In this theological study of abortion, Malbon tackles issues of religion, ethics and morality to “forge a ‘new path’ toward productive discussion” on one of the nation’s most divisive topics.
Malbon is a scientist, bioethics professor, theologian and Protestant who studied at Union Theology Seminary in New York. Here he details the history of abortion practices, linking the current polarized politics to the mid-19th century. He provides a comprehensive section about available abortion methods, offers a look at major world religions and their sentiments on the topic, and dissects the theological perspectives of Christian writers Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Beverly Wildung Harrison and Reinhold Niebuhr, among others. Malbon says that he doesn’t seek to change anyone’s mind, but only to offer both sides of the debate. “If we have ears but cannot hear the suffering embedded within the other’s arguments,” he writes, “we cannot hope to achieve a dialogue.” He does land pretty firmly on one side, however: After he deconstructs Bonhoeffer’s idea of Sanctorum Communio, or Communion of Saints, a religious theory that favors community over self-interest in order to achieve a godly life, Malbon argues that we must support women’s reproductive rights as a community in order to live truly moral lives. Without choice, he posits, morality cannot exist. It makes some sense to tackle the issue of abortion through concepts of religion and “morality,” in that the controversy itself is so often rooted in such ideas. For a complicated subject that is typically discussed through political rhetoric and emotional outrage, Malbon’s perspective does offer some much-needed intellectual discourse on the root of the opposition. That said, the text is murky and repetitive at times, and the religious focus is likely to appeal only to certain audiences. The real problem, of course, is that for many readers, the controversy surrounding abortion may not be one based in intellect, but in emotion. The author’s treatise certainly invites thoughtful discourse, but whether such a strategy will have an effect remains to be seen.
A comprehensive look into a much-discussed topic, offering an intriguing perspective to a somewhat limited readership.