Friday, October 1, 2010

Abortion Question

Q - I have a question about the right to an abortion. I heard of a teenage girl who was told her baby  would only live for a few days after it was born. Would this girl be sinning by having an abortion? Thank you for your insight!

A - Thanks for the question! I know it might sound like a small thing, but there is no "right to an abortion". Language is very important and how we refer to matters such as this can be very influential on many people. The mass media knows this, which is why they almost constantly refer to the pro-life movement as anti-abortion. They make pro-lifers into the negative ones fighting against the "right" of the woman, rather than having them sound more positive as a pro-life movement protecting the rights of the babies. But, I digress.

There is no situation where an abortion is morally permissible. This is one of the moral absolutes of the Church, where it is wrong in each and every situation. Some others would include (though this list isn't exhaustive):
  • intentionally killing an innocent person
  • consensual sex outside of marriage
  • withholding the truth from someone who has a right to its
  • stealing what you have no right to
What we should understand is that the Catholic Church has always taught that both the ends and means of an act need to be moral. In each and every case the means of abortion are wrong. Immoral means cannot be made morally licit by a moral end.

The Catechism teaches:
2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:
You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish. God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.
The question in this particular situation comes from the fact that the baby would die anyway. But, killing the baby and allowing the baby to die are two radically different things. My sister has cancer. If she is told she has two months to live and I shoot her, I am still committing murder.

Now, for another kind of case, intention does matter. If, for example, a mother has a ectopic (tubal) pregnancy, we know the child will eventually die and the mother's life is also at risk, so something must be done or both will die. But, we still cannot kill either of them. Yet, we can allow nature to run it's course and allow the baby to die naturally, that is, we cannot actively do anything that would kill the child (e.g., abortion). What is the difference? In this situation the difference is in intention and action. The action would differ in that instead of actually killing the child and then removing the child from the fallopian tube, the doctor would remove the section of the tube that the baby was in and then allow it to die. But, the intent is not to kill the child, but rather to save the woman. The side-effect here is unintentional - the baby's death.

This is a distinction that cannot be lost on us in the "tough cases". The ectopic pregnancy is a classic case of using the principle of double effect, which can help in situations like these. Here is a link to an article about it if you would like to know more.

Continuing on, the Catechism goes further:
2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being. Prenatal diagnosis is morally licit, "if it respects the life and integrity of the embryo and the human fetus and is directed toward its safe guarding or healing as an individual.... It is gravely opposed to the moral law when this is done with the thought of possibly inducing an abortion, depending upon the results: a diagnosis must not be the equivalent of a death sentence."
So, even though this situation is difficult, it in no way lessens the right of the baby to live, however short or difficult the life may be outside of the mother's womb. The dignity of each human demands that we protect it. Our convenience or subjective idea of "quality of life" should not dictate the right of another to live. Without the right to life, no other rights make sense.