Why Abortion Entails Death

Among the many crimes against life, the Holy Father refers to procured abortionas "particularly serious and deplorable" (#58). He quotes Vatican II: It is truly an "unspeakable crime" (Gaudium et Spes, 51; Flannery edition, Costello Publishing). Procured abortion is the deliberate and direct killing of a human being, by whatever means it is carried out, at any time between conception and birth. It includes the killing of human embryos "produced" for medical experiments or for tissue used to treat certain diseases

Who is guilty of this crime? John Paul declares that, besides the mother, moral responsibility lies with all those who directly or indirectly influence her to kill the unborn child. The child’s father may be to blame. This would be the case if he either exerts pressure on the mother to have an abortion or leaves her to face the pregnancy alone. Guilt for the sin can also extend to parents, other family members, and friends. Furthermore, complicity in abortion involves legislators and those who have encouraged "the spread of an attitude of sexual permissiveness and a lack of esteem for motherhood" (#59). Doctors and medical personnel are likewise responsible, "when they place at the service of death skills which were acquired for promoting life" (#59).

The logic of biblical doctrine, as well as the clear and unanimous witness of the church’s tradition and teaching, hold abortion to be "a particularly grave moral disorder" (#61). To illustrate this point, the pope points out that, from the fourth century onward, church law has penalized abortion as a crime. In fact, the canon law now in force decrees that "a person who actually procures an abortion incurs automatic excommunication" (canon 1398). This exclusion from full church communion affects all those have an abortion, and "includes those accomplices without whose help the crime would not have been committed" (#62). To incur the penalty, those involved must be aware of the law.

Why such a severe penalty? Excommunication is primarily meant to inspire the conversion and repentance of those guilty of this grave injustice. It also reminds Catholics that full participation in church life cannot be reconciled with having, taking part in, or in any way promoting abortion. Unfortunately, many people today fail to see the gravity of abortion. Their moral vision has been dimmed. When individuals are confused about the difference between good and evil, they easily yield to convenient compromises and self deception.

To combat this way of thinking, the pope invites us "to have the courage to look the truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name" (#58). The encyclical notes that ambiguous terms, such as the "interruption of pregnancy," camouflage the truth. Abortion entails death, and this fact must never be concealed.

The pope believes that the church’s crystal clear teaching needs to be vigorously restated. Using the charism belonging to the papal office, John Paul II states: "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" (#62).

As the supreme guardian of our faith, the Holy Father reassures us that the church, guided by the Holy Spirit, teaches that procured abortion is always an intrinsically evil act. This teaching belongs to Catholic doctrine infallibly proposed by the church.

Since the pope also wants to convince those who might not share his views, he answers two arguments which are put forward to justify abortion in certain situations.

First, those who justify abortion in cases such as rape often argue that the fetus can be considered an "unjust aggressor." Because the unborn child was conceived by an act of violence, it is not innocent. Therefore the fetus is not protected by the ban against taking innocent human life. Abortion could then be allowed, they claim, as a form of legitimate self-defense.

But John Paul writes that "no one more absolutely innocent could be imagined" (#58). Despite the tragedy of the circumstances, a child in its mother’s womb is never an aggressor, much less an unjust aggressor!

Second, some have defended abortion on the grounds that the embryo, at least for the first few weeks, is not yet a "human person," that is, an individual with a soul. Hence, at this early stage, they allege, terminating the pregnancy is morally permissible. The pope, however, teaches that human life must be protected from the time of conception. Although observable data cannot determine when God creates the individual soul, the fetus is to be treated as a human person from the moment of conception.

The Holy Father further states that even "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" (#60).

Abortion not only destroys the life of unborn children, it also inflicts a wound on society. Every direct abortion is an "unspeakable crime," the killing of an innocent human person.

This is the seventh in a series on Evangelium Vitae, the Gospel of Life, by Father J. Michael Miller. 1998 Our Sunday Visitor. Used by permission.