If Abortion is Just a "Political Issue" Then is it Political Killing?

Just about every priest who has ever preached against Abortion has had the experience that someone will accuse him, when he does so, of talking about politics and being “too political.”

Of course the answer is that abortion is a moral issue on which the Church has always taught consistently. For what ever reason, the main political parties in this land of our have staked out different positions on the issue, so that in the political sphere abortion has a partisan tendency. But that is a fairly new phenomenon as we shall see. The Catholic Church however has taught against abortion from the very start, long before the existence of the Democratic or Republican Parties. For example the Didache, written sometime between 90 – 11o AD says:

You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit pederasty, you shall not commit fornication, you shall not steal, you shall not practice magic, you shall not practice witchcraft, you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill those who are  born. (Didache, 2)

Now the last time I checked my history books, 110 AD is a time that predates the American political scene or the founding of the Democratic or Republican Parties. I also checked my most sophisticated calendars and found that 110 AD predates the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and the political shaking out and dividing that followed it. It would seem therefore that Church Teaching on Abortion predates the American Political scene and that we have a pretty long track record of teaching against abortion.  It is unfair to say we have simply picked sides in a political battle. Our stance against abortion is principled, moral and in accord with biblical and ancient norms that require us to respect innocent life in the womb.

Partisan division over abortion is actually a rather recent phenomenon. Even in the direct aftermath of Roe v. Wade in 1973, there was not an immediate political relignment of the main parties on either side of the issue. For example, many prominent Democrats had pro-life stands well into the 1980s.

  1. Al Gore, during his tenure in the U.S. House (1977 to 1984) voted pro-life 27 times and had a 84% pro-life voting record. In 1980, he wrote a letter to NATIONAL RIGHT TO LIFE, supporting the Hyde Amendment. In letters to constituents, he wrote: It is my deep personal conviction that abortion is wrong. I hope that some day we will see the current outrageously large number of abortions drop sharply. (Letters from Sept. 15, 1983, August 22, 1984). In 1984, he voted for the following Amendment to the Civil Rights Act:  For the purposes of this act, the term ‘person’ shall include unborn children from the moment of conception.  Sadly, the amendment was defeated.
  2. Then Governor Bill Clinton  wrote to  Arkansas Right to Life on September 26, 1986,  I am opposed to abortion and to government funding of abortions. We should not spend state funds on abortions because so many people believe abortion is wrong.
  3. Rev Jesse Jackson endorsed the Hyde Amendment and wrote in an open letter to Congress that he opposed federal funds used for “killing infants.”  He also wrote the following statement in a 1977 National Right to Life News article: There are those who argue that the right to privacy is of [a] higher order than the right to life … that was the premise of slavery. You could not protest the existence or treatment of slaves on the plantation because that was private and therefore outside your right to be concerned. …”What happens to the mind of a person, and the moral fabric of a nation, that accepts the aborting of the life of a baby without a pang of conscience? What kind of a person and what kind of a society will we have 20 years hence if life can be taken so casually? ….It is that question, the question of our attitude, our value system, and our mind-set with regard to the nature and worth of life itself that is the central question confronting mankind. Failure to answer that question affirmatively may leave us with a hell right here on earth.
  4. Senator Edward Kennedy wrote to a constituent in 1971 just prior to Roe V. Wade and had this to say:  While the deep concern of a woman bearing an unwanted child merits consideration and sympathy, it is my personal feeling that the legalization of abortion on demand is not in accordance with the value which our civilization places on human life. Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized — the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grown old…..When history looks back to this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared about human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception.

These are just a few examples. But calling abortion “a political issue” is not only flawed because it is a moral issue, but it also over simplifies the political scene. There has recently been a strong partisan trend, but it is recent. And, even today there are pro-life democrats and even a few pro-abortion Republicans.

There also seems to be a logical flaw in those who want to insist that abortion is a political issue that should be banished from the pulpit. I don’t have it all worked out but imagine the following conversation:

  1. You say that abortion is a political matter? –
  2. Yes.
  3. Why?
  4. Well, when you denounce it from the pulpit you are supporting the Republican party.
  5. So you want to insist that abortion is a political matter?
  6. Yes.
  7. Well, if that is the case, then it seems you support political killing.
  8. No , I don’t.  I don’t agree with State sponsored assassination and killing.
  9. But you said that abortion is political. Now abortion is about killing, and if its just a political matter, then it’s political killing you support.
  10. Well I don’t mean that and you know it.
  11. Well then don’t call abortion political. It is a moral issue and I have every right and duty to speak on it.

Abortion is not a political matter. It is a moral one and the Church can and must speak of it. Sadly it is not the only only moral issue that has been politicized by the world (e.g. Homosexuality, stem cell research, Gay marriage etc.). But the Church was here long before the political stars aligned as they have and She will be here long after they have realigned.

If you get a chance to see this 10 minute video it is worth it. It described the amazing miracle of life in the womb.

51 Replies to “If Abortion is Just a "Political Issue" Then is it Political Killing?”

  1. If people want to make abortion a political issue, then let’s call it what it is – a 5/9 compromise. Our nation has decided that God’s creation is only 5/9 of a person, disposable until the last trimester, and sometimes even then. My prayer is that it will not take 100 more years for our country to see the horrible fallacy in this agreement.

  2. I agree that the Church needs to directly address moral issues, even (perhaps especially) ones which have come to be thought of as merely “political”. I would add to your list (which is focused on sex/reproduction issues) other pressing moral topics like the evils of war, the death penalty, and poverty, which have also been separated out in many people’s minds as political rather than moral issues.

    1. Yes, fair enough. I think that the Church has developed two wings: on one side are the “moral issues” and on the other social justice. Of course it is pretty hard to fly with one wing. Hence we need to learn to fly with both. and see the wings not a seperate but as one entity.

  3. The politicians that once acknowledged what abortion is–even condemned it–then sold out for political reasons, have a lot to answer for. In the meanwhile the deaths of precious infants continue as they are denied life. What a selfish world we live in, may God have mercy on us. It is our duty to protect the unborn——God wills it!

  4. I’ve never understood how Catholic Democrats can fail to notice that to say, “Abortion is just a political issue,” is to condemn the Democratic Party. It is only the Democratic embrace of legal abortion that enables the Republican hay-making out of opposing it.

  5. Hadley Arkes had an article on The Catholic Thing the other day in which at one point he states:

    “When we add up these things, we come face to face again with the truth that somehow dares not speak its name even among Catholics: Like it or not – whether it accords with ancient loyalties and enmities or not – the hard fact of the matter is that the Republicans in our day have become the pro-life party in our politics. And so, as a notable example, when the bill on partial-birth abortion passed the Senate in 2003, the Republicans voted for it 48-3 (losing only Lincoln Chafee and the two senators from Maine). The Democrats voted about two-thirds against it, 30-16. In the House, the Republicans voted for the ban, 218-4, the Democrats 63 for it, 137 against.”

    Look at those votes. On a law to outlaw infanticide, the Democratic Party voted overwhelmingly against such a ban. What possible justification could a Catholic have for continuing to support such a group?

    1. Yes, I understand your point. As I state however, the strong partisan division on this matter has come about only recently and it takes a while for things to shake out even in the Church where the lanscape is recognized for what it is.

  6. Whoops, I did not answer your question. Abortion should not have been made into a “political issue”, however it has become one, with one side for it one side against it. The “law” should never have been passed to allow abortion, so now we have been put into the position of trying to use politics to combat it making it a political issue in that respect. However behind it is the moral law that condemns killing. We now try to get the right people elected to put and end to abortion through our courts..
    We seem to be on the losing side at present– but with God’s help—that can change.

    1. It seems to me that the Church, officially must stick to the moral aspect of the question. However, lay people do interact with the political world and should in fact be agitating for change and what is morally right. I think laity are most free to do this but the clergy and religious should avoid any direct associations with political parties or politicians.

  7. Many Cathoiics have turned their faith into politics by labeling their enemies in the Church as liberal and conservative, progressive and radical Catholics. I too have fallen into this fallacy of generalization and this subtle demonization of the soul. May God help us to be ever more faithful to Him.

  8. Part of the problem is we have lost sight of what the word political means. It comes from the greek word “polis” which refers to a city/state or civic community. To say that something is political is only to say that it pertains to our common life. Abortion is political (in as much as it deals with who counts as a person in our community), but that does not means that it is out of bound for religion to address. Too many people have come to believe that separation of Church and State means a separation of faith and politics. Christian faith CANNOT be divorced from politics because our faith makes claims and demands about how we should relate to one another precisely as a community. Our faith is an embodied faith. Jesus came not to announce the spirituality of God or the mentality of God, but the Kingdom of God. That kingdom clashed with the political powers of its day and it continues to do so today. We should not set for Enlightenment era reductionism that tells us that religion must stay neatly confined to purely spiritual matters.

      1. Absolutely. Most people mean partisan when they say political. I just lament the loss of the richer understanding of politics. We need to be concerned not only with creating virtuous individuals, but also virtuous communities. (There’s a reason why Aristotle’s Politics picks up right where The Nicomachean Ethics left off.)

        The Church should not be partisan, but we must never cease to promote justice for all (especially the most vulnerable: the unborn!) in the political sphere.

  9. Making abortion a political issue would be an improvement. As it stands now, it is a purely judicial issue — the issue of abortion has been hijacked by a despotic and tyrannical judiciary, which stands in the way, like George Wallace blocking the schoolhouse door, of the people to govern themselves and act to protect the lives of innocent human beings.

  10. Just because one agrees with a politician doesn’t make one political. If we are legally killing people who are not really a threat to life, something is wrong with us.

  11. Another thought—if the matter is political, doesn’t that make a fetus a political refugee, which we then should feel obliged to give sanctuary to?

  12. I am, as I am sure most of your readers are, opposed to abortion in every respect. I am also, for the same reason and perhaps unlike some of those same people, opposed to capital punishment. I am a middle class conservative Republican whose parents were Roosevelt Democrats and whose grandparents came to this country from Eastern and Western Europe.

    Like many of my family members, we all became Republicans in the 1980s because Ronald Reagan confirmed for us that there really was no room in principle for non-moral relativists in the Democrat Party. A few pro-life Democrats do not outweigh a platform statement, a political agenda and an overt electoral strategy. Not to mention the legislative agenda pursued by the leaders of the (recent) Democrat majority in Congress. Does anyone wish to argue that a pro-life Democrat will ever again be considered, let alone receive, a Presidential nomination in that Party?

    I agree that you can and should preach on abortion as a moral, and not merely a political issue. Frankly only a monster or a fool would disagree. And where in the world (literally) is there a true and unequivocal voice for life if not in the Roman Catholic Church and our sacred deposit of faith. In this sense, the Church “must” preach for life.

    But while preaching on the morality of abortion has nothing to do with partisan politics, it is surely political. And that is precisely why we must all speak out against abortion—and for the fundamental obligation we have to respect the self-evident truth that our form of government is based upon. Our form of government (our “political system”) is based on a belief that we are all created by a God who has given each of us an unalienable right to life. That right demands an obligation of us; a duty that binds us as human beings—-regardless of our Party membership, sex, race or religion.

    When you not only fabricate a right to kill, as the US Supreme Court has done in Roe and its related juridical progeny (emanations that form a penumbra within which we find….); but also empty that right of any meaning rooted in the limitations imposed on freedom by our shared obligations…you have destroyed the moral foundation of the American republic.

    All of the ills and evils that play out in our culture….child abuse, pornography, gay-marriage, addiction, and abortion to name just a few…can be traced back to this official rejection (I would argue repudiation) of the principled basis of our collective existence or what Tocqueville described as our “mores” or “way of life.” You cannot get the life question wrong and maintain a moral order. And you cannot maintain a democratic republic that respects individual rights without that moral order.

    Is it any wonder that a generation of American children raised in a culture of moral relativism elected a President who apologizes for, instead of defends our Nation to the world?

    You may rightly worry that I am a pessimist, that I view the battle all but lost in America. But remember, we Reagan Republicans will never give up the fight for freedom—and the duty that freedom imposes on each of us. Today, our only hope is that the American Catholic Church, and most especially its leaders, have the courage to remind, cajole and preach us to stay the course. We cannot do it alone.

    The last, best hope for our Nation and the world is the message that only the Roman Catholic Church can—and must–deliver.

    So preach, Msgr, preach as loud and as long as you can!


  13. It is impossible to outlaw abortion in the United States or Europe. I should say that I am pro life. Our country would be better off if there were no more abortions-none. It is an immoral practice. The taking of a helpless human life. But for whatever reason a huge segment of our society does not agree with this proposition. Given that a ban on abortion would mean denial of to a substantial segment of the society access to modern medical care So what are we to do? First, move where there is consensus. We were able to ban the hideous partial birth abortion practice. We have had some success limiting Federal funding for the practice. We should next aim at requiring parental notification Beyond this we must aim at moral consensus. To make it repugnant for the typical young woman to even consider aborting her child, to make adoption procedure easy by pre qulaifying prospective adoptive parents,etc. This is not a mere suggestion. Absent a real moral revival there is no possible political solution to this issue.

    1. But for whatever reason a huge segment of our society does not agree with this proposition.

      There are many states where a majority would be eager to pass laws protecting the lives of the unborn. And, it is true, that there are some states where the killing of the unborn would continue to be legal.

      That is the nature of the federal system, which does not impose a one-size-fits-all solution on the entire country, but lets the people of the various states live as they would like to, and not the way someone far away dictates that they live. A federalist solution would be an imperfect compromise, to be sure, but it is a lot better than the current situation. At least the unborn would be protected in some states.

      Given that a ban on abortion would mean denial of to a substantial segment of the society access to modern medical care.

      Now, this is just out-and-out fraudulent. The only “medical care” that would be denied is the ability to kill legally. That is not medical care in any rightful sense of the word.

  14. Our parish priest told an adult education group that the early church did consider a child a human being until birth, so there was no special concern about abortion in the first centuries. I have always considered this hogwash, but it is impossible to correct this priest on anything – he “knows” more by virtue of being a preist. At times I think his 3 years in seminary was based on the National Catholic Reporter.

  15. Early Christian writings did condemn abortion but without necessary qualifications about the timing.
    Now let us recall a little history of abortion in the Catholic Church. 1. The teaching that there is an immortal soul created by God and joined to the human body by God is not found in the Bible. 2. Borrowing ideas from Platonism St. Augustine taught that an immortal soul was created by God and joined to the human body in the womb. 3. In 1140 A.D. the Church made this now widely accepted idea a dogma. 4. St. Augustine said that the immortal soul created by God was joined to the human body in the womb only when the body had read a stage of development that made it capable of receiving the soul. Augustine said after 40 days for boys and 80 days for females since they are inferior and needed more time to develop. 5. The Angelic Doctor, St. Thom as Aquinas following Aristotelian philosophy also taught that the soul (the substantial form) could only be united to the body (the prime matter) only when it reached the stage of development which would make it capable of receiving the soul – also with the same time frames. The Roman Catechism issued by the Council of Trent in 1566 taught that the abortion of a male fetus up until forty days after conception carried no penalty with it and of a female fetus u to eighty days after conception carried no penalty with it. The great 18th century moralist St. Alphonsus Liguori echoed St.Thomas although noting that such views were uncertain. Although the Church always respected and valued the human life beginning in the womb, it allowed for the termination of pregnancy for grave reasons up to 80 days. This teaching for over 1500 years was overturned by a pope who listened to a physician who said the soul was joined to the body at conception. Pius IX in1869 dropped the idea of the soul infused at a later stage of the fetus’ development and began the prevailing opinion that the soul is united at the moment of conception. Despite subsequent non-infallible papal teachings, the words of St. Augustine should be heeded: “When a thing obscure in itself defeats our capacity, and nothing in Scripture comes to our aid, it is not safe for humans to presume they can pronounce on it.” It was only in the revised Code of Canon Law in 1917 that an abortion at any time brought about automatic excommunication. Today Karl Rahner, S.J., the most important Catholic theologian of the 20th Century, held that the soul joined the fetus after conception at a later but unspecified time. Until then, termination of a pregnancy before 80 days was not considered murder or the killing of a human person because the soul was not yet present. Today with in vitro fertilization who can say that the fertilized ovum is a human person? Would you baptize it and thence drown it? Would every fertilized ovum in the womb be a human person who is flushed down the toilet when it fails to properly attach to the womb? How ridiculous! This relatively new teaching of the Church is not an infallible doctrine based on the Sacred Scriptures or Tradition and should go the way of what once was official teaching like Limbo.

    1. What are you defending Alfred?
      I am not going to reinvent the wheel here. I will just remind you that the USCCB spoke to your litany by asking two Bishops to Address them> Here is the pertinent quote:

      Bishops Respond to House Speaker Pelosi’s Misrepresentation of Church Teaching
      Cardinal Justin F. Rigali and Bishop William E. Lori

      Bishops respond to House Speaker

      Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop William E. Lori, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, have issued the following statement:

      In the course of a “Meet the Press” interview on abortion and other public issues on August 24, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi misrepresented the history and nature of the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church against abortion.

      In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.” (No. 2271)

      In the Middle Ages, uninformed and inadequate theories about embryology led some theologians to speculate that specifically human life capable of receiving an immortal soul may not exist until a few weeks into pregnancy. While in canon law these theories led to a distinction in penalties between very early and later abortions, the Church’s moral teaching never justified or permitted abortion at any stage of development.

      These mistaken biological theories became obsolete over 150 years ago when scientists discovered that a new human individual comes into being from the union of sperm and egg at fertilization. In keeping with this modern understanding, the Church teaches that from the time of conception (fertilization), each member of the human species must be given the full respect due to a human person, beginning with respect for the fundamental right to life.

      More information on the Church’s teaching on this issue can be found in our brochure “The Catholic Church is a Pro-Life Church”.

    2. Let’s not raise this silly “ensoulment” argument regarding abortion, which the likes of Harry Blackmun — who knew nothing of law or history, much less Catholic teaching — pushed to justify why killing a living human being in the womb was not really killing a living human being in the womb.

      Moreover, any question of “quickening” was merely a question of evidence, not of substantive law.

  16. The Catholic Church in the United States does not take a political stand from the altar on politicians who support abortion. why? Is one possible reason the fear of losing tax exempt status? I do not know but I do know that many parishes in cities are empty, many schools are closed, many Catholic hospitals are being sold and many Catholic Colleges and Catholic Universities are not Christian. Many dioceses have been financially hit by the scandal and actions of some priests and bishops. If the Catholic Church took a political stand and lost ALL of its property would that be so bad? Pope Pius XII has been attacked for not speaking plainly naming names against the murders in Europe. He saw that these murders just became more evil in shipping people to death camps. In this country we have seen 50 million innocents killed does the Church fear that the political leaders here will kill more innocents if the Church speaks and names names from the Altar?

    1. I don’t think its the tax exempt status. It has more to do with the fact that we must preach principles but avoid in direct partisan and political action as a matter of pastoral prudence. People are easily alienated when it comes to politics. And frankly, it’s not worth losing people over something as stinky and ephemeral as partisan politics. That we should preach vigorously against abortion and fight its funding or expanded legalization is fine, for then we are focused on the issue per seipsum. But telling people who to vote for or not vote for by name is probably not a good idea. This is especially so in the heat of the final days of an election where “who” we are talking about is obvious. Even the document by then-Cardinal Ratzinger makes a distinction that many overlook. Here is the quote:

      A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.

      Hence I think a pastor might be going too far in telling his parish they cannot vote for a pro-choice candidate ipso facto without making any distinctions. Part of me wishes that we could go that far, but as far as I can tell, we are not permitted to do so since we are still in the realm of prudential judgment wherein a voter is permitted to vote thus for proportionate reasons and still remain a Catholic in good standing, apt to receive Communion.

    2. From one absurdity to another to another.

      Is there even a SINGLE PERSON who really thinks that the Catholic Church has been too quiet about abortion, that the Church has not spoken loudly enough about protecting innocent human life from the moment of conception?

      Come on. No one believes that. Not even those who speak such absurdities.

      The Catholic Church has been the loudest and most persistent voice on abortion ever. And she is hated and despised for it.

  17. In reply to Monsignor Pope: The constant repetition of non-infallible teachings by popes and bishops does not resolve the crux of the problem of when the fetus is ensouled. The statement of uniformed and inadequate theories about embryology can only be relevant if they concerned when the fetus reached the necessary development for animation by a rational soul. Many modern embryologists do not even believe in the existence of souls. The human body comes into existence when the parents produce a fertilized egg, This is the beginning of human life, the body, and must be respected. But it is not a human person – a total human being according to the Catholic teaching of over 1500 years. The fetus only has human rights if it is a human person and that is the issue. The Roman Catechism of 1551 ordered no penalties – only confession and repentance for the termination of a non-animated fetus. A person for grave reasons could in conscience terminate that pregnancy. These considerations of Father McBrien are of great significance:
    The Church has never explicitly claimed to speak infallibly on a moral question, so there is probably no question as yet of a conflict between an individual’s fallible decision in conscience and a teaching of the Church which is immune from error. The teachings are themselves historically conditioned. It is taken for granted that the Church’s moral teaching is normally a source for positive illumination for the Christian in forming his or her conscience. If, however, after appropriate study, reflection, and prayer, a person is convinced that his or her conscience is correct, in spite of a conflict with the moral teachings of the Church, the person not only may but must follow the dictates of conscience rather that the teachings of the Church.
    On what basis have the popes decided that the fetus in animated by the rational soul at the moment of conception? Not on Scripture or Tradition. Not on any philosophical or theological school of thought. Only on the decisions of Pope Pius IX accepted and repeated bylater popes.

    1. Alfred, what are you defending? Do you really want to defend the right to end life in the womb at any stage?
      You have been deceived and are living in a fantasy world if you think the Church does not teach that Abortion is a serious mortal sin. Richard McBrien is not a credible source for Catholic theology and has non catholic notions of what doctrine consists of.

  18. You would do well, Alfred, to listen to the counsel of Msgr. Pope. Whatever theologians over the years have speculated regarding “ensoulment,” which you seem to be so concerned about, the Church had clearly and specifically condemned abortion from the very beginning. These “considerations of Father McBrien” are of grave importance only insofar as they have obviously led you astray with respect to authentic Catholic teaching. If you sincerely wish to know what the Church teaches (which Msgr. Pope summarizes above), rather than Richard McBrien or Hans Kung, etc., you would be better off listening to the Magisterium, which, on this matter of “ensoulment,” authoritatively states —

    60. Some people try to justify abortion by claiming that the result of conception, at least up to a certain number of days, cannot yet be considered a personal human life. But in fact, “from the time that the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which is neither that of the father nor the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth. It would never be made human if it were not human already. This has always been clear, and … modern genetic science offers clear confirmation. It has demonstrated that from the first instant there is established the programme of what this living being will be: a person, this individual person with his characteristic aspects already well determined. Right from fertilization the adventure of a human life begins, and each of its capacities requires time-a rather lengthy time-to find its place and to be in a position to act”.57 Even if the presence of a spiritual soul cannot be ascertained by empirical data, the results themselves of scientific research on the human embryo provide “a valuable indication for discerning by the use of reason a personal presence at the moment of the first appearance of a human life: how could a human individual not be a human person?”. 58

    **Furthermore, what is at stake is so important that, from the standpoint of moral obligation, the mere probability that a human person is involved would suffice to justify an absolutely clear prohibition of any intervention aimed at killing a human embryo. Precisely for this reason, over and above all scientific debates and those philosophical affirmations to which the Magisterium has not expressly committed itself, the Church has always taught and continues to teach that the result of human procreation, from the first moment of its existence, must be guaranteed that unconditional respect which is morally due to the human being in his or her totality and unity as body and spirit: “The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life”.59

    61. . . . Christian Tradition-as the Declaration issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith points out so well61-is clear and unanimous, from the beginning up to our own day, in describing abortion as a particularly grave moral disorder. From its first contacts with the Greco-Roman world, where abortion and infanticide were widely practised, the first Christian community, by its teaching and practice, radically opposed the customs rampant in that society, as is clearly shown by the Didache mentioned earlier. 62 Among the Greek ecclesiastical writers, Athenagoras records that Christians consider as murderesses women who have recourse to abortifacient medicines, because children, even if they are still in their mother’s womb, “are already under the protection of Divine Providence”.63 Among the Latin authors, Tertullian affirms: “It is anticipated murder to prevent someone from being born; it makes little difference whether one kills a soul already born or puts it to death at birth. He who will one day be a man is a man already”.64

    Throughout Christianity’s two thousand year history, this same doctrine has been constantly taught by the Fathers of the Church and by her Pastors and Doctors. Even scientific and philosophical discussions about the precise moment of the infusion of the spiritual soul have never given rise to any hesitation about the moral condemnation of abortion.

    62. The more recent Papal Magisterium has vigorously reaffirmed this common doctrine. Pius XI in particular, in his Encyclical Casti Connubii, rejected the specious justifications of abortion. 65 Pius XII excluded all direct abortion, i.e., every act tending directly to destroy human life in the womb “whether such destruction is intended as an end or only as a means to an end”.66 John XXIII reaffirmed that human life is sacred because “from its very beginning it directly involves God’s creative activity”.67 The Second Vatican Council, as mentioned earlier, sternly condemned abortion . . . The Church’s canonical discipline, from the earliest centuries, has inflicted penal sanctions on those guilty of abortion. . . .Given such unanimity in the doctrinal and disciplinary tradition of the Church, Paul VI was able to declare that this tradition is unchanged and unchangeable. 72 Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops-who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine-I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church’s Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.
    Evangelium Vitae (emphasis added)(footnotes omitted)

    Note well this last passage. It has been convincingly pointed out that, in writing this encyclical, it was Pope John Paul II’s intent, and by use of this particular language, that this is a conclusive and unchangable teaching of the Church on the matter of abortion, that is, an “infallible” teaching. Such has been confirmed by Cardinal Ratzinger, among others, who consider it to be so.

    1. But even aside from Tradition regarding abortion, even aside from Sacred Scripture regarding unborn life, even aside from the uniform teaching of the Magisterium on abortion throughout the centuries, I would ask you a couple of questions to answer, Alfred —

      –At the moment of the Incarnation, when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, did Jesus have a soul, a spirit?
      –When Mary, was conceived immaculately, that is, without the stain of Original Sin on her soul, did she have a soul? Or is the doctrine of the “Immaculate Conception” wrong? Should it be, instead, the “Immaculate Ensouled Fetus Sometime, But We Don’t Know When, During the Period of Pregnancy”?
      –When John the Baptist “leapt for joy” in the womb of St. Elizabeth, which has been considered to be his receiving the Holy Spirit, cleansing him of Original Sin, did he have a soul then? Or was his leaping for joy merely the action of the kicking of some soulless entity?

      By the way — I’ve looked through my copy of the Roman Catechism (from the Council of Trent) as well as the Decrees, etc. from that Council, and they do not say what you claim they say.

    2. Bender, thanks for all this good work to set forth the true and certain Catholic Faith. I too was puzzled and have never heard that the Trent Cathechism opined in any such way as Alfred said.

  19. Yes, abortion is a moral matter, but it becomes political when priests tell their congregations which party to vote or not vote for. or when Catholic organizations send around questionnaires with slanted wording something akin to “Do you support President Obama’s healthcare plan that permits the murder of unborn children”! America has separation of church and state and it should stay that way. If we don’t want sharia law to become part of our legislation, then by the same token the Catholic Church should not try to influence the way people vote in sometimes egregious ways. We can’t have it both ways. Also, it seems that we are willing to throw out the baby with the bathwater when we deny health care to those who are already born simply to prevent abortions, which constitute a tiny fraction of the procedures covered. As a matter of fact, I believe that abortion is NOT covered by the President’s plan, except in cases where the mother’s life is at stake.
    I agree with Alfred who puts the issue of abortion into historical perspective; true, the Church was never for it, but for centuries it was not considered the worst of all sins as it seems to be now. I would like to also point out that in light of our modern knowledge of conception, it would make sense for the Church to rethink her views about birth control: the ancient belief was that the entire child was contained in the father’s seed, with the mother simply providing the “soil” for it to grow in, and for this reason contraception was equated wih abortion. If you are going to argue from the point of view of our more accurate modern knowledge, then perhaps you should consider this, too. The marriage act is not solely for the purpose of procreation and if anyone really believes that the rhythm method is reliable or more “natural” – with its calendars, temperature curves and squelching of any kind of sponaneity, he or she really inhabits a parallel universe. The rhythm method is rightly known as “Vatican roulette” and works reliably for maybe one in a hundred cases. Catholics in the US are so hung up on the issue of abortion that they seem to be losing all sense of proportion. The Church has the duty to teach faith and morals and then trust that people will act in accordance with their conscience. God gave man free will and not even He forces people to act in a certain way. I have four children, am not “pro-abortion”, but refuse to cast stones at people who may be in difficult situations where the termination of a pregnancy seems the only way. No woman makes such a decision lightly.

  20. Reply to Bender’s questions.
    1. Jesus is true man like us in all things except sin. (Nicea Chalcedon). Human beings undergo stages of development in the womb receiving first a vegetative soul, then a sensitive soul and finally the rational soul created and infused by God. (Augustine, Aquinas, common teaching until 1869, and Rahner among others afterward). Therefore, Jesus had as a true man the same development in Mary’s womb.
    2. The question of Original Sin and the Immaculate Conception is difficult.; it depends on how one understands and explains the doctrine of original sin. Is it the lack of sanctifying grace a stain on the soul or simply a sinful condition? There is no agreement on this. Which brings us back to Adam. Because the church accepted the bible literally that the sun revolved around the earth, there is the case of Galileo. Taking Genesis as a literal historical account of Adam presents a problem with original sin. Pope Paul VI in Humani Generis said: “37. When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which through generation is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.[12] “ The story in Genesis is not literal, historical fact. Pope John Paul II accepted the evolution of man as a fact. It is difficult to accept one individual Adam as the source of all human life – we would be a race of congenital idiots. Therefore, there will be revaluations and reinterpretations of original sin, Adam, and the transmission of original sin..
    3. “It also strains credulity to imagine a fourteen year old Jewish virgin making a four-day journey by herself. Rather Luke’s intent in the ‘Visitation’ is literary and theological.” (The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, p.681) We do not know the stage of development of Jesus or John in their Mothers’ wombs. But the purpose of Luke is to emphasize once againt “the meaning of God’s inauguration in Jesus of the final stage of salvation history.” Again let us not take everything in the Bible as historical fact but take the theological meaning out of the text. There is no idea of original sin in the biblical context of the “Visitation” but it is obviously a speculation after Augustine developed his view of original sin.
    4. I made a mistake about the Roman Catechism. However, I believe that there was a rule about no penalties, otherwise it woldn’t have been necessary to put it in the Code of Canon Law in 1917.

  21. for centuries it was not considered the worst of all sins as it seems to be now

    It was always considered to be a mortal sin. And a mortal sin is a mortal sin — there is no hierarchy of some mortal sins are less bad than others. Mortal is mortal, that is, dead is dead.

    But even now, it is not considered to be the “worst of all sins.” The worst of all sins is the unforgivable sin (unforgiveable by its very nature) of refusing to seek and/or accept forgiveness of sin, either because you believe that the Holy Spirit either cannot or will not forgive or doesn’t need to forgive, thereby committing “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.”

    it would make sense for the Church to rethink her views about birth control: the ancient belief was that . . .

    I’m sorry, Heide, there is no need for the Church to “rethink her views” because the Church does NOT hold the “views” (or teach the truths) that you state here. The teaching on contraception is, in fact, quite sophisticated, both in terms of modern scientific understanding and theology. Indeed, it is far more knowledgable on both fronts than that possessed by advocates for contraception. It is the pro-contraceptive crowd that is still back in the backward dark ages.

    When Catholic politicians see that there is little hope of changing the abortion law which is now a constitutional right and they do not take an anti-abortion stand, this is not sufficient reason to oppose their election. They support policies which the Republicans have ardently opposed: a national health care program, entitlements as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, food stamp program, government oversight and regulation, reduction in military spending, housing, etc. Where is the Church’s stand on the morality of social issues – not socialism? What has happened to Catholic Social teaching? Did bishops propose denying communion to politicians who got us into two immoral wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with the devastating results? Look at the results of the eight years of Republican rule: With less government and regulation we have the financial crisis, collapse of the economy, huge deficit and no change in abortion policy.Does abortion cancel out all these other moral problems? Does the Church really want to be identified as an arm of the Republic party?
    Catholic Democratic politicians are in a similar position as the first Catholic chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, Roger B.Taney. Taney opposed slavery, freed his slaves, and pensioned the older ones at great personal sacrifice. Yet despite his personal views, he issued the Dred Scott decision which said he framers of the Constituting had considered slaves to be so inferior that they possessed no legal rights, hence they could not be citizens of the U.S. and declared the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional because Congress was bound by Article V of the Constitution and because the Constitution recognized slaves as property. So he placed his duty as a Supreme Court Justice over his personal beliefs about the immorality of slavery. Unfortunately, Taney is remembered for that decision and not his 28 years of distinguished and devoted service to his country.

  23. Once more I applaud Alfred for his very clear words. And Bender: I attended diocesan schools and Catholic college, so I know that the one unforgivable sin against the Holy spirit is despair and that there are no degrees of mortal sin, at least technically. But would you truly equate, say, a point-blank murder during the commission of a robbery with an abortion during the first six weeks of pregnancy? Missing Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation used to be a mortal sin; was that on a par with murder, too? And please explain the Church’s “more knowledgable” historical stand on contraception to me. I wonder if all the good Catholics who have only one or two children are either continent or practice the rhythm method. I read once that 80% of Catholics in the USA practice some form of artificial birth control; otherwise, families would be a lot bigger.
    I don’t presume to say that smaller families are a good thing, but who today can afford to raise a large family let alone pay for their education?

    1. Heide – Are you really trying to defend legal abortion? What has happened to your heart? Stop all your legalism and and look at what you are advocating. You know it is deeply and horribly wrong. You know Heide, you know.

  24. Caesarius, Bishop of Arles in the first half of the sixth century, equated contraception with murder and Burchard, Bishop of Worms (+1025) decreed ten years of penance for both abortion and contraception; however, he was more lenient towards poor women who could not feed their families adequately and therefore sinned out of desperation.
    I do believe that the homunculus theory was current during the Middle Ages, but you may correct me on that, Bender, but why else should contraception have been equated with murder?

  25. You seem to have the idea that I think abortion is just great; I don’t; it’s always tragic; but there are cases where I would consider it to be the lesser evil: As a college student working summers in Headstart I saw four-to-six-year-old kids who were out on the streets from the crack of dawn to late at nght because their mothers were junkies working as prostitutes. Others were abused in various ways. I used to think that if these children grew up into a life of crime, I couldn’t even blame then. What had they experienced? Everyone reads about cases of toddlers being starved or beaten to death because they were unplanned and unwanted. Too bad their parents didn’t contracept; that would have been better than torturing a child to death; and, yes, I’m not ashamed to say that an abortion at an early stage of pregnancy would have been much the lesser evil. Because I have a heart and don’t want innocent children to suffer.

    1. You are defending the indefensible. All your side scenarios are very interesting but no matter the complications of poverty etc, murder of the innocent is not defensible. We do not help the poor by killing them. Death is not a therapy. One cannot commit evil even if they say their goal is good.

  26. I feel that Heide’s comments were somewhat cavalierly dismissed. She gave clear, heartfelt statements that are of vital concern to the question of abortion. Traditional theology about mortal sin considers the act, the motive and the circumstances. Since sin is in the will, the primary determinant is the intent and the circumstances surrounding one’s decision which could mitigate or remove the sinfulness. Heide gave concrete vivid examples of the circumstances that could affect the decision to terminate a pregnancy. Perhaps only a woman could appreciate the effects of bringing to term a pregnancy unwanted because of rape, incest, poverty, or emotional instability – severe psychological damage, deep depression with possible suicide, long lasting traumatic after effects. (The cases of suicides and permanent psychological disorientation of boys abused by clerics would be similar.) If, under such circumstances, after considering the current teaching of the Church, praying, and believing that in the first weeks of pregnancy the fetus is not a human person (due to the controversy which can never be solved with certainty) a decision for abortion could not be a mortal sin. To affirm that one must conform his conscience to the magisterium would be to destroy the freedom of conscience. The Primacy of Conscience applies. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. He must not be forced to contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience especially in religious matters.” [1782] In 1790 it is stated that a human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience even if it is in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments. “If the ignorance is invincible or the moral subject is not responsible for his erroneous judgment, the evil committed by the person cannot be imputed to him.”[1793] and consequently any penalty as automatic excommunication. Cardinal Newman succinctly upheld the primacy of the conscience over the law in his famous toast: “I shall drink – to the Pope if you please – still, to Conscience first and to the Pope afterwards.”
    In regard to Heide’s comments about contraception, let us not rehash the divisions among moral theologians, Pope Paul VI’s commission to study the problem, his rejection of the majority view of the commission and his acceptance of the minority report on which he based his teaching. Blessed Newman who wrote so eloquently about the role of the laity in matters of doctrine said that if the teaching Church neglects the consultation of the faithful in a matter of doctrine and insists on the duty of implicit faith in the proclamations of the church then that process “in the educated classes will terminate in indifference, and in the poorer in superstition” and the insistence on obedience only is likely to end in alienation from the law and disregard of it. How prophetic. Heide’s statement that polls show 80% of Catholics ignore the law against contraception fulfills the prophecy. If so many baptized Catholics, who are full members of the Church and share in its mission by reason of their union with Christ, in conscience practice contraception then could these faithful have an intuition of the Spirit that the lawgivers in the Church should heed? Perhaps someday the teachings about abortion and contraception will be modified or changed as have papal teachings in the past and modern period been changed by succeeding popes. Finally, how many of the Catholic politicians who are fervently anti-abortion have only one or two children? Oh my God, are they using contraception which the Church condemns and early writers like Caesarius of Arles and other early theologians considered murder – the murder of someone who did not yet exist? GOD BLESS US ALL.

    1. Alfred,

      Just take your post and systematically replace the word abortion with slavery. Or perhaps murder.
      Your are trying to defend the indefensible.
      Appeals to conscience and circumstances don’t work in matters that are intrinsically evil (malum in se, ex toto genere suo). Culpability may be effected by such things but nothing can render abortion itself defensible.
      As for compassion for women, I have written extensively enough on that here before and don’t need lectures from you. I am involved in project Rachael and we deal with that aspect quite well I think.
      But you know all this Alfred, you know abortion is wrong and that you are trying to defend what you know is wrong.

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