Question 203:

What are your thoughts on abortion? And on abortion after rape?



On the topic of abortion see question and answer no. 159. The Church teaches that human life in all its stages, i.e. before and after birth, is a legal entity, which from the very beginning has a right to be preserved and to be protected from destruction. Abortion and the killing of a child are abominable crimes. (See: Gaudium at Spes 51).

As every other life, the unborn human life too can find itself in conflict with other goods. Sometimes both parents or the woman consider killing the unborn child as the last possible means of solving a conflict with goods that appear to them as more important or impossible to give up. How can one reach an ethically responsible decision in such circumstances?

To clarify these questions it is important that we are conversant with the facts as well as with the terminology used, and that we also note that we do not equate legal regulations with moral judgement.

In the context of the abortion debate we come across the term “indication”. Many erroneously believe this to mean an indication in favour of abortion, and believe that abortion is morally acceptable if an indication exists. In reality an indication is nothing more than a sign, a signal that the conceived child can bring with it problems which for the mother or the parents imply a more or less major conflict.

Criminological indication (and in the legal sphere also ethical and humanitarian indication) means that a child has been illegally forced upon the mother through rape.

General (social) hardship indication means that the conceived child can force the mother or the family into severe social or economic hardship, which is experienced as so traumatic by the pregnant woman that it can result in considerable psychological distress.

Medical indication means that the unborn life endangers the mother’s life (vital indication) or her health (prophylactic indication) […]

All these indications show that the good of the unborn life can find itself in conflict with other goods. Are these other goods of such immense importance or urgency that they may be given preference over the fundamental good of the unborn life? This is the underlying ethical question.

If we assess the criminological indication in the light of this question, it becomes clear that an evaluation of the respective ethical goods cannot amount to an ethical justification of a termination of pregnancy. The child conceived through rape also has a fundamental right to life which is of higher importance than the mother’s right to self determination. Certainly, such an ethical evaluation does not solve the many problems arising for the pregnant woman from a forced pregnancy, but neither can these problems be solved by killing the conceived child.

In a different way this also applies to the psychological burdens on the mother which are the subject of the hardship indication. Emotional and social hardship are serious problems but they do not permit the killing of the conceived child; rather, they are to be removed by support the mother should receive from other sources. Unfortunately, those who are the most appropriate to accomplish the task to prevent the woman from a decision in favour of killing her unborn baby, the father of the child, the family and the closer social environment, often fail to do this. Sometimes they intensify the misery of the pregnant women with their pressure and push her towards a termination. This is also true for the general public, among which the criteria for assessing the value of the unborn life have shifted considerably. The general public mentality often pushes women into a situation where they can barely conceive a different solution.

Also fraught with difficulty is the evaluation of the correct ethical judgement in the case of a medical indication. On the other hand, medical progress means that most of the risks to the mother’s health (prophylactic indication) can be reduced to the extent that medically life threatening situations have become rare. For the evaluation of the various goods in the context of a medical-prophylactic indication the ethical problems are generally no longer as acute as they used to be. This is not the case in many countries in Africa, Asia and in South America, where medical progress has not been as effective and where it is beyond the means of the general population. The ethical evaluation of the morality of a medical indication therefore also has to take into account the concrete circumstances. Here in particular it is true to say: The evaluation of concrete measures cannot […] be made solely according to the criteria of an agreement with conventional moral norms. These cannot adequately capture the concrete in its contingence and singularity, because over and above the criteria the particular shares with the general, it also has an added value because it is the result of the particularities of the respective circumstances. […] As a personal being capable of conscious living and called to freedom and responsibility, a person is not merely an instance of the general, an individual realisation of the idea human being as such, but this person hic et nunc, who has a unique, unrepeatable story, who through his actions is to come closer to its final goal, the communion with the everlasting God. (Eberhard Schockenhoff, „Grundlegung der Ethik. Ein theologischer Entwurf“. Freiburg: Herder, 2007, p. 448f).

In rare but still sometimes occurring cases the life of the mother as well as that of the child are at risk (vital indication). The situation becomes highly dramatic and all participants are faced with a severe personal conflict. The ethical categories about the sanctity of human life barely seem to apply. The ethical demand to allow natures course and to accept the death of both, mother and child, is generally seen as inhuman. In this extreme and exceptional case one must also take into account the argument of those who believe it to be ethically justifiable to save at least one of two lives, in particular where the purpose of the action is the preservation of life. Such a consideration, however, is by no means on the same level as the killing of an unborn child that does not find itself in conflict with another good of equal value. The German bishops stress: What is required here is the careful moral decision of the doctor involved in this particular situation. No-one will deny that such a decision is dishonourable (On the amendment of § 218 dated 7. 5. 1976, 7). (Katholischer Erwachsenen-Katechismus (Cathoic Adult-Catechism by the German Bishops Conference), Vol. 2, pp. 290-292).

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J. Prof. Dr. T. Specker,
Prof. Dr. Christian W. Troll,

Kolleg Sankt Georgen
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