Abortion is one of the most hotly debated topics in the United States, and understandably so. The questions surrounding abortion get at some of the most deep-seated issues of humanity – the value of a human life, the beginning of human life, and the consequences of sexual choices and tragedies. At the core of this debate, the Catholic Church is often touted or condemned for its unwavering beliefs about abortion. Before arguing against or for the Catholic Church’s beliefs, however, it is important to understand exactly what the Catholic Church teaches about abortion.
The Official Teaching on Abortion
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the Church’s official explanation of its teachings. On the subject of abortion, the Catechism states: “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life… Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law” (CCC, 2270, 2271).
In other words, from the moment of conception, a human being attains the indelible right to life, and any person who intentionally takes that life by abortion has committed a grave offense.
A Closer Look at the Catholic Church’s Stance on Abortion
Let’s look at this teaching piece by piece. The Catholic Church teaches of abortion:
1. Every human life must be respected and protected. Aside from the Fifth Commandment (“Thou shalt not kill”), this is the general principle that every human being has the right to life. The Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights support the Catholic Church’s stance on this point.
2. Human life begins at the moment of conception. Many opponents of the Catholic Church’s teachings on abortion believe that human life does not begin at conception, but rather at some later point in the gestation period. However, the Catholic Church believes human life begins at the moment of conception. The Church bases this belief on passages from the Bible such as Jeremiah 1:5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart,” as well as thousands of years of Church tradition.
3. Any instance of intentional abortion is a grave offense. Given that human life, which begins at the moment of conception, must be protected, it logically follows that intentionally causing the death of a human life, even in its mother’s womb, is a direct violation of our obligation to protect that life.
Common Questions about the Catholic Church’s Stance on Abortion
What about abortion in the case of rape or incest?
Allowing abortion in such instances would ignore the inherent value of the human life in the mother’s womb. Regardless of the tragic circumstances of his or her conception, that human being has the inalienable right to live.
What about abortion to save the mother’s life?
To abort a fetus in order to save its mother would deem one life more valuable than another. It would deny one human being his or her right to life in favor of that of another. However, the mother’s life is still just as precious as the baby’s, and we must attempt to save her in such situations. It is morally permissible for a doctor to perform a surgery or procedure to save the mother’s life that may accidentally and tragically result in the death of the unborn child. It is purposely aborting the fetus to save the mother that is not acceptable.
For more information about the Catholic Church’s stance on abortion, visit:
Catechism of the Catholic Church