Correspondence between Luke Moore and John Wijngaards on the question of abortion

I have found your website, the Body is Sacred, a very interesting and educational Catholic resource. However I feel your article “Catholics and Abortion” contains a number of errors and omissions which might give a misleading impression to viewers of your website.

John

Thank you for your kind and thoughtful letter. You are writing about an extremely delicate and important topic. I am always ready to change my mind if new evidence shows my conclusions have been wrong. So I am taking your letter very seriously and will continue to think about it.

Luke – The beginning of Life

Firstly, you state in the article “‘a foetus is a human person from the moment of its conception – NO to this”. This statement ignores the fact that many within the scientific community believe that human life begins at the moment of conception. The Association of Pro-life Physicians for example state that: “There is a tremendous consensus in the scientific community about when life begins. This is hardly controversial… Genetically, a new human being comes into existence from the earliest moment of conception”. Even the pro-choice organisation, Reproductive Health – Reality Check, acknowledge that life begins at conception.

John

Life may begin at conception (perhaps it starts even earlier: in the semen or the ovum?), I am talking about a HUMAN PERSON. A newly conceived foetus has the potential to grow into a human person, but it is not yet a person with a mind and a will. That does make a difference – especially when the newly conceived foetus threatens the life of someone who is a human person.

Luke – The judgment of Sacred Scripture

Secondly, you fail to mention any of the numerous scriptural passages which either forbid abortion or assign personhood to an unborn child. Examples of relevant scriptural references include Luke 1:44 ““For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy” and Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations”. Other relevant bible passages include Mt 1:20, Lk 1:41, Ps 139:15-16, Is 49:1 and Ex 21: 22-23.

John

These scriptural quotations do show that human personhood or potential personhood which are in God’s eternal intentions (long before conception!), start before birth. However, they do not address the specific issue of a foetus in early pregnancy. Obviously a baby leaping in the womb is well on the way to being a person with a mind and a will. The ancient writers of scripture had simple notions of conception. For them the male seed itself was already a person in being (since they knew nothing of the female ovum). See the five diagrams, starting from here: http://www.thebodyissacred.org/origin/inferiordiagram1.asp .

Our personal existence is a mystery. It starts in God’s mind. It is already potentially there in our father and mother. It becomes more concrete at conception, but the foetus is mainly DNA [= genetic] potential. It needs many more stages before we are “a person”. This is a very specific question which those scripture passages could not, and do not, address.

Luke – Alternatives to abortion

Finally, in your last section you state that abortion could be allowed for someone who was not able to “sustain a child in life”, however it should be considered that the option of putting the child up for adoption is available in those circumstances where a woman was unable to look after the child herself.

John

Indeed, you are right. Often good alternative solutions can be found, like putting the child up for adoption. I will make sure this will be pointed out in the article. However, there are cases when people are not able to find those solutions. Believe me, they exist.

I witnessed World War II first hand. I spent four years as a young boy with my mother and three young brothers in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp. Women from one of our camps, Ambarawa 6, were raped by our Japanese guards. Later I worked 14 years as a missionary in Andhra Pradesh, India, and saw the absolute misery and destitution of low-caste mothers with many children. One of these, a Catholic, landed in hospital where one of the Hindu doctors procured an abortion as part of her cure. Her parish priest afterwards told her: “You will go to hell for all eternity! You have committed a mortal sin that can never be put right!” Many women are caught in impossible situations and we, the Church, then condemn them spiritually.

One of the mistakes in traditional Catholic moral teaching has been the creation of absolutes, such as: “Abortion is ALWAYS and in all circumstances a sin.” Actually, the only absolutes are two:

God has created us in his own image so that we, as responsible human beings, have to make our own decisions in a complex world. Of course, we should listen to guidance, but in the final analysis we can and have to decide for ourselves.
God is Love. Our decisions should ultimately do justice to love – which implies utter respect for human life in others such as an unborn child, but also understanding for people caught in impossible situations. Jesus, the human face of God’s Love, refused to condemn the woman caught in adultery.