Q: Archbishop J, why is the Church so harsh on women and abortion?
Many people believe that abortion is a gender issue. It may also be a gender issue but primarily, it is a life issue. That life is happening in a woman’s body, but that life was brought into being by both a man and a woman. That life is unique before God, and now we know it is genetically unique.
Every civilisation has its blind spots—areas which people do not see clearly. I believe the life issues are such moral blind spots for our civilisation. Because so many are blinded to the truth of the unique life, the Church sees protecting that unborn life as a high moral priority.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2270–75) lays out the Church’s teaching very clearly.
Abortion is a moral evil, it is a violation of the fifth commandment; anyone who has an abortion, or assists in one, cuts himself or herself off from the Church.
The penalty for abortion is automatic excommunication. This means, by the very act of having an abortion, or assisting in an abortion, one is automatically cut off from receiving Holy Communion.
The harsh penalty is because of what the Church believes. The life within the womb is a unique life and to abort or to terminate the pregnancy, or whatever words we want to use, is murder.
As an analogy, consider the case of a woman who had three children and got pregnant. Let us suppose that objectively she determined that she really could not cope with a fourth child emotionally, financially, socially, etc. Would we have the same reaction if she had an abortion as if she killed the eldest child who was the most expensive to keep?
Everyone would rightly be in shock and horror if she killed her eldest child. We should also be in shock and horror if she kills the child in the womb. If she killed the eldest child, it would not be considered a gender issue. It would be considered murder. This is the point of the Church’s teaching and moral stance.
Truth and Mercy
In defining mortal sin, the Catechism states (1857): “For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: ‘Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent’.”
Now we can ask, is abortion morally grave matter? Absolutely. It is murder.
Does the person have full knowledge? This is where it gets fuzzy. Many women that I have met have not understood the full moral implication of abortion in the heat of the moment.
Many say, after the fact, they do not know how they could have done that. Others also say that they did not know how serious it was. Many are haunted for years by the full implication of their action; only later, did they come to a full understanding of their action.
Mortal sin also needs deliberate consent. Most people at that stage are looking at the social, emotional, economic challenge and not seeing the full implication of their action and thus not deliberately choosing to murder, or to be cut off from God.
Like every other form of sin, the Church’s penalties are there to counsel the person and society of the gravity of the matter. But, after the act has been done, the Church is a loving mother who seeks out and embraces all her children and welcomes them home by her maternal embrace, doing everything she can to bring that person to full fellowship with God through repentance.
Mercy in action
Mary Care Centre: Archbishop Anthony Pantin was a strong advocate against abortion. Through his ministry to young women who had abortions, he realised one key component was that many of them did not have credible alternatives to abortion. If their family rejected them and the man was unable to support them, they were left alone or worse.
Archbishop Pantin realised that to oppose abortion from the pulpit is one thing, but it is not genuine unless we give young girls an alternative. Out of this reflection, he began the Mary Care home for young unmarried mothers. The home continues today run by the Eternal Light Community, in both north and south Trinidad.
By beginning Mary Care, this Servant of God changed the nature of the teaching. He said in gesture and practically, “We love you; we will care for you and for your child.”
The Church cannot be a credible voice against abortion, unless she is willing to walk with those who are pregnant and give them all the support they need.
The Rachel’s Vineyard annual weekend retreats are for women and men who have suffered the trauma of abortion.
When a woman loses her child, the entire community comes together to offer consolation and to grieve the death. When a woman has an abortion, she has lost a child. Her actions, for the most part, are shrouded in secrecy and shame.
Even those who may initially feel great relief from the abortion, subconsciously carry the loss. The feelings of loss and the pain of grief are often suppressed. These suppressed emotions may manifest themselves in a myriad of symptoms, flowing from the traumatic experience or memory.
A trauma-sensitive process is necessary to release the deep feelings of anguish, grief, numbness, and denial, in a safe and judgement-free environment to heal this wound. Only after healing can the person internalise and accept the grace and mercy of God.
The Church acts on behalf of the voiceless to ensure we understand the gravity of abortion. She acts with mercy and compassion to all who have had or been involved in an abortion
Consider again your attitude to abortion and the unborn. If you or someone you know has had an abortion, please invite them to contact those running the Rachel’s Vineyard retreat. For further enquiries you can call 645-0525, or send an email to email@example.com