Catholic Position on Abortion
Wednesday, October 12, 2005 - By ALL

The right to life is no less to be respected in the small infant just born than in the mature person. In reality, respect for human life is called for from the time that the process of generation begins. From the time that 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.

To this perpetual evidence - perfectly independent of the discussions on the moment of animation - modern genetic science brings valuable confirmation. It has been demonstrated that, from the first instant there is established the program of what this living being will be: a man, this individual man with his characteristic aspects already well determined. Right from fertilization is begun the adventure of a human life, and each of its capacities requires time - a rather lengthy time - to find its place and to be in a position to act. The least that can be said is that present science, in its most evolved state, does not give any substantial support to those who defend abortion. Moreover, it is not up to biological sciences to make a definite judgement on questions which are properly philosophical and moral, such as the moment when a human person is constituted or the legitimacy of abortion. From a moral point of view this is certain: 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. "The one who will be a man is already one."

Declaration on Procured Abortion
Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith


The claims that before 1869 the Catholic Church's teaching authority did not oppose abortion and that Catholic theology held that the father provided the soul to the fetus are both false. Further, the allegation that the Catholic Church which has consistently opposed contraception would be indifferent to induced abortion must be considered suspect on its face.


St. Paul, who should qualify as a Catholic, in his epistle to the Galatians uses the Greek word "pharmakeia" in condemning the effects of self-indulgence which can include abortion and other uses of drugs with magical or evil intent. The first recorded explicit "Catholic" opposition to abortion can be found in the Didache (written circa 80 AD). Though it was not included in the Canon of the Bible, the Didache condemned abortion as "the way of death" by men who are "killers of children." The letter of Barnabas written around 140 AD also condemned abortion: "Thou shalt not kill the fetus by an abortion or commit infanticide."

St. John Chrysostom, one of the Greek Fathers of the Roman Catholic Church, wrote around 390 AD a tract on marriage in which he condemns contraception and prostitution in the following terms: "Why do you sow where the field is eager to destroy the fruit? Where there are medicines of sterility? Where there is murder before birth? You do not even let a harlot remain only a harlot, but you make her a murderess as well. Do you see from drunkenness comes fornication, from fornication adultery, from adultery murder? ... Do you make the anteroom of birth, the anteroom of slaughter? Do you teach the woman who is given to you for the procreation of offspring to perpetuate killing?" (Homily 24 on the Epistle to the Romans)

The 1909 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia notes: "The early Christians are the first on record as having pronounced abortion to be the murder of human beings; for their public apologists, Athenagoras, Tertullian, and Minutius (Eschbach, 'Disp. Phys.' Disp. iii) to refute the slander that a child was slain, and its flesh eaten, by the guests at the Agape, appealed to their laws as forbidding all manner of murder, even that of children in the womb. The Fathers of the Church unanimously maintained the same doctrine. In the fourth century the Council of Eliberis decreed Holy Communion should be refused all the rest of her life, even on her deathbed, to an adulteress who procured the abortion of her child. The Sixth Ecumenical Council determined for the whole Church, that anyone who procured abortion should bear all the punishments inflicted on murderers. In all these teachings and enactments no distinction is made between the earlier and later stages of gestation. For, though the opinion of Aristotle, or similar speculations, regarding the time when the rational soul is infused into the embryo, were practically accepted for many centuries, still it was always held by the Church that he who destroyed what was to be a man was guilty of destroying a human life." (Abortion, Vol. 1, The Catholic Encyclopedia Robert Appleton Company, & copy; 1907 page 48)

During the fourth session of the Ecumenical Council of Trent in April, 1546 a decree was approved that directed Church authorities to compile and publish a catechism of the Catholic Faith. The Catechism of the Council of Trent, also known as the Roman Catechism, was eventually published in 1566 some 22 years later. This Catechism has an authoritative place in the moral and dogmatic teachings of the Catholic Church and has been praised by many Popes including John Paul II for its fidelity to the Faith. Pope Clement XIII in 1761 even said that the Roman Catechism contains a clear explanation of all that is necessary for salvation and usefulness for the lay Catholic. Pope Leo XIII, in an 1899 Encyclical letter to the Bishops and clergy of France, recommended the Catechism as one of the two books which all seminarians should possess and constantly read and study.

The Roman Catechism speaks to the question of induced abortion in its discussion of the Sacrament of Matrimony: "... married persons who, to prevent conception or procure abortion, have recourse to medicine, are guilty of a most heinous crime?nothing less than the wicked conspiracy of murder."

Another reaffirmation of abortion as homicide maybe found in the letter, Effraenatan issued by Pope Sixtus V in October, 1588.said that the same civil and church penalties should apply to both abortion whatever the age of the fetus and homicide. And in 1697, Pope Innocent XI's Holy Office condemned the following two propositions as scandalous and in practice dangerous: "34. It is lawful to procure abortion before ensoulment of the fetus lest a girl, detected as pregnant be killed or defamed. 35 It seems probable that the fetus (as long as it is in the uterus) lacks a rational soul and begins first to have one when it is born; and consequently it must be said that no abortion is a homicide."

As to the argument that the Catholic Church taught that the father gave the child in the womb his or her soul has not been seriously held for almost 700 years. This theory is called traducianism or generationism and was explicitly repudiated long before the 1860's. For example, St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century rejected the proposition that the human soul was created by any material cause whether father or mother. Aquinas held that God was the immediate cause of the creation of the human soul. (Summa Theologica, Treatise on Man, Question 90).


Daniel Callahan, Abortion: Law, Choice and Morality, Macmillian Company, New York, ? 1970.

John A. McHugh O.P., Charles J. Callahan, O.P. Translation and Notes, Issued by Order of Pope Pius V, Catechism of the Council of Trent for Parish Priests, 11th printing, 1949, Joseph F. Wagner, Inc., New York ? 1934.

John A. Noonan, Jr. editor, The Morality of Abortion: Legal and Historical Perspectives, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, ? 1970.

John A. Noonan, Jr. Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists, Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, ? 1966.

Rev. William Reany, D.D., The Creation of The Human Soul, Benziger Brothers, New York, ? 1932


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