The Catholic Church and Abortion
3 of 7 in Series: The Essentials of the Catholic Church’s Stance on Controversial Issues
The Catholic Church opposes and condemns any and all direct abortions. Even pregnancies that result from rape, incest, and present a danger to the life of the mother aren’t reasons for abortion. The Church teaches that human life is created and begins at the moment of conception. The Catholic Church sees abortion as the termination of an unborn life, and therefore, it’s always wrong, sinful, and immoral. The circumstances by which that life was conceived are considered irrelevant.
Catholics believe that willingly, knowingly, and deliberately committing evil is never justifiable — no matter how good the intention and no matter how noble the cause. This is a moral absolute for Catholics, and it can’t be diluted or altered. The Church believes that if in even one circumstance, someone is allowed to knowingly and willingly commit evil so that good may come from it, then Pandora’s box is opened for anyone to claim he was merely doing a so-called necessary evil for the greater good in the long run. So the Church teaches that one innocent life can’t be taken even if it would save hundreds, thousands, or millions.
Valuing the lives of both mother and child
Often, people say that the Catholic Church opts for the child over the mother. Not the case at all. If a pregnant woman has a heart attack and needs emergency surgery, it’s considered morally permissible to put her under anesthesia and operate, even though it’s likely that she’ll spontaneously abort the unborn fetus as a consequence.
The distinction is that her body is doing the act of ejecting the fetus as an effect of the primary action of the doctors who are trying to save both lives — the mother and the baby. If the baby dies naturally, the Church believes that no sin has been committed. But if the doctor or nurse directly kills the baby, that’s considered murder, the taking of an innocent life.
The Church sees a drastic difference between causing death and allowing the process of certain death to continue.
Acting quickly in the case of rape
Even the horror and tragedy of rape or incest isn’t considered cause to kill an innocent unborn life. If possible, the woman — who is also considered an innocent victim — can get treatment as soon as possible to try to prevent conception from occurring immediately after the rape or incest.
Moral theologians and doctors say that it takes several hours to a day for the sperm to reach the egg, so the Church permits a female rape victim to be given a contraceptive only if ovulation or conception haven’t yet taken place and the drug given isn’t an abortifacient — a so-called contraceptive that doesn’t prevent fertilization and conception but rather removes, destroys, or prevents implantation of the embryo.
If a woman waits too long, usually more than 24 hours, though, conception may take place, and any procedure or treatment to eject the unviable human embryo is an abortion.
The Church’s stand is that even though she’s an innocent victim of a horrible evil, the unborn child is also an innocent victim. No matter what the circumstances that led to the conception, once conceived, that child has an immortal soul and has a right to live as much as the mother.