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We need constantly to rediscover why the Church is against abortion

Bernard Nathanson discovered ‘the humanity of the unborn baby’: but there’s more to it than that

By on Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer thought life was futile - a view that became more prevalent after the Holocaust and the Second World War (PA photo)

The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer thought life was futile - a view that became more prevalent after the Holocaust and the Second World War (PA photo)

Everyone knows that the Church is against abortion. But how completely do we always understand why, for Catholics, this is such a major issue? I begin with a story from the National Catholic Register:

“NEW YORK — Dr. Bernard N. Nathanson, an obstetrician who oversaw the performance of about 75,000 abortions before becoming a leading pro-life advocate and a convert to the Catholic faith, died at his home in New York Feb. 21 after a prolonged battle with cancer. He was 84.

…In his 1996 autobiography The Hand of God, he told the story of his journey from pro-abortion to pro-life, saying that viewing images from the new ultrasound technology in the 1970s convinced him of the humanity of the unborn baby…
He noted, regretfully, “I am one of those who helped usher in this barbaric age”.

That phrase of Dr Nathanson’s, “the humanity of the unborn baby”, is obviously enough the first part of what we need to understand. But that’s not enough. Being pro-life isn’t just a matter of being against abortion; it’s a positive, not negative, set of beliefs: it’s about knowing with certainty (which not everyone does) that all life is a priceless gift. And we begin with ourselves: with gratitude for our own life.

This gratitude is a distinguishing mark of all holy men and women. I think (as some of my readers may have noticed) that G K Chesterton is one of them, and that there is a strong case for his beatification and ultimate canonisation. His was one of the great prophetic voices of the 20th century: prophetic in both senses of the word, that is; he foresaw many things then still in the future and he also had a deep insight into what was wrong with the world in which he lived.  This in turn had its origins in a profound sense of what human life ought to be.
And that all began with his gratitude for the gift of life. “I hung onto religion,” he wrote in his autobiography, “by one thin thread of thanks. I thanked whatever gods might be, not like Swinburne, because no life lived for ever, but because any life lived at all”. Seventy years before the pro-life movement Chesterton wrote this early poem, entitled “By the Babe Unborn”, about the wonder of life: in it, he imagines a child in the womb longing for birth:
If trees were tall and grasses short,
As in some crazy tale,
If here and there a sea were blue
Beyond the breaking pale,
If a fixed fire hung in the air
To warm me one day through,
If deep green hair grew on great hills,
I know what I should do.
In dark I lie; dreaming that there
Are great eyes cold or kind,
And twisted streets and silent doors,
And living men behind.
Let storm clouds come: better an hour,
And leave to weep and fight,
Than all the ages I have ruled
The empires of the night.
I think that if they gave me leave
Within the world to stand,
I would be good through all the day
I spent in fairyland.
They should not hear a word from me
Of selfishness or scorn,
If only I could find the door,
If only I were born.

A few years later, he attacked the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, one of whose key essays was entitled “The emptiness of existence”, and whose deep and systematic pessimism was to have such a massive influence on the literature and thought of the 20th century, by evoking once more his own key image of “the babe unborn”. Schopenhauer, wrote Chesterton, “had not that highest order of imagination which can see the things which surround us on every side with purified and primitive eyes. Had he possessed this he would have felt as we all dimly feel that a child unborn, offered the chance and risk of so vivid and magical an experience as existence, could no more resist taking it than a living child could resist opening a cupboard in which, he was told, were toys of which he could not even dream. He did not realise that the question of whether life contains a preponderance of joy or sorrow is entirely secondary to the fact that life is an experience of a unique and miraculous character, the idea of missing which would be intolerable if it were for one moment conceivable.”

Nobody has ever better summed up why Catholics don’t speak of their beliefs as being merely anti-abortion, but as being “pro-life”, an infinitely vaster conception. When Chesterton died, in the 1930s, abortion was still thought of, certainly by Christians of whatever persuasion, as unthinkably wicked. This was also generally true of secular public opinion, though there were, of course, exceptions: the Nazis believed in it, so did Adolf Hitler’s gushing English admirer, Marie Stopes.
By the 1960s, after the horrors of the Second World War and the Holocaust, and then of Stalinism and other human monstrosities, there had been a great movement towards Schopenhauer’s vision of the futility of human life, towards believing in his words that “in a world like this …  it is impossible to imagine happiness”: and one result was the comparative ease with which ordinary men and women were more and more persuaded that the taking of life in the womb was a matter of very much less consequence than their parents and grandparents had supposed.

That’s what’s at stake here. That’s why the Church is so insistently (the secular world thinks obsessively and unreasonably) hostile to the taking of unborn life: because Catholics believe – more fundamentally than in anything else – in God’s Creation of this world and in the fact that, in Chesterton’s words, life in it “is an experience of a unique and miraculous character, the idea of missing which would be intolerable if it were for one moment conceivable”. The deepest tragedy of the 20th century is that for so many men and women, this dreadful notion became not merely “conceivable” (was ever a word used with a more poignant irony?) but normal. 

  • Ranmore

    Catholic dogma on this issue has varied over the centuries so the issue isn’t as straightforward as you would have us believe – and a substantial number of Catholics are pro-choice.

  • W Oddie


  • James

    Catholic dogma has been very straightforward. Abortion is wrong. It’s never been anything else. The only variation I know of is that, because the actual process of conception was unknown for a long period of time, theologians were uncertain when human life began. However, there has always been certainty that the ending of a human life is wrong, and that an unborn baby is a human life.

    And just because a number of Catholics are pro-choice doesn’t mean the Church’s teaching is wrong or not straightforward, it just means that people disagree with it.

  • Chris Cervero

    Fuck this thing about abortion screw chesterston!

  • Jorge

    > “Catholic dogma on this issue has varied over the centuries”

    No, abortion has been condemned as early as the first century by the Didache.

    Those who claim that the Church has changed on this issue do it by dishonesty; they cherry-pick individual quotes by people who were not teaching in the name of the Church, or who were simply making an intellectual inquiry. They are completely unable to produce an abortion-supporting quote from the Magisterium of the Church.

    > substantial number of Catholics are pro-choice

    And do you think it means anything?

    News to you: the Church has not trademark on “Catholic”. Anyone can claim to be Catholic. Therefore, there are “catholics” with every kind of non-Catholic view – including “catholics” who don’t believe Jesus resurrected!

    The Church’s teaching come from the Magisterium, not from a random person who claims to be Catholic.

  • Dio

    Rubbish. Catholic dogma did NOT vary – abortion (and contraception) have been seen as sinful FROM THE FIRST. NO Catholic is “pro choice”, if the choice is whether to kill another human being. People who call themselves “Catholics pro choice”delude themselves and are no longer bona fide catholics. It´s like saying “catholics for murder”.

  • Cathal

    At Mass yesterday the scripture was

    Taking a child he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it he said to them,

    “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the one who sent me

    You cannot kill, partake in killing or condone and defend the killing of innocents and be a follower of Our Lord. You cannot worship God and Mamon – YOU MUST choose.
    Pro-choice is just a positive phrase deliberately invented by the “militant humanists” to sanitise, and deflect the issue just like “the big society” or “care in the community”
    Change the phrase to “baby killing” Ranmore and ask yourself then are you pro or against. You would automaticly be against, I hope.
    My mother lived in Manchester in 1968 and developed rhuematic fever when she was 6 months pregnant. She said she wanted to save the baby at risk to her own life. The doctors said “NO” she must abort the baby, and booked the clinic for the abortion. THERE WAS NO CHOICE, THERE IS NO CHOICE. My mother had to flee to Dublin where a surgeon performed open heart surgery on her and saved both herself and me. Dont be fooled Ranmore. It isnt a progessive or modernist issue as they try to tell you.
    The only proceedure not allowed or photograghs allowed by law to be shown in this country is of abortions. Because they know by seeing it it would naturally distress and disgust the majority of people and all the trendy labels of the day wouldnt change it.
    Same as the hiding and sanitising and dehumanising the powers to be used in the last great holocost.

    Read some hidden history about the eugenics movement, Marie Stopes, Humanism and see who is really driving the agenda.

    Roy Jenkins (prominant humanist) said in the last century that his best contribution to British society was legalising abortion, and pornography.
    As the Pope said on his visit here the secularists are pushing their agenda in a military fashion.

    Please for your own sake Ranmore and the sake of society dont be fooled.

  • frater sejunctus

    Go read the Didache and then locate the dissonances in later centuries. …

    “Catholics for Choice,” yea, like “Calvinists against the sovereignty of God” and “Lutherans for Pelagius.”

  • Anonymous

    Absolutely totally utterly untrue !
    And just in case you attempt to continue with this downright mendacity – allow me to interject with some facts.[c/o Catholic Answers]

    The Catholic Church has always condemned abortion as a grave evil. Christian writers from the first-century author of the Didache to Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”) have maintained that the Bible forbids abortion, just as it forbids murder. This tract will provide some examples of this consistent witness from the writings of the Fathers of the Church.

    As the early Christian writer Tertullian pointed out, the law of Moses ordered strict penalties for causing an abortion. We read, “If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely [Hebrew: "so that her child comes out"], but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Ex. 21:22–24).

    This applies the lex talionis or “law of retribution” to abortion. The lex talionis establishes the just punishment for an injury (eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life, compared to the much greater retributions that had been common before, such as life for eye, life for tooth, lives of the offender’s family for one life).

    The lex talionis would already have been applied to a woman who was injured in a fight. The distinguishing point in this passage is that a pregnant woman is hurt “so that her child comes out”; the child is the focus of the lex talionis in this passage. Aborted babies must have justice, too.

    This is because they, like older children, have souls, even though marred by original sin. David tells us, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5, NIV). Since sinfulness is a spiritual rather than a physical condition, David must have had a spiritual nature from the time of conception.

    The same is shown in James 2:26, which tells us that “the body without the spirit is dead”: The soul is the life-principle of the human body. Since from the time of conception the child’s body is alive (as shown by the fact it is growing), the child’s body must already have its spirit.

    Thus, in 1995 Pope John Paul II declared that the Church’s teaching on abortion “is unchanged and unchangeable. Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his successors . . . 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” (Evangelium Vitae 62).

    The early Church Fathers agreed. Fortunately, abortion, like all sins, is forgivable; and forgiveness is as close as the nearest confessional.

    The Didache
    “The second commandment of the teaching: You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not seduce boys. You shall not commit fornication. You shall not steal. You shall not practice magic. You shall not use potions. You shall not procure [an] abortion, nor destroy a newborn child” (Didache 2:1–2 [A.D. 70]).

    The Letter of Barnabas
    “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, which is given to us for the purpose of walking in this way, is the following. . . . Thou shalt not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shalt thou destroy it after it is born” (Letter of Barnabas 19 [A.D. 74]).

    The Apocalypse of Peter
    “And near that place I saw another strait place . . . and there sat women. . . . And over against them many children who were born to them out of due time sat crying. And there came forth from them rays of fire and smote the women in the eyes. And these were the accursed who conceived and caused abortion” (The Apocalypse of Peter 25 [A.D. 137]).

    “What man of sound mind, therefore, will affirm, while such is our character, that we are murderers?
    . . . [W]hen we say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion, on what principle should we commit murder? For it does not belong to the same person to regard the very fetus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God’s care, and when it has passed into life, to kill it; and not to expose an infant, because those who expose them are chargeable with child-murder, and on the other hand, when it has been reared to destroy it” (A Plea for the Christians 35 [A.D. 177]).

    “In our case, a murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from the other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed” (Apology 9:8 [A.D. 197]).

    “Among surgeons’ tools there is a certain instrument, which is formed with a nicely-adjusted flexible frame for opening the uterus first of all and keeping it open; it is further furnished with an annular blade, by means of which the limbs [of the child] within the womb are dissected with anxious but unfaltering care; its last appendage being a blunted or covered hook, wherewith the entire fetus is extracted by a violent delivery.

    “There is also [another instrument in the shape of] a copper needle or spike, by which the actual death is managed in this furtive robbery of life: They give it, from its infanticide function, the name of embruosphaktes, [meaning] “the slayer of the infant,” which of course was alive. . . .

    “[The doctors who performed abortions] all knew well enough that a living being had been conceived, and [they] pitied this most luckless infant state, which had first to be put to death, to escape being tortured alive” (The Soul 25 [A.D. 210]).

    “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” (ibid., 27).

    “The law of Moses, indeed, punishes with due penalties the man who shall cause abortion [Ex. 21:22–24]” (ibid., 37).

    Minucius Felix
    “There are some [pagan] women who, by drinking medical preparations, extinguish the source of the future man in their very bowels and thus commit a parricide before they bring forth. And these things assuredly come down from the teaching of your [false] gods. . . . To us [Christians] it is not lawful either to see or hear of homicide” (Octavius 30 [A.D. 226]).

    “Women who were reputed to be believers began to take drugs to render themselves sterile, and to bind themselves tightly so as to expel what was being conceived, since they would not, on account of relatives and excess wealth, want to have a child by a slave or by any insignificant person. See, then, into what great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by teaching adultery and murder at the same time!” (Refutation of All Heresies [A.D. 228]).

    Council of Ancyra
    “Concerning women who commit fornication, and destroy that which 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 lenity, we have ordained that they fulfill ten years [of penance], according to the prescribed degrees” (canon 21 [A.D. 314]).

    Basil the Great
    “Let her that procures abortion undergo ten years’ penance, whether the embryo were perfectly formed, or not” (First Canonical Letter, canon 2 [A.D. 374]).

    “He that kills another with a sword, or hurls an axe at his own wife and kills her, is guilty of willful murder; not he who throws a stone at a dog, and unintentionally kills a man, or who corrects one with a rod, or scourge, in order to reform him, or who kills a man in his own defense, when he only designed to hurt him. But the man, or woman, is a murderer that gives a philtrum, if the man that takes it dies upon it; so are they who take medicines to procure abortion; and so are they who kill on the highway, and rapparees” (ibid., canon 8).

    John Chrysostom
    “Wherefore I beseech you, flee fornication. . . . Why sow where the ground makes it its care to destroy the fruit?—where there are many efforts at abortion?—where there is murder before the 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 prostitution, prostitution to adultery, adultery to murder; or rather to a something even worse than murder. For I have no name to give it, since it does not take off the thing born, but prevents its being born. Why then do thou abuse the gift of God, and fight with his laws, and follow after what is a curse as if a blessing, and make the chamber of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing unto slaughter? For with a view to drawing more money by being agreeable and an object of longing to her lovers, even this she is not backward to do, so heaping upon thy head a great pile of fire. For even if the daring deed be hers, yet the causing of it is thine” (Homilies on Romans 24 [A.D. 391]).

    “I cannot bring myself to speak of the many virgins who daily fall and are lost to the bosom of the Church, their mother. . . . Some go so far as to take potions, that they may insure 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 [A.D. 396]).

    The Apostolic Constitutions
    “Thou shalt not use magic. Thou shalt not use witchcraft; for he says, ‘You shall not suffer a witch to live’ [Ex. 22:18]. Thou shall not slay thy child by causing abortion, nor kill that which is begotten. . . . [I]f it be slain, [it] shall be avenged, as being unjustly destroyed” (Apostolic Constitutions 7:3 [A.D. 400]).

  • Anonymous

    We are against it because the 6th commandment forbids us to kill:
    Thou shall not kill. Thou shall not kill. Thou shall not kill.

    Nothing else. Simple as that.

  • WSquared

    Indeed, Dio; no Catholic in good standing, and no practicing Catholic is “pro choice.”

  • Anonymous

    If abortion was criminalised how would you punish a middle class woman who has an abortion because the pregnancy interferes with her career – a life sentence for murder? And how would you prevent women going abroad for abortions – other than by turning the country into a police state? The reality is that abortion will never be effectively criminalised in any open, democratic society. Few pro-lifers address these issues.

  • Ranmore

    “Absolutely totally utterly untrue !”

    It’s absolutely true – theologians have argued about when life begins for centuries.You may disagree with them but to claim otherwise is self-deception.

  • W Oddie

    Who’s talking about criminalisation? Ignore this man: he’s an anti-Catholic fanatic (we’ve had him before), and there’s no point in arguing with him.

  • Anonymous

    So you do not support the criminalisation of abortion – bit of a modernist are we?

  • Ben Trovato

    You have shifted your ground. The Church has always held that abortion is wrong. It has also not always been sure when an ensouled human life began. Those two positions are not incompatible.

  • Ben Trovato

    Nestorius, do you think the question of appropriate sanctions has any bearing on whether abortion (or anything else, come to that) is right or wrong?

  • Jorge

    > If abortion was criminalised how would you punish a middle class woman who has an abortion
    > because the pregnancy interferes with her career – a life sentence for murder?

    Not necessarily a life sentence. In Nicaragua it is one to four years. The length of the sentence is up to the legislators – it involves legal philosophy, local culture, etc. Each kind of murder gets a different sentence. The circumstances in which it occurs can increase or decrease the penalty – but they generally don’t completely cancel the sentence, unless you killed an attacker in legitimate self defense.

    Really, I fail to see your point.

    > And how would you prevent women going abroad for abortions – other than by turning
    > the country into a police state?

    If women have to travel to another countries to abort their babies, this will significantly discourage them. And with time, other countries can forbid abortions too.

    Your logic seems to be “since people can do it in other countries, we should keep it legal in the US too”
    See how absurd is your logic: if applied consistently, we should legalize prostitution all over the US, because people can do it legally in Las Vegas. We would have to legalize drugs, because people can use them in the Netherlands. We would also have to legalize genital mutilation, because parents can take their kids to Africa and do that legally.

    In fact, we would have to reduce our laws to the lowest common denominator of the whole world.

    > Few pro-lifers address these issues.

    Because they make no sense.

  • Jorge

    > theologians have argued about when life begins for centuries

    Of course – there is academic debate among theologians all the time.

    In fact, this is one of the prides of the Church – we invented universities. And in universities, students and professors were encouraged to debate, search the truth, or prove the truth if they already knew it. And sometimes they debated merely to train their rhetoric and syllogisms, just like the Greeks did.

    So, to say “theologians argued about it” is absolutely meaningless. Of course they argue about it – that is what they do.

    To know the Church teaching, you hear the Magisterium.

    What was your point?

  • Anonymous

    Firstly, Nicaragua is not an open, democratic society. But my point is that you can only criminalise something in an open democractic society if there is a broad consensus that supports the criminalisation. In the UK there is no such consensus supporting the legalisation of drugs,prostitution or gentital mutilation. But there is a consensus opposed to the criminalisation of all abortions. And you will not change hearts and minds on this issue in a secular culture by using theologically based arguments of the kind suggested by Oddie.

  • Anonymous

    Ranmore – what are the chances that you happened to say this to someone whose University theses were on the History of the the morality which led to humanae vitae and the morality of the ‘beginning of life’.

    Primarily: I take it you’re appealing to Aristotle/Isidore/Albertus Magnus epigenetic phasal progression paradigm? Vegetative-animalistic-human ‘animating life principles’- adhering to the belief that embryonic and foetal development went through the entire lower ontological order of being with corresponding souls ?

    Therefore abortion before certain time periods was not murder but of a moral equivalent to killing an animal?

    Your argument fails to acknowledge that Abortion was always condemned – irrespective of the human development stage – irrespective of the misunderstandings regarding the notion of ‘ensoulment’

    The whole argument is grounded in a deep misunderstanding of Aquinas’ concept of ‘delayed hominisation’
    Aquinas [irrespective of the biological errors] makes it quite clear:
    We are NOT ensouled bodies – rather we are embodied souls
    He believed that as the soul was the form of the body – the physical development reflected the animistic development – at no time are we not what Aristotle referred to as “zoon nouon echon’ living noetic beings.

    In no way is this contrary to the fundamental Catholic principle that Life – a soul’s embodiment – begins at conception.

    The Council of Vienne 1312 affirmed the soul as the substantial form of the body – our living holism is as unifed entity as an embodied soul. [Irrespective of their erroneous belief by reverse induction from biological observational inference that the soul was not yet at a human level of development]

    Effraenatum – Sixtus V’s papal bull of 1588 decreed that abortion at any stage was murder, a latae sententiae excommunicable act and should be treated as such by confessors and canon and civic law [although this was later watered down to automatic excommunication for human-resembling foetuses by Gregory XIV]
    Innocent XI [1679] condemned outright any such discrimination and reiterated the abhorrent gravity of such a sin and since Pius IX’s [1869] apostolicae sedis the notion of ‘foetal embodiment/ensoulment’ has been confirmed as an irrelevance regarding the morality of the issue – it is always from the point of conception an automatic excommunicable act.

    But this is merely a reiteration of the Universal magisterial teaching from the Third council of Constantinople in 680 – That Abortion at any stage of embryonic or foetal development is murder. The Council of Elvira [306] forbade the reception of the Blessed Sacrament for the rest of the person’s life. The Council of Ancyra[314] decreed a mandatory 10 year penance

    So: Irrespective of when life was ever considered to have begun – irrespective of the notion of ensoulment or hominisation [development of an embryonic soul into a fully human one]

    Abortion has ALWAYS been condemned !

    So please refrain from suggesting otherwise.

    Incidentally I’ve just reposted a few pertinent postings on my blog in regard to the modern theological mistakes made by ensoulment adherents [Theology of the Body-ists who misunderstood JPII's teachings] {I repeat – Catholic teaching makes it quite clear – we are an holistic entity of an embodied soul – NOT an ensouled body} and some embryological details regarding the beginnings of human thought within the embryo [shockingly earlier than we had previously imagined]

  • Brandymmiller

    If we truly understood and believed that God conceives every child as an answer to the prayers of the past, the present, and the future we would understand why we must defend the right of every child to live. We would welcome children as the gift that they are, and be eager to see the next one come.

  • Brandymmiller

    There are no pro-choice Catholics. There are only people who are pro-choice that call themselves Catholic. True Catholics are obedient to the Church in all matters.

  • Jorge

    > Nicaragua is not an open, democratic society.


    > But my point is that you can only criminalise something in an open democractic society if there is a > broad consensus that supports the criminalisation.

    Wrong. Slavery was criminalized without broad consensus. Human rights don’t necessarily need broad consensus.

    Note: I’m not saying we will use the same radical methods that the American abolitionists used.

    > But there is a consensus opposed to the criminalisation of all abortions.

    No, there is currently no consensus for or against. What makes you think there is consensus?

    > And you will not change hearts and minds on this issue in a secular culture by using theologically
    > based arguments of the kind suggested by Oddie.

    Pro-lifers make many kinds of arguments – religion, biology, anthropology, natural law…
    Each of them does its part.

    I don’t see your point.

  • GabrielAustin

    “And just because a number of Catholics are pro-choice doesn’t mean the Church’s teaching is wrong or not straightforward, it just means that people disagree with it”.

    Likewise a number of Catholics [the majority of us?] are sinners, does not make sinning right.

  • annieb

    There is no pro choice – this is the lie. The choice is abortion full stop. When will we start offering woman a genuine counselling service and real options?

  • W Oddie

    LIFE already offers such a service, and has done for many years. This ought to be more widely known.

  • Jorge

    In the US, there are the Crisis Pregnancy Centers. They offer real help for women with difficult pregnancies. Women are counseled with truth, and, if they choose life, they get help for it.

    Pro-choicers hate them like the plague.

  • Jorge

    Another thing that pro-choicer hate with their guts are laws that demand parental notification (so a father knows his 14-year-old daughter is considering killing his grandson), or mandatory ultrasound (so that the woman sees what she is considering to kill).

    Their idea of “choice” is to tell a 14-year old that abortion is morally OK, harmless, and has no longterm effects, including passing false embryology information (saying that a baby is just “a ball of cells” at a time he already has hands and eyes), not showing her a ultrasound, and, after the fragile girl consents, they do it without her father knowing.

  • cnb

    Dr. Oddie, can you tell me the source of the quotation about Schopenhauer?

  • Anonymous

    The political, cultural and legal context that existed at the time slavery was abolished no longer exists. There is just no parallel with with abortion.
    As regards a broad consensus of support for abortion, this is a matter of empirical research. I refer you recent the British Social Attitudes Survey, which shows a clear majority in favour of legalised abortion.(Of course, I am NOT suggesting that the morality of abortion can be determined by opinion research but currently there is no practical possibility that the law could be repealed.)

  • Anonymous

    No, but any serious discussion of abortion has to consider legal and enforcement issues.

  • Jorge

    > I refer you recent the British Social Attitudes Survey, which shows a clear majority in favour of legalised
    > abortion.

    The number in the British Social Attitudes survey was 60%. That is a clear majority (the UK is particularly bad with culture of death), but in no way a consensus. You exaggerated.

    And we are working to win hearts and minds. I can’t know if we will ever make it (I think we will; the current baby genocide is simply too bad to last), but we will never give up.

    > The political, cultural and legal context that existed at the time slavery was abolished no longer exists.
    > There is just no parallel with with abortion.

    The parallel is that something which is common may still be horrible. You seem to recognize this when you say “Of course, I am NOT suggesting that the morality of abortion can be determined by opinion “. Good for you; unfortunately many people do, in fact, that whatever is currently accepted by the majority is automatically OK.

    Mentioning slavery is also useful to expose the patent absurdity of one of the principal pro-choice slogan “If you don’t agree with abortion, don’t have one; but respect my choice.”

    That same logic would also justify slavery

    “If you disagree with slavery then don’t buy a negro; but respect my choice”

    And an interesting fact – the motivation for both calamities (slavery and abortion) is quite similar – the idea that certain people (then blacks, now unborn babies) are not “really human”.

  • petitefleur

    I’m sorry to say that Chesterton seems to have made a factual error here. It was Ernest Henley in his poem “Invictus” who said he “thank(s) whatever the gods may be” for his “unconquerable soul.” This poem is a favorite especially of young men, with its defiant tone, and was issued as Tim McVeigh’s only public statement before his execution.

  • Christina

    Brandymmiller, sadly, I pick up my ‘Catholic Herald’ this morning and find, under the sub-heading ‘Mark Greaves talks to the Catholic Conservative MP (Paul Maynard)…’, the following:

    ‘Maynard describes himself as a “typical cradle Catholic”….’. and then further down, ‘On abortion, he is in favour of changing the law only slightly. His answer on the subject is thoughtful. “I think there’s a case for reducing the limit by a couple of weeks [from 24 to 22] to reflect advances in medical science,” he says, “But I think all too often in the abortion debate we get hung up on debating in terms of ‘yes’ and ‘no’….’.

    ‘Catholic MP’ according to Mark Greaves in the CH? ‘Typical cradle Catholic’ according to himself? No, no, no, Brandymmiller, you’re right!

  • W Oddie

    Chesterton is not quoting Henley, as you will see if you more carefully look at the text. He is referring to Swinburne’s Hymn to Proserpine:

    “We thank with brief thanksgiving
    Whatever gods may be
    That no life lives forever;
    That dead men rise up never;
    That even the weariest river
    Winds somewhere safe to sea.”

  • W Oddie

    This isx from an article by GKC in the Daily News entitled “The Great Pessimist” (7 June 1901). Quoted in my book Chesterton and the Romance of Orthodoxy, page 210 (Nowhere else, I’m afraid).

  • W Oddie

    That’s exactly the point. Well put.

  • cnb

    Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    Why on earth would it be wrong to kill something with no soul?

  • Anonymous

    …no Catholic is allowed freedom of opinion?

  • Anonymous

    When we sin we realize the fact and try and put things right. People who are pro-choice do not believe their moral opinion is a sin.

  • Anonymous

    I hardly think using a Pope as an example is cherry picking:

    Pope Innocent III (1161-1216):
    Early in the 13th century, he stated that the soul enters the body of the fetus at the time of “quickening” – when the woman first feels movement of the fetus. Before that time, abortion was a less serious sin, because it terminated only potential human person, not an actual human person.

    and St Augustine:

    St. Augustine (354-430 CE) accepted the Aristotelian Greek Pagan concept of “delayed ensoulment”. He wrote that a human soul cannot live in an unformed body. Thus, early in pregnancy, an abortion is not murder because no soul is destroyed (or, more accurately, only a vegetable or animal soul is terminated).

  • jorge

    First, he was talking about practicing Catholics in good standing.

    Second, you should remember than being Catholic itself is voluntary.

    An analogy: suppose that I say: “no animal rights supporter in good standing can be in favor of animal torture”

    Then you ask “so animal rights supporters have no freedom of opinion?”

    That would be an obviously wrong thing to say, wouldn’t it? The answer is that no one forces you to support animal rights; so if you support animal torture, than please be consistent and don’t call yourself a supporter of animal rights in good standing.

    By the same token, if you support the murder of babies, in clear opposition to the dignity of the human person, in clear opposition to the Bible, than please don’t claim to be a Catholic in good standing.

  • Jorge

    > “When we sin we realize the fact and try and put things right.”
    Not all. There are many people who hardly admit their sin to themselves, and hardly try to put things right. Some of them may be baptized. And GabrielAustin point remains – that some people engage in an action (even baptized people) does not make it right.

    > “People who are pro-choice do not believe their moral opinion is a sin. ”
    What, if a pro-”choice” believes supporting abortion is not a sin, do you think it means anything?

    Many people I met who supported evil (including a guy who said “Hitler did an incomplete job”) didn’t seem to think their actions were sinful. I would guess this is pretty common, and not just my experience. Humans have a big tendency to convince themselves that what they do is right.

  • Jorge

    Wrong for multiple reasons

    1) In what context did Pope Innocent III allegedly (give me a credible source) say that? There is a huge difference between a bishop (including the Pope) personal opinion and the Church’s teaching; bishops are infallible when part of ecumenical councils; but individual bishops are fallible (heresies arose in the past through the hands of bishops). The Pope is infallible in an ex-cathedra proclamation (which is a specific, and rare, use of papal authority); but if he gives his opinion in an informal chat, he is fallible.

    2) Try to produce a quote from the Magisterium supporting abortion – a document from an ecumenical council or an ex-cathedra papal declaration.

    But the previous two points are little more than hair-splitting, because

    3) The question of “ensoulment and abortion” has already been mentioned before. The answer is simple:

    Throughout Christianity’s two thousand year history, this same doctrine has been constantly taught by the Fathers of the Church and by her Pastors and Doctors. Even scientific and philosophical discussions about the precise moment of the infusion of the spiritual soul have never given rise to any hesitation about the moral condemnation of abortion.

    Those are the words of John Paul II.

    So, basically, you could not find quotes (even with relaxed rules about what is the Magisterium) that supported abortion. So you changed the subject, and tried to produce quotes about “ensoulment” instead. “ensoulment” is a technical concept that I strongly doubt you understand; and it does not influence the morality of abortion.

    See below the post of paulpriest, that further explains (as if it wasn’t clear already) the issue (or, more exactly, non-issue).

  • Anonymous

    In saying we try and put things right – I did not mean all Catholics, nor all the time. I was getting at the point that conventional sins – such as stealing or adultery are very ease to realize as a sin. It is obvious to us.

    Whereas in the case of something were there are differences of opinion in terms of morality, such as abortion, then it is the case that some people will not believe sin to be occurring.

    ‘ do you think it means anything?’ – Certainly, it makes a difference, as how can one be morally accountable if they do not believe something to be sinful? The act of abortion itself could be considered sinful, but not the opinion of those who believe (sincerely) otherwise.

  • jorge

    > In saying we try and put things right – I did not mean all Catholics, nor all the time. I was getting at
    > the point that conventional sins – such as stealing or adultery are very ease to realize as a sin. It is
    > obvious to us.

    They are clear to an enlightened reason, yes. But when people feel the urge to do these things, they tend to fool themselves.

    If you think certain things are “so obvious that everyone will see” than you know little history.

    Before Christianity, the Romans and Greeks lacked moral ideas that we nowadays take for granted.
    For example, the Greeks practiced pederasty. The Romans practiced abortion and explicit infanticide – after a baby was born, he could simply be thrown away if the father didn’t want him. Also, they were bizarre hedonists; they practiced sexual orgies and had a habit of eating, then intentionally throwing up, just to have the pleasure of eating again. And many of those ancient civilizations despised foreigners – going to war with a foreign country and enslaving their people was “normal”.

    Christianity changed all this. Now, what happens when Christianity weakened and virulent secularism arose? Many of those barbaric practices are returning.

    Sexual anarchy – the number of illegitimate babies is several times higher than just a few decades ago. In the UK, 50% of babies are illegitimate. And STDs are widespread.
    Hedonism in food, and in general consumerism.
    Despise of foreigners – nazism would never happen in the XIII century.
    Abortion – 50 million babies are murdered each year, worldwide.

    So don’t say me that “sin is obvious”. Without Christianity, we are monsters.

    > ‘ do you think it means anything?’ – Certainly, it makes a difference, as how can one be morally
    > accountable if they do not believe something to be sinful?
    If you have faith in Jesus and his Church – (the one that He created upon the rock of Peter; the one that He guaranteed would never lose to the gates of Hell; the one that carries His message, as He said that those who hear the apostles hear Him) then you have to accept all the Church teaching. God is infinitely wise, therefore He is never wrong; He is infinitely truthful, and therefore He never lies.

    I recommend to you the book “The Faith Explained” by Leo J. Trese. It is a wonderful, intellectually sound explanation of the Catholic doctrine. Leo Trese is a Catholic priest.

    Anyway, I will quote three points of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    2087 Our moral life has its source in faith in God who reveals his love to us. St. Paul speaks of the “obedience of faith” as our first obligation. He shows that “ignorance of God” is the principle and explanation of all moral deviations. Our duty toward God is to believe in him and to bear witness to him.

    2088 The first commandment requires us to nourish and protect our faith with prudence and vigilance, and to reject everything that is opposed to it. There are various ways of sinning against faith:

    Voluntary doubt about the faith disregards or refuses to hold as true what God has revealed and the Church proposes for belief. Involuntary doubt refers to hesitation in believing, difficulty in overcoming objections connected with the faith, or also anxiety aroused by its obscurity. If deliberately cultivated doubt can lead to spiritual blindness.

    2089 Incredulity is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it. “Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

    > The act of abortion itself could be considered sinful, but not the opinion of those
    > who believe (sincerely) otherwise.

    Actually, heresy is sinful. And when you advance lies (such as “the Church used to accept abortion”) to dilute the Church’s message, you add insult to injury.

    Also, one thing is to hold an opinion; another is to spread that opinion. If you were a XIX century black slave, and I was spreading the idea that “enslaving negroes is OK because they are not really human”, wouldn’t you think I was doming something evil? Wouldn’t you think that I collaborated with an unjust culture?

    The same happens with unborn babies. They are being murdered at a industrial scale, and people advance the idea that this is OK.

    Before you ask: I’m not necessarily saying that the government should censor heresies. I’m not saying it should be a crime. But it is certainly a sin. Saying, for example, “slavery is OK because negroes are not human”, or “abortion is OK because fetuses are not human” may not send you to jail, but is still a grave evil.

  • jorge

    > But when people feel the urge to do these things, they tend to fool themselves.

    I should explain that better. We fool ourselves not just because of a direct urge to do the sin we want to do; but also because of other (seemingly unrelated) sins that obscure our eyes. Including pride.

    Speaking of sins that make people defend abortion, and pride: did you know that both Margaret Sanger (the US abortion pioneer) and Marie Stopes (her UK counterpart) were avowed eugenicists?
    Margaret Sanger wanted “less babies from unfit people, more from fit people”. She participated in eugenics congresses in Nazi Germany. And Marie Stopes even wrote a poem for Hitler.

    Take a look here:

    To this day, Planned Parenthood (the abortion federation founded by Margaret Sanger) locates its abortion mills primarily in minority neighborhoods.

    Of course, they don’t say these days (after Hitler was defeated and eugenics caught a bad name) that “the poor and the blacks are weeds”. They sugar-coat their ideas. They claim that “we need to help these poor people by offering them contraception and abortion, and educating them about the wonder of responsible parenthood, because they will live better if they have a responsible number of children, at an appropriate time of their lives.” And of course, they use “responsible” as an euphemism for “small”.

    Another reason to defend abortion is radical feminism – the feminists think that abortion “liberates” women from inconvenient motherhood, thus helping them to have better careers and be more like men.

  • Scootz

    Why do people who haven’t a clue, and who have NO personal experience of a situation whatsoever, always seem to think that they can tell everyone else how to handle it?
    How dare the Catholic Church presume to hold the moral high ground in the case of Abortion! Who are they to comment?
    Here are just a few matters to really think on, before you condemn ALL women who have had abortions:
    1. MANY women are FORCED into abortions, against their better judgement, and not of their own free will. They have abortions under the most terrible circumstances – fear for their lives, fear of domestic violence, fear of reprisals from other family members. They may have been threatened, or rejected by the baby’s father. They may have been left unsupported by family and friends. They may have nobody to turn to.
    2. Is it better to give birth to an UNWANTED baby, than to abort it? Many women every year genuinely get pregnant and DO NOT want to be. Many were using contraception at the time (it is not guaranteed 100%) and did not expect to become pregnant. Many of these women are not really in a position to give the best care and support to a child. They may have NO money, NO job, NO support; they did not wish to become pregnant, and are at a point in their lives where having a baby is deeply inappropriate, and unsuitable. They are NOT in a position to provide for it. Why should they give birth to a child that will live in poverty, with no support?
    3. Is it better to give birth knowing that the baby you are having is NOT WANTED, as opposed to aborting it? There are women out there who might decide to have the child after all, but NOT because they want it, or love it. Some have the child because they fear being stigmatised for having an abortion. Others have the child simply to receive welfare benefit payments – the unwanted child becomes a convenient source of income. Some have the child and immediately request that it gets adopted. They STILL reject the child, because they DID NOT WANT IT. Others may choose to have the child live with them, but they constantly abuse it, and tell it they did not want it, and make it FULLY aware that it was the result of an unplanned pregnancy. HOW FAIR IS THIS?
    4. Is it fair to give birth to a baby that was NOT planned, knowing that the FATHER does not want it? How does it feel for a child to grow up, knowing it was not planned, and knowing that it’s own biological father does not want to see it? Many children grow up in such miserable circumstances – never knowing one or the other parent. Sometimes, they become the subject of ugly court cases where parents are suing for custody. Other times, they are passed from pillar to post, as nobody wants to bring them up. Or they are left with no contact with their father, except for “maintenance payments”. The mother may be bitter about this – always having to chase Child Support. The child grows up aware of this fact – poor thing – with divided loyalties. It longs for a stable family with 2 loving parents, but will NEVER have it. IS THIS FAIR?
    5. Is it right to give birth to an unwanted baby that is immediately sent to a foster home, or sent for adoption? This child has INSTANTLY known rejection. For the rest of its life it may suffer, and have questions about its origin. Where did it come from? Why was it adopted? Why did its real, biological parents NOT want it? Did it do something to deserve this? IS IT FAIR TO LEAVE A CHILD FEELING LIKE THIS?
    I am asking you this, because THIS is MY personal experience. My parents were born, and brought up Catholic. 
    My mother chose to give birth to me, even though she openly admits that she did not plan to be pregnant with me. I have grown up with an awareness that my parents did not really want me – they were just doing their “good Catholic duty”, and did not abort me. I have suffered many years of child abuse as a result (see my story on Darlene Barriere’s child abuse website). 
    Does the Catholic Church REALLY think that giving birth to an UNWANTED child is the correct thing to do? Surely, any good Christian can see that to subject a child to a lifetime of abuse, and to a lifetime of knowledge that it was unwanted, is one of the WICKEDEST things that could ever happen?
    The facts are that women DO have abortions – even women in strictly religious, and Catholic countries and cultures. Sometimes it is for the best. Sometimes it is a kinder act to abort the child, than to bring it into a world where it was NOT wanted.