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Reviewed by:
  • Sacred Choices: The Right to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions
  • Bruce D. Rogers
Sacred Choices: The Right to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions, Daniel Maguire, Fortress Press, 2001

Sacred Choices is a volume in Daniel Maguire's Sacred Energies' series. Dr. Maguire is a professor of moral theological ethics at Marquette University, a Jesuit institution. He earned a degree in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, a leading conservative Catholic university. The author's philosophical understandings have been discussed in over 200 articles and demonstrate a radical departure from traditional published Catholic positions on contraception and the right to an abortion.

This book is one of many that considers the rising world population and the ensuing stress that that population growth puts on governments and communities to feed, provide for health care and to educate a growing population. Because larger populations create more poverty - indeed Maguire points out that over forty million people a year die from hunger and other diseases created because of poverty - the issue of controlling population is a life and death issue. The issue has been politically and socially framed worldwide, with the greatest effects in developing areas, as one of religious restrictions on contraception and abortion.

It is difficult to review this book without talking about the author, a laicized priest who is on his second marriage. Maguire was called "an outspoken dissenter from (Catholic) church teaching on sexual morality and abortion," by Patrick Riley, President of the Cardinal Newman Society, in the Catholic publication Life News (March 2004). Riley went on to say in the article that "Maguire contradicts everything inherent to an authentic Catholic University: fidelity to Church teachings, respect for human dignity...."

But do critics of his personal life and his professional writings diminish the contributions of his book in a general sense? Maguire argues in Sacred Choices"although many people believe that contraception is forbidden by their religion ... the world's religions are open to family planning, including contraception and also abortion as a backup when necessary." Further, Maguire contends that only the anti-contraception and anti-abortion positions of world religions have been selectively presented.

Ten scholars, representing major religions, gathered to demonstrate that pro-choice, pro-contraception positions existed alongside the anti-choice positions. Maguire's major contribution is to outline these pro-choice, pro-contraception religious positions in a short volume based on discussions with the gathered scholars.

Relying upon Christine Gudorf a professor at Florida International University, Maguire contends that there is no coherent Catholic teaching on abortion basing his contention on an early church father, Tertullian, who taught that abortion was a "crudelitas necessaria", a necessary cruelty. St. Augustine was also referenced, as a pro-choice voice, as having said that fetuses would not rise at the end of the world. Gudorf anticipates that Catholic teaching, within a generation or so, will encourage contraception within marriage and permit early abortions.

The author reviews basic teachings in each of the religious traditions presented and then relates the basic teachings to issues regarding abortion and contraception. Referring to Jewish theologian Laurie Zoloth, the argument is that limiting births might be necessary to do [End Page 222] justice to the children that we already have. Similarly, Maguire refers to Riffat Hassan, an Islamic theologian, to suggest that it would be foolish for one to argue for unlimited population growth out of proportion to economic resources. Beverly Harrison, a Protestant theologian, believes that the political and religious right's interests in abortion are a reaction to women's rights and shifts in gender roles.

Maguire's discussion about other religious traditions also provides a brief for contraception and abortion. Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and Native religions are also included in the book. In seeking out the disparate pro-choice viewpoints Maguire contrasts those voices in each tradition with the more prevalent anti-choice viewpoints. How individual societies interpret their traditions, as a guide for the future will have an enormous impact on the future of developing areas.

Bruce D. Rogers
Tennessee State University
Nashville, TN