Catholic theologian tells of pro-choice tradition

The Catholic Church has a little-known, strong pro-choice tradition on abortion, a leading US theologian said in Dublin yesterday…

The Catholic Church has a little-known, strong pro-choice tradition on abortion, a leading US theologian said in Dublin yesterday.

Dr Daniel C. Maguire, a Catholic theologian and professor of moral theological ethics at Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, said the Roman Catholic position on abortion was pluralistic.

He said it had a strong pro-choice tradition and a conservative anti-choice tradition. Neither was official, and neither was more Catholic than the other.

In an interview with The Irish Times ahead of giving an address on The Hidden Tradition of Abortion last night, Dr Maguire said all the world religions had pro-choice and no-choice views.


"What would be very good for the US and for Ireland would be to get this abortion bone out of the Catholic throat, and realise that Jesus did not found an organisation to condemn contraception, abortion and stem-cell research."

That was not the definition of the Jesus mission. In fact, those issues were totally unmentioned and were not part of the tradition whatsoever.

He said the Bible did not condemn abortion, and scriptures did not touch it at all.

Abortions were going on since the foundation of the church. St Antoninus was the first Catholic to write extensively on abortion. He was pro-choice for early abortions where necessary to save the woman's life. There was a large acceptance of this. There was no hub-bub, and he was considered a very holy man.

St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinus both held that the early embryo foetus had the moral status of a plant, a vegetative soul, and then as it developed it had an animal soul. They did not know when the soul was there but the common view was when there was quickening.

"The idea of a little cluster of stem cells being a person goes against the longest Christian tradition in existence, and makes no sense at all."

Things began to change to a stricter regime in the 19th century as the Church began to realise that its world view was collapsing around it. There was more communication, other viewpoints and the solidities were disappearing.

Recently the Vatican and conservative Muslims were "buddy-buddy" in the UN on one issue, abortion. "My analysis, fallible as it is, is they're not suddenly worried about foetuses; it's a different threat and that is liberated women. I think the liberation of woman poses a threat to these two patriarchies."

He said fundamentalism in any religion was always misogynistic. It feared mutuality between the genders.

Dr Maguire said women who have had abortions should not feel they were no longer good Catholics. The killers of the species were men and male clerics and administrators who thought they had to control women.

"It's good news. I'm not here to promote irresponsible sex, but to promote respect for women and respect for their choices."