John Donald O’Shea
Knowing the position of the Catholic Church on abortion, why would someone considering an abortion consult their catechism? Where else can you find a succinct distillation of 2000 years of Christian moral teachings?
Most people who are pro-abortion, and, in fact, most people who are against abortion, have never taken the time to think about the basics of the Church’s teachings regarding abortion. But are its teachings today consistent with those of the early church?
The Didache, generally considered to have been written in the late 1st century, has been described as the oldest extant Christian catechism. He begins by teaching that “there are two ways, one of life and the other of death”. In his second chapter, he condemns abortions: “you will not kill a child by abortion, nor will you kill it at birth”.
Tertullian (c. 155 – 220 AD) in the 8th chapter of his Apology for Christians wrote,
“But Christians are now so far from homicide that among them it is quite illegal to cause a child to disappear into its mother’s womb, when nature is deliberating over man; for to kill a child before it is born is to commit murder in advance; and it makes no difference whether you destroy a child in its formation, or after it has been formed and brought forth. We Christians regard him as a man, who is one in germ; for he is in being, like the fruit in flower, and in a short time he would have been a perfect man, if nature had met with no disturbance.
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On such texts the Church teaches: “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of any induced abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains immutable. “Voluntary abortion – whether as an end or a means – is gravely contrary to the moral law.”
The church finds support for its teachings in the prophet Jeremiah, quoting God as saying, “Before I formed you in my mother’s womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.”
And in Isaiah: “Before I was born, the Lord called me, from the womb of my mother, he gave me my name…
“Can a mother forget her child, be without tenderness for the child in her womb? Even if she forgets, I will never forget you.
Based on such passages, the church teaches “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.
From there, the Church goes on to teach: “The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constituent element of a civil society and its legislation.
“Inalienable human rights must be recognized and respected by civil society and political power.
“These human rights do not depend on celibates or parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person derives his origin.
Among these fundamental rights, mention should be made in this regard of the right of every human being to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.
The fundamental question here is not whether you agree with this editorial. Nor if you are a member of the Catholic Church. Nor even if you agree with the catechism of the Church.
The fundamental question is whether the Church is right or wrong when it teaches that abortion and infanticide are heinous crimes. And given the “irreparable harm done” to the innocent fetus-embryo-child “who is put to death”, if “abortion is a serious thing” and a mortal sin.
And is the Church right to teach: “As soon as a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection that civil legislation should grant them, the State denies the equality of all before the law. When the state does not put its power at the service of the rights of every citizen, and in particular of the most vulnerable, the very foundations of the rule of law are undermined.
In a few days, the Supreme Court of the United States will decide whether abortion remains a constitutional right – a legal question. Whatever his decision, the moral question remains.
But if the “abortion” chapter of the catechism is no exception, does it do so elsewhere?
John Donald O’Shea of Moline is a retired circuit judge and regular columnist.