Sexual Morality or Social Justice

Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director of Priests for Life
January 18, 1999

When you think of the abortion issue, what category do you think of first: sexual morality or social justice?

Abortion, of course, has to do with both.

An abuse of human sexuality leads to a demand for abortion.

But abortion is a sin in a different category from abuses of human sexuality. It is a trampling of the most fundamental rights of another human being; it is a sin against justice.

The distinction appears in The Gospel of Life, where the Holy Father writes,

"Certainly, from the moral point of view contraception and abortion are specifically different evils: the former contradicts the full truth of the sexual act as the proper expression of conjugal love, while the latter destroys the life of a human being; the former is opposed to the virtue of chastity in marriage, the latter is opposed to the virtue of justice and directly violates the divine commandment 'You shall not kill'.

"But despite their differences of nature and moral gravity, contraception and abortion are often closely connected, as fruits of the same tree" (EV#13).

Both the connection and the distinction need to be taught by the Church. The connection is rightfully receiving a lot of renewed attention in these days, both in Catholic and Protestant circles.

But an important strategic truth lies in acknowledging the distinction.

The general public normally views most sexual matters as purely matters of privacy. Witness the way so many people separate their evaluations of President Clinton's "private life" from his public "job performance."

Witness also how some supporters of abortion still use the slogan that "Government should stay out of the bedroom." Aside from the fact that abortions are not performed in bedrooms, but rather in (largely unregulated) public facilities advertised in the yellow pages, this slogan totally sidesteps the justice issue. If another person is being killed, even in the bedroom, the government has to impose sanctions, in order that vulnerable people may be protected.

Viewing abortion more from the social justice angle than from the sexual morality angle can also help priests to preach about it with more ease. Ask any priest what is easier to speak about: chastity or violence. Abortion is an act of violence.

Stressing this angle also helps to reinforce a consistent ethic of life. Why, after all, should there be a gap between the Church's efforts to speak up for the safety of non-combatants endangered by the bombs of war, and the safety of children endangered by the forceps of the abortionist? Why should it be any more difficult to see that we need to defend the victims of abortion than it is to see that we need to defend the victims of drugs, poverty, and AIDS?

Ultimately, to see abortion only in terms of sexual morality could feed the very problem the pro-life movement tries to counteract, namely, that the person in the womb has become the most ignored and forgotten among us. If that isn't about social justice, what is?

Priests for Life
PO Box 236695 • Cocoa, FL 32923
Tel. 321-500-1000, Toll Free 888-735-3448 • Email: