In the News 2008
National Catholic Reporter

Bishops dispute Speaker Pelosi comment on abortion


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press Aug. 24, said “doctors of the church” had taught different ideas at various times about when life begins and that the matter had been “an issue of controversy” over centuries. She also said the absolute teaching that life begins at conception was a development of recent decades.The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops responded to Pelosi’s assertions on its website with a statement by Cardinal Justin F. Rigali, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop William E. Lori, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine.

Their statement follows:

In the course of a “Meet the Press” interview on abortion and other public issues on August 24, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi misrepresented the history and nature of the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church against abortion.

In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, ‘Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.’ (No. 2271)

In the Middle Ages, uninformed and inadequate theories about embryology led some theologians to speculate that specifically human life capable of receiving an immortal soul may not exist until a few weeks into pregnancy. While in canon law these theories led to a distinction in penalties between very early and later abortions, the Church’s moral teaching never justified or permitted abortion at any stage of development.

These mistaken biological theories became obsolete over 150 years ago when scientists discovered that a new human individual comes into being from the union of sperm and egg at fertilization.

In keeping with this modern understanding, the Church teaches that from the time of conception (fertilization), each member of the human species must be given the full respect due to a human person, beginning with respect for the fundamental right to life.

Meanwhile, Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, issued the following statement about the response from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi:

“In their response to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the US bishops commented on their interpretation of what Speaker Pelosi said, not what she actually said. Speaker Pelosi was correct in noting that Catholic teaching has changed over the years, even on the issue of when life begins. But the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops used the occasion to bang the drum on their issue sine qua non in American politics: abortion. In doing so, the bishops ignored many relevant issues, including the importance of conscience, what Catholics themselves actually believe, and the role of religion in politics.

“On conscience, Catholic politicians need no reminding that Catholic teaching requires them to follow their own consciences—even if it is in conflict with church teaching. In addition, Catholic teaching requires at least tolerance, if not respect, for other people’s decisions. Speaker Pelosi and the many other prochoice Catholic politicians are following this teaching to the letter when they recognize the proper place for personal religious convictions in the political arena, and support policies that help ensure affordable contraception, safe and legal abortions, comprehensive sexuality education, and affordable health care for all people in this country.

This article originally appeared in the 26 August 2008 National Catholic Reporter.

Catholics for Choice