The Catholic Church opposes all direct abortions but does not condemn procedures which may result, indirectly, in the loss of the unborn child as a “secondary effect.”
There are, for example, rare cases when a pregnancy can be life threatening, such as the case when a mother is suffering from an ectopic pregnancy (when a baby is developing in her fallopian tube, not the womb). In such cases a doctor may remove the fallopian tube as therapeutic treatment to prevent the mother’s death. The infant will not survive long after this, but the intention and action of the procedure is to preserve the mother’s life, not to abort the child.
Also occurring, very rarely, are situations in which an unborn child must be delivered early in order to save the mother’s life. This can usually be done safely through induced delivery or a caesarean section.
Additionally, an unborn child with disabilities does not require direct killing in order to save the mother. In fact, disabled children can typically be delivered with no additional complications to the mother than a healthy child. Direct abortion in these cases is ideological, a belief that it is better — for the child, the family and the whole society — for the child to die than to live with a disability.
While many laws aimed at reducing abortions may not uphold the dignity of unborn life to the level at which the Catholic Church maintains, nevertheless, incremental laws that limit the number of abortions, are worthy of support.
Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical “On the Gospel of Life,” addressed the morality of supporting these types of laws.
“A particular problem of conscience can arise,” he noted, “in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on,” Pope John Paul II wrote.
He added: “In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.”
— Editor’s note: The Catechism of the Catholic Church and AmericanCatholic.org, a service of Franciscan Media were used as source material for this article.