Sources & Extracts

Review this excerpt and then go back to the page you were on.


A brief statement of the Roman Catholic position on abortion can be found in the papal encyclical "On Christian Marriage" by Pope Pius XI. The encyclical was published in 1930, long before the American debate over Roe v. Wade. Pius discussed a group of problems related to marriage: divorce, birth control, trial marriage, the authority of husbands, and others. In his discussion of abortion he made the following argument, based on the idea that the natural law forbids the direct killing of the innocent. He writes as follows:

(63) But another very grave crime is to be noted, Venerable Brethren, which regards the taking of the life of the offspring hidden in the mother's womb. Some wish it to be allowed and left to the will of the father or the mother; others say it is unlawful unless there are weighty reasons which they call by the name of medical, social, or eugenic "indication." . . . There are those, moreover, who ask that the public authorities provide aid for these death-dealing operations, a thing which, sad to say, everyone knows is of very frequent occurrence in some places.
(64) As to the medical and therapeutic "indication" to which, using their own words, We have made reference, Venerable Brethren, however much We may pity the mother whose health and even life is gravely imperiled in the performance of the duty allotted to her by nature, nevertheless what could ever be a sufficient reason for excusing in any way the direct murder of the innocent? This is precisely what we are dealing with here. Whether inflicted upon the mother or upon the child, it is against the precept of God and the law of nature: "Thou shalt not kill." The life of each is equally sacred, and no one has the power, not even the public authority, to destroy it. It is of no use to appeal to the right of taking away life, for here it is a question of the innocent, whereas that right has regard only to the guilty; nor is there here question of defense by bloodshed against an unjust aggressor (for who would call an innocent child an unjust aggressor?); again there is no question here of what is called the "law of extreme necessity" which could never extend to the direct killing of the innocent.

Reference: "On Christian Marriage," in The Church and the Reconstruction of the Modern World, p. 138-9.