As states deliberate abortion access and regulation in the wake of the new federal landscape, I wrote this new piece for TIME magazine to shed light on how ordinary Americans themselves think through these questions. Most of our interviewees in the National Abortion Attitudes Study didn’t hold much familiarity with state abortion laws (or the medical markers upon which they rest). Some may find themselves reviewing them more closely in the wake of the Dobbs decision.
The Supreme Court decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization raises important questions regarding policy in the context of abortion restrictions. Interviewing hundreds of Americans about abortion, we heard many allude to adoption as an alternative — lauding adoption success stories, personal connections, and need, while also leveling critiques at the high cost of adoption and perceived shortcomings of foster care. This report explores Americans’ overall adoption perceptions as well as narrowing in on ways that women facing unplanned pregnancies narrate their pregnancy decisions. Thanks to the Opt Institute for supporting this secondary analysis of my team’s in-depth interview data.
Thanks to the hosts and producers of the America Magazine podcast, Jesuitical, for inviting me on to talk through how Americans — and Catholics, in particular — think about abortion. It’s a timely conversation in light of the pending decision from the Supreme Court.
I share some takeaways from the National Abortion Attitudes Study (NAAS) in light of the Supreme Court leak — namely, that the pending ruling’s implications remain unclear amid the context of complex abortion attitudes held by most ordinary Americans.
I’m grateful to my research team (Bridget Ritz, Kendra Hutchens, Maureen Day, & Patricia Tevington) and the McGrath Institute at the University of Notre Dame as well as to each of our NAAS interviewees.
I joined Notre Dame faculty members Tamara Kay and Susan Ostermann in this piece for the LA Times, published today. It references Americans my team interviewed for the National Abortion Attitudes Study who — even amid opposition to abortion — draw exceptions to save the life of the mother.
Like so much of the abortion landscape, people’s views are complicated. The nexus of values and behaviors can be more complicated, still. Exploring these tensions gives us a more accurate, data-based understanding of what abortion attitudes look like for ordinary Americans. And, in this case — what it looks like to engage in pro-social behavior that conflicts with another deeply held value.
I’m excited to have a new article out in Science Advances with a stellar group of collaborators: Sarah K. Cowan, Brea L. Perry, Bridget Ritz, Stuart Perrett, and Elizabeth M. Anderson.
In it, we explore the phenomenon of “discordant benevolence,” which we define as help that counters another personal value. We use the example of abortion in the United States, reporting the proportion of Americans morally opposed to abortion who are nonetheless willing to support a friend or family member obtain one. Interviews from National Abortion Attitudes Study I led shed light on the rationales behind this seemingly contradictory behavior, categorized as commiseration, exemption, and discretion.
This research offers yet another reminder of the messiness of Americans’ abortion attitudes — and a caution against narrow presumptions based upon available labels. It’s also an example of how attitudes play out not just in the ballot box, but in real life and relationship with others.
What happens when a request for help from friends or family members invokes conflicting values? In answering this question, we integrate and extend two literatures: support provision within social networks and moral decision-making. We examine the willingness of Americans who deem abortion immoral to help a close friend or family member seeking one. Using data from the General Social Survey and 74 in-depth interviews from the National Abortion Attitudes Study, we find that a substantial minority of Americans morally opposed to abortion would enact what we call discordant benevolence: providing help when doing so conflicts with personal values. People negotiate discordant benevolence by discriminating among types of help and by exercising commiseration, exemption, or discretion. This endeavor reveals both how personal values affect social support processes and how the nature of interaction shapes outcomes of moral decision-making.
I’m excited to participate in an online dialogue featuring Matthew Dowd (chief strategist for the the 2004 Bush campaign and an ABC News political analyst, author, candidate for lieutenant governor of Texas), Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) (longest-serving woman in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives), and Vincent Rougeau (president of the College of the Holy Cross), sponsored by Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life.
Here’s what to expect:
This online dialogue will lift up the neglected principle of the common good; explore how it has been undermined in the United States’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as through political combat and religious divisions; and look for ways forward to advance the common good and meet our national challenges.
The United States has lost a sense of the common good as our politics have become more polarized and dysfunctional. Our capacity to come together to overcome a pandemic and other challenges has been overwhelmed by bitter political and ideological disputes. Religious faith, which should lift up the common good, has instead often been politicized and misused to advance narrow partisan and ideological agendas.
A senior member of Congress, a political analyst who has worked for Democrats and Republicans, a sociologist who has studied what unites and divides us, and the new president of the College of the Holy Cross will assess how this has happened, its costs, and how can we recover a sense of the common good in these times of division and anger. They will also explore how Catholic social thought offers a path to the pursuit of the common good.
John Carr, co-director of the Initiative, will moderate the conversation. He served for more than 25 years as director of the justice and peace efforts of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The panel will take place Tuesday, December 7, 12:30-1:30pm EST via live stream.
I’m thrilled to share a new report summarizing findings from an in-depth interview study I conducted on Catholic women and the diaconate: Called to Contribute.
Together with my research team (Cella Masso-Rivetti of New York University and Jennifer Sherman of Georgetown University), we found that Catholic women feel called into service, constrained by barriers to ordination and service reserved for men in the Church, must adapt creatively to do “de facto deacon” ministry anyway, and contribute in ways that uphold the very foundations of the local and global Catholicism.
“This study provides an excellent insight into the plight of Catholic women already serving in diaconal ministries across the country and around the world. That so many women find themselves called and accepted by their local communities as “quasi-deacons” is a clear sign of the ways the Church is growing to recognize women as truly representing Christ in the world.”
Phyllis Zagano, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY, author of Women: Icons of Christ (Paulist, 2020)
“This report on extensive interviews with US Catholic women both acknowledges the fact of how many women are and have long been engaged in the work of diakonia but have been constrained by their exclusion from ordination to the diaconate. These women talk about discernment and their own creativity in the service of the Church. Reading this report will broaden your understanding about the sense of call that is experienced and counter any notions that a desire for ordination is a form of clericalism.”
Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv., Diocese of Lexington, KY
“I read this report with tears and rapt attention: to put a structure and language on the real lived experience of women in ministry. This report is a gift. For me, for our sisters in ministry, for our Church.”
Bridget Deegan-Krause, Board Certified Chaplain, Mission and Formation consultant, Catholic Health Care and member of the National Association of Catholic Chaplains
To join broader conversations regarding the possibility of women deacons in the Catholic Church, check out the rapidly growing movement, Discerning Deacons.