What is Pro-Life?
Consistent Catholic Teaching on Abortion
A CONSISTENT ANSWER TO “WHAT IS PRO-LIFE?”
Claims that the Catholic Church’s position on (abortion) is new or has changed (or are changeable) are false and misleading. The Church has always taught that to be “pro-life” is to defend life as sacred from conception to natural death.
The Church has consistently taught abortion is a tragedy.
When Catholics profess life is sacred “from womb to tomb”, we really mean it!
The need to be “pro-life” did not begin with Roe v. Wade nor did it end after Dobbs v. Jackson. The ‘issue’ of the sanctity of life has always been central to Catholicism starting, literally, at the beginning, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26)
Genesis “places man at the summit of God’s creative activity, as its crown. Everything in creation is ordered to man and everything is subject to him”. (Evangelium Vitae, 34)
“Every child who…is condemned unjustly to being aborted bears the face of Jesus Christ”. (Pope Francis, 2)
ABORTION AND THE EARLY CHURCH
The early Church was far from silent on the issue of abortion: “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion.” (CCC, 2271)
- “You shall not kill the embryo by abortion“. (Didache, 2:2 – First Century)
- “Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion”. (Epistle of Barnabas, 19:5 – Ca. 70 – 132 AD)
- “Christians now are so far from homicide, that with them it is utterly unlawful to make away a child in the womb…for to kill a child before it is born is to commit murder“. (Apology of Tertullian, 31 Ca. 197 AD)
ABORTION IN THE MIDDLE AGES
The condemnation of abortion continued through the centuries:
While “[i]t is true that in the Middle Ages, when the opinion was generally held that the spiritual soul was not present until after the first few weeks…But it was never denied at that time that procured abortion, even during the first days, was objectively grave fault.” (Declaration on Procured Abortion, 7)
ABORTION IN THE 20TH CENTURY
As abortion crept out of alleys and back-rooms into a favorable public light, the Church vigorously stepped forward:
- It is a “very grave crime…the taking of the life of the offspring hidden in the mother’s womb”. (Pope Pius XI, 63)
- “Every human being, even the child in the womb, has the right to life immediately from God, not from parents, nor from any society or human authority.” (Pope Pius XII)
- “You well know how the Church has always condemned abortion, so that the teachings…have done nothing but confirm his ever unchanged and immutable moral doctrine.” (Pope St. Paul VI)
- “[B]y the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops…I declare that direct abortion…always constitutes a grave moral disorder“. (Pope St. John Paul II, 62)
And recognizing the harm abortion causes society the Church teaches that “everyone must be helped to become aware of the intrinsic evil of the crime of abortion.” (Pope Benedict XVI, 5)
POPE FRANCIS AND ABORTION
Let there be no doubt of Pope Francis’ position on the scourge of abortion:
“Abortion is murder…It’s a human life, period.” (Pope Francis)
“Let the abortion and killing of innocent lives end.” (Pope Francis)
To those who argue that an embryo or fetus is not a living human being, the Pope answers, “Scientifically it’s a human life. The textbooks teach us that.” (Pope Francis)
Echoing Genesis, the Pope teaches that “Every child who…is condemned unjustly to being aborted bears the face of Jesus Christ”. (Pope Francis, 2)
Pope Francis has even compared abortion to the Nazi regime; “It pains me to say this. In the last century the entire world was scandalized over what the Nazis were doing to maintain the purity of the race. Today we do the same thing, but with white gloves.” (Pope Francis)
The Church has always defended human dignity. It is the principle from which all of Catholic social teaching flows.
“So great is the value of a human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother’s womb, that no alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life, which is an end in itself and which can never be considered the ‘property’ of another human being.” (Pope Francis, 86)
Catholic social teaching is built on three foundational principles - Human Dignity, Solidarity and Subsidiarity. Human Dignity, embodied in a correct understanding of the human person, is the greatest. The others flow from it. Good governments and good economic systems find ways of fostering the three principles.
This means a correct understanding of the human person and of each person’s unique value. All Catholic social teaching flows from this: the inherent dignity of every person that comes from being made in God’s image.
Solidarity is not “a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of others. It is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good”. (Pope St. John Paul II, 38) Love of God and love of neighbor are, in fact, linked and form one, single commandment.
Subsidiarity “is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable, that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own enterprise and industry. So, too, it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and a disturbance of right order to transfer to the larger and higher collectivity functions which can be performed and provided for by the lesser and subordinate bodies”. (Pope Pius XI)