Abortion's Connection With Idea Of Evil In History

Roundup: Talking About History

Edward J. Richard, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri), 03 Oct. 2004

The leadership of the Catholic Church knows that abortion has always been around, just as there has always been adultery and murder. But, society's approach to abortion is always a matter of grave concern, and it has become more so with every passing day as the number of abortions grows upward of 40 million. Catholics are concerned about the damage such evil does to mothers, to others and to the societies of the world.

By 1973, our society became the first in the history of the world in which the leadership supported abortion as a good. In a commentary written about seven years after Roe v. Wade, noted historian and philosopher John T. Noonan, who would become a federal appeals court judge, identified four elite groups in society which comprised that leadership. Those groups, he said, are the media, the federal judiciary, the great philanthropies and the doctors, particularly those associated with the university teaching hospitals.

This leadership sidestepped the democratic processes under the control of voters and legislators in the states on abortion. In this state of the nation, to address the moral responsibility of Catholics, citizens and voters, the pastors of the church have to account for the new legal and social circumstances that have left the moral voice largely out of the public square.

Roe was allegedly all about privacy, according to the court's reasoning. Abortion was a private choice between a woman and her doctor. In the judgment of church leaders, a woman's authentic freedom to pursue the truth in her own heart of hearts has been diminished by the din in society that tends to drown out the really private, individual voice of conscience.

The moral problem with abortion was not projected onto the screen of human consciousness as a result of Christian influence. In 400 B.C., Hippocrates wrote these words,"I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor give to a woman a pessary to produce abortion." Christianity imbued the pro-life imperative with the vigor of its faith.

Clarity, as well, was granted the church through the teachings of Christ. The earliest followers could not possibly know the genetic makeup and potential of the human embryo. But they knew that they, human beings, were made in the image of God, who was the author of life and gave new life to the world in and through human bodies and human love.

Thus, in the earliest writings, abortion is explicitly spoken of as a violation of the moral law against murder. The constant teaching against abortion is unbroken from the Didache (AD 70) through the writings of Pope John Paul II. Many Christian denominations continue to hold clearly to this teaching.

Both the more reason-based approach of Hippocrates, based in natural law, and the divinely revealed aspects of the moral law led John Paul II to confirm definitively the faith's constant teaching on the evil of abortion, which"is unchanged and unchangeable." (The Gospel of Life, 62).

The identification of the evil of deliberate abortion, while not proclaimed in an extraordinary pronouncement of the church's pastors, by the pope's own words, is an infallible (i.e., unchangeable) moral teaching of the ordinary, universal authority of the church. The teaching protecting human life is well-established, clear and unbroken. Many arguments against the definitive teaching, however, are built upon moral novelties.

The rationale in Roe did not deny that the unborn child is human. The court held that the decision was outside its competence and that the status of the unborn human was not clear. Because the court could not be sure about the humanity of the unborn, it decided that no protection was due the child in the womb.

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