ABORTION AND "FREE CHOICE":
STATEMENT OF THE NCCB
COMMITTEE ON DOCTRINE
Among the various contributions to this year's debate on abortion and public
policy was a statement issued by a group which calls itself a "Catholic
Committee on Pluralism and Abortion," and publicized by "Catholics for a Free
This statement says it is mistaken to believe that the Catholic Church
teaches that deliberately chosen abortion is morally wrong in all instances, and
it suggests that abortion can sometimes be a legitimate moral choice.
As the Committee on Doctrine of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops,
responding to the general concern of our brother bishops, we want to affirm that
such an opinion, however sincerely motivated, contradicts the clear and constant
teaching of the Church that deliberately chosen abortion is objectively immoral.
It is not a legitimate moral Choice.(1)
The assertions contained in the statement of the Committee on Pluralism and
Abortion which imply that Church teaching about abortion has not always been
clear and constant are not correct, and are not substantiated by scholarly
research. For example, the statement appeals to philosophical discussions about
"ensoulment," and to canonical discussions about when the person who commits the
sin of abortion also incurs the penalty of excommunication, as if these
discussions provided a basis for legitimate diversity of opinion. But such
philosophical and canonical discussions have always presumed the Church's
constant teaching about the immorality of abortion. The Committee also appeals
to principles of moral theology, such as probabilism, religious liberty, and the
centrality of informed conscience, as justifying its opinion. But Catholic
theology does not allow the application of the theory of probabilism in cases
which contradict Church teaching or where the risk of taking life is
present. Furthermore, legitimate freedom of conscience requires the responsible
formation of conscience in accord with the truth of the Gospel message as handed
on in the constant teaching of the Church.
The members of the Committee on Pluralism and Abortion present a personal
opinion which directly contradicts the clear and constant teaching of the Church
about abortion, a teaching which they as Catholics are obliged to accept.
At the same time, the Committee on Doctrine reaffirms its confidence in the
many theologians who explore and present the implications of moral teaching in
fidelity to the Catholic tradition.
(1)This teaching was cogently reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council, which
referred to abortion as an "abominable crime" (Pastoral Constitution on the
Church in the Modern World, no. 51); it has been authoritatively explained
in the Declaration on Procured Abortion of the Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith (1974), and has frequently been restated by the Bishops of
the United States in various Pastoral Letters (e.g., Human Life in Our Day
in 1968, no. 84; To Live in Christ Jesus in 1976, nos. 637-65; The
Challenge of Peace in 1983, nos. 286-289), and numerous other statements.
Statements of the Bishops on Abortion