Abortion remains illegal or unavailable for millions of people around the world. In the U.S., the constitutional right to abortion faces constant challenges, despite the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade. The Catholic hierarchy’s political sway plays a huge role in influencing public policy and limiting the availability of reproductive healthcare services worldwide. However, the hierarchy’s position does not reflect what ordinary Catholics know to be just. In the U.S., 56% of Catholics believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 68% believe that Roe v. Wade should not be overturned. Moreover, Catholic teachings on abortion have changed over time, indicating that true Catholicism is based on a deep respect for each individual conscience when making moral decisions.
Catholics for Choice fights for the rights of all individuals to have access to the full scope of reproductive healthcare, including abortion. Barriers to abortion access have the greatest impact on the poor, the vulnerable, and people of color. We are part of the majority of the faithful in the Catholic church who know that abortion access is a social justice value — and a matter to be decided by one’s individual conscience.
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Questions About Abortion
We've compiled these talking points to help inform Catholic conversations about abortion.
Yes, Catholics have abortions. In fact, Catholics have abortions at the same rate as other people.
Catholics around the world support the right to legal abortion and believe that it can be a moral option. In the U.S., 56% of Catholics believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 68% believe that Roe v. Wade should not be overturned.
Catholic teachings on abortion have changed over time. Many past and present Catholic theologians have said abortion can be a moral choice. Others disagree.
St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, both Doctors of the Church, believed that the fetus did not become a person (or become “ensouled”) until later in the pregnancy. For much of the church’s history, Catholic popes made a clear distinction between ensouled and un-ensouled fetuses. The Vatican’s total ban on abortion was not codified until 1917. Even today, although the Vatican does not condone abortion, it has said definitively that it does not know when a developing life becomes a person. This history demonstrates that the Catholic tradition includes more than the teachings written down by popes and theologians. Catholicism is based on a deep respect for conscience, which each person must follow above all else when making a moral decision.
The simple answer is that church law does not state that every person who has an abortion is automatically excommunicated.
Under church law, penalties can sometimes be imposed for abortion under specific circumstances. But church law also recognizes that in some situations a person might receive a lesser punishment or none at all. Many believe that this includes a person who acted according to their conscience in choosing an abortion.
That decision is entirely up to your own conscience.
People have abortions because they don’t want to be pregnant. Each person’s circumstances are unique, which means they are the one best positioned to decide about their pregnancy. No matter what the reasoning, their decision should be respected.
Ultimately, you know your life better than anyone, and only you can make the right decision about your pregnancy.