Chapter 2: Abortion


A. Direct abortion is intrinsically evil, always illicit

Church Law

"A person who procures a successful abortion incurs an automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication" (Can. 1398).

"Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes" (Gaudium et Spes 51).

B. Direct and indirect abortion distinguished

Abortion is direct when the killing of the child is the direct object of the action, whatever the intention for the action might be. That is, the action kills the child by attacking it directly. Abortion is indirect when the healing of the mother is the direct object of the action; that is, when the action itself is a direct treatment of the body or organs of the mother for therapeutic purposes, even though it is foreseen that the death of the unborn child will or may follow as a side effect or indirect result of that action. In other words, the therapeutist does not kill the child in order to thereby heal the mother.

For example: if a doctor decides to treat a condition of high blood pressure of a pregnant woman by aborting her unborn baby, he is guilty of killing the child directly in order to treat the mother's condition. Killing the child is the therapeutic measure he takes to treat a condition of its mother. He is guilty of doing a direct abortion, which is never licit.

If, on the other hand, the doctor excises a cancerous uterus, or heals the uterus with radiation, he directs his action immediately to the mother's organ; if a child in the uterus is killed thereby, this is not the means by which he heals the mother. It is an indirect consequence, or a side effect, of the direct healing therapy. An indirect abortion is sometimes permitted to save the mother's life, or to forestall a serious threat to her life or health. But, as we shall see, a mother may opt, in such a case, to give her own life to save the child. If possible, the doctor must delay his treatment to save both the child and the mother.

In the case of ectopic pregnancies, when the fertilized ovum's descent into the uterus is interrupted and the pregnancy attaches itself to the fallopian tube, the invasion of tissues from the unborn child weakens the tissues of the mother's fallopian tube; the engorged blood vessels of her tube present a real and present danger of fatal hemorrhage to the mother because the tube will rupture in time. A sudden rupture would result in almost certain death unless the mother can receive immediate emergency treatment in a well equipped hospital. The mother's organ is therefore a threat to her life, and she has a right to receive direct treatment of her organ in order to save her life. It is permissible, therefore, to excise her tube beforehand in order to save her life, even though the child attached to that tube must die as a side effect. The child would die, after all, when the tube ruptures. An ectopic tubal pregnancy is a case in which it is not possible to save the child by waiting until the child is viable.

Treatment of an ectopic by the chemical methotrexate attacks the organ of the child directy, the placenta and adnexa, and is therefore direct killing of an innocent person which is never licit. Neither is it licit to slit open the tube and remove the child, (salpingostomy). Salpingjectomy (removal of the affected part of the tube in which the child is located), is permitted when medically indicated. Frequently the ectopic is a miscarriage and the tissues are re-absorbed into the body without need of further intervention.

When we look at the simple truth, the dividing line is clear: methotrexate and salpingostomy kill the baby to heal the mother; whereas salpinjectomy is therapy on the mother's organ to save her life, for which she has a right. The little one will learn very soon, when his eyes open in the Lord's brilliant light, whether he has a mother and a doctor who killed him, or a mother and a doctor who took care not to kill him directly, but placed him dutifully into God's hands.

In short, direct treatment of the mother's body and her organs can be licit, even when this indirectly results in the death of the unborn child. However, the mother has a duty to save her child as well as herself when this is possible. When medically possible she must postpone non-life threatening treatment for herself, for example, until the child is viable and can be born alive, even should it be by premature Caesarean Section.

Having made the distinction between direct and indirect abortion, however, we must also note that the question of "either the mother or the child" is really academic today. If a mother comes with a case: "The doctor told me that he must abort the child to save my life," don't believe her. Tell her to find another doctor who will save the child and herself as well.

Example: The Tokyo mother was pregnant and began to bleed; the doctor decided to abort to save her life. The head nurse said "NO! I know this mother, and we will save mother and child." That mother and that nurse had both attended pro-life conferences arranged by Fr. Paul Marx at St. John's College, Collegeville, Minnesota, and were wise to the ways of some doctors. The surprised doctor then gave medication and prescribed bed rest in the hospital. The bleeding stopped, and eventually a very healthy baby boy was born. No more bleeding, no more trouble. The healthy child now competes with classmates in school, blessed with life because a nurse and mother had the courage to say "NO!" to a doctor who tended to be quick with the curette.

H.P. Dunn, MD, who has delivered 15,000 babies during his long career as gynecologist and obstetrician, is not convinced that an abortion is ever really necessary to save a mother today. "I reviewed the world literature through over 60 references and concluded that there are no medical indications for abortion" (The Doctor and Christian Marriage, p. 113). That is also the conclusion of other conscientious doctors.

If it should happen, however, that it is really true that the mother's life can be saved only by a direct abortion, it is not permitted to do the evil of a direct abortion in order to obtain the good of the life of the mother. Pope Pius XII has repeated the principle, often stated in magisterial teachings, that "any direct attempt on an innocent human life as a means to an end - in this case to the end of saving another life - is unlawful" (Address to Congress of the Family Front, 26 November 1951). He then provided an example of a heroic mother who died for this principle: We wish to cite an example ... It goes back to the year 1905. At that time there was a young lady of noble birth and of still nobler sentiments, but who was frail and of delicate constitution... She felt a new life springing in her womb, (but) she soon became aware of a peculiar physical indisposition, which alarmed the two able doctors who were attending her with every care and solicitude. The old apical trouble, the cicatrized lesion had become active again; in their opinion there was no time to lose; if the gentle lady was to be saved, a therapeutic abortion would have to be provoked without the least delay. The husband also realized the gravity of the case and signified his consent to the distressful act.

But when the midwife in attendance duly made known the decision of the doctors and beseeched her to defer to their opinion, she replied with firm voice: "I thank you for your merciful advice; but I cannot suppress the life of my child! I cannot, I cannot! I feel it already throbbing in my womb; it has the right to live; it comes from God and should know God so as to love and enjoy Him."

Her husband also entreated, supplicated and implored her; she remained inflexible and quietly awaited the event. A baby girl was regularly born; but immediately after, the health of the mother began to get worse. The pulmonary lesion spread; the deterioration became progressive. Two months later she was at the limit of her forces; she once again saw her little child who was growing healthily under the care of a robust nurse; her lips broke into a sweet smile and she passed away peacefully.

Many years went by. In a religious institute a young nun might be particularly noticed, totally dedicated to the care and education of abandoned children, bending over sick little ones, with eyes full of maternal love, as if to give them life. It was she, the daughter of the sacrifice, who now with her generous heart was doing so much good among abandoned children. The heroism of her fearless mother had not been in vain! (cf. Andrea Majocci, With Surgical Knives and Scissors, 1940, pp. 21 ff.)

C. Mothers Who Died to Save Their Babies

In the above case the mother gave her life in preference to committing a direct abortion. Another example tells of a mother who refused a licit and indirect abortion to save her child. Dottoressa Gianna Beretta Molla died on April 28, 1962, because she chose not to receive a medical intervention which would almost certainly have killed the baby she was carrying, but would most likely have saved her own life.

Gianna was a pediatrician by profession, who told her husband that if, some day, he would have to choose between her and her child, he should choose the child. They already had three children, and now, at the age of 39, she was pregnant with the fourth. She had cancer of the uterus, and as a doctor, knew that it was life-threatening. But rather than undergo surgery which would have aborted the baby, she decided to give birth, and in this, her husband Pietro respected her decision.

A baby girl, Gianna Emanuela, was born on April 21, 1962, who is alive and well today. The cancer, now far advanced, took her life seven days later. Her husband explained: "The essential point is very simple: Gianna believed that she represented Providence for the creature she had in her womb." Even though both knew that the decision would mean that the four children would grow up without a mother, both decided that "the important thing was to save a life" even at the cost of the mother's life (The Catholic World Report, February 1993, pp. 12-13).

Pope John Paul II beatified her on 24 April 1994, with these words of praise: Gianna Beretta Molla, crowning an exemplary life as a student and a committed young woman in the ecclesial community, and as a happy wife and mother, knew how to offer her life as a sacrifice so that the baby she bore in her womb might live, and she is with us here today! As a medical doctor, she was well aware of what to expect, but did not falter before sacrifice, confirming in this way the heroic nature of her virtues (L'Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, 27 April 1994).

Another case, which electrified the Italian public, is Carla Levati Ardenghi, who had a malignant tumor removed two years before a subsequent pregnancy; she decided to refuse either chemotherapy or a surgical operation because either would have required the abortion of her baby; she fought to remain alive long enough to give birth, but the cancer advanced so fast that the child was removed by Caesarean Section at the premature age of 25 weeks; Carla died eight hours after the Caesarean, on January 25, 1993; her tiny Stephano followed her into eternity eight days later. The Italian press had this and that opinion, but Dr. Jerome Lejeune summed up the case as the decision of a mother:

This woman did not in the least seek to die. She sought to avoid any harm to the life of her child. She did not desire her illness, it was something she suffered. She said, "If you kill my child through treating me, I prefer to take the risk of waiting until my child is born before undergoing treatment." What she did was done heroically. It was admirable. She acted as a mother" (The Catholic World Report, March 1993, p. 16).

D. Rape and Prevention of Pregnancy

If possible, a woman OUGHT to prevent pregnancy from rape, because the ordinary plan of God is that pregnancy is connected with married life. Theoretically, then, a woman may use a contraceptive, such as a diaphragm which is non-abortifacient, to prevent pregnancy from a foreseeable rape.

Other means, however, which are sometimes abortifacient, such as the Pill, Norplant and IUD, are not permitted in principle, to prevent pregnancy after rape.

Doctor Eugene Diamond points out that the so-called "morning-after" pills in rape protocols are potentially abortifacient; the usual measure employed for postcoital contraception is 100 mcg. of Ovral (an estrogen-progestogen combination) followed 12 hours later by a second dose of the same strength. He cites studies which indicate that sperm, in optimum conditions, can traverse the cervix, uterus and tube to the site of fertilization in a matter of minutes, perhaps five minutes after intercourse. Since more than a few minutes of time elapse before a woman can receive treatment in a hospital after rape, any treatment designed to prevent pregnancy would at the same time possibly induce an abortion. If the woman has already conceived as a result of forcible rape, administration of Ovral will alter the tubal transport of the zygote and will interfere with the implantation of the blastocyst. The result of the treatment is induced abortion, in the comparatively rare cases when conception follows rape (see "Rape Protocol" in Linacre Quarterly, August 1993).

The morally acceptable treatment after rape, therefore, excludes following the standard protocol of treatment by Ovral which has a significant probability of being abortifacient in action (cf. Diamond, op. cit. p. 14). The same holds for other treatments of the same nature. Should the woman actually become pregnant from rape - it occurs but rarely from one assault - the community should support the victim and turn the evil event into the good of welcoming and supporting the new life. If the woman so chooses, adoption of the baby into a waiting family is a proper response to the situation.

1. Surgical Abortion after Rape Unethical

A child conceived after rape is innocent of its father's crime, and is not guilty of aggression against its mother. The child has received life not only from the parents, but directly from God. The life is now entrusted by God to the mother's custody and care. With her faithfulness and love, God draws good out of the evil event.

Pope John Paul II wrote a letter to the Archbishop of Sarajevo, on 2 February 1993, encouraging pastoral care for the women who had been violated by rape, and for their infants, born or yet unborn. "With the greatest clarity, in any case, it must be emphasized that the infant about to be born, not having any responsibility in the terrible things which have occurred, is innocent and cannot, therefore, in any way be considered an aggressor. The entire community, therefore, ought to come together around these women so sorrowfully offended and around their families, to help them to transform the act of violence into an act of love and receptivity. The Gospel reminds us that one ought not to react with violence to an act of violence (cf. Mt 5:38-41)" (quoted in Inside the Vatican, Spring 1993, pp. 6-7; see accompanying article for more details).

Mothers who have been raped have felt a cruel blow of contempt for their dignity by a fellow human being. If others now urge them to kill their child, they are twice rejected in their womanhood. Whereas a society which helps these to accept the situation, to do no violence to the child, assists them to regain respectability and rehabilitation. Children born into this world after being conceived through rape, are no less thankful to God and to society for the gift of life, than other humans are.

E. Abortion, Enormous Evil of Our Day

Abortion, the deliberate and direct killing of children before birth, is a crime which is unfortunately very frequent at present; the usual estimate for the number of surgical abortions in the world is about 40-60 million per year. Precise statistics for the total number are not available. A recent UN estimate is 45 million.

In addition, an uncounted number of induced abortions result from use of the Pill, the IUD, Norplant, Depo-Provera, the morning after pill such as Ovral, Danocrine, etc. For example, a study indicated that among 200 women with a copper IUD in place, there was an indication of an early pregnancy in 12%-19% of their cycles. They are usually aborted spontaneously due to the IUD. Since there are about 13 cycles per year, this indicates that about two spontaneous abortions (16% 13) occur per year to users of the IUD. If the rate is applied to about 80,000,000 IUD users in the world (Studies in Family Planning, Nov/Dec 1988), this would indicate 160 million abortions per year by the users of the IUD.

In addition, 60,000,000 users of hormonal contraceptives have break-through ovulation 4.7% of the time (estimate presented at the National Abortion Federation Congress, Boston, June 9-12, 1985, see Mitteilung); that equals 36,660,000 ovulations per year in the world among users of contraceptive hormones. If the pregnancy and subsequent spontaneous abortion rate of these ovulations equals 25% (cf. "Project Abortifacients" HLI Report, June 1991) that would indicate additional 9,000,000 per year by users of hormonal contraceptives. Add these to the 45 million surgical abortions per year, and the grand total comes to 214,000,000 abortions per year in the world (very rough conjectures). John F. Kippley comes up with a rough figure of 250-300 million deaths by abortion per year (Birth Control & Christian Discipleship, p. 15) That would mean there are now more abortions per year in the world induced surgically, mechanically and chemically than the 145,000,000 annual live births.

F. Killing a Human Being Brutalizes the Killers

The woman who kills her child marks her personality with a serious crime. She is now a criminal, another Cain. So is her doctor, and all who cooperate formally. Not infrequently the aborting woman has engaged in evil acts of premarital or extramarital intercourse, and perhaps failed contraception. All this reduces her self image. Striving for holiness may appear to be hypocritical, being incompatible with her state of life. She carries this awareness of sin and evil into her family life, if she has a family, and into society in general. Thus abortion increases moral evil in individuals, in families, in the Church and in society.

The malice of abortion, and sins that precede it, spills over into all aspects of the lives of abortionists, and from them into human collectives - into the neighborhood, the nation, the race, the Church. When 45 million women and couples pollute themselves with the crime of abortion each year; and when perhaps 340 million couples in the fertile years - of a total of about 880 million - (see figures in Studies in Family Planning, Nov./Dec. 1988) are wedded to a contraception-abortion-sterilization life-style, the witches' caldron of mischief boils out over the world. Divorce, unfaithfulness, child abuse, juvenile murders, atheism, irreligiousness, pessimism, lackluster life, war, deceit, cruelty - all feed and bloat on the present madness of abortion which affects all mankind adversely.

Catholic couples caught up in this massive evil lose their joy in prayer, their strength to evangelize, their belief that Sunday Mass is important. We see churches half empty on Sundays, massive church closings, Catholic school and seminary consolidations for lack of people, widespread loss of faith, carelessness about life. Parents who should be role models for their children lack spiritual power; spiritual cretins themselves, they provide minimal spiritual inheritance for their children.

We tend to blame the media, theologians and bishops for the prevalence of abortion today. But those who actually do the abortions do not escape blame. It is Everyman - it is our neighbor Uncle Ben and Aunt Lizzy and Doctor Joseph - who do the abortions. To re-christianize the West, and to evangelize the world, we must ostracize Cain - abortion - from our midst. In the Bible Cain's descendants continue to kill and even to boast about it:

Lamech said to his wives,
"Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.
If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times." (Gen 4:23-24)

If we desire to be a peaceful generation, we must stop the violence of abortion in our midst. From ancient times God demanded absolute respect by man for the life of his fellowman. God had made man the focal point of His works of creation; God therefore tied lack of respect by man for the life a fellowman to lack of respect for Himself. "In killing a human being, a murderer demonstrates his contempt for God as well as for his fellowman" (Note to Gen 9:6 in NIV Bible).

Such is the primordial message of the Bible in the story of Cain and Abel. Such also is God's stern injunction to Noah and his descendants after the flood: "Respect human life!" God would demand even from animals an accounting for the killing of humans; all the more would He demand this accounting from man:

For your lifeblood
I will surely demand an accounting.
I will demand an accounting from every animal.
And from each man, too,
I demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.
Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made man (Gen 9:5-6).

From the time of Noah, therefore, those guilty of premeditated murder were to be executed. The same held for the Israelites under the Mosaic law (cf. Ex 21:12-14; Nu 35:16-32). In the latter theocracy, an animal that killed a man was to be stoned to death (Ex 21:28-32). And a man guilty of murder, even if he had sought refuge at the altar, was to be executed: "But if a man schemes and kills another deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death" (Ex 21:14). This civil law powerfully undergirded the moral law. When murderers were actually executed, the actions dramatized the horror of the crime, and its depravity in the sight of God.

Today's relaxation of the civil law against killing by abortion does not relax the moral law against it. "No law can give me the right to do what is wrong," said Abraham Lincoln concerning slavery. Judge Joseph Moylan quoted this saying of Lincoln when he resigned his office to avoid authorizing a girl to abort her child (Our Sunday Visitor, 3 October 1993). A lax civil law may change the understanding of people about the crime of abortion, but it does not change the nature of the crime itself; the crime of abortion is now, and will remain forever, an offense against God's commandment: "Thou shalt not kill!"

In Evangelium Vitae Pope John Paul II dismisses laws which permit abortion as mere words which are empty of any moral value, which have no power of law whatsoever: Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimatize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection..."We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29)...

In case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to "take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law or vote for it" (No. 73).

The Pope took the occasion to settle a sometimes bitter altercation between various pro-life groups in the USA. It is permitted to use political prudence to obtain a gradual reduction in the number of abortions by voting for interim partial solutions, he wrote, while keeping in mind that no abortion whatsoever is morally permitted. Hopefully this will bring peace into the camp. The Pope wrote: A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on...In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law...This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and a proper attempt to limit its evil aspects (No. 73).

Practically, then, it can be licit and wise and proper to promote a law which restricts abortion to only cases of real danger to the life of the mother, and of incest and rape, when such a law is used as a means to dislodge an existing law which is more permissive, when a complete ban on abortion is not politically achievable. The wisdom of such a move is born out in real life experience. Poland, which had passed an imperfect law against abortion allowing some exceptions, nevertheless saw a dramatic decline in abortions, from 105,333 officially reported in 1989, to 1208 in 1993 and 782 in 1994. What is important in a practical manner, is to downsize the abortion industry to make it less attractive to business, to the media, to politicians, and to public interest.

G. Apostolate for Life

James writes: "My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: 'Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins'" (James 5:19-20). And today, one who persuades a woman from killing her child, or a doctor or nurse from participating in the killing, saves such a person "from death" as James writes, and covers over a multitude of sins - his own and those of others.

For those who have done abortions, the Good News is that they can recover completely, and even receive a bonus. The laborers who stood idle in the marketplace until the eleventh hour, were paid a full day's wage after they worked during just one hour. The prodigal son, who returned safely and wiser after his fling abroad, was happier at home thereafter than he had been before his learning experience. Tearful Peter was more attached to Christ after betraying Him and repenting than the boastful Peter had been before. Converted abortionists are always welcome back into God's family.

H. A Pseudo Case for Direct Abortion Unmasked

The following case with its dubious solution is presented in the book Christian Ethics Vol. II (1987), by K. Peschke, pp. 362-363. It does not appear in the revised 1993 edition, but because the earlier book has mis-educated so many seminarians throughout the world, the case and its refutation are presented here:

B. Haering reports the case of a pregnant woman who suffered from a tumor in the uterus which caused profuse bleeding. In order to prevent the woman from bleeding to death, the attending physician decided to open the womb and to empty the uterus. Thereupon the uterus contracted and the bleeding ceased. Yet according to the principle of directly and indirectly willed evil effects, this procedure must be considered illicit. The emptying of the fetus from the uterus constitutes a direct abortion, which is unlawful. The circumstance that in this way the uterus could be saved for the woman who was still childless is not a reason which could justify the procedure. But it would be licit to take out the whole uterus as a sick organ, together with the child, because this is indirect abortion. Haering justly doubts whether this is sound morality.

...For much good which could be done is left undone or made impossible, and it is unreasonable and morally unbearable for those concerned if the uterus is removed together with the fetus, instead of only removing the child; or if the mother has to die together with the child, instead of saving at least the mother through therapeutic abortion of the fetus.

...Consequently direct therapeutic abortion seems to be admissible the same as indirect therapeutic abortion is, as long as it constitutes the lesser evil in terms of physical damage to health and life (Peschke, op. cit. pp. 362-363).

My comments: When I read this case, I could not well believe that all the facts were presented. The context also suggested that Fr. Haering and Fr. Peschke were over-eager to grasp plausible arguments indicating that direct abortion is sometimes permissible (it is not). Had they overlooked something? At any rate, direct abortion is NEVER licit; Veritatis Splendor teaches this once again, with power and clarity.

I therefore sent the case for comment to gynecologist H. Patrick Dunn, MD. He has much experience, having personally delivered 15,000 babies. His response can educate us about matters in this area, obscure to seminarians. It is therefore quoted at length. From what he writes, we can see that it is not at all necessary to disobey the laws which forbid direct abortion when practicing good medicine. Here is Dr. Dunn's professional reply: The author's style lacks precision and is often difficult to follow. It is sometimes sentimental and appealing to the emotions, as: "... it is unreasonable and morally unbearable for those concerned if the uterus is removed together with the fetus..." The term he should have used would be: "emotionally unbearable". Morals are not unbearable, even if their application may be difficult.

If he, and Fr. Haering, wish to involve themselves in medical problems, it should not be too much for them to be more precise and to use proper medical terms which are commonly understood by educated laymen. For example: "... to take out the whole uterus as a sick organ..." He could easily have said: "a pathological organ"; and: "Performed a hysterectomy..." "an indirectly willed evil effect often is (admissible)". "Permitted" would be more accurate than "willed" in this context.

Now, concerning the case quoted by Fr. Haering - "a pregnant woman who suffered from a tumor in the uterus which caused profuse bleeding."

What was the tumor? It should have been easy for the writer to have stated this clearly. "Tumor" always suggests a malignancy; the only one which occurs (very rarely, say, 1:20,000 cases) is cancer of the cervix; but bleeding in such cases is persistent, not so heavy as to threaten life. Malignant change in a fibroid (to become a sarcoma) would not cause vaginal bleeding.

The fact that the bleeding stopped when the uterus was emptied by an abdominal operation (hysterotomy) proves that there was no tumor in the ordinary sense of that term. It must have been simply a pregnancy pathology, that is, a threatened miscarriage or more likely a placenta praevia (that is, the placenta - afterbirth - implanted low in the uterus instead of its normal position high up in the organ). In these circumstances the placenta lies over the internal os (the opening into the canal of the cervix through which the baby is normally born), and as the uterus grows it is inevitable that bleeding will occur.

This pathology is often the cause of early accidental miscarriage in the first trimester. In many cases the bleeding does not occur until during the last month of pregnancy, and usually it necessitates a Caesarean delivery. It is likely in the case quoted that the bleeding occurred in the middle trimester. Sometimes it calls for blood transfusion, and that manages the bleeding satisfactorily. I have never seen a case in which, in spite of transfusion, the bleeding was life-threatening. But it sometimes forces the obstetrician to do a Caesarean early and this leads to prematurity problems. Ethically "the age of viability" has now been reduced to the earliest maturity at which a baby has survived, that is, 21 or 22 weeks. To pose an ethical problem, therefore, Fr. Haering's case must have been more immature than this. He should have stated its maturity at the time. If there is alarming bleeding the patient will often start in labor, which is really a natural miscarriage; or the baby will die in utero from lack of oxygen, which ends the ethical problem.

Another less common cause of bleeding, especially rare in the stage of immaturity which can be deduced in this case, is abruptio placentae (separation of the placenta from the uterine wall caused by a large clot forming at this implantation site). This leads to pain, shock, and sometimes failure of blood clotting ability.

If there is the degree of bleeding described by the author, one can deduce that there must have been a large retroplacental clot, and this would quickly cause the death of the baby in utero. Once again there would be no moral problem in selecting hysterotomy or vaginal emptying of the uterus.

The case as described is therefore a great rarity; it sounds bizarre, even preposterous, and therefore it should not be made the basis for establishing a new ethical principle or for abandoning established standards of management. (Personal correspondence, All Saints Day, 1993; used with permission).

Doctor Dunn's observations show that a direct abortion was not a proper medical management of the case; much less is a direct abortion ever a licit moral solution. Obviously, Fr. Haering and Fr. Peschke lacked medical competence to present the case properly. By drawing a false conclusion from faulty medical data, they did not serve seminarians well. Seminarians have a right to expect that their teachers do not present incorrect information from which false conclusions are drawn.

1. Final Case

Experience in seminary class rooms has taught me a lesson: though during class we said that direct abortion is intrinsically evil, students tend to forget this when confronted with a case which seems to require a "compassionate" response. During oral exams, I got many wrong answers to this case:

This woman already has six children and is pregnant once more. She is a good mother and wife, wants to do what is best for all, before God. She knows that she cannot support one more child, and that her husband's income is insufficient. You are the Confessor: she asks your permission to abort the child, not out of selfishness, but out of love for her husband, of her children, of God, and out of a pure sense of duty.

To which many excited students answered: "Well, if she respects life and does this only out of a sense of duty and for the love of God and the family, I guess it is okay." Gobbledegook! "NO!" is the correct answer. A mother may not do evil for a good intention. She becomes an evil person by doing evil. And no mother has an obligation to herself become an evil person in order to supposedly do good to her family. God's law is absolute and eternal: "Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not kill by direct abortion."

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