Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

A History of Pregnancy in Christianity: From Original Sin to Contemporary Abortion Debates

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

A History of Pregnancy in Christianity: From Original Sin to Contemporary Abortion Debates

Article excerpt

A History of Pregnancy in Christianity: From Original Sin to Contemporary Abortion Debates. By Anne Stensvold. (New York: Routledge, 2015, Pp. vii, 210. $47.95, paper.)

Anne Stensvold's History of Pregnancy in Christianity begins with the present, not the past. As scientists push toward the transhumanist frontier, questions about human life itself arise. Stensvold's aims to enlighten these debates through the history of pregnancy in Christianity. Based on the assumption that dominant biological models of pregnancy determine Christian beliefs, she traces the history of these representations and concludes that ancient and current models both objectify women. One might expect feminists would have studied pregnancy with great interest. On the contrary, the feminist focus on political oppression has left pregnancy relatively unexplored. To fill this gap, Stensvold traces the history of pregnancy through four stages: Christianity's adoption of the Greek model, the industrial Enlightenment model, the modern era of conflict between science and religion, and contemporary debates between Christians and feminists-a false dichotomy?

First, Augustine Christianized Aristode's vegetative theory of gradual fetal development and legitimized patriarchy. Building off Aristotle's biology and Augustine's theology, Aquinas believed that fetuses were not humans until after ensoulment, which correlated with the quickening. As a result, the medieval Church did not see abortion prior to quickening as murder. The Protestant Reformation caused great religious and political upheaval, but did not change Christian conceptions of the role of women or pregnancy. However, Stensvold argues that the fissures caused by the Reformation enabled science to develop a secularized mechanical view of pregnancy. In the nineteenth century, scientists made several discoveries-especially female eggs-that gave women a more active role in pregnancy. Nevertheless, the increased authority of male science still objectified women as "birth machine [s]" (113). The transition from a vegetative model to a mechanistic model greatly affected assumptions about pregnancy. Whereas agricultural people saw the womb as a fertile field, modems tend to see the fetus as a product akin to an item produced in a factory.

Chapter ten argues that Pius IX dogmatized Mary's Immaculate Conception in order to establish religious authority over science. This is an intriguing suggestion, and I wish Stensvold had provided more supporting evidence. She assumes scientific consensus regarding women's active role in pregnancy rendered belief in the Incarnation less plausible. …

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