The Catholic Church and Abortion


From time immemorial, people looked for ways to get rid of unwanted pregnancies. The debate on abortion today is intense as both the non-religious and the religious groups seek to legitimize and nullify abortion. Is abortion right or wrong? Should someone be allowed to take another’s life? Abortion refers to the deliberate process of terminating a pregnancy. Doctors and physicians undertake a medical procedure to save the mother’s life, to prevent the completion of pregnancy resulting from rape, when the fetus presents the signs of physical defects, and when the mother does not wish to have a child. This essay will argue that abortion is wrong based on Catholic teachings. 

According to The Roman Catholic Church, abortion is immoral. It is because God gives life and it is a valuable gift. In giving life to man, He demands that man loves, respects, and promotes life. Abortion goes against the Decalogue, “you shall not kill,” and it runs counter to the natural law, “whatever is good fulfills its natural end purpose.” John Paul says that it is a great sin to kill someone with whom the image of God is present. God is the only master of life. However, there are situations in which Gods’ values seem to involve a genuine paradox and Christians have sought a deeper understanding of what God’s commandment prohibits and prescribes. For instance, legitimate self-defense. The Pope attributes the basis of self-defense to the idea that one has the duty to love oneself no less than others. It is according to the demanding commandment of love of neighbor, put across by the Old Testament and confirmed by Jesus, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

In cases where the innocent human person is concerned, ‘you shall not kill’ as a commandment has absolute value. The Holy Father emphasizes on the protection of innocent human life with his pronouncement; “Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his successors and in communion with the bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of innocent human beings is always gravely immoral.” (Encyclical letter) Pope John Paul states that innocent people are equal to others and so no one is permitted to kill an innocent person whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult (Encyclical letter). No one is authorized to ask for this act, and the authority cannot legitimately recommend such an act (52).

The Holy Father defines abortion as a deliberate and direct killing, by whatever means of human in the initial phase of his or her existence, extending from conception to birth (Encyclical letter). He further states that we cannot contest the intensity of abortion as a crime since the victim is innocent, weak, defenseless, and totally dependent upon his or her mother for protection. The acceptance of abortion by the law, behavior and in the popular mind paints a clear picture of the immorality which is preventing people from differentiating good and evil, even when life is at stake. The prophet reproaches this act; “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put light for darkness and darkness for light” (52). There is the use of ambiguous terminologies such as “interruption of pregnancy” which tend to sugarcoat abortion and hide its true nature. 

According to The Pope, we are facing what can be referred to as the “structure of sin,” a situation that opposes human life not yet born (59) (Encyclical letter). Abortion goes beyond the responsibility of one person and the harm inflicted on them as it takes a different social dimension. It affects society and its culture by inflicting a severe wound that ought to have been prevented by the people in the community responsible for promoting and defending it.

Paul believes that those who advocate an attitude of sexual permissiveness and lack of esteem for motherhood in society take part in the responsibility. Although modern scientists use modern genetics to justify that a fetus is not human, Pope asks the question, “how can a human individual not be a human person?” He clearly states that human beings from the moment of conception should be respected.

The Canon law of the Catholic Church inflicts excommunication as a punishment for abortion. Those who participate and anyone who knowingly procures an abortion are punishable. Suspension, as used by the Catholics, serves two purposes; one is to make an individual understand the gravity of the sin and the second is to foster genuine conversion and repentance. In conclusion, Pope states that no purpose or law regardless makes licit an act that is intrinsically illicit. He calls abortion a crime against the dignity of a child as a human and the law of ‘invitro fertilization’ is unacceptable even if it is carried out to help others.

Although the Roman Catholic Church is against abortion with all the biblical evidence, it accepts the act under the principle of double effect. Some situations call for the use of unintended actions, which is good, using an action that may not be morally evil. For instance, a woman who has an ectopic pregnancy needs a diagnosis and treatment done. In most ectopic pregnancies, the embryo implants itself in one of the mother’s fallopian tube, which transports unfertilized eggs. If the pregnancy is not diagnosed early enough, the growing fetus may eventually rupture the fallopian tube. From the time of implantation, the ectopic pregnancy already poses a danger to the mother. In such a case, we apply the principle of double effect to make a morally acceptable course of action. Two procedures can be undertaken; one is the removal of a portion of the tube with pregnancy and second, the removal of the entire Fallopian Tube. The result of the two procedures is the death of the unborn child. However, this end is not intended by the mother or physician.    

The Church of England expresses strong opposition to abortion with a consideration that there can be special conditions under which it may be morally preferable to any available alternative. The basis of this statement is that the fetus is God-given life and it can develop relationships, think, pray, choose, and love. Therefore, a mother of an unborn child requires enough understanding and help especially in decisions about pregnancy since it is a complicated situation. A mother is responsible for her pregnancy, and she is the one who will decide whether abortion is the way to go. Her feelings and emotions are to be fully recognized although the decision-making process should consider the father. 

Under the 1967 Abortion Act, abortion is permitted to be carried out legally if there is a risk to the life or health, either physical or mental, of the pregnant woman or if there is any substantial risk of a child being born with physical or psychological abnormalities. In 1991, a clause in the Human Fertilization and Embryo Act advocated for the lowering of the time limit for abortion from 28 weeks to 24 weeks except in a condition where there is a severe abnormality of the fetus or when the life of the mother is threatened.

The Church of England, in comparison with The Roman Catholic Church, is the idea that direct abortion is gravely contrary to the moral law. They share the general opposition to abortion, and this is according to The Catechism of the Catholic Church which states that; human life must be respected absolutely from the moment of conception. Since the number of legal abortions in the country each year is over 180,000, General Synod has sought to put measures that reduce the number of abortions.

Non-religious individuals also known as humanists strive to live their lives without the interference of religious and superstitious beliefs. Their lives are typically governed by reason, experience, and respect for others when dealing with moral issues, therefore when it comes to abortion, humanists consider the evidence, probable consequences, and the rights and wishes of everyone involved. The legitimacy of abortion under some circumstances is considered in the statement made by the Board of Social Responsibility in 1980. The Church of England rejects the dilution of the debate between pro-choice and pro-life.

Humanists are concerned with the quality of life rather than the right to life whenever the two come into conflict. Therefore, they argue that the probable quality of life of the child and mother should be put into consideration by all the parties involved in the decision-making. Humanists will probably go for the rights of the mother since she is the only one who can complete the pregnancy and can care for the baby after delivery. Also, the mother already exists with feelings and rights that we can take into account unlike those of fetuses which we cannot ascertain. 

Abortion comes with certain immediate risks which include blood clots, infection, hemorrhage, and injury to the cervix.  It could also cause cardiac arrest renal failure and metabolic disorder. It increases the risk of preterm birth in future pregnancies and evidence shows that abortion carries significant psychological risks which include depression, anxiety and in some cases suicide. Abortions can cause long-term physical and emotional damage to women.

In conclusion, The Roman Catholic Church believes that abortion is an evil act and goes against the Decalogue, “Thou shall not kill.” This argument is based on biblical evidence, The Catechism of the Catholic Church and Evangelium Vitae, addressed by the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II. Pope Paul VI states that abortion interrupts the natural generative process and it is sinful. Therefore, with authority conferred upon Peter and his successors and with the unanimous agreement of Bishops around the world, He summarizes the opinion of The Catholic Church on abortion that abortion meant as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder.

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