“By focusing on ‘choice’ and ‘pluralism’ the professor ignores that a democratic republic can only exist if it protects the most basic human rights, the most fundamental being the right to life, which at the very minimum must include the right to be protected against deadly violence of others,” Collett told CNA.
“Neither pluralism nor the invocation of ‘choice’ negates this basic political reality,” she said. “Just as pluralism does not justify state indifference to infanticide or child sacrifice, even when appearing in the guise of religious liberty, it does not justify permitting abortion absent the extraordinary circumstance of pregnancy posing a threat to the mother’s physical life.”
In response to inquiries about his remarks, Dell’Oro depicted his position as a legal compromise.
“I hope that my own personal position as an ethicist is not simply reduced to the compromise position that I articulated with respect to the law,” he told CNA.
“Compromise might be in fact all that you can aim at in the political situation in which we are here in California,” he said. California voters will decide whether to pass a strongly pro-abortion rights ballot measure this November.
In his remarks at the campus event, Dell’Oro contended that Dobbs shows apparent blindness to developments that have helped affirm “women’s moral agency.” These changes contributed to “a maturation in our moral sensibility, in finally coming to recognize women as full moral agents.”
“Such moral agency gives women the freedom to decide whether and when to have children. It determines how they live their lives and how they contribute to the society around them,” he said.
Collett, however, was skeptical. She objected that Dell’Oro failed to identify how to determine whether a particular development is an advance or a decline in a society’s ethos.
“This silence is telling given that he premises his entire critique of Dobbs on the claim that restricting abortion (at least in the first three to four months of pregnancy) is an unjust limitation on women’s autonomy and that insofar as Roe v. Wade created a constitutional right to access to such abortions the case reflected an advancement of the ‘ethos of society,’” she told CNA.
“Political prudence may require acceptance of exceptions for cases of rape, incest, and threats of a permanent and substantial impairment of a major bodily function, but protection of the life of every human being, born and unborn, must be the ultimate goal of our society,” Collett said.
Despite his criticisms of legal abortion, Dell’Oro also criticized maximal pro-life legal protections.
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“You can go all the way for the protection of the vulnerable from the moment of conception, but that means that you’re wiping out the agency of women,” Dell’Oro told CNA Oct. 19.
Dell’Oro again sought to make a distinction between morality and law. While the Second Vatican Council rejected direct abortion as a “crime” in Gaudium et spes and the Catechism of the Catholic Church emphasizes the right to life from conception, Dell’Oro characterized these as “statements concerning the morality of abortion.”
“The Second Vatican Council says something also very important about the problem of the relation between morality and the law,” he said. He invoked the thought of the American Jesuit Father John Courtney Murray. Murray is considered to be an influence on the council’s religious freedom teaching. However, Dell’Oro could not specify where Murray discussed legal abortion.
For Dell’Oro, Murray “understands the space of tolerance that must be granted in matters of personal choices within a pluralistic democratic society.”
“Otherwise, the alternative you have is the alternative of a totalitarian theocratic society. If you want a democratic society to turn into Iran, fine. But then you collapse morality and legality,” he told CNA. “Now, that distinction is certainly ingrained in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and is certainly ingrained in our own Catholic understanding of how morality and legality relate to one another. Now there are unjust laws. But the question is not whether all laws ought to be just. The question is whether some unjust laws can be tolerated for the sake of democratic coexistence and for the sake of moral pluralism. That’s what is at stake here.”
Dell’Oro said the situation of pregnancy, in which another human being is “enfleshed” in another, means that the person bearing the pregnancy needs to be recognized fully as a moral agent. He emphasized the need to empower women considering abortion to “potentially choose in a different direction.”