Every Monday EFC busts myths and takes names, cutting through the misinformation, disinformation, and straight up nonsense to bring you the facts.
The consensus in the Catholic church has always been that abortion is wrong, but the total prohibition on abortion is only about 150 years old. Historically the Catholic church saw abortion as evidence of sexual sin but the concept of abortion being sinful because it entails the ending of a sacred life came much later. In some eras, the circumstances of the woman were taken into consideration so that a woman ending a pregnancy because of poverty and the difficulty of caring for a child was viewed more sympathetically than someone using abortion to disguise fornication and adultery.
Even once the concept of abortion as homicide began to take hold in the church, it was centuries before the view that sacred life begins at conception was expressed. In the intervening years it was generally believed that the embryo became sacred once it was ‘ensouled’ - some weeks after conception and some time before birth. Sometimes quickening – the point at which a woman can normally feel movement in her womb – around 16-20 weeks, was identified as the point at which the fetus becomes a proper human. This process was also known as ‘hominisation’.
It was only in 1869 that the church decided hominisation takes place at the point of conception.
The website of US campaigning organisation Catholics For Choice provides comprehensive information and a clear timeline describing the changing status of abortion within the Catholic church.
Some Catholic countries have laws which reflect the church’s total prohibition on abortion – most in Latin America and some, such as the Republic of Ireland and Poland, in Europe. Four million women a year in Latin America have abortions which are illegal and often dangerous. Women from Ireland routinely travel to mainland UK and pay for private abortions. For those who cannot afford the cost of an abortion or the associated travel costs help is available from Abortion Support Network.
Other Catholic countries such as Portugal, Spain and Italy allow safe, legal abortion.