Sacred Choices: The Right to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions, by Daniel C. Maguire (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2001, ISBN 080063433) 160 pp., including Index. Paper $13.
In Sacred Choices Daniel C. Maguire, who teaches ethics in the theology department of Marquette University, gives a very optimistic view of attitudes toward abortion by Catholics, Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Confucianists, Tao ists, Jews, Muslims, Protestants, and various “native religions.” He emphasizes that religions are changing, as they always have, even in their attitudes about abortion. He also includes a general discussion of the controversies about family planning, and the problems in attempts to control population growth.
But he accentuates the positive and neglects the negative. For example, after a brief discussion of official Catholic positions, he concentrates his discussion on Christine Gudorf, a liberal reform Catholic theologian who sees the potential for change in Catholic attitudes. In the process he ignores very real Catholic opposition to both birth control and abortion. Similarly, in his discussion of religious attitudes in India, he relies on the ideas of Sandhya Jain, who emphasizes the malleability of Hindu and Jain belief. Maguire ignores some of the very real difficulties in dealing with abortion and contraception in India. It is good to know that contraception and abortion can in a sense by justified in all the religions he discusses, but the reality is that many of them still oppose both.
Maguire’s messages that family planning is not a radical idea, that abortion is a reality, and that sexuality is omnipresent are ones that I can agree with. To win the battle for more effective family planning, however, is not an easy task, and it is his refusal to recognize this that causes me trouble. Still there is much valuable material about religious attitudes toward birth control and abortion that is not available in any other single book.
Vern L. Bullough is a senior editor of Free Inquiry and a noted researcher on reproductive issues.