The Irish Catholic in its edition of November 29th has published a letter from Anthony McCarthy, Education and Publications Manager of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children concerning Catholic Church teaching on abortion
“The Church clearly distinguishes treatments when a mother is at risk”
Dear Editor, The sad and painful death of Savita Halappanavar, in circumstances that are still very unclear, is prompting discussion of abortion definitions in Church teaching itself (as distinguished from Irish law and medical practice).
Abortion is not always defined by the Church in terms of deliberate killing - though certainly such killing will always be abortion - but sometimes in terms of deliberate expulsion or ‘acceleration of birth’ before viability (a good source here is John Connery’s book Abortion: the Development of the Roman Catholic Perspective). Pius XII in his Allocution to Large Families refers to life-saving interventions on a pregnant woman, “independently of her pregnant condition”, which are permitted, even if they have the unintended, but inevitable, effect of causing the death of her baby. These words were cited by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as recently as 2009.
Such treatment could include the giving of antibiotics or blood transfusions, the clamping of the woman’s blood vessels to prevent bleeding, hysterectomies for uterine cancer and, for ectopic pregnancy, the removal of a damaged fallopian tube. Irrespective of the unborn child’s continued presence, the damaged tube or uterus would need to be removed: an operation which targets the woman’s body alone, and is therefore legitimate, despite its impact on the child.
In short, the Church herself distinguishes between deliberately abortifacient procedures which are aimed at destroying and/or removing a pre-viable child (though in practice they also require a harmful separation of foetal tissues) and procedures which may result in a baby’s death or miscarriage as a genuine side-effect of treatment aimed to help the pregnant woman (in the words of Pius XII) “independently of her pregnant condition”. Foetal removal should not be deliberately intended, any more than foetal death.
Education and Publications Manager,
Society for the Protection of Unborn Children