Catholics and Abortion

November 16th, 2008

As I’ve written elsewhere, I’m pro-choice. I arrived at that position reluctantly, given the moral and legal ambiguities involved. This most difficult policy choice must be even more troubling for those whose thinking is guided by religious doctrines.

In particular, the contradiction of Catholics who profess to be pro-choice has interested me for some time, especially since John Kerry claimed in 2004 to be pro-choice but to believe that life begins at conception. This was obviously the act of a cynical politician who hoped to present himself as an observant Catholic while pandering to a significant pro-choice constituency. Nonetheless, it illustrates the contradictory beliefs of pro-choice Catholics.

My interest was piqued again with the succession of Benedict XVI to the papacy. As I listened to expressions of dismay among some Catholics that this new pope was unlikely to be more “liberal” than his predecessors, I had to wonder about the logic of their expectations, particularly on the issue of abortion.

Let’s consider the facts about the authority of the Catholic Church and its position on abortion. First, Papal infallibility:

Infallibility belongs in a special way to the pope as head of the bishops (Matt. 16:17–19; John 21:15–17). As Vatican II remarked, it is a charism the pope “enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith (Luke 22:32), he proclaims by a definitive act some doctrine of faith or morals. Therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly held irreformable, for they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, an assistance promised to him in blessed Peter.”

Reinforcing the 2,000 year old teachings of scripture and the Church, 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.

Not only is abortion a sin for Catholics, it’s heresy punishable by excommunication. Again the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Pertinacious adhesion to a doctrine contradictory to a point of faith clearly defined by the Church is heresy pure and simple, heresy in the first degree. … [The penalty is] Excommunication…which is incurred by all apostates from the Catholic Faith, by each and all heretics…and by all who believe in them…or in any way defend them.

How, then, does one claim to be Catholic and also pro-choice? Despite shallow modernist thinking to the contrary, there can’t be any such thing as a “cafeteria Catholic.” It isn’t possible to go down a menu of Church doctrine and say, “I’ll take one of these and two of those, but I don’t want any of that.”

It’s unclear how some Catholics manage to twist reason and logic to arrive at a position so antithetical to the teachings of their Church. Not being religious, perhaps I’m ill-equipped to understand their coping mechanisms. However, it’s difficult to understand why a Catholic confronted with this dilemma wouldn’t either conform to Church doctrine or find a more hospitable form of religion.


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3 Responses to “Catholics and Abortion”



  1. Doris |

    I am so tired of all these religious fanatics touting all life is precious!! One I know doesn’t mind shooting cats as birth control. All these people who are pro-life should have to take and raise one baby, preferably a crack baby, that no one wants and support them their entire lives.


  2. Bob Maushammer |

    The great irony, for me, about many of those who profess that life is sacred is that they favor the death penalty–an irreversible sanction. I believe that the death penalty has no significant deterrent effect, if any, and that the judicial system certainly has convicted people wrongly, as experience shows. I guess all people hold some contradictory beliefs, but why not err on the side of caution when the result is so final?


  3. Tom |

    I agree on the death penalty. I don’t think it has any deterrent effect at all. Even if it did, I can’t accept the idea that our social contract includes permitting the state to kill us for any reason. For more discussion, see The Death Penalty.


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