The Catholic Church’s Abortion Trump Card


Picture accessible primary health care services including comprehensive women’s health, maternal health care and a host of sexual and reproductive health services covering both young and old.

Anywhere else, it may sound like a perfectly good idea. In the Philippines where a segment of the conservative Catholic hierarchy insists on imposing its views on public policy, reproductive health agendas are all supposedly a smokescreen for the legalisation of abortion.

In Manila, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference Episcopal Commission on Family Life marked the 40th anniversary of the Humanae Vitae by renewing the church’s stance against a variety of pending legislation supported by women’s rights advocates labelling them as “ DEATH” bills (to stand for Divorce, Euthanasia, Abortion, Total Reproductive Health, Homosexuality). Papal Nuncio Edward Joseph Adams also reminded Catholics that sex should not be treated as a pleasurable experience but as an act of self-giving love and called for self-giving that "starts in the God of love."

The Humanae Vitae was the 1968 Encyclical Letter of Pope Paul VI which laid down Catholic teaching against the use of contraceptives. The document was considered controversial when it was first issued, stating that no other document undermined the church’s teaching authority. Not only did it end up splitting the hierarchy but a majority of Catholics choose to ignore the ban.

Catholics for Free Choice notes that according to R. Scott Appleby, a historian at the University of Notre Dame, "It was the first time in the history of the modern church that a papal teaching had been openly defied in such a widespread fashion."

Last week, Philippine Bishops also issued a call to deny communion to Catholic members of Congress who purportedly “push for the legalization of abortion.” The Bishops claimed that while not a sanction or a penalty, the denial of communion is a reaction to a person’s “public unworthiness” because of an “objective situation of sin.” According to the Bishops, in this case, “a person is in an objective situation of sin if he paved the way for people to commit abortion.” While Catholic teaching sanctions the rhythm method of family planning, however, its position equates all manner of contraception with abortion. In this case, the solons accused of “legalizing abortion” are the forty-eight sponsors of the reproductive health bill.

Despite this, reproductive health advocates supporting the measure insisted that the use of contraceptives can make resorting to clandestine abortions unnecessary. Abortion has been penalized in the Philippines since 1897 but in 2006, the Guttmacher Institute pegged the annual rate of abortions in the country at 473,000 or 27 out of 1,000 pregnancies, even higher than the annual rate in the United States (20:1000) where abortion is legal.

The irony is that the only mention of abortion in pending legislation is in the provision that mandates a standard of “humane treatment” in post-abortion care. The bill does not even propose legalization of abortion as the Catholic Church alleges. While the Church proclaims that Humanae Vitae in 1968 represented its reaction against population control programs and the widespread use of modern contraceptives, further conflation of contraception with abortion actually took place over a period of years, culminating during the reign of Pope John Paul II. Even as St. Augustine laid the basis for Catholic teaching condemning how abortion breaks the connection between sex and procreation, he didn’t peg the beginning of “life” at fertilisation.

In fact in the 8th century, penance for the commission of abortion took into consideration the circumstances of women who procured them, specifically in situations of difficulty (e.g. inability to support a child, or concealment of dishonour).

To date, Philippine penal law reflects this concept of “concealment of dishonour” in a provision focused on mitigating circumstances in the case of abortion. On one hand, it could be argued that the notions contained in “concealment of dishonour” are premised on archaic views about women’s capacities and status prevailing at the time. On the other hand, the Church’s current uncompromising and absolutist position on abortion and contraception allows virtually no room for understanding the specific circumstances of women who opt to have abortions (or in this case, decide to use contraception), let alone the exercise of moral deliberation or judgement.

The Catholic Church’s teachings on abortion have never been proclaimed “infallible” teaching by any Pope to date. As it stands today, however, the rigid interpretation and approach to abortion, right down to its conflation with contraception purporting to be premised on the value of “life,” tends to be a meaningless abstraction when it disregards the real lives of women.

In the Philippines where maternal mortality continues to soar at 162 per 100,000 live births, access to family planning information and services which include options in contraception, and humane treatment in post-abortion care are clearly a matter of life and death for Filipino women.

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  • http://www.xanga.com/Andrea_TheNerd invalid-0

    How can withholding communion be seen as anything other than spiritual blackmail? Why do the Catholic church members tolerate this kind of hatred? But I shouldn’t be surprised, these are the same people who say God tortures souls for eternity who don’t play by their rules.

  • http://atheistweb.org invalid-0

    The Catholic commission that was created to study contraception in the 1960’s concluded that the church should support it but this was blocked by a small number of powerful conservative clerics. The Catholic church is an autocracy and will always be at the mercy of its conservative hierarchy.

  • invalid-0

    You quote the maternal mortality rate as “162 per 1,000 live births”. This seemed rather high to me, so I checked your source link. That page says that the rate is 162 per 100,000 live births. You might want to fix that.

  • invalid-0

    Greetings,

    “That which is human must be human from the beginning or it would never be human”.

    St. Augustine

    Timothy+

  • scott-swenson

    With our thanks for the catch!


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • mellankelly1

    St. Augustine

    I find it peculiar that you would quote Augustine – didn’t he sanction abortion in 4th Century AD?  I was under the impression that Augustine felt that abortion was not an act of murder but rather a sin of fornication/adultery.  Perhaps I’m wrong.

    While we’re throwing quotes… here is my favorite:

    "Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the Gods"

    ~Albert Einstein

  • invalid-0

    I think you are on to something…and wasn’t he also known for agreeing with ‘delayed ensoulment’?

  • mellankelly1

    I think you are on to something…and wasn’t he also known for agreeing with ‘delayed ensoulment’?

    Yes, I think so.  And while we’re on the subject and all… didn’t he believe that a male fetus received it’s soul substantially earlier than a female fetus?  I could be wrong about that but I remember reading something to that effect.  If that’s true it would make him a bit of a misogynist to boot.

  • invalid-0

    Greetings,

    I see. You maintain, as Saint Augustine purportedly did, that the soul is not metaphysically the ground from which a fetus emanates his being until approximately forty days after his conception. So, logically, all abortions after that mysterious point would have to be philosophically illicit according to you or you could not maintain that those before that point are licit. I am sorry to say it but it is a lie to claim that Saint Augustine “sanctioned abortion” when he was merely addressing homicide as applicable to the Decalogue, as that pertains specifically to the exegesis of Exodus.

    Timothy+

    Therefore brothers, you see how perverse they are and hastening wickedness, who are immature, they seek abortion of the conception before the birth; they are those who tell us, “I do not see that which you say must be believed.”
    Saint Augustine
    Sermon 126, line 12

  • mellankelly1

    Salutations:

    I see. You maintain, as Saint Augustine purportedly did, that the soul is not metaphysically the ground from which a fetus emanates his being until approximately forty days after his conception.

    I maintained no such thing.  I questioned whether Augustine made that statement (as I seem to recall reading that he had) and proclaimed how I believed that it would be misogynistic to make statements that the male fetus would receive it’s soul earlier than the female fetus.

    So, logically, all abortions after that mysterious point would have to be philosophically illicit according to you or you could not maintain that those before that point are licit

    Seriously, I have no idea where you would get such a notion.  I fully support a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy prior to viability for whatever reason she wants and post-viability for life/health.  I do not believe that abortion should be restricted in any way, shape or form for any reason.  I happen to agree with the law as it stands – pregnant women should have the full rights of any other U.S. Citizen.

    I am sorry to say it but it is a lie to claim that Saint Augustine “sanctioned abortion” when he was merely addressing homicide as applicable to the Decalogue, as that pertains specifically to the exegesis of Exodus.

    Frankly I can’t imagine why you’re sorry.  I did say "Perhaps I’m wrong"- I don’t claim to be an Augustine Scholar, I only recall having read something along those lines recently.  I’m not Catholic or a Christian or whatever you’re referencing above so I have no idea what you’re speaking of… a simply "no, he didn’t" would have sufficed.  A further question, Timothy: if Augustine claimed that abortion was okay until the time of ensoulement (obviously using differing verbiage) wouldn’t he be giving his consent or approval of abortion until said time?  And isn’t the definition of sanction to give effective or authoritative approval or consent to?  Certainly feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

    "A religion without a Goddess is halfway to Atheism"

    ~Dion Fortune

  • invalid-0

    This might be the quote you are thinking of from Augustine, abortion, and delayed ensoulment…

    “The great question about the soul is not hastily decided by unargued and rash judgment; the law does not provide that the act abortion pertains to homicide, for there cannot yet be said to be a live soul in a body that lacks sensation when it is not formed in the flesh, and so not yet endowed with sense” (On Exodus 21, 80).

  • mellankelly1

    I’ve been looking into Augustine and… what a very strange fellow he was (nicest way I could phrase that).  It appears as if I was incorrect about him sanctioning abortion – he condemned it but not because he thought it was murder or that the fertilized egg was a person; it was because he was vehemently opposed to sex for any use other than procreation (even within a marraige).  It appears as if he condemned sex during pregnancy, after menopause and anytime the woman was deemed infertile.  I wasn’t aware that the catholic church actually agreed with him on that issue for a while… YIKES!  Who is glad she wasn’t born a Catholic?  Yah, I am.

  • http://www.scarleteen.com invalid-0

    …and throwing my text right out the window once I’d gotten to reading about his opinions on infertile women. I had been tempted well before that, but once I got there, a big hurl was in order. He didn’t only think infertile women shouldn’t be having sex, he seemed to clearly express that infertile women simply had no value, period.

  • invalid-0

    I’ve read that too – double yikes. Perhaps if he would have been born a woman in possession of the single organ whose only purpose is sexual pleasure, he would have felt differently. But then again, if he were a woman, the church would not have listened to him.

    I say Praise God for clitorises! Since I haven’t added a personal favorite quote yet, I’ll add this one as my original contribution.


    Praise God for clitorises!
    -Anonymous

  • mellankelly1

    He didn’t only think infertile women shouldn’t be having sex, he seemed to clearly express that infertile women simply had no value, period.

    … and what of infertile men, may I ask?  Lemme guess, men are always fertile and it’s the women with the bum equipment… right?  Wow, calling Augustine a misogynist was an understatement.  Kind of makes you wonder about the mindset of a person who would quote him as if his word was the Ultimate Truth… yowzah!

  • invalid-0

    Catholics for a Free Choice is one of the smallest organizations there is – they barely have any members – that is a fact. They have a little money and some big names on their Board and that is probably why they get quoted – but for the life of me, I can’t understand how any legitimate journalist could quote them. It makes me think that the writer is creating the story that they want, not the story as it is. I don’t feel comfortable trusting other parts of the article.

  • invalid-0

    Can you provide a link to this data you seem to know? e.g. membership statistics, money?

  • invalid-0

    Thanks for pointing out the typo error.

  • invalid-0

    Why do people that don’t want to practice what the Church teaches want to stay members? If they consider it the one true Church, why not abide by what it teaches, especially (if you’re a Catholic that has bothered to learn Catholicism) you believe that it cannot change dogma, lest it cease to be the Catholic Church. If you don’t believe it is the one true Church, then why want to be a member of it? There are plenty of sects to go off to that will pander to picking and choosing the teachings you want to believe. It doesn’t matter if someone believes that their choice is moral and they are in good standing, as part of the responsibility of being Catholic is to learn your religion. Ignorance is not a good excuse. Bother learning what you are talking about, because to a practicing, knowledgeable Catholic, the author of the article and most of these comments betray their own ignorance. Nothing in Catholicism is a secret. All the beliefs are out there, as are the reasoning, history, scripture and tradition behind them.

    • invalid-0

      God Bless you for standing your grouind in the truth. the fact of the matter is that this blog is so worthless and nothing but pieces of informaton strung together to support the wickedness that society chooses and spews. Life is precious, anyone whose conscious is not well formed enough to recognize this fact is a sad person in a horrible state of selfishness. I will not even dignify any other post with a response besides the obviously “Catholic” responders as the “pro-choice” audience does not understand that the Church in her authority interpets sacred scripture based on the deposit of faith she contains. Christ started the Catholic Church personally and over the ages Cafeteria Catholics choose what makes them feel warm and fuzzy, when in reality, this has absolutley no bearing on the truths Christ taught. Pro Choice???? I believe Father Corapi said somehting to the effecrt of; you made your choice, now nurture life! I suggest that we Catholic continue to pray to our Lady for the conversion of poor sinners and forgivness for oursleves.

  • invalid-0

    God Bless you for standing your grouind in the truth. the fact of the matter is that this blog is so worthless and nothing but pieces of informaton strung together to support the wickedness that society chooses and spews. Life is precious, anyone whose conscience is not well formed enough to recognize this fact is a sad person in a horrible state of selfishness. I will not even dignify any other post with a response besides the obviously “Catholic” responders as the “pro-choice” audience does not understand that the Church in her authority interpets sacred scripture based on the deposit of faith she contains. Christ started the Catholic Church personally and over the ages Cafeteria Catholics choose what makes them feel warm and fuzzy, when in reality, this has absolutley no bearing on the truths Christ taught. Pro Choice???? I believe Father Corapi said somehting to the effecrt of; you made your choice, now nurture life! I suggest that we Catholic continue to pray to our Lady for the conversion of poor sinners and forgivness for oursleves. I would suggest asking for St. Augustine to intervene, he is the perfect one to ask for help to go from “wordly” to “Holy”. God Bless

  • invalid-0

    While you claim there has never been an infallible statement from a pope claiming that abortion is wrong…that’s not an accurate representation of infallibility.

    The time tested united statement of the bishops in union with the holy roman pontiff would attest that abortion is paramount to murder and is infact morally evil. This is noted in the 1st century Christian document the Didiche which has as it’s goal teaching the reader what the moral beliefs of Christian believers are. Among items mentioned are contraception & abortion.

  • invalid-0

    I must confess that though as a Catholic I have to accept the Church’s view of the beginning of human life I am totally unable to follow the logic. To my weak mind the issue is not when life begins, but when does the fertilized ovum become a human being. Here is the analogy that confuses me. If a fertilized human ovum is a human being, then when I have eggs for breakfast, I am actually eating chicken. Sounds like a rediculous proposition doesn’t it?
    But this is not my main concern. I have a problem that has been eating away at my faith in the Church. (not my Christian faith for I have a deep seated conviction of the divine origin of Christ’s teaching)
    I am concerned at the Church’s evident preference for coercion over persuasion in its opposition to the practice of abortion. A single mother of limited educational achievement has very little social support for raising her child. She must work and certainly cannot afford decent child care. I am convinced that if many of these pregnancies were carried to birth, the infants would face a life of hardship and neglect. As a result many would become social misfits and often criminals.
    Or consider the situation of a poor family facing the prospect of raising a malformed child requiring lifelong medical care. That family is often facing bankruptcy and hardship for the existing children. We need social reforms that would make it possible for people in this unfortunate situation to raise their crippled child in decent living conditions and also know that after they die society will not abandon that child. Some of the most vocal opponents of abortion are the strongest opponents of these reforms.

    On the other hand some of the politicians most opposed to the coercive banning of abortion, are those who are striving to create conditions on the ground that would encourage women with unwanted pregnancies to carry the child to term. They would like to create a social situation that would enable even a poor family to care lovingly for a chronic disability. However the practical effect of the Church’s emphasis on making abortion illegal is to discourage Catholics from voting for such candidates. So we refuse to participate in the creation of conditions that would reduce the incidence of abortion in a voluntary way. Thus we perpetuate by default the conditions that encourage what we regard as a grave sin, but like avenging angels we call for legal proscription.

    For me this is too reminiscent of the oppression that was the modus operandi of the medieval Church.