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

[1] The debate about the ethics of abortion is at once political, emotional, judicial and religious. Arguments in favor of one position or another often focus on the humanity or personhood (or lack thereof) of the fetus, the rights of both the pregnant woman and the unborn child, the constitutionality of various modes of abortion and so on. And these are indeed important issues but there is one area that has received less public attention: the "Christian" perspective, i.e., what is God’s will regarding abortion? Christianity is frequently and popularly aligned with a pro-life stance but there are numerous pro-choice groups and denominations within Christianity and many more Christians who A Love for Life: Christianity’s Consistent Protection of the Unborn by Dennis R. di Mauro are individually pro-choice. This divisiveness within the Christian faith, Di Mauro notes1, can lead to confusion on the part of a Christian grappling with the abortion issue, as it seems that church and faith have no clear guidance to offer. What is God’s will? Is there a Christian answer to this issue? Is there a single answer or are there several answers that are defensible from a Christian standpoint?

[2] Di Mauro enters this debate because he thinks there is a single defensible answer. His purpose in this book is to "demonstrate that Christianity has been, is now, and will be in the future, a pro-life religion"2 and to convince Christians that God has clearly revealed his will as pro-life. And though Di Mauro indicates that he would have the Christian position he describes (at least) inform public discourse,3 his arguments are directed at Christians as he attempts to argue in favor of his position. His plan is to offer biblical evidence that reveals Christianity as a pro-life religion, show that Christianity has consistently over the centuries denounced abortion and, finally, demonstrate that the vast majority of Christians today are pro-life. In doing so, he hopes to conclusively demonstrate that the sole Christian answer to the question of the moral permissibility of abortion is a pro-life answer. However, although Di Mauro’s analysis offers some historical insight into the issue of abortion from a Christian perspective, his arguments are insufficient to support this conclusion.

[3] The first stage of Di Mauro’s argument is to demonstrate that there is biblical evidence in favor of a pro-life position. Since the Bible never directly refers to abortion, Di Mauro offers what he claims to be indirect evidence. He first points to Exodus 21:22-25 as demonstrating that "causing a miscarriage at any point in a pregnancy was considered sinful and was punishable under ancient Jewish law."4 Unfortunately, Di Mauro never examines the historical meaning of this passage, or defends it against understandings of this passage that would interpret it otherwise in light of the social historical context. He simply states the verse, adds that pre-Christian Jews were well-known pro-lifers and takes the verse at face value without discussing, for example, contemporary social understandings of women and children, ancient Jewish property rights or any other social context that would influence the meaning of the verse.

[4] The next bit of alleged biblical evidence hinges on the meaning of the Greek word "pharmakeia" in New Testament texts (Galatians 5:20-21, Revelation 9:21, 21:8 and 22:15). Pharmakeia literally means "the mixing of potions" and is related to the making and administering of potions or medicines. It is variously translated in the Bible as "sorcery," "witchcraft" or "magic arts."5 Di Mauro favorably cites several authors who argue that, because potions were often used as abortifacients (which were often administered by sorcerers), Paul’s use of "pharmakeia" would have been understood by his contemporary readers as listing abortion among the sins of the flesh. These authors cite other early Christian writers who more directly link the use of "pharmakeia" to abortion. Additionally, Di Mauro claims, because pharmakeia is listed near the sins of murder and sexual immorality, it clearly must relate to abortion.

[5] But far from being a "compelling argument,"6 the validity of this claim is hardly obvious, especially since Di Mauro stated in the previous chapter that, "the Greek version [of the Bible] is not the original text and therefore can provide little biblical guidance on the matter."7 Setting that aside, however, and accepting the claim on its face, one still wonders why so many Christian writers and church fathers have consistently translated the term in connection with sorcery if the connection between "pharmakeia" and abortion is so clear? For example, when he translated the Greek Bible into German, Martin Luther used the word "Zauberei" (which translates as "sorcery" or "witchcraft") in place of "pharmakeia."8 Di Mauro’s quoted scholars do point to a connection between sorcerers and abortion but it is difficult to believe that administering abortifacients is the only (or primary) objectionable activity that sorcerers engage in. Indeed, MacArthur sheds light on the traditional interpretation:


["Pharmakeia"] was originally used of medicines in general but came to be used primarily of mood-altering drugs.... Many ancient religious ceremonies involved occultic practices in which drugs were used to induce supposed communication with deities, and pharmakeia thereby came to be closely related to witchcraft and magic. Aristotle and other Greek writers used the word as a synonym for witchcraft and black magic, because drugs were so commonly used in their practice.9

Additionally, in his commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther considers witchcraft to be a form of idolatry.10 And, when these verses are read in context, they are at least as closely associated with idolatry as with sexual immorality and murder, even if any credit is given to the claim that sometimes listing "pharmakeia" near murder and sexual immorality means it is intimately related to these two things (and, absurdly, therefore must refer to abortion).

[6] Of course, simply mentioning this traditional interpretation of reference to sorcery/idolatry does not demonstrate its superiority over Di Mauro’s interpretation of reference to abortifacients or, indeed, demonstrate that the biblical writer could not have had several meanings in mind. It does show, however, that there are other entirely plausible interpretations that must be addressed and historical context examined before the proposed interpretation is accepted as even being plausible. In his all too brief discussion of the claim (he spends only five pages on all of the biblical evidence), Di Mauro relies far more on assertion than on argument. This is also true of his third bit of evidence, which are the several verses that refer to God’s forming a person in the womb, or calling him or her before birth (Isaiah 44:2, 49:1 and 5, Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 139:13-16, etc.). But, as with the Exodus verses and the "pharmakeia" claims, Di Mauro is content to simply point out these verses and claim they are indirect references to abortion without addressing the many questions that such a claim raises. In either case, there is not sufficient argument or explanation provided to consider these claims anything more than the author’s eisegesis and not the smoking gun he supposes them to be.

[7] The second part of Di Mauro’s argument is to show that the Christian church has been a pro-life institution through history. To accomplish this, he cites numerous church documents and fathers on the impermissibility of abortion, including the Didache, Tertullian, various popes, Augustine, John Calvin, John Wesley, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others. And it is difficult to argue against the claim that church leaders have historically been pro-life. But simply offering a series of quotes from prominent Christians through history does not settle the question of God’s will regarding abortion. Yes, many church leaders have traditionally found abortion impermissible. However, given the lack of biblical evidence in support of these views, the question has to be asked: what are their reasons for taking this position? After all, if this position is based not on the Bible but on the societal norms of the time, then it is not clear that such a position would apply today or even made sense at the time. Many of those same writers supported ideas and institutions that are no longer considered morally acceptable. To cite two common examples, church leaders (such as Augustine and Aquinas, among many others) supported slavery and argued the inferiority of women. Simply showing that certain church leaders through history have been pro-life without addressing the theological basis for this position does nothing for the argument that Christians should be pro-life.

[8] Di Mauro does offer some arguments against the positions of several writers and groups whose positions are opposed to his. However, though some of these arguments are promising, Di Mauro unfortunately resorts to assertions and unsubstantiated claims to "clinch" his arguments. For example, when discussing Maguire’s work on pro-choice traditions within the church, he states that Maguire does not discuss the history of Christian traditions, "nor does he discuss the development of a child in the womb or whether or not he has a right to be born;" Maguire "largely ignor[es] these important issues."11 Di Mauro does outline the history of (pro-life) traditions within the church but nowhere does he himself address the "important issues" of a child’s rights and he only briefly mentions fetal development. However, he ignores the central issues in Maguire’s work, which include pointing out that, contrary to Di Mauro’s history, not all writers have been so vehemently pro-life and that the pro-life position could stem not from a theological argument or God’s will but from societal norms of the time.

[9] Di Mauro starts off with a more promising argument against Dombrowski and Deltete’s "ontological" reason for Augustine and Aquinas’s belief in the sinfulness of abortion. However, he resorts to simply asserting his own beliefs to refute the "perversity" reason: "Indeed, how could anyone, even in today’s society, deny that abortion adulterates the true spirit of marriage?" Given that the "true spirit of marriage" is quite a contentious issue in today’s society and the fact that numerous people within today’s society do disagree with this statement, it is a problematic counterargument. This is especially so since Di Mauro does not support this claim in any way and treats it as self-evident. But this is an approach that Di Mauro uses frequently when discussing the positions of pro-choice groups. His approach to these positions is to simply state them, using deprecating terms and accusations. He concludes that he has demonstrated these opposing views "to be inconsistent with the traditions of the Christian church. One can only conclude that these adherents of pro-choice Christianity have created new and unfounded biblical interpretations in order to create a theology of abortion which, quite simply, does not exist."12 This is certainly a possibility, but all that Di Mauro does is object to their interpretations because they disagree with his own.

[10] Having dealt with critics, Di Mauro turns to his attempt to show that Christianity is currently a pro-life religion. His long section outlining the positions of mainline Christian denominations has some serious promise of being a particularly interesting recent history of the abortion debate within Christianity. However, Di Mauro’s own bias comes through even more clearly in this section, which is so one-sided that it is better characterized as a recent history of the pro-life movement in mainline Christian denominations. When a denomination is officially "pro-choice," Di Mauro writes a few lines about this and then turns, almost in a tone of hero-worship, to cataloging pro-life efforts and figures within that denomination. If the denomination is officially "pro-life," Di Mauro focuses almost solely on the pro-life figures from that denomination with very few sentences about any pro-choice efforts within that denomination. It can hardly be considered a balanced look at the controversy.

[11] Finally, Di Mauro offers some statistics that he believes will offset any belief that the Christian faithful are truly split on the issue of abortion. He adds up the number of adherents to each denomination and counts them as pro-life or pro-choice according to the official stance of the denomination. He thus figures that 72.20% of all Christians, worldwide, are pro-life. He readily admits that this is an inexact science, yet stands by the conclusion that close to three-quarters of all Christians are pro-life because he has skewed the data in favor of the pro-choice camp by counting all "unknowns" as pro-choice. He also acknowledges that not all members of a denomination adhere to the official position, but that the number of defectors would probably roughly offset. But this calculation is extremely problematic. Even supposing that the numbers of Christians have been counted up properly, Di Mauro’s argument is akin to arguing that, because Obama won 67.8% of the electoral votes in the 2008 presidential election, a little better than two-thirds of the voters cast their votes for him. In reality, only about 53%, or a little better than half, of voters voted for Obama.

[12] But while it likely is true that most Christians worldwide are pro-life and likely even by a wide margin, this tells a Christian absolutely nothing about what position he or she should take on abortion. To argue that the majority of Christians are pro-life and therefore all Christians should be pro-life is to commit a very obvious naturalistic fallacy. That something is the case does not imply that it should be the case. In order to determine if a Christian should be pro-life, one would have to look at the biblical evidence and theological argument, none of which has been plausibly provided by Di Mauro.

[13] Thus, this third part of Di Mauro’s argument in favor of a Christian pro-life position falls prey to a similar problem that plagues the second part: even in showing that Christianity has been historically been a pro-life religion, Di Mauro has entirely neglected to engage the historical social context and reasoning behind that position. And, since the biblical evidence he treats as a smoking gun is actually unsubstantiated and poorly argued, there is nothing to fall back on. Thus, his conclusion that the only Christian answer to the abortion question is a pro-life answer is left entirely unsupported. When challenging Dombrowski and Deltete, Di Mauro asserts that their book "appears to be a vehicle for advancing the authors’ own agendas rather than an unbiased search for God’s will on the abortion issue."13 His own book fits this description and this is unfortunate, since there are many better Christian arguments in favor of the pro-life position.

Rebecca Bartley Yarrison teaches medical ethics at the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Baylor College of Medicine, and has dealt with the ethics of abortion since her undergraduate days.



1. Di Mauro D. A love for life: Christianity’s consistent protection of the unborn. Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR: 2008. p. xii.

2. Ibid., p. xiii

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid., p. 2.

5. A helpful website for Biblical translation comparison is

6. Di Mauro, op cit. p. 7.

7. Ibid., p. 2.

8. Luther M, tr. Die Bibel. Accessed July 13, 2009.

9. MacArthur J. The MacArthur New Testament commentary: Galatians. Moody Press, Chicago: 1987. pp. 161-162.

10. Graebner T, tr. Commentary on the epistle to the Galatians (1535) by Martin Luther. Project Wittenberg. Accessed July 13, 2009.

11. Di Mauro, op cit. p. 36.

12. Ibid., p. 45.

13. Ibid., p. 40.



© May 2010
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 10, Issue 5