Most political parties in Northern Ireland oppose abortion, indeed opposition to abortion is something which garners cross communal support in a part of the world which has seen quite enough bloodshed in its time. The tiny Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) is one of the few political parties which backs extension of the Abortion Act to Northern Ireland, leader Dawn Purvis issuing a statement
to that end a few days ago.
I don't know who wrote the statement for Purvis but a whole section of it, dealing with the Roman Catholic Church's teaching on abortion, is complete rubbish.
Professor David Albert Jones who is an authority on the subject has very kindly fisked it for Dolphinarium. His comments are in caps.
"The Catholic Church believes abortion to be morally wrong in every case [STRICTLY SPEAKING ONLY ‘DIRECT’ ABORTION] although this was not the view until the late 19th Century. [THIS IS FALSE] Before that, a female child could be aborted before the ‘quickening’ (i.e. feeling movement) but not a male child. The ‘quickening’ was regarded as the moment of ‘ensoulment’ and occurred on the 40th day for the male child and the 80th day for the female child. (C Coppens, Moral Principles and Medical Practice. The ‘quickening’ was regarded as the moment of ‘ensoulment’ and occurred on the 40th day for the male child and the 80th day for the female child. (C Coppens, Moral Principles and Medical Practice) [THE CLAIM IS FALSE. THE ENSOULMENT ISSUE WAS USED TO MEASURE PENALTIES – LATE ABORTION ATTRACTED HEAVIER PENANCE AND OTHER PARTICULAR PENALTIES ‘EXCOMMUNICATION’ BUT ABORTION AT ANY STAGE WAS A GRAVE SIN (MORTAL SIN) AND IT IS FALSE TO SAY THAT IT ‘COULD BE ABORTED’.THE IDEA OF LATE ENSOULMENT WAS PROMINENT IN THE MIDDLE AGES BUT NOT IN THE EARLY CHURCH]
This view changed when the church ruled that “the embryonic child has a human soul, and therefore is a man from the time of its conception”. (Tribunal of the Holy Office, 1889) [THERE WAS A RESPONSE TO THE HOLY OFFICE ON THE QUESTION OF CRANIOTOMY IN 1889 BUT IT WOULD SURPRISE ME IF THIS TEXT IS ACCURATE. IT IS STILL THE CASE THAT A THEOLOGIAN IS ALLOWED TO DOUBT THE TIME OF ENSOULMENT – SO LONG AS HE CONDEMNS ABORTION. CERTAINLY ABORTION WAS ALWAYS REGARDED AS A SIN] No exceptions exist in the Catholic Churches view that abortion is wrong even in cases where the mother’s life is at risk. [THIS IS MISLEADING IN THAT IT REFERS ONLY TO ‘DIRECT ABORTION’. THERE IS A SUBSTANTIAL LITERATURE FROM THE 14TH CENTURY TO THE RPESENT DAY ABOUT ACTIONS THAT ARE NEEDED TO SAVE A WOMAN THAT ALSO INDIRECTLY (BUT INEVITABLY) HARM THE CHILD. THE AREA IS TECHNICAL BUT CAUSING A FOETUS TO BE EXPELLED CAN SOMETIMES BE ACCEPTED WHEN SEEKING TO SAVE A MOTHER'S LIFE.] The Tribunal of the Holy Office indicated in March 1902 “that no action is lawful which directly destroys foetal life” [nb DIRECTLY] even if the mother is in “immediate danger of death".
Essentially, the passage uses two red herrings, common in pro-choice propaganda to make false or misleading claims about the Roman Catholic Church's teaching on abortion.
1. Direct abortion and maternal mortality.
The RC Church, it is claimed, believes abortion to be wrong in every case even where the mother's life is in danger. This fails to distinguish between direct abortion deliberately committed with the intention of destroying the embryo/foetus and indirect acts to save the mother's life which happen to result in an abortion. It's called the principle of double effect and the key is intention.
As an aside it also introduces a note of fear into the topic by connecting pregnancy with death. There is little reason for this. Maternal mortality is low in modern industrialised countries anyway and this seems to have sod all to do with whether abortion is legal or not. Ireland where unborn children are constitutionally guaranteed the right to life has a better maternal mortality rate than the UK, where abortion is legal. And the UK has a similar maternal mortality rate to both Poland and Malta which either heavily restrict or ban abortion totally.
2. Ensoulment. This is the mother of all bait and switch tactics and it comes up again and again in pro-choice propaganda.
It goes like this:
Important figures in Church history, such as St Thomas Aquinas, adhered to Aristotelian delayed ensoulment theory, which speculated that a male foetus acquired a soul at 40 days and a female at 90 days, hence abortion in the early stages of pregnancy was considered acceptable by the Church in earlier epochs.
Remember the claim in Purvis's statement: "Before that, a female child could be aborted before the ‘quickening’ (i.e. feeling movement) but not a male child. The ‘quickening’ was regarded as the moment of ‘ensoulment’ and occurred on the 40th day for the male child and the 80th day for the female child."
A similar claim appeared in an old Wikipedia entry:
"There is no mention in the Christian Bible about abortion, and at different times Christians have held different beliefs about abortion. For example, St. Thomas Aquinas, Pope Innocent III, and Pope Gregory XIV believed that a fetus does not have a soul until “quickening,” or when a woman begins to feel her fetus kick and move. Abortion before quickening was, therefore, acceptable. However, Pope Stephen V and Pope Sixtus V opposed abortion at any stage of pregnancy."
"There is no mention in the Christian Bible about abortion, and at different times Christians have held different beliefs about abortion. For example, St. Thomas Aquinas, Pope Innocent III, and Pope Gregory XIV believed that a fetus does not have a soul until "quickening," or when a woman begins to feel her fetus kick and move. Therefore, abortion was not a serious sin. However, Pope Stephen V and Pope Sixtus V opposed abortion at any stage of pregnancy."
Either way it's still crap.
Because a) Aristotelian delayed ensoulment theory has never been accepted by the Roman Catholic Church as official teaching and b) the Church's constant condemnation of abortion has never relied upon theories such as ensoulment for its binding force.
The Roman Catholic Church has consistently condemned abortion as a grave sin from the first century to the 21st. The Didache, an important Church document from the First Century said:
"You shall not kill the foetus by abortion, or destroy the infant already born,"
Tertullian (c160-240) said:
"For us [Christians] we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter when you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to birth. That is a man which is going to be one: you have the fruit already in the seed." Apology 9:6
St Jerome c 342-420 said
"They drink potions to ensure sterility and are guilty of murdering a human being not yet conceived. Some, when they learn that they are with child through sin, practice abortion by the use of drugs. Frequently they die themselves and are brought before the rulers of the lower world guilty of three crimes: suicide, adultery against Christ, and murder of an unborn child." -Letter 22:13
And there are multiple examples of abortion being condemned by the Church fathers, to name a few, Athenagoras, Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus and Cyprian as well as agreement among Jerome, Ambrose, Gregory and Augustine that abortion at any stage was a grave sin against emergent human life. Jerome and Aquinas speculated as to the moment of ensoulment but always denounced abortion.
The delayed ensoulment abortion canard was nailed back in the fourth century by St Basil the Great, who declared: "The hairsplitting difference between formed and unformed makes no difference to us. Whoever deliberately commits abortion is subject to the same penalty as homicide."
Or as Professor David Albert Jones wrote in The Soul of the Embryo: "The constant and consistent Christian tradition from the Early Church to the nineteenth century repudiated abortion at any stage of pregnancy while offering different penances as a means to reconciliation."
The notion that abortion, at any stage, has ever been acceptable in the Roman Catholic Church is a barefaced lie.
Nonetheless The Ensoulment-Abortion Lie is and will undoubtedly remain a staple of pro-choice propaganda. There is a notoriously anti-Catholic US-based group, funded by the porn industry and actively supported by bigoted MEP Mary Venomball which has as its mission pretending to be a Roman Catholic organisation the better to spread The Lie.
There is an important debate to be had about abortion and this blog sincerely respects those who hold pro-choice views but any rational debate has to be conducted honestly. Dawn Purvis has dishonoured the debate by telling lies about the Roman Catholic Church and abortion.