In general, abortions can be divided into two large categories: spontaneous and procured (elective). Spontaneous abortions are natural — they occur due to genetic conditions and prevent a woman from giving a normal birth. For example, spontaneous abortions may develop into a habitual form when a woman’s body expulses a nonviable embryo or fetus in three or more consecutive pregnancies (PHI 3633 WK 2, n.d.). Overall, these abortions are regrettable and do not have an unethical component.
In contrast, procured or elected abortions result from a willful desire to dispose of an unborn human. According to Cioffi (2021), procured abortions have led to the termination of approximately 60,000,000 million lives since 1973. Elected abortions are morally evil in Catholic understanding since human life begins from conception rather than an actual birth (PHI 3633 WK 2, n.d.). Therefore, this abortion type is highly unethical from the Catholic healthcare perspective.
Contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices (IUDs), and “morning after” pills are considered abortifacients from the Catholic perspective since they directly prevent the creation of human life. For instance, contraceptive pills disrupt normal biochemical processes by tricking a body into thinking that it is pregnant (Cioffi, 2021). In reality, pills extract a high dosage of estrogen into the endometrium and make it inhospitable for subsequent pregnancies. Consequently, an embryo gets discarded after meeting an inhospitable uterus. This effect is similar to an early abortion; modern IUDs also provoke it, but mechanically rather than chemically (Cioffi, 2021). Overall, both pills and IUDs contribute to the suppression of reproductive function, which is enough to classify them as abortifacients.
Procured abortion can be performed via various methods, depending on the pregnancy stage. In general, abortion methods are divided into two main categories — surgical (mechanical) and medical (chemical). In some instances, both methods are combined to achieve the desired result (PHI 3633 WK 2, n.d.). Medical abortion utilizes pills and chemical substances, whereas surgical methods usually involve cervix dilation. According to Cioffi (2021), killing an embryo via abortion becomes gradually harder as the pregnancy advances from the first to the third trimester. The development of organs and tissues makes the extraction of a fetus from the woman’s body more difficult. As a result, abortion in the first trimester (0-12 weeks) can be done via abortion pills or vacuum sucking. However, abortion in the second trimester (12-28 weeks) requires significantly more invasive procedures, such as dilation and evacuation or hysterotomy (Cioffi, 2021). Finally, the third trimester usually leaves only one gruesome option — partial-birth abortion, a decapitation of a fetus inside the womb (Cioffi, 2021). This method allows for avoiding legal repercussions because the fetal head never leaves the mother’s body.
Roe vs. Wade Case: Norma McCorvey’s Story
The Roe vs. Wade case of 1973 essentially led to the legalization of abortions by the U.S. Supreme Court. Norma McCorvey (Roe), who lived in Texas, a state where abortions were illegal at the time, gathered strong support from radical feminist lawyers (Cioffi, 2021). She went through all the courts and won the case by a split decision of the Supreme Court. After the Roe vs. Wade case, the number of abortions in the USA increased to 1,5 million a year on average (PHI 3633 WK 2, n.d.). Depending on ethical stance, one can consider this outcome a beginning of the genocide against the American nation or a landmark victory for reproductive freedom. However, one cannot deny that Roe vs. Wade case produced a massive impact on American society.
Ironically, Norma McCorvey adopted a pro-life position over the years and rejected her previous pro-abortion views. According to her own words, McCorvey learned the errors of her ways after realizing that a tiny embryo is essentially a human baby. For instance, she claimed that signing the affidavit and working in an abortion clinic was wrong (PHI 3633 WK 2, n.d.). Additionally, McCorvey called abortion a wrong practice, regardless of the pregnancy trimester. In the end, Norma McCorvey became one of the most prominent converts from the pro-abortion to the pro-life camp.
Alternatives to Abortion
Since any procured abortion is morally wrong from the Catholic perspective, there are only two possible alternatives. First of all, a mother can give birth and keep a baby in the family (PHI 3633 WK 2, n.d.). This choice seems to be the most ethical in normal circumstances. However, there might be complicated cases; for instance, the family might not have the necessary living conditions for raising a child. In the worst-case scenario, pregnancy might be a sexual assault result. In such cases, a mother might give up the baby for adoption, which is a more ethical alternative to abortion.
Ethical and Religious Directives (ERD) Summary
ERD paragraphs # 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, and 66 provide Catholic healthcare institutions with guidance on how abortions should be treated in the ethical and medical sense. In general, Catholic healthcare institutions are not allowed to assist with abortions or even use tissue obtained by direct abortions. Directly intended termination of pregnancy is never permitted (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2018). The only exception of this rule can be found in paragraph 47, which permits urgent treatment that might result in the death of an unborn child if a pregnant woman has serious pathological conditions. In addition, Catholic healthcare institutions are not permitted to conduct medical experiments on the living fetus (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2018). The only exception from this directive is therapeutic experiments performed with parents’ informed consent. Overall, ERD show extremely low tolerance to abortions, and Catholic healthcare institutions are expected to follow this moral code.
Cioffi, A. (2021). BIO 602 TWIN AB 1 30 21 [Video]. Web.
PHI 3633 WK 2 (n.d.).
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. (2018). Ethical and religious directives (ERD) for Catholic health care services (6th ed.). Web.