CHURCH DOCUMENTS AND TEACHING
“Christ Our Pascha” – Catechism of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church
The Sin of Abortion
880 Abortion is the deliberate and direct killing of a human being during the period between its conception and birth – at the very beginning of its life (John Paul II, Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, 58). Generally, abortion takes the form of an artificial termination of pregnancy. Abortion consists of all actions involving a manipulation that leads to the destruction of human embryos obtained through the use of reproductive technologies.
881 The Holy Scriptures teach us that the dignity of the human person exists from conception: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jeremiah 1:5). The sacredness and inviolability of human life is founded on the Creator’s personal regard for every human person.
882 St. Basil the Great teaches: “The woman who destroys voluntarily a fetus incurs the pain of murder. There is with us no inquiring whether the fetus was formed or not. In these matters, justice is demanded not only for the child that was to be born, but also against her who has schemed against herself, since most of the time women die in these circumstances. To this is added the destruction of the fetus, just another murder, in the intention of those who dare to commit this sin” (Basil the Great, Letters, 188, 2: PF 32, 571).
883 Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, in his pastoral letter, Thou Shalt Not Kill, emphasizes: “Cases of parents killing their own children are particularly abominable, horrible and unnatural. But perhaps even worse cases are those when the child has not yet come into the world. The very fact that the crime is committed by the child’s own father or mother and that the child cannot defend itself… all this makes abortion a most particular kind of crime” (Metropolitan Sheptytsky, Thou Shalt Not Kill, [November 21, 1941]).
884 From its very conception a human child is entrusted to a mother and father who care for and look after it. However, sometimes dramatic circumstances (rape, family pressure, and so forth), or selfish considerations can compel a women to destroy the life she is carrying within her. These do not remove the mother’s responsibility. However, others are also responsible for the abortion; for example the father of the child who forces the mother to have an abortion or abandons her during her pregnancy. Accomplices in the sin of abortion are also relatives, acquaintances, and friends who sometimes pressure the woman to abort using the excuse that this can help “preserve one’s good name,” etc. And finally, the ultimate fault – a great one – lies with the doctors and other medical personnel who actually perform the abortion. Also, all those who defend and advocate for abortion in society are indirectly culpable.
Catechism of the Catholic Church
2258 “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.” (Donum Vitae)
2261 Scripture specifies the prohibition contained in the fifth commandment: “Do not slay the innocent and the righteous.” The deliberate murder of an innocent person is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human being, to the golden rule, and to the holiness of the Creator. The law forbidding it is universally valid: it obliges each and everyone, always and everywhere.
2268 The fifth commandment forbids direct and intentional killing as gravely sinful. The murderer and those who cooperate voluntarily in murder commit a sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance.
Infanticide, fratricide, parricide, and the murder of a spouse are especially grave crimes by reason of the natural bonds which they break. Concern for eugenics or public health cannot justify any murder, even if commanded by public authority.
2269 The fifth commandment forbids doing anything with the intention of indirectly bringing about a person’s death. The moral law prohibits exposing someone to mortal danger without grave reason, as well as refusing assistance to a person in danger.
The acceptance by human society of murderous famines, without efforts to remedy them, is a scandalous injustice and a grave offense. Those whose usurious and avaricious dealings lead to the hunger and death of their brethren in the human family indirectly commit homicide, which is imputable to them.
Unintentional killing is not morally imputable. But one is not exonerated from grave offense if, without proportionate reasons, he has acted in a way that brings about someone’s death, even without the intention to do so.
2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jeremiah 1:5; cf. Job 10:8-12).
“My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth” (Psalm 139:15).
2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:
You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.
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: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.
2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,” “by the very commission of the offense,” and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law. The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.
2273 The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation:
“The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.”
“The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . . . As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child’s rights.”
2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.
Prenatal diagnosis is morally licit, “if it respects the life and integrity of the embryo and the human fetus and is directed toward its safe guarding or healing as an individual. . . . It is gravely opposed to the moral law when this is done with the thought of possibly inducing an abortion, depending upon the results: a diagnosis must not be the equivalent of a death sentence.”
2275 “One must hold as licit procedures carried out on the human embryo which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not involve disproportionate risks for it, but are directed toward its healing the improvement of its condition of health, or its individual survival.”
“It is immoral to produce human embryos intended for exploitation as disposable biological material.”
“Certain attempts to influence chromosomic or genetic inheritance are not therapeutic but are aimed at producing human beings selected according to sex or other predetermined qualities. Such manipulations are contrary to the personal dignity of the human being and his integrity and identity” which are unique and unrepeatable.
Humanae Vitae (Encyclical Letter on the Regulation of Birth, by Pope Paul VI, 1968)
Familiaris Consortio (Apostolic Exhortation on the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World, by Pope John Paul II, 1981)
Donum Vitae (Instruction on Respect for Human life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation Replies to Certain Questions of the Day, promulgated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 1987)
Veritatis Splendor (Encyclical Letter on the Fundamental Questions of the Church’s Moral Teaching, by Pope John Paul II, 1993)
Evangelium Vitae (Encyclical Letter on the Value and Inviolability of Human Life, by Pope John Paul II, 1995)
Caritas in Veritate (Encyclical Letter on Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth, by Pope Benedict XVI, 2009). Note Paragraphs 28 and 75
Laudato Si’ (Encyclical Letter on Care for Our Common Home, by Pope Francis, 2015).Note Chapter 3.3 The Crisis and Effects of Modern Anthropocentricism
FATHERS OF THE CHURCH
The Christian faith has always rejected abortion as a grave evil. Writings from the first century onward condemn it as murder.
Didache, c. A.D. 50
And the second commandment of the teaching: You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery [Ex 20:13-14], you shall not commit pederasty, you shall not commit fornication, you shall not steal [Ex 10:15], you shall not practice magic, you shall not practice witchcraft, you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill what is begotten. You shall not covet the things of your neighbour [Ex 20:17], you shall not forswear yourself [Mt 5:34], you shall not bear false witness [Ex 20:16]. (Didache, 2).
Letter of Baranabas, c. A.D. 75
The way of light, then is as follows. If anyone desires to travel to the appointed place, he must be zealous in his works. The knowledge, therefore, that is given to us to walk in this way, is the following… You shall not slay the child by procuring abortion; not shall you destroy it after it is born. (Letter of Barnabas, 10).
Tertullian of Carthage, c. A.D. 197, 210
In our case, murder being forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; not does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth. Than is a man that is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed. (Apology, 9, c. A.D. 197).
Now we allow that life begins with conception, because we contend that the soul also begins from conception; life taking its commencement at the same moment and place that the soul does. (Treatise on the Soul, 25, c. A.D. 210).
Among surgeons’ tools there is a certain instrument formed with a nicely adjusted flexible frame for opening the uterus and keeping it open; it is further furnished with an annular blade, by means of which the limbs with the womb are dissected with anxious but unfaltering care; its last appendage being a blunted or covered hook, with which the entire fetus is extracted by a violent delivery. There is also a copper needle or spike, by which the actual death is managed in this furtive robbery of life: from its infanticide function, they give it the name of embruosphaktes, the slayer of the infant, which was of course was alive. Such apparatus was possessed both by Hippocrates, and Asclepiades, and Erasistratus, and Herophilus that dissector of adults, and the milder Soranus himself, who all knew well enough that a living being had been conceived, and pitied this most luckless infant state, which had first to be put to death, to escape being tortured alive. (Treatise on the Soul, 25).
The Law of Moses, indeed, punishes with due penalties the man who shall cause an abortion [Ex 21:22-24]. (Treatise on the Soul, 25, c. A.D. 210)
Minucius Felix, c. A.D. 226
There are some women who, by drinking medical preparations, extinguish the source of the future man in their bowels, and thus commit a parricide before they bring forth. And these things assuredly come down from the teaching of your gods… To us it is not lawful either to see or to hear of homicide. (Octavius, 30).
St. Hippolytus of Rome, c. A.D. 22
Women, reputed believers, began to resort to drugs to produce sterility, and to gird themselves round, so to expel what was being conceived on account of their not wishing to have a child either by a slave or any paltry fellow, for the sake of their family and excessive wealth. Behold, into how great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by committing adultery and murder at the same time! (Refutation of All Heresies, 9:7)
Lactantius, c. A.D. 307
For when God forbids us to kill, He not only prohibits us from open violence, which is not even allowed by the public laws, but He warns us against the commission of those things esteemed lawful among men… Therefore let no one imagine that this is allowed, to strangle newborn children, which is the greatest impiety; for God breathes into their souls for life, and not for death. But men, that there be no crime with which they man not pollute their hands, deprive souls as yet innocent and simple of the light that they themselves have not given.
Can any one, indeed, expect that they would abstain from the blood of others who do not abstain from their own? But these are without any controversy wicked and unjust. (Divine Institutes, 6:20)
Council of Ankara, A.D. 314
Concerning women who commit fornication, and destroy what they have conceived, or who are employed in making drugs for abortion, a former decree excluded them until the hour of death, and to this some have assented. Nevertheless, being desirous to use somewhat greater leniency, we have ordained that they fulfill ten years [of penance], according to the prescribed degrees. (Canon 21)
St. Basil of Caesarea, A.D. 374
The woman who purposely destroys her unborn child is guilty of murder. With us there is no nice enquiry as to its being formed or unformed. In this case it is not only the being about to be born who is vindicated, but the woman in her attack upon herself; because in most cases women who make such attempts die. The destruction of the embryo is an additional crime, a second murder, at all events if it is done with intent. The punishment, however, of these women should not be for life, but for the term of ten years. And let their treatment depend not on mere lapse of time, but on the character of their repentance. (Letters, 188:2).
Women also who administer drugs to cause abortion, as well as those who take poisons to destroy unborn children, are murderesses. (Letters, 188:8).
St. Jerome, A.D. 384
I cannot bring myself to speak of many virgins who fall every day and are lost to the bosom of the Church, their Mother… Some go so far as to take potions, that they may ensure barrenness, and thus murder human beings almost before their conception. Some, when they find themselves with child through their sin, use drugs to procure abortion, and when (as often happens) they die with their offspring, they enter the lower world laden with the guilt not only of adultery against Christ but also of suicide and child murder. (Letters, 22:13).
St. John Chrysostom, c. A.D. 391
I beseech you, flee fornication… Why sow where the ground makes it its job to destroy the fruit? Where there are many efforts at abortion? Where there is murder before birth? For even the harlot you do not let continue a mere harlot, but make her a murderess also. You see how drunkenness leads to whoredom, whoredom to adultery, adultery to murder, or rather to something even worse than murder. For I have no name to give it, since it does not take away the thing born, but prevents its being born. Why then do you abuse the gift of God, and fight with His laws, and follow after what is a curse as if it were a blessing and make the chamber of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing into slaughter? For with a view to drawing more money by being agreeable and an object of longing to her lovers, even this she will do, heaping upon your head a great pile of fire. For even if the daring deed be hers, yet the cause of it is yours. (Homilies on Romans, 24).
Apostolic Constitutions, c. A.D. 400
You shall not use magic. You shall not use witchcraft; for he says, “You shall not suffer a witch to live.” You shall not slay your child by causing abortion, nor kill what is begotten; for “everything that is shaped, and has received a soul from God, if it be slain, shall be avenged, as being unjustly destroyed.” (Apostolic Constitutions, 7:1:3).
Jones, R. E., and K. H. Lopez. Human Reproductive Biology. Fourth Edition. 2014. Cambridge, MA: Elsevier, Academic Press.
- “The process of fertilization, or conception, involves fusion of the nucleus of a male gamete (sperm) and a female gamete (ovum) to form a new individual.” (159)
- “Soon after the sperm nucleus enters the egg, its nuclear membrane breaks down. The sperm DNA decondenses as a result of exposure to factors in the egg cytoplasm. A new membrane then forms to enclose the sperm pronucleus. Sperm and egg pronuclei begin to migrate toward each other, replicating their DNA as they move. As they approach each other, their nuclear membranes break down and the two duplicated sets of chromosomes aggregate. Syngamy (merging of the two haploid genomes) has now occurred, and the fertilized egg (zygote) is the beginning of a new diploid individual. (167, 169)
- Once the sperm enters the ovum, it causes the completion of oocyte meiosis and the cortical reaction, which produces changes in the zona pellucida that act as a barrier to polyspermy. The haploid sperm pronucleus and egg pronucleus then merge, and a zygote is formed. (172)
Moore, K. L., T. V. N. Persaud, and M. G. Torchia. The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, Tenth International Edition. 2016. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier.
- “Human development is a continuous process that behind when an oocyte (ovum) from a female is fertilized by a sperm (spermatozoon) from a male.” (1)
- “The development of a human from fertilization of an oocyte to birth is divided into two main periods, embryonic and fetal.” (1)
- “Developmental anatomy refers to the structural changes of a human from fertilization to adulthood” (2)
- “Human development begins at fertilization when a sperm fuses with an oocyte to form a single cell, the zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell (capable of giving rise to any cell type) marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.” (11)
Moore K. L., T. V. N. Persaud, and M. G. Torchia Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects, Ninth Edition. 2016. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Inc. (Saunders).
- “Human development begins at fertilization when an oocyte (ovum) from a female is fertilized by a sperm (spermatozoon) from a male…Embryology is concerned with the origin and development of a human being from a zygote to birth.” (1)
O’Rahilly, R., and F. Miller, Human Embryology and Teratology, Third Edition. 2001. New York: Wiley-Liss.
- “Although life is a continuous process, fertilization… is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new genetically distinct human organism is formed when the chromosomes of the male and female pronuclei blend in the oocyte.”
Peer-Reviewed Scientific Journals
Okada, Y., K. Yamagata, K. Hong, T. Wakayama, and Y. Zhang. A role for the elongator complex in zygotic paternal genome demethylation. 2010. Nature 463:554-8.
- “The life cycle of mammals begins when a sperm enters an egg.”
Inoue, N., M. Ikawa, A. Isotani, and M. Okabe. The immunoglobulin superfamily protein Izumo is required for sperm to fuse with eggs. 2005. Nature 434:234-8.
- “Representing the 60 trillion cells that build a human body, a sperm and an egg meet, recognize each other, and fuse to form a new generation of life.”
Raj, I., H. Sadat Al Hosseini, E. Dioguardi, K. Nishimura, L. Han, A. Villa, D. de Sanctis, and L. Jovine. 2017. Structural Basis of Egg Coat-Sperm Recognition at Fertilization. Cell 169 :1315-1326.e17.
- “Recognition between sperm and the egg surface marks the beginning of life in all sexually reproducing organisms.”
Soygur, B., and L. Sati. The role of syncytins in human reproduction and reproductive organ cancers. 2016. Reproduction 152:R167-78.
- “Human life begins with sperm and oocyte fusion.”
Zielinska, A.P., and M. Schuh. Double trouble at the beginning of life. 2018. Science 361:128-129.
- “Every human life begins with the fertilization of an egg.”
The Basic Pro-Life Argument
It is wrong to intentionally kill human beings. (Premise 1)
The unborn are innocent human beings. (Premise 2).
Abortion directly kills innocent human beings. (Premise 3)
Therefore, abortion is wrong. (Conclusion)
Four Differences Between an Embryo and Adult Person
[Adapted and revised from Podcast “Pro-Life Apologetics: Arguments from Reason that Align with Scripture”, by Scott Klusendorf (Life Training Institute)]
Argument for Abortion: “Because an embryo/fetus is so small in size, it does not have the worth of a human person.”
Pro-Life Response: When did body size determine our value as human beings? Does a tall basketball player or a short little girl have a different worth than you and I?
Level of Development
Argument for Abortion: “The embryo/fetus is less developed, and so does not have the worth of a human person.”
Pro-Life Response: Why does level of development matter? A two-year-old girl does not have a fully developed reproductive system, and a three-year-old boy does not have a fully developed brain. Does this make the little girl and little boy less valuable than a thirty-year-old adult?
Argument for Abortion: “The embryo/fetus has less worth because it is in the mother’s womb and has not been born into the world.”
Pro-Life Response: Our physical location does not determine who we are. Flying 4500 kilometres across Canada from British Columbia to Prince Edward Island does not change who I am, nor does it affect my worth as a human person. A fetus that travels a few inches down the birth canal to be born is worth the same inside and outside the womb. This change of physical environment/location does not suddenly change the fetus from being a “clump of cells” or “non-human” or thing that can be killed, into a human being that has worth.
Degree of Dependency
Argument for Abortion: “Because the fetus in the womb depends on the mother for survival, it does not have its own worth. My body, my choice.”
Pro-Life Response: It does not make sense that because we depend on another human person, we do not have worth and can be killed. There are some newborns that are allergic to baby formula and must depend on the mother’s milk. Does this suddenly make this newborn have less worth? Can the mother argue, “my body, my choice” when her newborn is entirely dependent on her and so neglect him and thereby killing him? Furthermore, the embryo/fetus has a unique DNA distinct from the mother and thus is a unique human being with its own body.
PRO-LIFE MEDIA RESOURCES
“7 Reasons Why Christians are Pro-Life”, Jackie and Bobby Angel, Ascension Presents
“Bishop Barron on Abortion and Health Care”, Bishop Robert Barron, Word on Fire
“Bishop Barron on Shocking Abortion Numbers”, Bishop Robert Barron, Word on Fire
“Bishop Barron on Planned Parenthood and the Loss of Human Dignity”, Bishop Robert Barron, Word on Fire
“Fr. Paul Scalia on Catholic Approach to Abortion”, Fr. Paul Scalia, EWTN
“Lila Rose: What do You Know About Abortion and Eugenics?”, Lila Rose, Franciscan University of Steubenville
“Pro-Life Apologetics for College Students – 2018 Students for Life National Conference”, Trent Horn, Students for Life
“Pro-Life Apologetics with Stephanie Gray”, Stephanie Gray, The Culture Project
“Pro-Life Apologetics with Stephanie Gray – 2019 Students for Life National Conference”, Stephanie Gray, Students for Life
“Responding to Pro-Choice Arguments”, Jackie Angel, Ascension Presents
“Stephanie Gray: Love Unleashes Life: Abortion and The Art of Communicating Truth”, Stephanie Gray, FOCUS Catholic
“The Pro-Life Case Against Abortion”, Lila Rose interviewed by Dave Rubin, The Rubin Report
“Why is Abortion Non-Negotiable?”, Catholic Answers
THE CHURCH’S MESSAGE OF MERCY
While the Catholic Church unequivocally upholds the sanctity of every human life and stands firmly against the grave sin of “procuring abortion”, she also offers God’s unceasing mercy if true contrition is sought. In 2015, on the occasion of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, the Holy Father Pope Francis temporarily permitted all Catholic priests to absolve the mortal sin and lift the penalty of excommunication for abortion if a penitent sought repentance in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Previously, this faculty was reserved to bishops and specially appointed priests. At the end of the Jubilee of Mercy in 2016, Pope Francis made permanent the policy he instituted earlier. This was made clear in the Pope’s apostolic letter Misericordia et Misera:
Given this need, lest any obstacle arise between the request for reconciliation and God’s forgiveness, I henceforth grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion. The provision I had made in this regard, limited to the duration of the Extraordinary Holy Year, is hereby extended, notwithstanding anything to the contrary. I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life. In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father. May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation. (Misericordia et Misera, 12)
A similar message of mercy may also be found in the encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae by the earlier Pope John Paul II:
I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same Father and his mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone’s right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life. (Evangelium Vitae, 99)
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)