Religious Beliefs, Abortion, and the Law

Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director of Priests for Life
April 15, 1997

In the many discussions I have with those who perform abortions, a very predictable pattern arises before long. I talk to them about science, and they talk to me about faith.

The pattern begins when I ask the question, "Does an abortion destroy a human life?" The answer I hear is, "I don't know when the child receives a soul." In one breath, the topic of discussion was an observable procedure from the perspective of verifiable science. In the next breath, the topic was spiritual and invisible: when do children receive souls?

This twist in the discussion is not limited to those who provide abortions. It also happens with many others who favor the availability of legal abortion. After all, they argue, since we have religious freedom in this country, people should be allowed to believe what they want about when the soul begins to exist. It would be wrong to impose by law one particular religious or theological position on this matter.

The truth is, however, that the pro-life movement does not seek to impose by law any religious or theological belief, whether about the soul or anything else. Such an effort is both misguided and unnecessary.

Suppose, for example, that I do not believe that you have a soul. Does that give me the right to kill you? No, it does not. Your life is still protected by the law, despite my beliefs. Does the law that protects your life require me to believe that you have a soul? No it does not. It doesn't even require me to believe that souls exist at all. What it requires is that whatever I believe, I refrain from taking your life. The law protects both the right to believe and the life of the believer.

That is what the pro-life movement wants. We are simply calling for the protection of all human beings.

We also uphold religious liberty, which means that religious beliefs should be embraced freely, not imposed by law. We also recognize that to invoke religious liberty to destroy another's life is an intolerable abuse.

If someone does not believe the child in the womb has a soul, that is his or her business. But to go on and say that because one doesn't believe that, it should be legal to kill the child, is equally as unjust as to say that because one doesn't believe you have a soul, it should be legal to kill you. The law doesn't care about the belief; it regulates the action.

The law's criterion for who receives protection should be the verifiable evidence of science, rather that the subjective criterion of religious belief. There is such a thing as religious truth. But whether a baby lives or dies should not depend on whether or not everyone in society has acknowledged that truth. Human life needs protection now. The freedom "not to believe" should never be confused with freedom to destroy others.

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