Academic Dialogue on Applied Ethics

Religious Perspectives on Abortion: Background

The abortion debate in the United States is frequently understood as a conflict between more secular and more liberal "pro-choice" positions, on the one hand, and more conservative, religiously-grounded "pro-life" positions, on the other hand.  Certainly, arguments from the religiously-defined anti-abortion positions often inveigh against abortion rights as a signature of moral decay brought about by secular humanism.  And certainly, the most potent and public forces aligned against abortion include the overtly religious - from the "respect life" position of many Roman Catholics through the Christian Coalition's stand against abortion to the anti-abortion protests organized through Randall Terry's "Operation Rescue."

But behind this more obvious debate between the secular and the religious occurs an equally fierce debate over abortion within religious communities and traditions.  The background materials collected here offer representative, but radically divergent views, from prominent ethicists whose arguments are informed by particular faith commitments and traditions.

Opening Comments: the lack of consensus within religious perspectives - and implications of that lack both for   pluralistic societies and for the "conversational ethics" underlying the Academic Dialogue
Danial Callahan, Sidney Callahan "Breaking through the Stereotypes," written by the "pro-choice" Director of the Hastings Institute and a "pro-life" psychology professor - who are also married to one another.  This article outlines the elements of the more intractable debate between secular "pro-choice" and religious "pro-life" positions, and reports on an important dialogue across these differences which uncovered both common moral grounds and irreducible differences in worldviews.
John T. Noonan Comments on his "An Almost Absolute Value in History," a classic defense out of the Catholic tradition of the belief that human life - and with it, personhood and rights - begins at conception.
Daniel C. Maguire, Marjorie Reiley Maguire "Catholics for a Free Choice" developed materials in the early 1980's which articulate an alternative approach to abortion within what they argue remains an orthodox Catholic framework. (Useful for a quick summary of the history and diversity of Church teaching and beliefs of non-Catholic traditions, including Judaism.)
James Gustafson Comments on his "A Protestant Ethical Approach [to abortion]"
David M. Feldman Comments from his "This Matter of Abortion," in Health and Medicine in the Jewish Tradition
Abul Fadl Mohsin Ebrahim Comments from his Abortion, Birth Control and Surrogate Parenting: An Islamic Perspective
Gleanings.  Not quite an annotated bibliography, not quite detailed notes of the sort collected as Background Materials, this "researcher's notebook" contains resource suggestions and comments.

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Robert Cavalier, Carnegie Mellon and Charles Ess, Drury College