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
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
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
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