Why is the Catholic Church so staunchly against abortion?
The following is Father Strebler's Pastor's Column for the weekend of September 16 & 17, 2023.
“The word of the LORD came to me: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.”—Jeremiah 1:4-5.
Why is the Catholic Church so staunchly against abortion? This is a position that is not new, it goes back to the earliest years of the Church. The Didache, written in the late 1st century to mid-second century, states,
You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.
This set Christians apart from the culture around them.
The theologian, Tertullian (c. 155– c. 220), wrote:
God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception.
As Catholics, we have theological reasons for rejecting abortion. We celebrate the Annunciation on March 25. It celebrates the coming of the Angel Gabriel to Mary to ask her to be the mother of Jesus. This is the moment of The Incarnation, the Word made flesh and dwelling among us. John the Baptist, already alive in the womb of Elizabeth, recognized Jesus already in the womb of Mary at the Visitation. It was at Christmas that The Incarnation became visible to us, but was with us for nine months before.
We celebrate on December 8 the Immaculate Conception, that Mary was free from sin from the first moment of her life, that is, conception.
We proclaim conception as the start of life. You sometimes hear that theologians such as St. Thomas Aquinas did not believe that the child in the womb became human with a soul until after conception. This is theological opinion and not the definitive teaching of the Church.
The definitive teaching of the Church is put forth by Pope St. John Paul II in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life):
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. No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church.
The language used falls just short of declaring this teaching to be proclaimed invoking papal infallibility, where the pope is infallible on issues of faith and morals when he speaks as the successor of Peter and Vicar of Christ. It is still shown to be a teaching of the Church that must be accepted as Truth.
I know that these religious arguments do not work when encountering our non-believing and, even some believing, non-Catholic friends. More on that next week.
Rev. Charles F. Strebler