In the “Five Facts” series, I will present five key facts about Catholic teachings on a variety of topics as well as my thoughts on the matter.
Five Facts: The Catholic Stance on Abortion
- “Human life must be respected absolutely from the moment of conception.” (Catchism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 2270) Read that simply as “life begins at conception.”
- The Church teaches that all forms of abortion to be a grave matter and a violation of the 5th Commandment – thou shalt not kill.
- There are no exceptions for cases of rape or incest, because the life of the baby and the life of the mother are considered equal. The rationale is that you are simply compounding a grave act (rape/incest) with the murder of an innocent and this does nothing to improve the situation.
- Formal cooperation in an abortion incurs the penalty of a latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication (CCC 2272). This includes having an abortion or enabling/encouraging someone to have an abortion.
- Emergency medical procedures can be performed that would terminate a pregnancy to protect the life of the mother, only if there were no other options that included protecting the life of the unborn and the intent of the procedure was not to terminate the pregnancy. Example: emergency surgery involving removal of a ruptured Fallopian tube, if the fate of the unborn child is unknown and no other options were present to protect both mother and child. This is known as the principle of double effect.
This is a very difficult topic to talk about, but the Church’s teaching is very clear: abortion is a grave matter to all those involved.
I never really gave this matter much thought until a friend experienced an unexpected pregnancy, and confided in me that she was thinking about having an abortion. At that time, I wasn’t armed with good refutation as for why it was wrong, nor was I particularly familiar with the Catholic Church’s teaching on the matter… but I certainly had a gut reaction against terminating the pregnancy. Honestly, this reaction was so strong that it surprised me. At this time all of my arguments were not from a religious standpoint, but I do recall making the point that the child did nothing to warrant being killed and that adoption was always an option. Ultimately, my friend stopped talking to me about it and did lose the baby. I never found out if it happened on purpose or by natural causes.
This election cycle has seen this issue become more and more politicized. There has been a bright spotlight on Catholic moral teaching in general this year, but abortion has taken a special prominence due to the pro-life/pro-choice debate. The Church’s teachings are a hierarchy with life at the very top. All other issues fall below it in relative importance. To me, this translates down to a simple statement: it is never morally permissible to provide someone a casual, state-approved choice to kill someone. Because I believe that life begins at conception, that’s really about all there is to the discussion. It’s an objective truth to me, and a fairly easy one at that.
Recently, I got into an argument with some friends about whether or not you can be pro-choice and Catholic. I don’t see how this is possible given the fact that supporting a pro-choice stance provides someone the option to destroy innocent life, which seems like formal cooperation as defined by the Church. For that matter, so-called Catholic politicians that make exceptions for cases of rape and incest are playing a dangerous game of politics trying to win votes. The Catechism makes clear the penalty for supporting and enabling abortions, and I want no part of it.
Here’s what you can do. First and foremost, we must always remember to have compassion for those that have had abortions and their unborn children. In addition, all Catholics should read and understand the Church’s teachings about abortion and vote our Catholic conscience this year. Lastly, PRAY. Pray the rosary novena for life and liberty. Attend Eucharistic Adoration and pray for the unborn. Pray that the government learns to respect life as the inalienable right that it is. Prayer is one of the strongest weapons that we have as Catholics, and now is the time to use it.
For further, more detailed discussion on this challenging issue I strongly recommend:
Ten Universal Principles: A Brief Philosophy of the Life Issues by Fr. Robert J. Spitzer