This book is concerned about the growth of the earth's population and the fact that there are so many people who are not receiving basic elements needed for life, food, health care, or education. In fact, 40 million people die each year from hunger and diseases spawned by poverty (12). Daniel Maguire engages one prominent scholar from each of ten different religious traditions to illustrate that "at the point of reverence for life, we are all one" (22).
However, if one were to examine the history of any of the world's religions, one would find that their teachings very often arise from the situation in which they find themselves. If the world is in need of more people, or if there is overpopulation, the religion will bend or adapt to that. Hinduism, for example, teaches nonviolence and compassion toward all and that both physical and spiritual life begin with conception. Yet at the same time Hinduism condemns greedy possessiveness and stealing, which is what happens when the earth is overpopulated, and there are not enough resources to go around. Abortion has been legal in India since 1971.
As for Catholic teaching, Maguire enlists the help of Christine Gudorf who teaches at the International University in Miami. Gudorf maintains that there is no coherent Catholic teaching on abortion. The Bible does not condemn it, and the early church gives it only sporadic treatment. Tertullian, an early church father, taught that abortion was a "crudelitas necessaria," a necessary cruelty. St. Augustine said that fetuses would not rise at the end of the world. Gudorf believes that within a generation or two, Catholic hierarchical teaching will encourage contraception in marriage and allow early abortions in some cases.
As Maguire takes up each of the various religions, he spends some time on its basic teachings, and then relates this to its teaching about contraception and abortion. In Buddhism, intention is central. Bad karma will result if a person decides to do evil, but will be limited by a compassionate intention. A right view says that no species should overpopulate and destroy the rest of life. Japanese Buddhists ask the fetus to "bide its time in some other world." The being who would be born is put back in waiting.
In Taoism, the Tao is the Mandate of Heaven, the concept of universal harmony. Abortion should not be done unnecessarily, but social values override the individual, and family planning is a necessity. Sex, in Chinese religions, did not have the puritanical shadowing of guilt, sin or shame. Sex had four equally important purposes: spiritual elevation, promotion of health, successful reproduction, and personal pleasure. There is no inherent opposition to contraception or abortion. Rather, these are realities to be faced at times to preserve greater harmony (93).
In Judaism, humanity is made in the image and likeness of God, but according to Laurie Zoloth, Jewish theologian, we don't just make human beings, we make humane human beings (99). Limiting births might be necessary to do justice to the children we already have. "If there is no reason, it is forbidden to destroy the fetus. But in the case of a married woman who went astray, I have pronounced my lenient opinion that it is permitted to abort, and perhaps it even almost has the reward of a mitzvah (duty)" (Jacob Emden, 103). As for Islam, Riffat Hassan, professor at the university of Louisville, and a native of Pakistan, says that it is infantile to argue for an unlimited population out of proportion to economic resources.
Beverly Harrison, a protestant theologian, says that the Christian right's new interest in abortion is an obvious reaction to social gender role shifts and women's rights. Quakers see the sanctity of life as requiring the right to choose an abortion when life's complexities make that the most pro-life choice. Native Americans also, even though only about seven percent of the original population survives, believe that one cannot respect mother earth without family planning. Eighty percent of native American women believe every woman should decide for herself.
Admittedly, this book is an unabashed defense of abortion and contraception. It purposely looks for authorities within each one of the traditions to find people who favor freedom of choice. The message of the book is that in every religion there are differing voices regarding abortion and contraception, and that no tradition has a monolithic view. There are theologians and prominent thinkers in all religions who support freedom of choice, many who contend, in fact, that the sanctity of life demands these options as possibilities.
There are no footnotes, but the book contains a very nice index, as well as suggested readings. The reading level is easily accessible for college students.