Whose Common Ground? Responding to Camosy

With all due respect to Charles Camosy, I hardly recognize the conference he describes in his Washington Post article. While I appreciate his efforts to organize the conference, I strongly disagree with many, if not most of his conclusions.

Recently, Aimee wrote about her perspective on the recent “Open Hearts, Open Minds” conference held at Princeton University.  That same week, Charles Camosy wrote his own article reflecting on the conference.  His analysis raised concerns among numerous other attendees because it implied a consensus others did not feel was reached at the meeting.

With all due respect to Charles Camosy, I hardly recognize the conference he portrays in his recent post on the Washington Post blog, “On Faith.”  I appreciate his contributions and efforts to organize this unique conference, bringing together opposing sides of the abortion debate.  In addition, I understand why he might want to portray the conference in the best possible light.  However, I strongly disagree with many, if not most of his conclusions. 

From my perspective in the audience, I did not see the consensus or shared values he outlined.  Just as one example, there were several instances of speakers and audience members using inflammatory and disrespectful language (Abortionist, anyone? Or what about the “F-word” to protest the use of the word fetus instead of “unborn child”?).  By and large, people behaved themselves, but let’s not pretend that no one crossed the line, from either the stage or the floor.  I agree with speaker’s David Gushee summarizing tweet: “Princeton abortion conference largely a failure in finding common ground, and civility deeply strained, but it was an audacious attempt.”

Conference co-organizer, Frances Kissling, does a wonderful and thorough job questioning Camosy’s assumptions in her piece.  For my part, I will focus on one area that Kissling did not mention but stood out to me.  Camosy implied that all participants voiced “A special concern for the most vulnerable (both with regard to the fetus-especially when she is unwanted because of race, gender or disability-and poor women in desperate circumstances)”. While I was surprised that several pro-life speakers raised the impact of social and economic conditions on women’s lives and their reproductive decisions, it did not reach the level of concern that Camosy implies, certainly not so that he could assert it was a shared value.

What was more problematic was Camosy’s reference to the false narrative of race-based abortions.  The notion of “race-based” abortions is a cynical, political ploy that targets women of color, particularly Black women, and their reproductive autonomy.  Women of color experience higher rates of unintended pregnancy and therefore, access abortion at higher rates than white women.  Anti-abortion opponents have manipulated this data to cast abortion as genocide or health care providers such as eugenicist and racist.  Organizations including Black Women’s Health Imperative, NAPAWF, SisterSong, SPARK Reproductive Justice Now, and Generations Ahead, among others have collaborated to fight back against this anti-abortion legislative and media tactic.  The initial mention of this concept and its repetition later in Camosy’s post also perpetuates the pernicious idea that women of color cannot be trusted to make their own reproductive decisions.  As Dorothy Roberts stated during the conference, the reproductive freedom of women of color is devalued.  Camosy’s language reinforces that disrespect by offering this political argument as one of the issues he claims many participants could work on together in the public policy arena.

This conference provided me many opportunities for thoughtful reflection.  That said, I cannot account for the differences between Camosy’s reflections and mine, except to say that I was at the Princeton conference, and it was not the same one that Camosy portrayed.