Abortion Murders an Innocent Baby The moral gravity of procured abortion is apparent in all its truth if we recognize that we are dealing with murder and, in particular, when we consider the specific elements involved. The one eliminated is a human being at the very beginning of life. No one more absolutely innocent could be imagined. In no way could this human being ever be considered an aggressor, much less an unjust aggressor!
He or she is weak, defenseless, even to the point of lacking that minimal form of defense consisting in the poignant power of a newborn baby’s cries and tears. The unborn child is totally entrusted to the protection and care of the woman carrying him or her in the womb. And yet sometimes it is precisely the mother herself who makes the decision and asks for the child to be eliminated, and who then goes about having it done.
It is true that the decision to have an abortion is often tragic and painful for the mother insofar as the decision to rid herself of the fruit of conception is not made for purely selfish reasons or out of convenience, but out of a desire to protect certain important values such as her own health or a decent standard of living for the other members of the family.
Sometimes it is feared that the child to be born would live in such conditions that it would be better if the birth did not take place. Nevertheless, these reasons and others like them, however serious and tragic, can never justify the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. Others Who Bear Responsibility As well as the mother, there are often other people too who decide upon the death of the child in the womb.
In the first place, the father of the child may be to blame, not only when he directly pressures the woman to have an abortion, but also when he indirectly encourages such a decision on her part by leaving her alone to face the problems of pregnancy: In this way the family is thus mortally wounded and profaned in its nature as a community of love and in its vocation to be the “sanctuary of life. ” Nor can one overlook the pressures which sometimes come from the wider family circle and from friends. Sometimes the woman is subjected o such strong pressure that she feels psychologically forced to have an abortion: Certainly in this case moral responsibility lies particularly with those who have directly or indirectly obliged her to have an abortion. Doctors and nurses are also responsible when they place at the service of death skills which were acquired for promoting life. But responsibility likewise falls on the legislators who have promoted and approved abortion laws and, to the extent that they have a say in the matter, on the administrators of the health care centers where abortions are performed.
A general and no less serious responsibility lies with those who have encouraged the spread of an attitude of sexual permissiveness and a lack of esteem for motherhood, and with those who should have ensured—but did not—effective family and social policies in support of families, especially larger families and those with particular financial and educational needs. Finally, one cannot overlook the network of complicity which reaches out to include international institutions, foundations and associations which systematically campaign for the legalization and spread of abortion in the world.
In this sense abortion goes beyond the responsibility of individuals and beyond the harm done to them, and takes on a distinctly social dimension. It is a most serious wound inflicted on society and its culture by the very people who ought to be society’s promoters and defenders. As I wrote in my Letter to Families, “We are facing an immense threat to life: not only to the life of individuals but also to that of civilization itself. ” We are facing what can be called a “structure of sin” which opposes human life not yet born.
The Embryo Is a Human Life 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, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith’s Declaration on Procured Abortion proclaims, “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 program 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. The Church maintains in Donum Vitae that 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? 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. Human Life Is Sacred The texts of Sacred Scripture never address the question of deliberate abortion and so do not directly and specifically condemn it. But they show such great respect for the human being in the mother’s womb that they require as a logical consequence that God’s commandment “you shall not kill” be extended to the unborn child as well.
Human life is sacred and inviolable at every moment of existence, including the initial phase which precedes birth. All human beings, from their mothers’ womb, belong to God who searches them and knows them, who forms them and knits them together with his own hands, who gazes on them when they are tiny shapeless embryos and already sees in them the adults of tomorrow whose days are numbered and whose vocation is even now written in the “book of life” (cf. Psalms 139:1, 13-16).
There too, when they are still in their mothers’ womb—as many passages of the Bible bear witness—they are the personal objects of God’s loving and fatherly providence. Christian tradition—as the declaration issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith points out so well—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 practiced, the first Christian community, by its teaching and practice radically opposed the customs rampant in that society.
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 mothers’ womb, “are already under the protection of divine providence. ” 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. Throughout Christianity’s 2,000-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. The Church’s Condemnations 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. 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. ” John XXIII reaffirmed that human life is sacred because “from its very beginning it directly involves God’s creative activity. ” The Second Vatican Council, as mentioned earlier, sternly condemned abortion: “From the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care, while abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes. ” The Church’s canonical discipline from the earliest centuries has inflicted penal sanctions on those guilty of abortion.
This practice, with more or less severe penalties, has been confirmed in various periods of history. The 1917 Code of Canon Law punished abortion with excommunication. The revised canonical legislation continues this tradition when it decrees that “a person who actually procures an abortion incurs automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication. ” The excommunication affects all those who commit this crime with knowledge of the penalty attached and thus includes those accomplices without whose help the crime would not have been committed.
By this reiterated sanction, the Church makes clear that abortion is a most serious and dangerous crime, thereby encouraging those who commit it to seek without delay the path of conversion. In the Church the purpose of the penalty of excommunication is to make an individual fully aware of the gravity of a certain sin and then to foster genuine conversion and repentance. A Grave Moral Disorder 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.
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. No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself and proclaimed by the Church.