Catholic Teaching Regarding Abortion
It is indeed of interest to our readers to know what the Catholic Church teaches regarding abortion. We quote here several texts which clearly point out how wrong this crime is. The Church further points out that not only those who commit this crime are guilty of mortal sin but also points out that the lawmakers and law enforcers have an obligation to protect the innocent, especially the unborn.
In order to get clear light about the crime of Abortion as God sees and will judge those guilty of this crime as well as those who have not done their duty to protect the unborn, we present here the teaching of Christ through the medium of the teaching of His Church.
“Thou Shalt Not Kill”
“63.) But another very grave crime is to be noted, Venerable Brethren, which regards the taking of the life of the offspring hidden in the mother’s womb. Some wish it to be allowed and left to the will of the father or the mother; others say it is unlawful unless there are weighty reasons which they call by the name of medical, social, or eugenic “indication”. Because this matter falls under the penal laws of the State by which the destruction of the offspring begotten but unborn is forbidden, these people demand that the “indication,” which in one form or other they defend, be recognized as such by the public law and in no way penalized. There are those, moreover, who ask that the public authorities provide aid for these death-dealing operations, a thing which, sad to say, everyone knows is of very frequent occurrence in some places.
“64.) As to the “medical and therapeutic indication” to which, using their own words, we have made reference, Venerable Brethren, however much we may pity the mother whose health and even life is gravely imperiled in the performance of the duty allotted to her by nature, nevertheless what could ever be a sufficient reason for excusing in any way the direct murder of the innocent? This is precisely what we are dealing with here. Whether inflicted upon the mother or upon the child, it is against the precept of God and the law of nature: “Thou shalt not kill”. The life of each is equally sacred, and no one has the power, not even the public authority, to destroy it. It is of no use to appeal to the right of taking away life for here it is a question of the innocent, whereas that right has regard only to the guilty; nor is there here question of defense by bloodshed against an unjust aggressor (for who would call an innocent child an unjust aggressor?); again there is no question here of what is called the “law of extreme necessity” which could never extend to the direct killing of the innocent. Upright and skillful doctors strive most praiseworthily to guard and preserve the lives of both mother and child; on the contrary; those show themselves most unworthy of the noble medical profession who encompass the death of one or the other, through a pretense at practicing medicine or through motives of misguided pity.
“65.) All of which agrees with the stern words of the Bishop of Hippo in denouncing those wicked parents who seek to remain childless, and failing in this, are not ashamed to put their offspring to death: “Sometimes this lustful cruelty or cruel lust goes so far as to seek to procure a baneful sterility, and if this fails the fetus conceived in the womb is in one way or another smothered or evacuated, in the desire to destroy the offspring before it has life, or if it already lives in the womb, to kill it before it is born. If both man and woman are party to such practices they are not spouses at all; and if from the first they have carried on thus they have come together not for honest wedlock, but for impure gratification; if both are not party to these deeds, I make bold to say that either the one makes herself a mistress of the husband, or the other simply the paramour of his wife.” (Casti Connubii, Encyclical Letter on Christian Marriage, by Pope Pius XI.)
The consistent and authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church down to our present time is shown in the Declaration on Procured Abortion promulgated in 1974 by Order of Pope Paul VI regarding abortion.
The tradition of the Church has always held that human life must be protected and favored from the beginning, just as at the various stages of its development. Opposing the morals of the Greco-Roman world, the Church of the first centuries insisted on the difference that exists on this point between those morals and Christian morals. In the Didache it is clearly said: “You shall not kill by abortion the fruit of the womb and you shall not murder the infant already born” (6). Athenagoras emphasizes that Christians consider as murderers those women who take medicines to procure an abortion; he condemns the killers of children, including those still living in their mother’s womb, “where they are already the object of the care of Divine Providence” (7). Tertullian did not always perhaps use the same language; he nevertheless clearly affirms the essential principle: “To prevent birth is anticipated murder; it makes little difference whether one destroys a life already born or does away with it in its nascent stage. The one who will be a man is already one”(8).
In the course of history, the Fathers of the Church, her Pastors and her Doctors have taught the same doctrine - the various opinions on the infusion of the spiritual soul did not introduce any doubt about the illicitness of abortion. It is true that in the Middle Ages, when the opinion was generally held that the spiritual soul was not present until after the first few weeks, a distinction was made in the evaluation of the sin and the gravity of penal sanctions. Excellent authors allowed for this first period more lenient case solutions which they rejected for following periods. But it was never denied at that time that procured abortion, even during the first days, was objectively a grave fault. This condemnation was in fact unanimous. Among the many documents it is sufficient to recall certain ones. The first Council of Mainz in 847 reconsiders the penalties against abortion which had been established by preceding Councils. It decided that the most rigorous penance would be imposed “on women who procure the elimination of the fruit conceived in their womb” (9). The Decree of Gratian reports the following words of Pope Stephen V: “That person is a murderer who causes to perish by abortion what has been conceived” (10). St. Thomas, the Common Doctor of the Church, teaches that abortion is a grave sin against the natural law (11). At the time of the Renaissance Pope Sixtus V condemned abortion with the greatest severity (12). A century later, Innocent XI rejected the propositions of certain lax canonists who sought to excuse an abortion procured before the moment accepted by some as the moment of the spiritual animation of the new being (13). In our days the recent Roman Pontiffs have proclaimed the same doctrine with the greatest clarity. Pius XI explicitly answered the most serious objections (14). Pius XII clearly excluded all direct abortion, that is, abortion which is either an end or a means (15). John XXIII recalled the teaching of the Fathers on the sacred character of life “which from its beginning demands the action of God the Creator” (16). Most recently, the Second Vatican Council, presided over by Paul VI, has most severely condemned abortion: “Life must be safeguarded with extreme care from conception; abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes” (17). The same Paul VI, speaking on this subject on many occasions, has not been afraid to declare that this teaching of the Church “has not changed and is unchangeable (18).”
More recently still, Pope John Paul II has spoken out many times against abortion. See“John Paul II Says that the Church Will Never Change Her Teaching on Marriage” in this issue to see his very recent affirmation of February 1981 regarding abortion.
The Church not only teaches that abortion is wrong and that it makes one worthy of hellfire if he dies unrepentant of that sin, but also excommunicates all those guilty of committing this crime. To quote an unofficial translation of the appropriate Canon:
“Canon 2350. No. 1.) Those who procure abortion, including the mother, if the abortion actually takes place, incur excommunication ipso facto reserved to the Ordinary; and if they be clerics they are also to be deposed.”
The obligations of the law (that is, of legislators as well as law enforcement officers) with regard to abortion in the light of the teaching of Christ is clearly taught by the Magisterium of the Church. Here is how Pope Pius XI expresses it:
“67.) Those who hold the reins of government should not forget that it is the duty of public authority by appropriate laws and sanctions to defend the lives of the innocent, and all this the more so since those whose lives are endangered and assailed cannot defend themselves. Among whom We must mention in the first place infants hidden in the mother’s womb. And if the public magistrates not only do not defend them, but by their laws and ordinances betray them to death at the hands of doctors or of others, let them remember that God is the Judge and Avenger of innocent blood which cries from earth to Heaven.” (Encyclical on Christian Marriage.)
More recently the Church has again set forth the obligations of legislators to protect the unborn by passing effective laws to protect the unborn. Here is a relevant passage from the Declaration on Procured Abortion of 1974.
“It is true that it is not the task of the law to choose between points of view or to impose one rather than another. But the life of the child takes precedence over all opinions. One cannot invoke freedom of thought to destroy this life.
“The role of law is not to record what is done, but to help in promoting improvement. It is at all times the task of the State to preserve each person’s rights and to protect the weakest.”
Furthermore, some moral obligations of Catholic doctors, nurses, legislators and voters are set forth by the same Declaration on Procured Abortion.
“It must in any case be clearly understood that a Christian can never conform to a law which is in itself immoral, and such is the case of a law which would admit in principle the licity of abortion. Nor can a Christian take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or vote for it. Moreover, he may not collaborate in its application. It is, for instance, inadmissible that doctors or nurses should find themselves obliged to cooperate closely in abortions and have to choose between the Christian law and their professional situation.”
We present for our readers’ benefit the commentary of a Catholic priest of more than twenty-five years of pastoral experience, regarding those legislators who provide public money to pay for abortions.
“Regarding Canon 2350, all textbooks agree that those excommunicated for procuring abortion include all who played an essential part physically or morally. Thus the doctor who performed the abortion physically, and the person who paid him to do it are equally excommunicated. There is a sound opinion that the legislator who voted to take other people’s money to pay for abortions is more guilty than the man who used his own money to pay for an abortion.”
It is the clear duty of the clergy to speak out against abortion and against legislation which would permit abortions. But what is the duty of the laity in this matter? Let the Second Vatican Council answer this, for it says in the Constitution on the Church, Paragraph 31
that “the laity, by their vocation, seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God.” And the basic outline of God’s plan for temporal affairs has been assiduously spelled out in the immense corpus of the Church’s social doctrine which Pope John XXIII did not hesitate to define as “an integral part of the Christian conception of life” (Mater et Magistra, 222).
Our Lady at Fatima said that error would spread throughout the world if we did not heed Her requests. Here we see in Canada and in the United States that much error has already been spread successfully because already 500,000 Canadian citizens have been killed “under the protection of Canadian law” and millions of American citizens have had their God-given right to life taken from them when they were aborted by the knives of doctors. Many times these murderous knives have been paid for by you and me through the use of our tax dollars to finance these abortions. So let us redouble our prayers so that error does not spread any further. Let us pray the Rosary to protect ourselves against the errors of this perverse generation, and let us pray the Rosary so that those who perform, agitate, and in any way cause abortions will be converted before they meet their Divine Maker and Judge. Our Lady promised that if we did fulfill Her requests then true Christian peace would be given to mankind where the rights of all would be respected, from the womb to the tomb.