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What is the Catholic Church's teaching on abortion?

Perhaps no single issue has aroused so much fervor -- both pro and con -- as the issue of abortion has in recent years. Ever since the United States Supreme Court paved the way for legal abortions in 1973, there have been strong lobbying efforts by those who wish to see this decision overturned and those who would like it supported.

Catholic teachings on abortion are clear and unambiguous; in no circumstances is abortion to be justified. Therefore, Catholics should work to reverse the current abortion laws while providing alternatives to abortion for those with unwanted pregnancies.

Why does the Catholic Church consider abortion to be wrong?
The Church condemns abortion because it is the taking of an innocent human life. This is a direct violation of the commandment: "Thou shalt not kill"!

Why does the Catholic Church consider the fetus to be human life when many scientists would dispute this?
The Church teaches that human life begins at the moment of conception. Any other criteria for determining the beginning of human life are artificial and contrived. For example, there are those who would extend protection to the fetus only after it is able to survive outside the womb. But when is that? Advances in medical technology have enabled premature infants to survive outside the womb at an earlier age each year. Let us remember, too, that no infant -- not even one born fully developed -- is capable of surviving outside the womb without the constant nurturing of other human beings. The Catholic position, then, recognizes that human development is a continuing process that begins at birth and continues through the years. At no point during this process -- whether during the embryo stage or old age -- is it lawful to take innocent human life?

But doesn't the Catholic Church allow killing under certain circumstances -- like during a war or in self-defense?
There are times when it may be deemed morally appropriate for an individual to take a human life in self-defense. In no way does abortion meet the criteria of self-defense, however. The fetus is an innocent victim.

What about abortions in the case of rape or genetic disease or to save the life of the mother?
Again, we repeat: Under no circumstances can abortion be justified. In the case of rape, it is often possible to prevent the pregnancy from ever taking place through prompt medical attention that prevents conception. The issue of mother versus child is a complex one; generally, it is not an either/or option. Quite often, a complicated surgery is performed on the mother that results in the abortion of the child. This is quite different from the willful destruction of the fetus. Most abortions are performed to terminate unwanted pregnancies resulting from voluntary sexual behavior. This is really what the talk of so-called "pro choice" and so-called "reproductive freedom" is all about.

In summary, abortion is a sinful violation of the commandment. As with all sins, however, it can be forgiven so long as one is truly sorry and resolves to commit this sin no more. Catholics who have had abortions should seek such forgiveness through the sacrament of Reconciliation.

To obtain a printed copy of the Evangeline Scripts write to:
Evangelization Office
Diocese of Lake Charles
P.O. Box 3223
Lake Charles, La. 70602

Copyright 1991 Diocese of Lake Charles, La.
With Ecclesiastical Approbation
+ Jude Speyrer, S.T.L., D.D.
June 1991
Used with permission