CAN CATHOLICS BE PRO-CHOICE?
By Father William Saunders
Sometimes I meet Catholics who say, "I am personally against abortion, but
I am pro-choice." To me, that makes no sense, but how can I argue with
them? -- A reader in Springfield
The pro-abortion movement has made great gains using the "pro-choice"
label. First, the "pro-choice" label numbs our moral sensitivity because it
masks the fact that anyone really is for abortion and diverts our attention
from the act itself. Secondly, the idea of being "pro-choice" seems to
appeal to Americans who cherish freedom and the idea of being free to
choose rather than being forced to do anything.
In arguing against this "pro-choice" position, one must first focus on the
heart of the choice -- a child. Proceeding from a purely scientific
approach, we know that when conception occurs, a new and unique human being
is created. The DNA genetic code attests to this uniqueness. (Why has DNA
coding become so important in identifying criminals?) Moreover, from that
moment of conception, the child continues to develop and grow; the child is
born, matures to adolescence and then adulthood, and eventually dies.
Note, though, that this is the same person who was conceived: all that has
been added is nourishment, time and hopefully a lot of love. Therefore, our
Church teaches that "From the time that the ovum is fertilized, a life is
begun which is neither that of the father nor of the mother; it is rather
the life of a new human being with his own growth. It would never be made
human if it were not human already" (Declaration on Procured Abortion, No.
Moving beyond science to the level of faith, we also believe that almighty
God creates and infuses a unique and immortal soul into that body. This
soul -- our spiritual principle -- is what gives each person that identity
of being made in God's image and likeness (Cf. , No. 363-368). Even if there were some doubt that God infused the
soul at conception or some doubt that the conceived child were truly a
person, "it is objectively a grave sin to dare to risk murder. 'The one who
will be a man is already one'" (Declaration, No. 13).
We find in sacred Scripture testimony to the sanctity of life in the womb:
The Lord said to the mother of Sampson, "As for the son you will conceive
and bear, no razor shall touch his head, for this boy is to be consecrated
to God from the womb" (Jgs 13:5). Job said, "Did not He who made me in the
womb make him? Did not the same One fashion us before our birth?" (Job
31:15). In Psalm 139:13 we pray, "Truly You have formed my inmost being;
You knit me in my mother's womb." The Lord spoke to Jeremiah, "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" (Jer 1:5).
For Christians, the sanctity of life in the womb and the belief that this
truly is a person is further corroborated by the Incarnation: Mary
conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ, the true God,
entered this world becoming also true man. Even though Jesus was still in
the womb of His blessed mother, St. Elizabeth and St. John the Baptist (who
was also in the womb) rejoiced at the presence of the Lord. Would anyone
dare suggest Jesus was not a person in the womb of His mother?
Little wonder that the Didache (The teachings of the Twelve Apostles) --
the first manual of doctrine, liturgical laws and morals, written about the
year 80 AD -- we find the moral prohibition, "You shall not kill by
abortion the fruit of the womb and you shall not murder the infant already
Given that the heart of the choice involves a unique, human person, the
choice of action becomes clear: to preserve and safeguard the life of this
person in the womb or to destroy it. Since this is a person, the latter
choice does not involve simply a termination of a pregnancy or the removal
of a fetus; rather, the latter choice involves a direct killing of an
innocent person, a deliberate murder. Therefore, the act of abortion is an
intrinsically evil act. The Second Vatican Council asserted, "Life must be
protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and
infanticide are abominable crimes" ("Gaudium et Spes," No. 51).
We do not have the right to choose evil, no matter what the circumstances
are or even if some sort of "good" may arise. To purposefully choose to do
evil is an affront to God Himself, in whose image and likeness we are made.
Here it is not as though one is choosing between two good actions; instead,
one is defending the sanctity of human life in the face of evil. To say one
is "pro-choice" in this matter is no different from saying one is "pro-
choice" for apartheid, Nazi concentration camps or Jim Crow segregation
laws -- "I am personally against it, but everyone should choose."
Pope John Paul II said, "Anyone can see that the alternative here is only
apparent. It is not possible to speak of the right to choose when a clear
moral evil is involved, when what is at stake is the commandment, 'Do not
kill!'" (, p. 205).
In those difficult, tragic situations -- rape and incest (which result in
conception at best 2 percent of the time, depending upon which set of
statistics one looks at), a young teenage pregnant mother, or a deformed or
handicapped child -- we must remember the child is still an innocent human
being who through no fault of his own was conceived. Here, sharing in the
cross of our Lord becomes a reality without question. In these cases, we as
members of the Church must support both the mother and the child through
our prayers and by opening our hearts, homes and wallets to their needs. We
must make the sacrifice to preserve human life.
Fr. Saunders is president of Notre Dame Institute and associate pastor of
Queen of Apostles Parish, both in Alexandria.
This article appeared in the January 19, 1995 issue of "The Arlington
Courtesy of the "Arlington Catholic Herald" diocesan newspaper of the
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