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Sacred Choices: The Right to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions

Review: Sacred Choices: Right to Contraception and Abortion in World Religions

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Family planning, contraception and abortion are all intimately related issues which are often subject to rancorous debates in modern society and international politics. According to conventional wisdom, traditional religious beliefs and institutions are opposed to all three. According to conventional wisdom, religion is inevitably anti-choice in such matters. What if conventional wisdom is wrong?

Summary

Title: Sacred Choices: The Right to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions
Author: Daniel C. Maguire
Publisher: Augsburg Fortress Press
ISBN: 0800634330

Pros:
•  Provides balance to more vocal critics of abortion and family planning
•  Exposes reader to religious traditions rarely heard from
•  Demonstrates that religions are not monolithic

Cons:
•  None

Description:
•  Exploration of pro-choice positions in 10 different religions
•  Shows how religious attitudes to family planning can vary widely within a religion
•  Written with a Christian audience in mind, but non-Christians can still learn a lot from it

 

Book Review

Family planning, contraception and abortion are all intimately related issues which are often subject to rancorous debates in modern society and international politics. According to conventional wisdom, traditional religious beliefs and institutions are opposed to all three. According to conventional wisdom, religion is inevitably anti-choice in such matters. What if conventional wisdom is wrong?

That is exactly the argument being made by Daniel C. Maguire, professor of Moral Theological Ethics at Marquette University, a Catholic, Jesuit institution. According to Maguire, conventional wisdom is quite wrong and there is nothing inevitable about religious opposition to family planning, contraception and even abortion.

It is because of this that he helped bring together scholars from various religious traditions to found the Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics. His book, "Sacred Choices," is a product of his conversations with those scholars and of his own research. Religions covered include Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Judaism, Islam, Protestant Christianity, and Native American and Native African traditions. He states quite clearly what his goal is:

    Many people believe that contraception is forbidden by their religion, but this book will show that the world's religions are open to family planning, including contraception and also abortion as a backup when necessary. This information has been too little known. Many people, even within the various religions, have heard only conservative views on family planning. It is well known that there are no choice teachings on contraception and abortion in all religions but there are also pro-choice positions in these same religions that give people their moral freedom to make choices in these matters. These liberating views have been hidden away - this book seeks to reveal them.

Obviously, Maguire does not argue that religion is inherently supportive of family planning - unlike his more conservative colleagues, he does not try and make a case for any religion containing just a single valid tradition on such matters. Instead, his more fundamental argument is that religion is not monolithic. Religion is, rather, a collection of perspectives and traditions, making some people's claim to holding the keys to the "true faith" of that religion perplexing at best.

Abortion and Religion
Sacred Choices: The Right to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions

Those representing the anti-choice traditions in their respective religions have been very vocal in expressing their opinions, so it is good that Maguire is giving time to those with an alternative viewpoint. Even in his own Catholic tradition, such an alternative is readily accessible. Catholicism for a long time held that the fetus experienced a "delayed ensoulment" in which the human soul did not appear until as late as three months after conception - making the current doctrine of ensoulment at the moment of conception a departure from tradition rather than the basis for it.

But does any of this really matter? Should anyone care if different religious traditions incorporate choice with regards to family planning? Yes - there is good reason to care, because one of the most important problems facing humanity is our growing population. It is an obvious truth that this planet cannot handle an infinite number of humans, and it seems just as obvious that it cannot support the current number if all people were to have the same standard of living as that enjoyed by the middle-class in the West.

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