On Procured Abortion: Clarification of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

The full post is in Rorate Caeli. Here are some excerpts:

Since the first century, the Church has declared the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed. It remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is, willed as an end or as a means, is gravely opposed to the moral law: “Thou shalt not kill a child by abortion, neither shalt thou slay it when born” (Didache, 2,2). “For God, the Lord of life, has conferred on men the surpassing ministry of safeguarding life in a manner which is worthy of man. Therefore from the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care while abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes” (Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, 51).

Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave sin. The Church punishes this crime against human life with a canonical penalty of excommunication: “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication” (CIC, can. 1398), “for the very fact [ipso facto] of having committed the delict” (CIC, can 1314) and under the conditions foreseen by the law (cfr. CIC, canons 1323-1324). The Church does not intend to limit the domain of mercy in this manner. This puts in evidence the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable damage caused to the murdered innocent, to his parents, and to all society.

n the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II reaffirmed this doctrine with his authority of Supreme Pastor of the Church: “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” (n. 62).

Regarding procured abortion in some difficult and complex situations, the clear and precise teaching of Pope John Paul II stands: “”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” (Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, n. 58).

As for the problem of certain medical treatments with the end of preserving the health of the mother, two different cases should be distinguished: on one hand, a procedure which directly causes the death of the fetus, often called inappropriately a “therapeutic” abortion, cannot be any more licit than the direct murder of an innocent human being; on the other hand, a procedure which is not itself abortive may have, as a collateral consequence, the death of the child: “If, for instance, saving the life of the future mother, regardless of her state of pregnancy, would urgently demand a surgical procedure, or other therapeutic measure, which could have, as an accessory consequence, in no way willed by itself, but unavoidably, the death of the fetus, such act could not be called a direct attack against innocent life. In such conditions, the procedure may be considered licit, as other similar medical interventions, as long as a good of great worth, such as life, is involved, and it is not possible to postpone it until after the birth of the child, nor to resort to another efficacious remedy” (Pius XII, Address to the “Fronte alla Famiglia” and the Associazione Famiglie Numerose, November 27, 1951).

Regarding the responsibility of health-care personnel, the words of Pope John Paul II should be recalled: “Their profession calls for them to be guardians and servants of human life. In today’s cultural and social context, in which science and the practice of medicine risk losing sight of their inherent ethical dimension, health-care professionals can be strongly tempted at times to become manipulators of life, or even agents of death. In the face of this temptation their responsibility today is greatly increased. Its deepest inspiration and strongest support lie in the intrinsic and undeniable ethical dimension of the health-care profession, something already recognized by the ancient and still relevant Hippocratic Oath, which requires every doctor to commit himself to absolute respect for human life and its sacredness” (Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, n. 89).

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About Quirino M. Sugon Jr
Theoretical Physicist in Manila Observatory

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