Review of: A Love for Life: Christianity’s Consistent Protection of the Unborn by Dennis R. Di Mauro

[1] This book is not for the reader already convinced of a woman’s “pro-choice” in terminating a pregnancy. Nor is it necessarily for those who are strongly pro-life. Rather it is most helpful for those who do not quite see clearly where the Christian church has stood vis-a-vis abortion until the twentieth century.

[2] First a word on the title: it is not “A Love OF Life” but rather “A Love FOR life.” The author’s intent is to show that love is an active and seeking force, a force linked to the Holy Spirit who is “the Lord, the Giver of Life.” This identification of the Holy Spirit with life is important especially today when, at least in some forms of Christianity, there is said A Love for Life: Christianity’s Consistent Protection of the Unborn by Dennis R. di Maurothat there are no rules that guide the baptized person’s life, only the Holy Spirit. Yes, but that is to be seen as a powerful argument AGAINST abortion, since abortion is always the taking of a life and the stopping of a heartbeat. If we now live in the Holy Spirit we then live for life, for again, he is the “Lord, the Giver of Life.”

[3] Now on to the book proper. Don’t skip the introduction, for therein the author lays out his argument and his presentation. He acknowledges that it is the existence of unlimited abortion in the United States, including the so-called “partial birth” abortion, that prompted him to do the research that resulted in this book.

[4] Chapter 1 reviews the historical Jewish views on abortion, especially Exodus 21:22-25. He points out that the “use of this verse has been complicated by the fact that it has been rendered differently in the ancient Hebrew and Greek texts.” This text is a favorite with many pro-choice biblical commentators. But Di Mauro points out that the Septuagint (the Greek translation, usually abbreviated as LXX) is not the original text and thus not able to provide much guidance. What is clear is that anything or anyone who brings about the end of a pregnancy is punishable under Mosaic law.

[5] The Jewish opposition is witnessed not only by Jewish authors of the second and first centuries B.C., but by the first-century Roman historian Tacitus who notes that Jews continue to have children after they had completed their wills and had assigned inheritances for the children.

[6] Chapter 2 is especially intriguing because it deals initially with the argument that the word “abortion” doesn’t appear in the Bible. But there is that word “pharmakeia” which appears in Galatians and in Revelation. Di Mauro cites John T. Noonan, Jr.’s argument in “The Morality of Abortion: Legal and Historical Perspectives,” that the Greek word, usually translated “sorcery” or “magic arts” could just as well mean “abortive draughts.” There is a long quotation of Alvin Schmidt’s book, “Under the Influence” to support Noonan’s argument. This contention is further strengthened by Michael Gorman in “Abortion and the Early Church.” As far as Di Mauro is concerned there is no doubt that the earliest Christians, including St. Paul and St. John the Divine, regarded anything that caused the death of the child in the womb as violating the plan of God.

[7] Chapter 3 continues this contention with extensive references to the early Fathers and the Councils up to the fifth century. The Didache reinforces the notion of “pharmakeia” as poisons used to cause an abortion when it states “”Do not steal, do not practice magic, do not used enchanted potions, do not abort a fetus or kill a child that is born.” The grouping of sins is important, Di Mauro argues: “Since an aborted pregnancy was often the end result of fornication or adulterous relationships, it makes sense that these sexual sins were categorized near the sin of abortion. But also notice that abortion was found alongside murder and infanticide, with the practice of magic and the use of enchanting potions.”

[8] Di Mauro’s extensive documentation leaves no doubt that the early church’s stance was consistently pro-life.

[9] Chapter 4 reviews Christian views on abortion in the middle ages. Again, this period (which he dates from 500-1500) demonstrates the pro-life stance of the church. Through Councils, canons, confessional booklets that defined the penalties for abortion, the church considered abortions to be “gravely immoral” and not up for debate. Di Mauro states that “the medieval period was a time of doctrinal consistency on the immorality of abortion.” Period.

[10] Chapter 5 brings the reader from the time of the Reformation of the sixteenth century to the 1960s. Granted, that is a huge space of time, a time when the church in the West was undergoing great turmoil. Nevertheless, from Martin Luther, John Calvin, the Counter-Reformation popes, John Wesley and the Great Awakening, there was no doubt in any of the various churches’ teachings that abortion was a great evil. In many states laws were passed prohibiting illicit abortions. Beginning in 1857 the American Medical Association was in the forefront in its efforts to wipe out abortions in order to protect both the mother and the unborn child.

[11] Up to the middle of the twentieth century, such theologians as Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Juergen Moltmann were one in their support for the unborn and one in their condemnation of abortion. Di Mauro concludes that “the attitudes of theologians from the Reformation until the 1960s shows an almost unanimous opinion for protecting human life from the moment of conception.” (I don’t know why he wrote “almost unanimous” because he doesn’t give any instance of a non-pro-life teaching on the part of any theologians or churches.)

[12] Chapter 6 is where the pro-life position for some churches begins to unravel. If the reader is familiar with the material in the first four chapters, this is the place to begin reading A Love for Life. Abortion, once seen as a grave moral act that was intrinsically evil, now becomes a matter of choice and a moment of freedom for the woman from an unwanted pregnancy. Abortion is now on its way to becoming another form of contraception, a means of concealing an adulterous act or fornication.

[13] No church, including the Roman Catholic Church, remained untouched by the free-wheeling 60s and 70s. All of the so-called main-line churches got caught up in the maelstrom of unbridled “freedom.” Abortion was increasingly seen as a woman’s right, not to be restricted in law or in culture. Increasingly, women were seen as the creators of life in the womb, and were told that it was their right to say yes or no to the continuation of the pregnancy. As bizarre as it might seem to some readers, theologians and professors, led by the “Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice,” composed pseudo-liturgies to help women “affirm that a woman has made a good and holy (sic) decision to have an abortion.”

[14] All of this was supported by very dubious biblical exegesis of, for example, Exodus 22, and a willingness to break with the established tradition of the Christian church. In short, those theologians who have taken a pro-choice position have pushed aside 1900 years of Christianity without so much as an “excuse me.”

[15] Chapter 7 documents the controversy that has arisen in the churches since 1960. Di Mauro points out that it is not only the Roman Catholic Church that has protested the legalizing of abortion on demand, there are many others who have joined in that protest from African American denominations to the second-largest Lutheran group, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. If the reader wants to know what his or her denomination has been saying since the middle 60s, this is the place to turn to.

[16] Perhaps the best and most intriguing quote of all is on page 68, were Di Mauro extensively cites Frank Pavone’s book, “Ending Abortion, Not Just Fighting It.” It is a chilling contrast between Jesus’ sense of his body with the pro-choice view of the body. I’ll quote here the last paragraph.

“This is my body.” Same words, different results. Christ gave His body away so others might live; abortion supporters cling to their own bodies so others might die. In giving His Body, Christ teaches the meaning of love. I sacrifice myself for the good of the other person. Abortion teaches the opposite of love: I sacrifice the other person for the good of myself!”

[17] Since the reviewer is an ELCA pastor (retired) writing for an ELCA journal, you are directed to turn to pp. 76 ff. to see where the Lutherans have been all this time. And it’s a mixed bag. As mentioned earlier, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has remained consistently anti-abortion; the ELCA’s predecessor entities, the American Lutheran Church, The Lutheran Church in America and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches changed direction and broke with Lutheranism’s traditional stand against abortion. Reader, decide for yourself.

[18] Two appendices round out the book. If the reader needs chapter and verse on what churches are saying now about abortion, the material is there.

[19] The author concludes the book’s main section with this statement:

In every crisis pregnancy situation, if the question is asked, “What kind of people are we to be as the church and as Christians?” then the question of whether to advise another person to have an abortion will have already been answered. The Christian must choose life: the choice to love and support another person in need, and in that way follow the gospel of the One who is life.

Larry Bailey

The Rev. Larry Bailey is a retired pastor and educator.