On this weekend of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, with the Pro-Life March on Washington, D.C. by tens of thousands of people protesting the scourge of legalized abortion in our country, it seems appropriate to address abortion in this bulletin letter. Here I address the opinion that some people hold that, “Abortion is wrong, except in the cases of rape or when the health of the mother is at stake.”
First of all, I can state unequivocally that abortion is always and everywhere wrong. There are no circumstances that warrant it; and this is why we even label it an “intrinsic evil." To say something is an intrinsic evil is to say that it is always and everywhere wrong. In and of itself, it is evil and can never be chosen, no matter the circumstances. I can also state that legal abortion in our country is a root evil, because it deprives human beings of life itself, the most fundamental right they have. This right is prior to all the other rights, such as the right to a decent living, a good reputation, food, clothing, shelter, etc. Deprived of life itself, these other rights have no meaning.
What about the case of a child conceived through the act of rape? Obviously, this is a very unfortunate scenario. The woman who is a victim of rape has been terribly wounded by this aggression against her. We must all be sympathetic and seek to help as we are able, if we have some rapport with somebody so wounded. Precisely because of our sympathy for such a woman, we would never want to compound the wound by recommending she undergo an abortion. Abortion never enhances the well-being of the woman who undergoes it, especially if we are thinking about the psychological and spiritual well-being of the woman. Abortion wounds the mother. (Please be familiar with Project Rachel, which helps women deal with post-abortion wounds. Go to the diocesan Catholic Charities website: https://catholiccharitiesnwo.org/project-rachel/) Furthermore, even the child conceived in rape is still a child. From the moment of conception, you have a human being in full potentiality. Which one of us reading these words would say that it would have been okay, had our mother decided to abort us, because we were not real persons in the womb? I hope that none of us would suggest this. The child in the womb has the same right to a full life as the mother carrying him or her. The circumstance of having been conceived through the act of rape does not nullify the personhood of the child in the womb.
Then there are those who say abortion is the answer when the mother’s health is at risk. In moral theology classes, a seminarian typically considers the case of a woman who has a cancerous uterus. And she is pregnant. What to do? Catholic medical ethics certainly allow treating the woman for her cancer. And if at all possible, we would try to save the child in her womb. But it might be the case that the child will die as a result of treating the woman. This scenario falls under the “principle of double effect." We are treating the woman to heal her (first effect of our action); but we understand that the child might not survive, as a result of our treating the woman. The unfortunate loss of the child’s life would be the second (double) effect of our action. We desire the healing of the woman, not the death of the child. We desire the first effect, and we are not able to prevent the second – unfortunate – effect. In this situation, we are not at all talking about an abortion. Technically, an abortion is the act by which we directly seek to eliminate the life of a child in his mother’s womb. We target the child directly to kill him or her.
In the case I have just discussed, we would have done everything to save the life of the child, if we could have done so. The death of the child is not our direct goal in the slightest. So, if by considering instances of treating the grave disease of a mother, people try to argue for the necessity of abortion, there is a grave misunderstanding of terms. What I have just described is not an abortion. The child’s life has been lost, unfortunately, as the undesired result of directly trying to heal the mother of a grave illness. This is the “principle of double effect."
I cannot help but remember here the amazingly heroic choice of St. Gianna Molla back in the 1960’s to forego treatment of her own cancer, because she had the well-founded hope that by doing so she would save the life of the child in her womb. It was her daughter, saved by this choice, who spoke at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in 2016.
So there is no way to argue for the need for abortion – neither in the case of rape, nor in the case of the mother's health being at risk. Abortion is an intrinsic evil, always and everywhere unacceptable.
On another note, have you ever checked out the very fine website of the Knights of Columbus (http://www.kofc.org/un/en/cis/index.html), which is also known as the “Catholic Information Service." This website has many great pamphlets covering various topics in Catholic doctrine and morality. You can even download MP3 files of many of these pamphlets. There are also some devotional items, such as a prayer book, a couple of Rosary guides, an examination of conscience, and a Way of the Cross. This is another great resource for your ongoing formation in the Faith.
Have a blessed week!
In cordibus Iesu et Mariae,