Set within the background of the Second Vatican Council and the highly explosive 1968 encyclical Humanae vitae, the American Catholics reacted sensitively to the abortion issue. Catholic magazines like America and Commonweal searched for a unique voice in the Christian chorus of indignation, discussing and shaping Catholic identity at the same time. A special role in this discursive process was the playing out of the fragile relationship of hierarchy and laity in the Catholic community. So-called ‘liberal Catholics,’ who advocated a pro-choice position, and Catholics in political positions stood in a deep conflict between their secular and Christian obligations.
From a system-theoretical perspective – in tradition of the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann – the paper will show how the societal realms of law and religion were shaken and distinguished by the Catholic debate on abortion. The fundamental differences between “God created [hu]man[kind] in his own image” (Gen 1:27) on the one hand and the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution about the protection of privacy on the other, were difficult to bridge.
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