George A. Sprecace M.D., J.D., F.A.C.P. and Allergy Associates of New London, P.C.
www.asthma-drsprecace.com


Point and Counterpoint: Abortion and Alternatives - Article 38, for Sunday, September 7, 2008

History of Church Teaching on Abortion
US Bishops Issue Fact Sheet

THIS IS VITAL INFORMATION AND INSIGHT, FOR CATHOLICS, FOR CATHOLIC WANNABES, AND FOR ALL OTHERS...OF ANY OR OF NO RELIGIOUS PERSUASION.  IN ADDITION TO BEING A RELIGIOUS ISSUE, IT IS A MEDICAL, LEGAL AND MORAL ISSUE.  TOO BAD THAT THE ARROGANT AUTHORS OF ROE V. WADE GOT IT SO WRONG, ON ALL LEVELS.

Peter Moore, PhD                                 George A. Sprecace, M.D., J.D.

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ZENIT, The world seen from Rome
News Agency
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History of Church Teaching on Abortion

US Bishops Issue Fact Sheet

WASHINGTON, D.C., SEPT. 4, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is a fact sheet issued by
the U.S. episcopal conference's Committee on Pro-Life Activities, which
clarifies the Church's constant teaching on abortion.

The fact sheet responds to a misrepresentation of Church teaching made in
remarks by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi during an Aug. 24 interview on
national TV.

* * *

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "Since the first century the
Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has
not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion
willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law"
(No. 2271).

In response to those who say this teaching has changed or is of recent origin,
here are the facts:

-- From earliest times, Christians sharply distinguished themselves from
surrounding pagan cultures by rejecting abortion and infanticide. The earliest
widely used documents of Christian teaching and practice after the New Testament
in the 1st and 2nd centuries, the Didache (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) and
Letter of Barnabas, condemned both practices, as did early regional and
particular Church councils.

-- To be sure, knowledge of human embryology was very limited until recent
times. Many Christian thinkers accepted the biological theories of their time,
based on the writings of Aristotle (4th century BC) and other philosophers.
Aristotle assumed a process was needed over time to turn the matter from a
woman's womb into a being that could receive a specifically human form or
soul. The active formative power for this process was thought to come entirely
from the man -- the existence of the human ovum (egg), like so much of basic
biology, was unknown.

-- However, such mistaken biological theories never changed the Church's
common conviction that abortion is gravely wrong at every stage. At the very
least, early abortion was seen as attacking a being with a human destiny, being
prepared by God to receive an immortal soul (cf. Jeremiah 1:5: "Before I
formed you in the womb, I knew you").

-- In the 5th century AD this rejection of abortion at every stage was affirmed
by the great bishop-theologian St. Augustine. He knew of theories about the
human soul not being present until some weeks into pregnancy. Because he used
the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, he also thought the
ancient Israelites had imposed a more severe penalty for accidentally causing a
miscarriage if the fetus was "fully formed" (Exodus 21: 22-23),
language not found in any known Hebrew version of this passage. But he also held
that human knowledge of biology was very limited, and he wisely warned against
misusing such theories to risk committing homicide. He added that God has the
power to make up all human deficiencies or lack of development in the
Resurrection, so we cannot assume that the earliest aborted children will be
excluded from enjoying eternal life with God.

-- In the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas made extensive use of
Aristotle's thought, including his theory that the rational human soul is
not present in the first few weeks of pregnancy. But he also rejected abortion
as gravely wrong at every stage, observing that it is a sin "against
nature" to reject God's gift of a new life.

-- During these centuries, theories derived from Aristotle and others
influenced the grading of penalties for abortion in Church law. Some canonical
penalties were more severe for a direct abortion after the stage when the human
soul was thought to be present. However, abortion at all stages continued to be
seen as a grave moral evil.

-- From the 13th to 19th centuries, some theologians speculated about rare and
difficult cases where they thought an abortion before "formation" or
"ensoulment" might be morally justified. But these theories were
discussed and then always rejected, as the Church refined and reaffirmed its
understanding of abortion as an intrinsically evil act that can never be morally
right.

-- In 1827, with the discovery of the human ovum, the mistaken biology of
Aristotle was discredited. Scientists increasingly understood that the union of
sperm and egg at conception produces a new living being that is distinct from
both mother and father. Modern genetics demonstrated that this individual is, at
the outset, distinctively human, with the inherent and active potential to
mature into a human fetus, infant, child and adult. From 1869 onward the
obsolete distinction between the "ensouled" and "unensouled"
fetus was permanently removed from canon law on abortion.

-- Secular laws against abortion were being reformed at the same time and in
the same way, based on secular medical experts' realization that "no
other doctrine appears to be consonant with reason or physiology but that which
admits the embryo to possess vitality from the very moment of conception"
(American Medical Association, Report on Criminal Abortion, 1871).

-- Thus modern science has not changed the Church's constant teaching
against abortion, but has underscored how important and reasonable it is, by
confirming that the life of each individual of the human species begins with the
earliest embryo.

-- Given the scientific fact that a human life begins at conception, the only
moral norm needed to understand the Church's opposition to abortion is the
principle that each and every human life has inherent dignity, and thus must be
treated with the respect due to a human person. This is the foundation for the
Church's social doctrine, including its teachings on war, the use of capital
punishment, euthanasia, health care, poverty and immigration. Conversely, to
claim that some live human beings do not deserve respect or should not be
treated as "persons" (based on changeable factors such as age,
condition, location, or lack of mental or physical abilities) is to deny the
very idea of inherent human rights. Such a claim undermines respect for the
lives of many vulnerable people before and after birth.


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