Q. Commenting about the Churchs position on abortion during a TV program recently, the speaker of the House of Representatives erroneously left the impression that the Doctors of the Church were divided, and that the Churchs position today is a relatively late one decided only 50 years ago, perhaps. How would you address these misconceptions?
A. To begin with, the widely publicized comments made on TV about abortion by the Speaker of the House of Representatives constituted far more than mere misconceptions; in truth, they were serious fallacies that require correction and apology. Its difficult for me even to imagine that anyone in public life could have had so distorted a view of a topic which any reasoning adult should at least have been aware of.
Direct abortion that is, the termination of human life from the moment of conception has clearly and always been rejected as intrinsically evil by the Catholic Church. No circumstance can possibly justify it morally, since it is directly opposed to the Fifth Commandment, which, while set down on the Tablets of the Law in Old Testament Revelation, is also written on the tablets of human hearts, and as such bind all human beings by virtue of the natural moral law.
That human life begins at conception can be easily drawn from a host of Biblical references. The great Prophet Jeremiah, for instance, related Gods calling him prior to his birth: Before you were born, I [God is speaking] dedicated you. (Jer. 1:4-5) Notice the use of the personal pronoun you referring of course to Jeremiah. See for another example, Psalm 139, sqq.
In the New Testament Scriptures, the vocation of John the Baptizer is highly instructive. Recall the angels words to Zechariah, the Baptizers father: he [John] will be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mothers womb. (Lk 1:15) Again, notice the personal pronoun, he.
Reason illumined by Revelation leads to the same doctrine. That which is conceived from the union of human ovum and sperm must be assessed in terms of a human being. St. Thomas Aquinass argument was (and is, since the Church has embraced it explaining its doctrine on the body-soul union of human beings) that there is only one act of creation, in which God creates the soul, which immediately receives the body in the communion of its own being; soul and body, therefore, are not clearly separable entities. To attack a body, therefore (e.g., the embryo or fetus) is to attack a human being, unique, precious and unrepeatable.
Historically from the viewpoint of extrabiblical sources the Churchs clear, explicit repudiation of abortion was included in the earliest Roman catechism, known as the Didache (a Greek word, meaning, The Teaching [of the Apostles].) This source, found in any good library, reads: You shall not slay the child by abortions, and you shall not kill what is generated. (Sec. 2) The Didache dates from about 90 A.D. (slightly over 50 years after Christ rose from the tomb). The so-called Epistle of Barnabas (Pseudo-Barnabas), dating from about 117 to 138 A.D., says about the same, and equates abortion with infanticide. (Sec. 19)
The Church Fathers and Doctors (great theologians especially recognized by the Church) preached the same doctrine, as did Church Councils, including Vatican Council II, which declared in Gaudium et Spes: Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception; abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes. (n.51)