Reviews

Publishers Weekly:

Among Catholics no moral issue is as contentious as abortion. Miller, a journalist and former editor of Conscience magazine, traces the history of the battles over abortion among and between the Catholic faithful and the hierarchy. Groundbreaking feminist theologians in the mid-20th century such as Mary Daly and Rosemary Radford Ruether challenged the Catholic Church’s long-standing prohibition of contraception and abortion by offering alternative interpretations of Scripture and traditional scholarship. Not surprisingly, when dealing with abortion and religion, politics pops up as a key force as well. The author describes how politicians nuance or hold a hard line on the abortion question to garner votes. Also addressed are grassroots organizations, such as Catholics for a Free Choice, which arose to offer an alternative to the faithful who love the Church but are unable in good conscience to support what is perceived as an extreme position on abortion. While the author does not attempt to hide her own pro-choice perspective, her research is impressive. Anyone interested in discovering how and why the abortion issue is so inextricably tied up with Catholicism will be fascinated by this important work.

Conscience, by Cecile Richards:

For anyone looking around in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision and asking, “How did we get here?” Patricia Miller’s Good Catholics: The Battle over Abortion in the Catholic Church provides your answer—and then some. Good Catholics traces the rise of religion in public health and the political arena—from the joining of conservative Protestant and Catholic groups with far-right political organizations to the essential addition of progressive religious voices to the debate. In chronicling the evolving strategy of so-called conscience objections, Miller makes the case that Hobby Lobby is the outgrowth of a 20-year campaign by those who want to use religion to block access to reproductive healthcare.

Good Catholics is an excellent primer on the dynamic issue of religion in reproductive health issues in the US. The importance of progressive, faith-based leadership on these matters continues to grow, and this book provides a great introduction to many on the forefront of change.

Los Angeles Review of Books:

In Good Catholics, by Patricia Miller, The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis, by Garry Wills, and God’s Own Party, by Daniel K. Williams, three writers with very different training offer roughly the same explanation for the origin and persistence of America’s protracted abortion debate. The explanation: a combustible admixture of religious faith, fear of women, and desire for power. … Despite their widely divergent provenance, these three books, read together, provide a comprehensive and sometimes eye-opening account of a pivotal period in recent American social history …The authors show how deep currents in American culture, especially the post-World War II weakening of religious institutions and the entry of women into the workforce, produced immense social stresses that found their outlet in clashes over sex-related issues such as abortion.

… Proceeding from this assumption, Miller begins her narrative not with the Roe. v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion, but two decades earlier, with a different sex-related debate altogether, this one over contraception. It was that battle, waged beginning in the 1950s, that first alerted Catholic leaders to changes in American society that threatened religious institutions’ influence over matters of family life. … Miller documents in thoroughly researched detail the steps by which Catholic authorities created advocacy organizations, herded priests into line, and ratcheted up pressure on Catholic politicians. Miller calls this effort “The Bishop’s Lobby,” and she identifies it as one of the main drivers of conservative Catholic activism over the past half century.

National Catholic Reporter:

Patricia Miller’s new book, Good Catholics: The Battle Over Abortion in the Catholic Church, focuses on the tension between two persistent realities over the past four decades: The Catholic hierarchy has consistently condemned abortion as the taking of human life, and most American Catholics have just as assiduously supported its use under certain circumstances. That dissonance between what church officials have in recent decades insisted to be central to Catholic belief, and what most Catholics actually believe and practice, has an engaging and dramatic history that Miller examines in a thorough and nuanced manner….

…Telling this story is no abstract exercise for Miller, whose narrative is sympathetic to the efforts of Catholics for Choice. She is a journalist who writes about health care issues and once edited Conscience magazine, Catholics for Choice’s official publication. But Miller avoids a partisan tone and remains a reliable guide throughout. … It is fitting that Miller chose to publish this with a university press, as its thoroughness, careful tone and nuanced presentation fit comfortably within academic conventions.

Still, the book will likely give off sparks. But if these sparks inspire people to study this potent moral question in an informed manner, it will have done a service to those on both sides of the divide — and Miller’s book is a good place to begin that study.

Women’s Review of Books:

Miller’s detail-dense prose makes her book a serious study instead of what could have been a partisan puff piece. … I learned a great deal from this book, in which the author concludes that “the forty-year fight over reproductive rights had never been about abortion; it had always been about women and sex—specifically, the ability of women to have sex without the consequence of pregnancy.” …

The first half of Miller’s book traces the history of birth control and abortion from the early 1960s through the 1984 presidential election. The second half focuses on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has developed as a powerful lobby. Its recent, muscular opposition to the Affordable Care Act made the bishops’ politics crystal clear.

… Miller’s real service is in highlighting the proud history of feminist-led dissent against the outmoded views of women enshrined in laws and policies around the world.

Free Inquiry:

In America, the biggest stumbling blocks for women’s rights of conscience on reproductive matters are the Catholic bishops and the leaders of the various Protestant fundamentalist camps. Patricia Miller’s excellent new book deals primarily with the top-down leadership of the Vatican and the bishops, who, it should be very clear, do not represent the views of most Catholics but are able to spook many politicians into thinking otherwise. . . . Five stars. 

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