On March 20, The New York Times published an article—“How the ‘Whole Life’ Movement Challenges the Politics of Left vs. Right”—in which columnist and Anglican minister Tish Harrison Warren discussed the “Whole Life Movement.”
More of an ideology than an official, well-defined movement, the “Whole Life” movement initially appears to support the aims of pro-lifers in their defense of the unborn.
The Times notes that among the aims of the Whole Life movement are “opposition to abortion, euthanasia.” However, the movement swiftly diversifies from opposing the clear-cut, moral evil of abortion to addressing the popular social justice issues of the day, such as opposition to “nuclear weapons and the death penalty,” along with proposing climate change policies.
“It also often involves championing policies and practices such as a living wage, universal access to health care, ecological and racial justice, and adoption,” notes Harrison Warren. Its pro-life sentiments come with an agenda attached.
Whole Life Movement Billed as Replacement for Pro-Life
The Whole Life movement has been described as seeking to “purify the pro-life movement of its inconsistencies.” These reported “inconsistencies” within the “pro-life movement” are found in the pro-lifers’ primary concern only for the defense of innocent unborn life. This priority is deemed misplaced by the Whole Life movement. Instead, pro-lifers should be equally concerned with the “degradation of the environment” and other issues to be consistently pro-life, argue its proponents.
“We need a better pro-life movement, one animated by whole life principles,” wrote The Millenial Journal in advocating the movement. The Millenial Journal also aligned “gun control and immigration reform” with the Whole Life movement’s purview.
Charles Camosy, a “Leader” of the Whole Life Movement
Discussing this movement with the Times was Charles Camosy. The associate professor of theology at Fordham University is described as “a leader in this movement.” Mr. Camosy pointed out how the Whole Life movement seeks a “common ground” in the abortion debate: “A ‘whole life’ ethic can and does offer common ground that otherwise wouldn’t exist with the national binary.”
For Mr. Camosy, separating religion and abortion appears to be crucial. “I don’t like the religious/secular binary when it comes to ethics,” he said.
“Everyone—regardless of your claims about the transcendent and God and organized religion—has irreducible first principles, fundamental goods that you don’t have because of arguments. If you just go down and try to reduce all of your values, you’re eventually going to come to something you believe just because you believe it, because of intuition or some other kind of authority. And sometimes, it’s at odds with the views of others. But I don’t think we say to secular people, ‘Oh, you can’t use your first principles or fundamental values to try to work for justice, say, to impose a view of the good onto others who think differently.’ If you care about justice at all, you care about imposing it on others.”
For Mr. Camosy and the Whole Life movement, opposition to abortion appears to be an arbitrary “intuition” that some people have while others—“secular people”—do not have.
Thus, while affirming the right to life of the unborn (although not entirely), Mr. Camosy appears at pains to divorce this principle from any moral worldview of good and evil. Instead, opposition to abortion is portrayed as something equivalent to advocating for “climate change” policies, rather than a firm opposition to a moral evil based on understanding right and wrong and natural law.
Dangers Posed by the Whole Life Movement.
Thus, at first glance, the Whole Life movement might generally appear to be a useful ally to pro-lifers by its professed opposition to abortion. However, it is something of a Trojan horse. The Whole Life movement, by its very nature, seeks a “common ground” with pro-abortionists, as Mr. Camosy put it, whereas true pro-lifers seek the irrevocable end of abortion.
Indeed, Mr. Camosy appears not to wish for the ending of abortion through legislation. Describing his vision of the future relationship between pro-lifers and “pro-choicers,” Mr. Camosy wrote in 2015 attacking those he called the “hardcore” pro-lifers who wished to ban abortion:
“The position in favor of banning all abortion is, frankly, a political non-starter. Those who have pushed this position aggressively in the public sphere have done tremendous damage to the ‘pro-life’ cause. ‘Pro-lifers’ achieve our goals when we help focus the public debate on the overwhelming majority of abortions, most of which the public does not support.”
In his 2015 book, Beyond the Abortion Wars: a Way Forward for a New Generation. Mr. Camosy proposed a compromise bill called the Mother and Prenatal Child Protection Act, which would win support from pro-lifers and “pro-choicers.” In his proposed Act, he defends abortion in cases of rape, incest, and cases where “the baby posed a mortal threat to the mother.” He equivocates that a mother can use abortifacient drugs in a way that is “better described as refusing to aid rather than killing.” Such an action, argues Mr. Camosy, is in alignment with “traditional Catholic moral theology.” However, critics note his compromise is ultimately a “surrender” to the “culture of death.”
As Anne Hendershott, a professor of sociology and Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, wrote in 2015 about Mr. Camosy’s ideology: “Camosy must know that we can never really ‘end’ the abortion wars as long as unborn children are still viewed as ‘aggressors’ or ‘invaders’ and can still be legally aborted. Faithful Catholics know that there is no middle ground on this—the pro-life side has to prevail in any war on the unborn.”
Whole Life Movement Blurs the Lines of Morality
Writing some years before Mr. Camosy’s recent interview with the Times, Jillian Veader (an advocate for the Whole Life movement) summarized the essence of the ideology. “It presents what has traditionally been seen as a conservative issue in a progressive way; it also includes some traditionally progressive issues in a way that should appeal to conservatives,” she wrote.
Furthermore, Miss Veader highlights how the movement abandons the clear teaching of morality in favor of a grey area on abortion. She protests how opposing abortion and defending innocent human life has become a “black and white issue,” proposing instead a new morality without any clear principles.
“The pro-life and pro-choice movements simply do not fit my ideals—they turn large-scale moral debates into black and white issues with simple answers to complex questions. Identifying as whole life, however, signifies openness and willingness for change. It also presents an opportunity for Christians to abandon traditional ideas that are long out of date and become aware of important modern-day causes, such as the empowerment of women and girls.”
The Whole Life movement’s philosophy promotes a complete absence of moral values. It centers not on good and evil but on compromise. By abandoning moral teachings, the Whole Life movement is thus able to:
- Appear pro-life and argue against abortion while supporting abortion in many cases.
- Present the “conservative” issue of defending innocent life in a “progressive” way while abandoning the moral values which are deemed to be “conservative.”
- Divorce the evil of abortion from the precise teaching of good and evil and instead present it as a social issue that is not based on constant moral values and thus open to change in particular circumstances.
Faithful Catholics must be wary of attempts made to compromise with abortion advocates. As Dr. Hendershott notes once again, there is an inherent danger posed by Mr. Camosy and the Whole Life movement, which must be firmly opposed. “As long as Camosy continues to claim that his writings and policy suggestions—including his newly proposed ‘Mother and Prenatal Child Protection Act’—are ‘consistent with defined Catholic doctrine,’ faithful Catholics will have to continue to denounce them.”
There is nothing whole about denying the difference between good and evil. They are Heaven and Hell apart.
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