Pro-life academics means pro-life ideas

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In addition to activists and volunteers, the pro-life movement needs intellectuals.

By Guest Blogger Father Joseph Tham, L.C., M.D., Ph.D.

One of the areas of pro-life work that gets scarce attention is that of the academia. Like it or not, the professors of many educational institutions today, including Catholic ones, are very hostile to the pro-life, pro-family causes. There are many reasons for this secularization of the academy. But the point in fact is that scholars are more likely than not to embrace the liberal agenda on life, family, and sexual issues.

These scholars often look down on pro-lifers as fundamentalists, extremists, and uneducated. The paucity of pro-life intellectuals is a great weakness of the pro-life cause because ideas make the world turn, and wrong ideas can have devastating results in culture. Universities have considerable influence in educating the future generations, and it will be a great loss if the pro-life position is portrayed as incoherent or naïve from an intellectual point of view.

At the recent Princeton University conference on abortion "Open Heart, Open Mind and Fair Minded Words," Peter Singer, who supports not only abortion but infanticide, was one of the speakers. He once wrote that, "Since neither the neonate nor the fish is a person, killing these beings is not morally as negative as killing a person." This influential philosopher has defended this view in many of his writing, stating that, "In modern era of liberal abortion laws, most of those not opposed to abortion have drawn a sharp line at birth. If, as I have argued that line does not mark a sudden change in the status of the fetus, then there appear to be only two possibilities: oppose abortion or allow infanticide." He stated in the conference that infanticide should be allowed up to a year after birth.

Even though this idea may appear extreme, there are many bioethicists and applied ethicists who share his conclusion. They hail from Ivy League schools like Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Oxford, Georgetown, and Rice. The challenge for pro-life scholars to stand their ground and engage their peers with a rational debate is therefore great.

Luckily, there is an influx of a younger generation of pro-lifers who do not readily accept the liberal agenda they receive in colleges and universities. The question is still pertinent: Can one be an intellectually rigorous, scientifically minded, and academically serious pro-lifer? I believe that there is a calling for those who are more gifted to enter into the intellectual battlefield to defend the pro-life cause. It is interesting to see that among the four organizers of the recent abortion conference at Princeton, the two pro-life academics were in their 30s, whereas the two pro-choice counterparts were in their 60s. This is a sign that young academic pro-lifers can engage culture and make a difference.

The School of Bioethics where I teach is also another attempt to bridge this gap by forming a new generation of pro-life academics who can engage effectively in this cultural debate. There is great hope.


Father Joseph Tham, LC, MD, PhD, is assistant professor of the School of Bioethics at Rome's Regina Apostolorum Pontifical College.

Posts from other pro-life advocates will be posted throughout Respect Life Month (October) at uscatholic.org/pro-life.

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.