A Jesuit’s Perspective on Abortion

“Thou shalt not kill,’ not kill yourself, not kill time (because it belongs to God), not kill trust, not kill … Continued

“Thou shalt not kill,’ not kill yourself, not kill time (because it belongs to God), not kill trust, not kill death itself by trivializing it, not kill the country, the other person, or the Church.”

These words, spoken by Trappist martyr Dom Christian De Cherge, seem especially apropos as a tool for reflection on this 35th anniversary of the Roe v Wade abortion decision. Jesuit spirituality suggests that it is good to reflect frequently upon the times we might turn away from God. In our individual participation in the struggle over abortion, this turning can manifest itself in concrete emotional, spiritual or physical behaviors. The obverse is true of our reflections as well; it is good to consider daily the ways in which we turn towards God. After identifying the personal failings and strengths of our own conduct in the abortion debate, we can ask the Lord to assist us in avoiding the sin that destroys, and to send us the grace which lifts us nearer Him.

Dom Christian listed several categories of killing we might ponder today: killing of time, death, trust, and the country. While each of us defies these precepts in various ways, it is my intention today to focus on the mechanisms whereby we kill ourselves, other people, and the Church. We kill ourselves in turning away from the God-given purpose of our existence. We kill others in our destructive ruminations, violent words and physical attacks. We kill the Church in dismissing her officials and publicly dissenting from her teachings without carefully examining her arguments.

One foundational component of a Catholic worldview is that human beings exist to praise, reverence and serve the Lord in this world and to be happy with Him in the next. Thus, entertaining thoughts that are unworthy of a Christian, speaking words that goad others or myself to sin, or using my body in the service of ungodly desires could be seen as spiritually killing myself. Wallowing in wrathful thoughts towards those who draw different conclusions than I do could serve as a gateway to false pride. Pride can distort the position of the servant relative to the master, putting the created being in the place of God. While I am right and good to assess the validity of others’ arguments, internal hatred of my interlocutors wounds my soul without touching those of my adversaries.

How do I kill other people in the abortion debate? I kill in the use of words to wound rather than to convince. Making personal attacks against others places me again at risk of pride and wrath. Note well: when discussing abortion, one sometimes hears, “You will never change anyone’s mind about this. People think what they think.” If the abolitionists and suffragettes had denied the possibility of change in their fellow citizens’ opinions, this country would still have slavery and women without the vote. Denying the possibility of conversion is to deny the possibility of grace: it plays into the hands of the enemy of our human nature.

A further note on killing the other person: As a practicing physician licensed to care for pregnant women, I believe that abortions kill a living human being in the earliest stages of development. The moral question at hand is not if we are killing; it is whether the victims have any claims as persons or not. While the U.S. legal balance is at present skewed towards the denial of rights for the unborn, Catholics and many Evangelical Christians argue that both the mother and the unborn have rights. On a spiritual level, a woman seeking an abortion should recognize that exercising her “choice” will kill a vulnerable and defenseless human being. There is no doubt about this. There is also no doubt that an action can be legal and at the same time be wrong.

Final point, we kill the Church when, in ignorance, we hold it up to ridicule. Last Spring, I asked several medical students in a seminar whether they rejected Catholic teachings regarding reproduction and artificial contraception. Several raised their hands. I prompted them to articulate the position and to give their critique of it. Conversation languished for some while. None in that group of graduating physicians had an answer, yet these well-educated role models were willing to publicly disagree with an argument they could not explain. At a recent Christmas party, a gentlemen identifying himself as a Catholic biologist was railing for research that would result in the death of frozen human embryos. He justified the exploitation, “because they are just sitting there.” I advised him that the Church’s reverence for the protected status of a human person is not based on level of activity but on an intrinsic dignity. He agreed to consider that.

In conversations about abortion we can turn away from the purpose of our being when we entertain malicious thoughts. We kill when we speak unholy words, or physically attack the other person. We kill our children when we abort, terminate, or “get rid of” them. We can kill the Church if we dissent in ignorance from the teachings of its experts and legitimate authorities. Following a reflection such as this upon our failings, it is good to look at the way in which we turn towards God. In this case it shall be to consider how we appropriately love ourselves, the other person and the Church. I leave it to the readers’ good discretion to identify examples of their healthy spiritual habits, generosity to their fellows, and active participation in communities of worship. Concluding those considerations, all that remains for persons of prayer is to ask that the Lord help us to turn away from sin and to further embrace the Good News of love. May God help this broken soul to do so.

Dr. William Blazek, a Jesuit scholastic and physician, is a board certified specialist in Internal Medicine and a Research Scholar in the Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University School of Medicine. He teaches ethics and clinical skills as an Adjunct Assistant Professor while preparing for ordination to priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church.

  • Norrie Hoyt

    Father Blazek,I disagree with you:Your Roman Church sanctions the slaughter of animals (sentient beings, even as you and I are) for food and fur.In my belief system, which tends toward Buddhism, slaughter of animals is exactly the same as the abortion of human fetuses.Yet neither organized Buddhism nor I attempt to force our views on you and your Church by the force of law.You and the Roman Church should follow that example when it comes to the views of others on the subject of abortion.Let me further state what Buddhists and I believe: your Abrahamic God does not exist and your Old Testament Yahweh* operated as a cruel and tyrannical oriental despot.Fortunately, he is only a nightmarish delusion.* The Cathars, that noble people whom your Church ruthlessly tortured and exterminated, called your God (Yahweh) “The Ignorant Demiurge” because he mistakenly thought himself to be the Godhead when he was only a lesser diety. He created the material world and suffused it with evil and cruelty.It’s a shame your Church remains faithful to his example.

  • Terry

    Father Blazek – Thank you for your point of view. The day we have ordained female Catholic priests arguing from the same vantage point is the day we can begin to take the Church’s (then truly unitive) point of view on abortion more seriously. Moral imperatives on the issues of stem cell research, reproductive practices & reproductive rights coming from a Catholic spokesman & aspiring cleric, and backed up historically by an all-male clergy, seems somehow out of balance in today’s world. We should however expect this point of view from now and future priests as required by cannon law. This may be the traditional Catholic view, but many voices within the Church are now at odds with this approach. Even today, we still find considerable (traditional) Church resistence to both teaching birth control methods and distributing birth control materials to women sorely in need of this information and assistance – thus even prevention of pregnacy is frowned upon, much less the provision of ‘morning after’ pills and early terminations. Physicians and pharmacists are within their rights to follow their own personal ethical standards, but should feel morally oblidged (if not legally required) to suggest providers that will perform the (requested) legal services in a timely and professional manner. Just my point of view -

  • Hewitt

    The problem with the abortion debate, as Dr. Blazek notes, is that people argue, but nobody changes their mind. Why is that? One need look no farther that Dr. Blazek’s own argument: a woman’s choice to abort “will kill a vulnerable and defenseless human being. There is no doubt about this.” There is no doubt about this for Dr. Blazek, because Dr. Blazek refuses to doubt. He refuses to think. He just “knows” the right conclusion. Proving him wrong is both trivial and futile. Consider, labeling something as “human” does not make it a human being, any more than labeling something as a “body part” makes it not a human being. Pro-lifers and pro-choicers alike commit the same fallacy. If you can’t see the fallacy, then try this. Imagine you are running out of a burning hospital and only have time to save a little girl in a cast or a petri dish with five viable, fertilized embryos. Which do you save? The arguments above argue neither for nor against abortion, they merely disprove an initial fallacy designed to stop you from thinking. Understanding that point is necessary to begin serious moral thought. Yet people will reject these arguments without even considering them. Press them, and their rejection becomes even stronger and less articulate. Why is that? Emotion determines people’s beliefs on abortion. People then look for rationalizations for their conclusions. The better your rational argument, the greater the threat to their emotional conclusions. They will hate you for that and not listen to such a hateful person.But, if YOU want to be moral instead of comfortable, then you have to start THINKING!

  • thishowiseeit

    Prevention of unwanted pregnancies is difficult for married couples told not practice artifial birth control. I know, there strength in number and the Church wants more babies as possible. Isn’t the truth?

  • Neal Obstat

    “We can kill the Church if we dissent in ignorance from the teachings of its experts and legitimate authorities.”Its experts? How laughable. I guess the “experts” are experts on what Church doctrine says, but we still have the question of whether the Church doctrine makes any sense or is worthy of respect. The “experts” are not experts on that. It is in fact the Church that kills the Church when it promulgates ridiculous rules, doctrines, and admonitions–not to mention when it covers up countless incidents of child molestation, not just in the past in local parishes but today in religious orders that are answerable not to local bishops but only to Rome.

  • Athena

    “Imagine you are running out of a burning hospital and only have time to save a little girl in a cast or a petri dish with five viable, fertilized embryos. Which do you save?”Unfortunately, it’s not an imaginary situation. When New Orleans was being inundated, a fertility clinic paid rescuers to take their boat in and recover all of the blastocysts. This happened while actual people were on top of their roofs waiting for rescues. Or worse, dying because they weren’t rescued. Where was “Operation Rescue” then?

  • Respectul Secularist

    Dear Fr. Blazek,Thank you for your post’s plea for more gentleness and respect in a debate that so often becomes shrill and destructive. I am strongly pro-choice, after having considered the issue from many perspectives, and yet maintain my respect for the antiabortion position; I am aware that not everyone shares the particular philosophical convictions that inform my position.However, I must agree with Hewitt above, when he criticizes the following statement: ‘[A] woman seeking an abortion should recognize that exercising her “choice” will kill a vulnerable and defenseless human being. There is no doubt about this.” There is indeed doubt in the minds of many. What constitutes a human being is not at all settled in my mind, but it is very clear to me that a mere embryo does not have any of the characteristics that I experientially associate with personhood and, thus, humanness.Father, when you make statements like this one in an argument that poses as reasoned, you kill reason.

  • Bill

    Haven’t you one issue abortion voters and those who encourage them created enough wreckage in our once proud country? Wars, trashing of the Constitution, destruction of the economy – not a word from you about any of that because you care far more for blastocysts. And after all that has happened, you still care about nothing else. If you are sane, then you are completely immoral. And I don’t care to be more civil about it because it’s a truth you refuse to face.

  • Sam

    It is morally wrong to force a woman to give birth. All the fatuous Jesuitical word games in the world can’t change that plain simple fact. If you allow people to run the country who think it’s OK to force women to give birth, pretty soon they’ll be thinking it’s OK to pour water up a terrorists nose, because, think about it, which do you think most people would prefer: being waterboarded or being forced to give birth? If it’s wrong to torture men, it’s wrong to torture women. The Church doesn’t get this because they figure, you know, human rights are for humans, not for women.

  • Lynn Palermo

    I have two points to make:2. This monk also confuses the issue surrounding the Church. The Church (Catholic, as well as all others), is a human institution with human beings at its helm. All you have to do is take a quick look at its history to see that it is full of human beings just as fallible as any of their human brethren–which is what we would expect from human beings. And being a human institution, then, the Church is not above doubt or questioning. Nor should it be. As far as I understand, even monks would frown on blind faith.

  • David Pasinski

    Dr. Blazek, SJ, chooses a comprehensive quotation by the revered Trappist martyr Dom DeCherge to begin his reflection on the morality of abortion. He places it, rightly, I believe in the context of respect for all life. However, I think that this is also very limiting when one then talks about “killing the Church.” He is then in the realm of Catholic ecclesiology and internecine argumentation. Also, while persons like the late Cardinal Bernardin advanced a “seamless garment of life” in his appreciation of all life and therefore opposed the death penalty and hinted at inclination to near Christian pacifism, this argument grows too complex for a brief article about the “rights” of embryonic and fetal life compared with other elements of the “respect life” mantra. Finally, I would not attempt to remind a physician — who has probably forgot more biology than I ever will know– about the intricacies of human development after fertilization and before nidation, but there are relevant data that complexify the abotifacient argument at the minimum. In short, I think this shouldn’t be entitled “a Jesuit argument” and the discussion about this morally loaded action deserves more focussed reflection that includes a true appreciation also of the woman who is pregnant — or possibly becoming so -as well as the embryo or fetus.

  • David Pasinski

    Dr. Blazek, SJ, chooses a comprehensive quotation by the revered Trappist martyr Dom DeCherge to begin his reflection on the morality of abortion. He places it, rightly, I believe in the context of respect for all life. However, I think that this is also very limiting when one then talks about “killing the Church.” He is then in the realm of Catholic ecclesiology and internecine argumentation. Also, while persons like the late Cardinal Bernardin advanced a “seamless garment of life” in his appreciation of all life and therefore opposed the death penalty and hinted at inclination to near Christian pacifism, this argument grows too complex for a brief article about the “rights” of embryonic and fetal life compared with other elements of the “respect life” mantra. Finally, I would not attempt to remind a physician — who has probably forgot more biology than I ever will know– about the intricacies of human development after fertilization and before nidation, but there are relevant data that complexify the abotifacient argument at the minimum. In short, I think this shouldn’t be entitled “a Jesuit argument” and the discussion about this morally loaded action deserves more focussed reflection that includes a true appreciation also of the woman who is pregnant — or possibly becoming so -as well as the embryo or fetus.

  • mia

    “If I could just have the thing and give it to you now, I totally would. But I’m guessing it looks probably like a sea monkey right now and we should let it get a little cuter,” Juno tells the would-be adoptive parents in one of the character’s typically acerbic lines.”If you haven’t already seen the movie Juno- you should see it soon. It will make you laugh while you’re watching it and remember and re-think after its over.

  • Geneva Street

    Abortion has been a great liberator for men at the expense of women.

  • SOULSEARCHER

    A key tenet of the Catholic case is that the fused cell is a “human being” and has a soul at the moment of conception. I’ve not met a Catholic yet who can answer what then happens to identical twins – do they have half a soul, or at what point is the additional soul added?If history is any guide, the Catholic church will adjust it’s position a few hundred years after scientific fact and common knowledge has made their “infallible” position untenable. (A flat earth, A heliocentric cosmology, evolution etc etc.)

  • spiderman2

    I am for anti-abortion but a catholic priest talking about it because “one should not kill” is pure hypocricy. I think Catholicism is one entity or body that has killed the most thru-out the human race history. They are the purveyors of communism in South America which became a battleground between communists and government forces. They were destructive when protestantism started to take root in Europe. They were even the main cause of the French Revolution. The deaths due to the actions of this church could reach to the millions if not billions. Artificial contraception is the best method to avoid unwanted pregnancy but the catholic church prohibits it also. I can’t blame the secularists if they become rebellious because most of these false religions like catholicism are not really the church of Christ but more of the devil’s tool. I believe that their anti-abortion stance is purely just for show.

  • Anonymous

    Geneva Street wrote January 22, 2008 10:59 PM:”Abortion has been a great liberator for men at the expense of women.Geneva Street, unless the woman was a victim of rape, you don’t imply that the “conquest” and the resulting pregnancy had nothing to do with her consent?A celibate Catholic priest choosing Gynaecology and Obstetrics as medical specialty needs to be psychoanalysed!

  • Casey

    Thank you, Dr. Blazek for having the courage to stand up for the truth with love.

  • RB

    “One foundational component of a Catholic worldview is that human beings exist to praise, reverence and serve the Lord in this world and to be happy with Him in the next.” If the purpose uf humans is indeed to praise the creator, wouldn’t that imply that the creator has a powerful need for praise and reverence? If that were the case, wouldn’t that also mean that the creator has an ego of monstruous proportions that needs to be constantly nurtured by billions of humans and that the withdrawal of such nurturing could mean either the shriveling of the creator or a violent reaction by him/her that would be apocalyptic?I for one do not believe that God has such a desperate need for praise that he created me for that specific purpose. If I am wrong on this, it would however largely validate the claim that we were created in his/her image.I believe that if we humans do indeed have one common and overriding purpose then it is probably more in the direction of making the best of our days on earth including loving each other. Loving each other however has an awful lot to do with loving who and what your neighbor is and not just the fact that he/she was created from the same template as I.My beliefs are very, very dear to me and I would be sorely disappointed if yours, Dr. Blazek, were any less dear to you.

  • Anonymous

    “If the purpose uf humans is indeed to praise the creator, wouldn’t that imply that the creator has a powerful need for praise and reverence?”Straw man, and all that follows.If the purpose of humans is to praise God does not mean God NEEDS praise. Just like a human’s purpose is to eat does not mean that the food NEEDS to be eaten. It just is.

  • Athena

    Stripped of the theological arguments, the question of abortion is this:1. Does the Federal or State government have a vested interest in making sure that every blastocyst that is conceived becomes a healthy, full-term infant?2. If the answer is yes, the Government then has an obligation to ensure a positive outcome – a healthy, full-term infant. This means:Is this consistent with the “pro-life” position?

  • BGone

    I posted this on another thread. Since your arguments center on God I think it fits well here.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~The God of all is revealed at Last week we discovered that Christians only believe in one deadly sin, blasphemy in spite of the question indicating there are at least 7 of them. Adding blasphemy increases the set to 8 if one wishes the other 7 to be deadly as well.It’s my understanding that Jews consider blasphemy to be a capital sin as well. That’s assuming there is any truth to the story about why Jesus was crucified found in the Gospels, (good newses).Maybe we can explain all our God-woes by noticing that when the word God is spoken the being in the burning bush is the one meant. We now know without the slightest fear of error that being is the fallen angel Lucifer -the biggest Devil of them all and there’s a lot of Devils.So when we examine the Gods of candidates for high office we need to take that into account. We’ve already caused 86% of Americans to blaspheme every time they recite the pledge. The notion of making Lucifer the official God of the USA would seem to be in order. The country is now going to where? For the past 7, (fat years?) we’ve been under the enlightened tax-lowering, gas-guzzling leadership of “born again” Bush? Huck is simply suggesting making it official as though it’s not already.Sale of soul brings the big money only to those who lead the multitudes to hell. Where did Moses end up leading the Israelites? Where do the righteous candidates suggest leading the country? Where is the country right now -are we not already there? Some say the wilderness, the desert is hell while others claim it’s paradise. And the Bible says both are correct.Do you have any evidence that hoax buster is wrong about the being in the burning bush actually being Devil and not God? I think it’s rather important for the church to defeat that argument. Don’t you? We’re not just taking on faith that which could absolutely lead us to hell are we?

  • Pam

    To add to Athena’s list, the government would also have to make sure that no pregnant woman ingests drugs, alcohol, or unhealthy food while pregnant.Ask yourselves this – do we as citizens of the world have a vested interest in maximizing the number of children produced? Consider the rate at which we’re currently fouling the nest with pollution (global warming) and destroying wildlife habitat, the atmosphere-cleansing rainforest, and the life we depend on for food (overfishing). Personally, I would love to see abortion come to an end – not because it isn’t legal (I’m old enough to remember when it wasn’t, and there was plenty of abortion going on then, often resulting in death for the woman), but because there are readily available means to prevent unwanted pregnancies and the education to enable them to be used properly.”Thou shalt not kill” is a simple statement. There isn’t a list underneath it of the things it applies to, such as Blazek postulates. There is no asterisk referring one to a footnote of exceptions. Taken literally, one would be wrong to exterminate cockroaches in the kitchen, or to use antiseptic soap, or even to take antibiotics when you have a bacterial infection.And, as was pointed out above, the Bible is filled with killing – *at the behest of God* – starting almost immediately after the ten commandments are presented.It would be nice if we could drop the superstitious nonsense and do what’s realistic and right for society.

  • Cayambe Philo, CA

    SOULSEARCHER wrote:A key tenet of the Catholic case is that the fused cell is a “human being” and has a soul at the moment of conception. I’ve not met a Catholic yet who can answer what then happens to identical twins – do they have half a soul, or at what point is the additional soul added?An excellent point….And this dilemna is now getting even worse. Last week WaPo reported on a human embryo constructed from a single skin cell, cloned so there is no soulful fusion. I’m a bit surprised. In my experience Jesuits have been quite accomplished when it comes to debates and the good Dr. does not measure up to that at all.The first thing to recognize is that a “human being” for religious purposes is not the same as a “human being” for political purposes. Our Founders took extraordinary care to keep these separate, to write our constitution with not a single reference to God, to forbid any law establishing religion, to guarantee the individuals right to practice any religion. Mr. Huckabee could not be more dead wrong. There is absolutely no reason to get the Constitution right with God. Mr. McCain is equally wrong. This is not a “Christian” nation. It is a constitutional republic. What we have to deal with as a nation is the point at which a human being comes into being for political purposes. What rights are granted to it at what point in its development. This would of course, be much more easily dealt with without the mixing of religions into the debate; poisoning the stew so to speak. So the Courts scratch around the edges as best they can working it out through case law. A good Jesuit would have first established a foundation for the Church’s teaching that the soul takes root at conception. There are other alternatives. At birth, when the egg is released from the ovary, on implantation, etc. How and why did the Church come to the conclusion that it did? Jesuits are Defenders of the Faith and usually well prepared to answer such questions, often very persuasively. It is not trivial by the way. If the religious folk could just talk themselves into the “implantation” option (not very far from conception I would point out) then this whole issue involving embryonic stem cells just disappears….voila, like magic.

  • Gandalf

    I understand the Catholic position on abortion and I agree with it for those who believe that human life begins at conception.However, the belief that human life begins with conception cannot be proven factually and it is an imposition on those who do not share this belief to act according to Catholic teachings and beliefs any more that we should ask them to believe in trans-substantion or virgin birth.

  • Gandalf

    I understand the Catholic position on abortion and I agree with it for those who believe that human life begins at conception.However, the belief that human life begins with conception cannot be proven factually and it is an imposition on those who do not share this belief to act according to Catholic teachings and beliefs any more that we should ask them to believe in trans-substantion or virgin birth.

  • Kay

    Dr. Blazek,God Bless.

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