St. Antoninus: The Patron Saint of Pro-Choice Catholics

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Religion Dispatches Sex/Gender/Justice

St. Antoninus: The Patron Saint of Pro-Choice Catholics

Daniel C. Maguire

Catholicism is usually seen as being at the forefront of the anti-choice movement that would take moral freedom away from the pregnant person and consign it to male-dominated churches, legislatures, and courts. But a 15th century saint reveals that it was not always so.

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The feast day of a pro-choice Catholic saint is a terrible thing to waste. That waste must end. By acclamation, pro-choice Catholics should declare May 10 to be a “holy day of obligation,” a term reserved for truly important liturgical times.

One of the most successful and malignant “big lies” is that the Catholic moral tradition (and, indeed, all the world’s major religions) have no space for those who would defend the sacred right of a pregnant person to choose abortion. That’s hogwash! Pro-choice and anti-choice views stand side by side with equal institutional legitimacy in the world’s major religions.

Catholicism is usually seen as being at the forefront of the anti-choice movement that would take moral freedom away from the pregnant person and consign it to male-dominated churches, legislatures, and courts.

History to the rescue

For starters, the great St. Antoninusproclaimed by Pope Pius II as “a brilliant theologian”defended early abortions when necessary to save the pregnant person life. This was no small category in the medical conditions of his time. His pro-choice position created no stir since there were other notable theologians who held the same view and allowed for a number of other exceptions. Nor did the hierarchy object. Rather, the humble and very gifted Antoninus was appointed Archbishop of Florence in 1446 before being canonized a saint of the Roman Catholic Church in 1523. There are Catholic parishes named for this pro-choice saint in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Newark, New Jersey.

St. Antoninus was not a pro-choice loner in the Roman Catholic tradition. In the sixteenth century, another Antoninus from Corduba declared that abortifacient medicines could potentially be taken even later in the pregnancy because, he said, the woman had a jus priusa prior right. That is the polar opposite of the modern anti-choice view which denigrates the moral status of the pregnant person while almost divinizing the fetus. (Images have, in fact, appeared of a fetus nailed to a cross.) Nothing better illustrates the poisonous misogynist roots of the anti-choice position.

The pro-choice Catholic tradition continued into modern times. Jesuit theologian John Connery said that in the Bible itself “the fetus did not have the same moral status as the mother.” Father Joseph Donceel, S.J. states “the embryo is certainly not a human person during the early stage of pregnancy and consequently it is not immoral to terminate a pregnancy during this time, provided there are serious reasons for such an intervention.” This clearly isn’t a perfect fit with the contemporary pro-choice position, which is based on bodily autonomy and not solely on “the right” reasons, but it does present a significant challenge to the contemporary anti-choice position. Furthermore, as ninety percent of abortions in the United States are done in the first trimester, a shift toward this standard would effectively cover many cases.

So there it is. Catholic. Pro-choice. Sensible.

Popes and bishops, including Pope Francis, who crassly ignore the Catholic pro-choice tradition, are attacking and torturing the consciences of women—then, through lobbying, they attempt to impose their fascistic anti-choice view on the broader public.

Perhaps, in an edifying collective act of contrition, they should one and all resign their office on May 10, 2019, the feast day of their saintly pro-choice predecessor.