Fr John Flader: Evangelium Vitae was clearly infallible

03 Dec 2008

By The Record

Question: I was recently surprised to read in a Catholic publication that abortion is never morally permitted except when the mother’s life is at real risk. Is this the case?
You are right in being surprised, since abortion is never morally acceptable, even when the mother’s life is at risk. But let me explain.
Pope John Paul II dealt with the issue of abortion at length in his Encyclical Evangelium vitae (“The Gospel of Life”) in 1995.
In view of the confusion and ambiguity in the minds of many as regards what an abortion is, the Pope defined it clearly: “Procured abortion is the deliberate and direct killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence, extending from conception to birth.” (EV 58)
After summarising briefly the arguments from the natural law, Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church, he stated, with the fullness of his papal authority and in no uncertain terms, the Church’s prohibition of abortion: “Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops – who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine – I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being.” (EV 62)
It is clear by the terms in which this prohibition is expressed that it constitutes a definitive exercise of papal Magisterium, and is therefore infallible. (cf. J. Flader, Question Time, Connor Court 2008, n. 20)
Pope John Paul went on to reiterate that there can be no exceptions to this teaching: “No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church.” (EV 62)
In view of this unequivocal teaching, it is clear that abortion can never be justified, even to save the mother’s life. Pope John Paul excluded abortion, “willed as an end or as a means”.
Here it would be a case of using abortion as a means to save the mother’s life, and this is clearly unacceptable.
And he said that “no circumstance, no purpose… whatsoever” can make abortion licit, even a circumstance or purpose as noble as saving the mother’s life.
It is simply an application of the well-known principle that one cannot do evil that good may come from it (cf. Rom 3:8). Direct abortion, being “intrinsically illicit”, is always an evil and hence cannot be carried out even for the best of reasons. In short, the mother cannot kill her unborn child in order to save her own life. 
St Gianna Beretta Molla has much to teach us about this. An Italian paediatrician with three children, in September 1961 during the second month of another pregnancy she was diagnosed with a fibroma of the uterus.
She was given the options of an abortion, the removal of the womb with the baby inside, or removal only of the fibroma, which could involve future complications.
She chose the latter, pleading with the surgeon to do everything possible to save the life of the child she was carrying.
Fortunately this was achieved and seven months later, when she was about to give birth, she was once again ready to give up her own life to save her child. Again she pleaded with the doctors, “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child – I insist on it. Save him”.
On the morning of April 21, 1962, Gianna gave birth to a daughter, Gianna Emanuela. In spite of all the efforts to save both mother and child, a week later on the morning of April 28, amid great pain and repeated exclamations of “Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I love you”, the mother died. She was 39 years of age. St Gianna Beretta Molla was canonised by Pope John Paul II on 16 May 2004.
She had lived out to the end the teaching of the inviolability of the life of the unborn child, offering to die herself rather than have her baby die.
On one occasion she had said: “The doctor should not meddle. The right of the child is equal to the right of the mother’s life. The doctor can’t decide; it is a sin to kill in the womb.”