans (1982).

2. Daniel Callahan, Abortion: Law, Choice, and Morality (New York: Macmillan, 1970) 381-90.

3. See, for example, Larry R. Churchill and Jose Jorge Siman, "Abortion and the Rhetoric of Individual Rights," Hastings Center Report 12 (Feb. 1982) 9-12; and Sandra Harding, "Beneath the Surface of the Abortion Dispute," in Abortion: Understanding Differences ed. Sidney and Daniel Callahan (New York: Plenum Press, 1984).

4. See the critiques of liberalism by Sandta G. Harding, "Beneath the Surface of the Abortion Debate," and Jean Bethke Mishtain, "Reflections on Abortion, Values, and the Family," both in Abortion: Understanding Differences. 5. Judith Jarvis Thomson, "A Defense of Abortion," Philosophy and Public Affairs I (Fall 1972) 47-66.

6. The papal social encyclicals have been largely ad hoc in nature, addressing themselves in the name of the common good to actual abuses and imbalances of rights and duties, rather than attempting to articulate any exhaustive list of rights and duties or to formulate precisely enduring relationships among them. For instance, in Rerum novarum Leo Xlll addressed, against socialism, the right of the worker to own private property; in Quadragesimo anno, Pius Xl asserted the rights of the worker against capitalistic property owners who neglected duties to others and to the community as a whole. Among the best concise definitions of "common good" in the encyclicals is that offered by John XXIII in Pacem in terris (paras. 55-58). I have further developed this analysis of common good, rights, and duties in "Toward a Christian Theory of Human Rights," Journal of Religious Ethics 8 (Fall 1980) 277-301.

In a recent essay ("Abortion and the Pursuit of Happiness," Logos 3 [1982] 61-77), Philip Rossi, S.J., similarly asserted the connection between human freedom and interdependence and linked it with Kant's characterization of moral agency in accord with membership in a "kingdom of ends." Rossi argued effectively that "rights in conflict" language is insufficient to handle the morality of abortion in the absence of a unified view of happiness or the human good.

7. In The Heretical Imperative (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1979), Peter Berger dubbed the ' modern consciousness" a phenomenon akin to the liberal ethos. The modern man or woman is under the necessity of making choices rather than of acquiescing to fate. However, he or she also is confronted with a plurality of world views, rather than with a cohesive tradition that shapes social roles and gives them significance. A crisis of belief results because beliefs about reality, including religious and moral beliefs, require social confirmation, and that is widely unavailable in modern society. As a result, morality and religion become subjectivized and contingent on the sheer choice or "preference" of the individual (chap. 1, "Modernity as the Universalization of Heresy," pp. 1-31).

8. See, for example, James B. Nelson, Embodiment: An Approach to Sexuality and Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1978), and Robert Baker and Frederick Elliston, eds., Philosophy and Sex (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1975). 9. Louis Janssens, "Artificial Insemination: Ethical Considerations," Louvain Studies 8 (Spring 1980) 5-6.

10. More complete discussions of the evolution of the Catholic position on abortion are offered in John T. Noonan, Jr., "An Almost Absolute Value in History," in The Morality of Abortion, ed . Noonan (Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1970); and John Connery, S.J., Abortion: The Development of the Roman Catholic Perspective (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1977). Critiques have been developed by Bernard Haring, "A Theological Evaluation"; James M. Gustafson, "A Protestant Ethical Approach; and Paul Ramsey, "Reference Points in Deciding about Abortion," in The Morality of Abortion. Charles Curran examined the problem of "physicalism" in Roman Catholic ethics generally in "Natural Law and Contemporary Moral Theology," Contemporary Problems in Moral Theology (Notre Dame, Ind.: Fides, 1970). Several discussions of the "principle of double effect" operative in the Catholic analysis of abortion appear in Charles E. Curran and Richard A. McCormick, S.J., eds., Readings in Moral Theology No. 1: Moral Norms and Catholic Tradition (New York: Paulist, 1979). Unfortunately, to cite these resources is only to skim the surface of those available.

11. Michael Tooley and Laura Purdy, "Is Abortion Murder?" in Abortion: Pro and Con, ed. Robert Perkins (Cambridge, Mass.: 1974) 134.

12. Joseph Donceel, S.J., "Animation and Hominization," Theological Studies 31 (Mar. 1970) 76-105.

13. I perceive a concern similar to mine in David Peretz's "The Illusion of 'Rational' Suicide," Hastings Center Report 11 (Dec. 1981) 40-42. Peretz sees planned suicide as an attempt to gain control over feelings of pain and helplessness by idealizing the freedom and autonomy of the "self as agent."

14. Daniel Callahan, "Minimalist Ethics," Hastings Center Report 11 (Oct. 1981) 1920. Callahan addressed the question of whether a morality that stresses the autonomy of the individual is a "good-time philosophy," able to sustain a society in times of affluence but not in times of economic and political stress.

15. A provocative example of a criterion of the life worth preserving has been offered by Richard McCormick in a discussion of whether and when to treat infants suffering from serious congenital anomalies. McCormick suggested that physical life can be a worthwhile good for the person living it if it offers at least "relational potential," that is, the capacity to give and receive love, and even if it does not offer "normal" intelligence or physical competence ("To Save or Let Die," Journal of the American Medical Association 229 {July 1974] 172-76).

16. Those who have counselled or interviewed parents of abnormal infants have commented that the availability of amniocentesis and abortion in cases of genetic defect has altered the nature of the parent-child relationship after such a birth occurs. John Fletcher commented, "If an infant is born with a severe genetic defect which might have been diagnosed pre-natally, will it not occur to the physicians and parents, that this infant might have been tested and aborted? Such thoughts will, presumably, intensify the rejection of the infant" ("Moral and Ethical Problems of Pre-Natal Diagnosis," Clinical Genetics 9 [October 1975] 25). See also John Fletcher, "The Brink: The Parent-Child Bond in the Genetic Revolution," Theological Studies 33 (Sept. 1972) 457-85; and Raymond S. Duff and A. G. M. Campbell, "Moral and Ethical Dilemmas in the Special-Care Nursery," New England Journal of Medicine 289 (Oct. 1973) 890-94.

17. This is accomplished most extensively in Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), especially part 3, "The Church and Social Policy: The Family, Sex, and Abortion."

18. Ibid. 171.

19. Ibid. 191.

20. Ibid. 198-99.

21. Ibid. 198.

22. In an essay entitled "The Christian, Society, and the Weak: A Meditation on the Care of the Retarded," in Vision and Virtue (Notre Dame, Ind.: Fides, 1974) 187-94, Hauerwas argued that the Christian's task of caring for the weak exemplifies the obligation to live the love revealed in the cross, rather than either to try to eradicate all suffering or to attribute the existence of suffering to God's hidden purposes.

23. G. E. M. Anscombe, "Modern Moral Philosophy," Philosophy 33 (Jan. 1958) 18.

Possible Exam Questions

1. What is Cahill's position regarding the status of the fetus?

Liberalism and the Common Good
1. What dose C. identify as the particular relevance of speaking of rights in the context of sociality and of community?
2. In the Dominance of the prochoice position in our culture, C. sees both something positive and something negative. What does she see this dominance as representing positively?
3. What are the major things she sees as being negative implications of this dominance?
4. Within "liberalism" how are the individual and the community understood?
5. What are some of the competing theories to liberalism and how is the individual and the community understood within them?
6. What are the implications of a "common good" approach in terms of an obligation to assist others?

Dualism and Corporeality
1. What form of "dualism" does C. see as characteristic of liberalism in our culture?
2. What set of traditional Roman Catholic analyses does C. as an example of the
opposite form of dualism, namely, biologism?
3. Of what does an integral [i.e., a "non-dualistic"] view of the person urge recognition in regard to the basis of moral obligation?
4. What does an integral view see as the ethical or moral significance of "normality" in its various senses?

1. In calling fore an ethic that promotes an ability to constructively assimilate suffering or
tragedy, what is, and what is not being recommended?
2. What done Daniel Callahan identify as the kind of sense of duty that is and is not fostered by
an ethic focused on moral autonomy?

Standards of Human Excellence
1. What done a liberal individualistic theory tend to see as the obligation of parents in regard to the birth of defective children?
2. What, in general terms, does C. see as the basis for extending protection to the fetus?