What the Church Says About RU-486

Author: Fr. William Saunders

WHAT THE CHURCH SAYS ABOUT RU-486 by Fr. William Saunders

What does the Church teach about the morality of using RU-486? Is the teaching different for the Pill? Since the advent of the "pill," medical technology has made further developments in the area of artificial birth control. Technically, the original pills were anovulants made of an extremely high dosage of synthetic hormones. Taken orally, these anovulants suppressed ovulation and thereby prevented conception. Studies have shown that while the original pills were very effective in preventing ovulation, the medical side effects were disastrous, e.g. the high incidence of cancer, heart problems and blood clots.

In response, some pharmaceutical firms developed a "double barrelled" type of "contraceptive," which was intended not only to suppress ovulation but also, if that failed and conception occurred, to prevent the implantation of the newly conceived life. Essentially these new "contraceptives" made the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) hostile to the conceived life and caused its expulsion from the body. Therefore, these drugs which prevent the implantation are not really contraceptives, which prevent conception, but abortifacients, which expel a conceived new life.

(1971) stated, "Abortion, that is the directly intended termination of pregnancy before viability, is never permitted nor is the directly intended destruction of a viable fetus. Every procedure whose sole immediate effect is the termination of pregnancy before viability is an abortion, which, in its moral context, includes the interval between conception and implantation of the embryo" (No. 12). Therefore, abortifacients are declared morally wrong under the teachings concerning abortion.

Here lies the problem of RU-486 ("Roussel Uclaf" manufactured by Hoechst A.G.). RU- 486, a synthetic hormone, blocks the hormone progesterone, which prepares the uterus to receive the newly conceived life. As a result, the newly conceived life is expelled from the uterus. Researchers report a 96 percent effectiveness rate when RU-486 is used in conjunction with another drug, Prostaglandin.

Remember 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). The "Declaration on Procured Abortion" (1974), released in response, at least partially, to the infamous Roe vs. Wade decision, affirmed that life is sacred from conception and that directly intended abortion is an intrinsically evil act.

This position is grounded first on scientific knowledge of conception and DNA: "From the time 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" (No. 12). Just think-each of us is the same person that was conceived. All that has been "added" is nourishment, time, and hopefully a lot of love. We are the same person who was conceived, who was born, who matures, and who will someday leave this life for eternal life.

Secondly, we firmly believe that almighty Cod creates and gives each person an immortal soul. While during the course of Church history theologians have debated exactly when God infuses the soul, the Church has always taken the safest moral course because of the sacredness of life. With the ability of medical science to identify the sperm and the ovum and their functions, and to understand the process of conception and DNA, the safest moral position would be that God infuses the soul at conception. Moreover, "even if a doubt existed concerning whether the fruit of conception is already a human person, it is objectively a grave sin to dare risk murder" (No. 13). Therefore, the act and results of an abortifacient drug such as RU 486 are no different than a surgical abortion procedure in its morality.

The evil of RU-486 is particularly seductive. The drug seemingly amoralizes the act. No one has to undergo a surgical procedure. No one sees the results. No one has to really consult anyone about terminating a pregnancy; a woman simply can use this like any oral drug. No one even has to speak of an abortion-this is officially labeled a contraceptive. No one has to worry about conceiving a child; the pill takes care of everything. However, the individual mother will always know and carry the burden alone.

Jesus said, "Everyone who practices evil hates the light, he does not come near it for fear his deeds will be exposed. But he who acts in truth comes into the light, to make clear that his deeds are done in God" (Jn 3:20-21). RU-486 lurks in the darkness.

Fr. Saunders is associate pastor of Queen of Apostles Parish and president of the Notre Dame Institute, both in Alexandria.

This article appeared in the June 23, 1994 issue of "The Arlington Herald."