“Everyday Ethics” and the Pro-Life Community

By Dave Andrusko

Randy Cohen

This will be a short post because, frankly, I do not have the time to do a lengthy search on what Randy Cohen has to say about abortion and the rights of religious conscience. I bring up Cohen, formerly “The Ethicist” for the New York Times, because he has a book out, a collection of his columns, and because a review by Michael Dirda of the Washington Post raises three very interesting considerations.

For those who may be completely unfamiliar with Cohen, “From 1999 to 2011, Randy Cohen was ‘The Ethicist,’ the New York Times’ resident moral philosopher,” Dirda explains. “Each week he responded to readers’ letters about ethical conundrums by offering his thinking on the rightness and wrongness of various actions or proposed courses of action.”

On second thought I decided to do a quick preliminary search and (to quote Dirda’s description) Cohen is “progressive” on abortion and not so progressive (in the true sense) about religious liberties.

He was, for example, glib in response to a “pro-choice” woman who asked if she ought to give up her membership to a fitness center when she found out “that the owner of the company financially supports pro-life efforts.”  And while Cohen came down on the right of free speech for high school club which staged a “Pro-Life Day of Silent Solidarity” during school hours, he did so with an ominous caveat: “Although the club’s message is expressed in secular terms, anti-abortion activism is so often bound up in religious sentiment that a religious message can be implicit.”

Guilty until proven innocent?

Speaking of religious liberties, my strong suspicion is he would find congenial President Obama’s mandate forcing companies to pay for health insurance plans that cover medical procedures and drugs contrary to their religious beliefs and conscience.

Dirda celebrates Cohen’s book, “Be Good: How to Navigate the Ethics of Everything,” in an almost embarrassingly effusive way. And without having read his columns regularly (or the book itself), sometimes it’s not so easy to determine where Cohen leaves off and Dirda begins. Nonetheless, here are three helpful observations from the review.

“In fact, as Cohen shows, most of us are repeatedly faced with small and large questions about how we should behave, what Cohen calls issues of ‘everyday ethics.’”

“In general, Cohen emphasizes that we should do the right thing even if it won’t seem to have any effect or make a difference. ‘To fail to resist what you see as injustice simply because you fear that you cannot win this fight assures the very defeat you dread.’”

“In his introduction to ‘Be Good,’  Cohen writes that people don’t usually want ‘a ruling on what to do’ — deep in their hearts, they usually do know the right course of action — but rather ‘an argument for why to do it.’”

All three of these observations speak to pro-lifers and the mothers and babies we work to help find life-affirming solutions. The middle consideration are words to live by —that if you calculate the odds (or count the cost) of fighting an injustice and as a result fail to do the right thing—you’re ensuring the very outcome you dread.

Also it’s true, most of us will as a matter of course face big battles, but more often small ones. However sometimes we confuse one with the other.

For example, we only vote every two years for Congress and every four years for President—big stuff and important to do! But helping the candidate of your choice over those months and years before an election—when you have a million other good tasks you could be undertaking—while seemingly “small” is of tremendous importance and in the long run is more important to his or her victory.

And don’t all pro-lifers honestly believe that “deep in their hearts,” most people know intuitively that abortion is not only wrong, but an abomination. But they need “an argument for why to do it.”

That’s where yours and my commitment to the “everyday ethics” of helping women in crisis pregnancies and to fighting the good fight in the public square comes in.

Put another way and if not you and I, who?

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