Pope Pius XI
December 31, 1930
In View of the Present Condition, Needs, Errors and
Vices That Affect The Family and Society
"Thou Shalt Not Kill"
63. But another very grave crime is to be noted, Venerable Brethren, which
regards the taking of the life of the offspring hidden in the mother's womb.
Some wish it to be allowed and left to the will of the father or the mother;
others say it is unlawful unless there are weighty reasons which they call by
the name of medical, social, or eugenic "indication." Because this matter falls
under the penal laws of the State by which the destruction of the offspring
begotten but unborn is forbidden, these people demand that the "indication,"
which in one form or another they defend, be recognized as such by the public
law and in no way penalized. There are those, moreover, who ask that the public
authorities provide aid for these death-dealing operations, a thing which, sad
to say, everyone knows is of very frequent occurrence in some places.
64. As to the "medical and therapeutic indication" to which, using their own
words, we have made reference, Venerable Brethren, however much we may pity the
mother whose health and even life is gravely imperiled in the performance of the
duty allotted to her by nature, nevertheless what could ever be a sufficient
reason for excusing in any way the direct murder of the innocent? This is
precisely what we are dealing with here. Whether inflicted upon the mother or
upon the child, it is against the precept of God and the law of nature: "Thou
shalt not kill."50 The life of each is equally sacred, and no one has
the power, not even the public authority, to destroy it. It is of no use to
appeal to the right of taking away life for here it is a question of the
innocent, whereas that right has regard only to the guilty; nor is there here
question of defense by bloodshed against an unjust aggressor (for who would call
an innocent child an unjust aggressor?); again there is no question here of what
is called the "law of extreme necessity" which could never extend to the direct
killing of the innocent. Upright and skillful doctors strive most praiseworthily
to guard and preserve the lives of both mother and child; on the contrary, those
show themselves most unworthy of the noble medical profession who encompass the
death of one or the other, through a pretense at practicing medicine or through
motives of misguided pity.
65. All of which agrees with the stern words of the Bishop of Hippo in
denouncing those wicked parents who seek to remain childless, and failing in
this, are not ashamed to put their offspring to death:
"Sometimes this lustful cruelty or cruel lust goes so far as to seek to
procure a baneful sterility, and if this fails the foetus conceived in the womb
is in one way or another smothered or evacuated, in the desire to destroy the
offspring before it has life, or if it already lives in the womb, to kill it
before it is born. If both man and woman are party to such practices they are
not spouses at all; and if from the first they have carried on thus they have
come together not for honest wedlock, but for impure gratification; if both are
not party to these deeds, I make bold to say that either the one makes herself a
mistress of the husband, or the other simply the paramour of his wife."51
66. What is asserted in favor of the social and eugenic "indication" may and
must be accepted, provided lawful and upright methods are employed within the
proper limits; but to wish to put forward reasons based upon them for the
killing of the innocent is unthinkable and contrary to the divine precept
promulgated in the words of the Apostle: Evil is not to be done that good may
come of it.52
67. Those who hold the reins of government should not forget that it is the
duty of public authority by appropriate laws and sanctions to defend the lives
of the innocent, and this all the more so since those whose lives are endangered
and assailed cannot defend themselves. Among whom we must mention in the first
place infants hidden in the mother's womb. And if the public magistrates not
only do not defend them, but by their laws and ordinances betray them to death
at the hands of doctors or of others, let them remember that God is the Judge
and Avenger of innocent blood which cries from earth to Heaven.53
50. Exod. 20:13, cfr. Decr. S. Offic. May 4, 1897; July 24, 1895; May 31,
51. St. Augustine, De Nupt. et Concupise., cap. XV.
52. Rom. 3:8.
53. Gen. 4:10.
Other Teachings of the Magisterium