The Politics of Abortion
by Anne Hendershott
Encounter, 190 pages, $25
To understand the modern American abortion debate, one needs to know much more than just the relevant competing ethical arguments. For the abortion issue is greatly influenced by politics—the politics of power, money, and sex. At the same time, of course, abortion also greatly influences politics. So to understand the curious political situation of modern America and our political parties, one must pay great attention to how abortion shaped (and continues to shape) electoral realities.
Anne Hendershott, professor of sociology at the University of San Diego and author of The Politics of Deviance, accomplishes both these tasks in her new book. With gentle and clear prose, Hendershott leads the reader through the history of the abortion movement, examining the revolutions that allowed for Roe and how the party of the little guy became the party killing the little guy.
Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore were all once pro-life, and Jesse Jackson even went so far as to argue that the privacy argument in Roe was “the premise of slavery.” That comparison proved prophetic, as Hendershott exposes the racial politics of abortion and the influence eugenics plays in abortion ideology—reinforced by the startling facts
that black babies are aborted three times as often as white babies, and 78 percent of Planned Parenthood abortion clinics are in minority neighborhoods.
Using her background in sociology, Hendershott examines the political advocacy of the pro-life movement, sidewalk counseling, and abortion-clinic bombings, along with the celebrations of choice on “I'm Not Sorry Day,” the fashion of “I Had an Abortion” T-shirts, and the purchasing power of Hollywood money (as well as the silver screen's power to indoctrinate). Not surprisingly, money permeates most discussions of abortion politics.
The saddest aspect of the entire narrative is the role that prominent Catholics played in bringing widespread abortion to America. Whether it be Catholic politicians who claimed to be personally opposed but politically pro-choice, Catholic priests and theologians who gave them cover—Fr. Robert Drinan, Fr. Charles Curran, and Daniel Maguire in Sacred Choices—or laypeople such as Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, the Catholic “witness” has resulted in much harm. Hendershott concludes, though, with positive notes: the pro-life activities on college campuses (especially on elite secular campuses), public-opinion polling, and new organizations such as Feminists for Life and the growth of crisis pregnancy centers (which now outnumber abortion clinics). As John Paul II taught us, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the Gospel of Life—to be preached until the end of time. Anne Hendershott has provided an invaluable study for anyone interested in advancing this gospel in our time.
—Ryan T. Anderson
Wrestling with God: The Courts' Tortuous Treatment of Religion
by Patrick M. Garry
Catholic University Press, 230 pages, $22.95
The First Amendment is widely, but mistakenly, thought to be at war with itself. Many courts and commentators perceive a tension between the amendment's solicitude for the “free exercise” of religion and the prohibition on religion's “establishment.” As the late Justice Rehnquist once observed, however, this tension is not the result of the Framers' design but of Supreme Court rulings that have “constantly narrowed the channel between the Scylla and Charybdis through which any state or federal action must pass in order to survive constitutional scrutiny.” As Patrick M. Garry explains in Wrestling with God, the Religion Clause of the First Amendment are complementary means of protecting religious freedom. The no-establishment rule is not a check on religious expression and exercise but a constraint on government. It is not a sword driving private religious expression from the marketplace of ideas; rather, it is a shield, constraining the state to protect religiously motivated speech and action.
Garry untangles the Court's church-state doctrines and proposes clearly and efficiently a bold, simple understanding of the Religion Clause. In his account, the no-establishment rule serves religious freedom by protecting the autonomy and independence of religious institutions from government interference. The constitutionally required “separation of church and state,” then, does not involve the evacuation of religion from public life but respect for the freedom of the Church. At the same time, the Free Exercise Clause safeguards the religious liberty of individuals, imposing a ban on coercion or discrimination by government.
Garry also presents a critique of what he calls the “neutrality compromise” in the Court's current caselaw. Although he recognizes that the shift in recent years from strict, no-aid separationism to an equal-treatment-of-religion model has produced some good results (upholding school vouchers, for example), he insists that neutrality and equality are not enough. Standing alone, neutrality “falls short of fulfilling the underlying purpose of the First Amendment.” A focus on neutrality, Garry warns, ignores the “special value or role of religion in our constitutional scheme.” It obscures the fact that religion and its exercise are constitutional and civic goods that can and should be affirmed and accommodated.
Honor: A History
by James Bowman
Encounter, 382 pages, $18.95
A fascinating, uneven, often perceptive, but finally misguided plea for a recovered sense of honor in Western society. Primarily through the lens of literature, film, and pop culture, Bowman traces the concept of honor from its roots to the present day. Primitive honor, he writes, was and is the social glue of premodern and tribal societies, wherein men are honored for bravery and women for chastity. (This concept remains reflexively powerful today, as any man who has been called a “wimp” or any woman who has been called a “whore” can attest.) But in Western culture, Bowman explains (echoing Nietzsche), primitive honor did battle for centuries with the Christ-ideal of inner virtue, humility, and turning the other cheek. This, perhaps the most significant culture war ever fought, finally resulted in the grand chivalric syntheses of the gentle Christian knight and the Victorian gentleman. But it was not to last. The lesson of World War I was thought to be that Victorian honor led only to the Somme and so ought to be done away with.
Gradually, and sadly, it was, accelerated by Vietnam and Watergate, until we reached the point at which honor and authority were seen as among the greatest of evils. Bowman exaggerates, I think, the extent to which this is true, but for the most part is correct and illuminating.
So what to do? Here is where I think he goes wrong. Faced with the threat of jihadist extremism, Bowman argues that Americans ought to rehabilitate the concept of national honor as a justification for warfare. Thus the war in Iraq, he claims, was justified not on prudential or moral grounds (Bowman is particularly dismissive of moral justifications for war) but because September 11 was an affront to our national honor and we had to hit back. Brushing aside both just-war theorists and pacifists, Bowman says that if we were honest, we would admit that all wars in the end are matters of honor (not morality) and ought to be treated as such. This is wrong, even wrongheaded, and certainly not Christian. Bowman incorrectly—even dangerously—seems to think honor can be detached from ethics, which in the end becomes equivalent to Thrasymachus: “I say justice is the rule of the strong.”
Surely the better part of wisdom belongs to the Church, which teaches that all honor belongs to God alone, and so properly honors all things in this created world that reflect his glory. In the Church there is room for not only the honor of St. Louis IX, warrior-king of France, but also for that of Francis, Augustine, and Thérèse of Lisieux. Bowman's plea for a return to chivalric honor is welcome, but chivalry was a product of Christian ethics, not the other way around. To seek our own honor leads only to vain pride and the wrath of Achilles.
The Vatican's Exorcists: Driving Out the Devil in the 21st Century
by Tracy Wilkinson
Grand Central, 208 pages, $22.99
A pop treatment of a serious subject, focusing on the rise in the number of Italians seeking exorcism. While the author is open to the possibility of demonic possession, the discussion of the phenomenon and its psychological evaluations are disappointingly superficial.