Holy Abortion? | Book Review

I came across Holy Abortion? in the course of researching Christian attitudes to that topic. Michael J. Gorman is a well-regarded New Testament scholar and author of the classic 1982 study, Abortion and the Early Church. That book describes and defends Christianity’s early, uniform, and universal opposition to abortion.

In this book, Gorman and coauthor Ann Loar Brooks provide a theological critique of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). The authors are mainline Protestants (MP) and pro-life advocates. Although RCRC and its MP members agree that abortion should be legal, their moral assessments of abortion are contrary.

Gorman and Brooks summarize the difference between RCRC and MP members this way: “Abortion is holy because God is pro-choice” (RCRC) vs. “Abortion is tragic because God is the giver of life.” The authors derive these sentiments from primary sources, though the sentiments are not direct quotations of those sources.

Reviewing RCRC documents, Gorman and Brooks identify the following six themes common in the organization’s literature:

  1. the existence of absolute, God-given sexual and reproductive freedom, including abortion rights;
  2. the isolation of the woman or teen as sovereign moral agent;
  3. the trivialization of the moral status of unborn human life;
  4. the legitimacy of abortion as birth control;
  5. the holiness of abortion; and
  6. the sanction of a pro-choice God, attested in Scripture, who blesses all decisions.

By contrast, the official statements of MP members of RCRC stress four different themes:

  1. responsible, covenantal sex within marriage and abstinence outside of marriage;
  2. decision making in the context of Christian community;
  3. the sacredness of unborn human life; and
  4. a presumption against the termination of unborn human life, and abortion only as a reluctantly sanctioned last resort and not as a means of birth control.

Gorman and Brooks argue that the positions are so contrary that MP members should disassociate from RCRC. They further argue that MP churches should reclaim the Church’s historic stance on abortion. This means re-adopting “a larger worldview that holds that the Christian’s supreme value is not choice but covenantal faithfulness to God, and that the Church is called to be a community of hospitality that welcomes both women in need and children in utero.”

Because this book was published in 2003, it needs to be updated, as both RCRC and its MP members have changed somewhat over the last two decades. And post-Dobbs, the American legal environment has changed significantly. Even so, the book is valuable as a snapshot of the religious debate over abortion at the turn of the millennium and as a model of theological critique.

Book Reviewed
Michael J. Gorman and Ann Loar Brooks, Holy Abortion? A Theological Critique of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice: Why Christians and Christian Churches Should Reconsider the Issue of Abortion (National Pro-Life Religious Council, 2003; reprint, Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock).

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