Respect Life Apostolate
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying: Before I formed
you in the womb I knew you, before you were born, I
consecrated you; a prophet to the nations I appointed you.
The Catholic Church is a Pro-Life Church
Catholic Council of Bishops
All persons, not just Catholics, can know from the scientific and
distinct human being. All persons can understand that each
human being -- without discrimination -- merits respect. At the
very least, respecting human life excludes the deliberate and
direct destruction of life -- and that is exactly what abortion is.
Catholics are also pro-life because our Christian tradition is
pro-life. As Pope John Paul II says, Christians believe that "all
human life is sacred, for it is created in the image and likeness
of God." Aborting an unborn child destroys a unique creation
which God has called specially into existence.
Jesus Christ, who spoke and acted strongly and
compassionately in favor of the most despised and vulnerable
persons in society. Jesus touched lepers, spoke with
prostitutes, and showed special mercy and tenderness to the
sick, the poor, and children. Our society today has many
vulnerable persons --- including women in crisis pregnancies
as well as unborn children whose lives may be legally ended at
any time during pregnancy and for any reason. In the tradition
of Jesus Christ, Catholics have a responsibility to speak and
act in defense of these persons. This is part of our
"preferential option" for the poor and powerless.
The Church's mission to defend human life applies over the
entire course of life, from conception to natural death. And so
the Catholic Church has been a strong supporter of the civil
rights movement and a leader in international relief and
development efforts. Catholic hospitals and other health-care
facilities form the largest network of private, not-for-profit
health care providers in the United States. Catholic Charities
USA --- one of a number of Catholic charitable groups --- is
currently the single largest provider of social services to all
Americans, regardless of race, creed or national origin.
The Catholic Church strives to be a prophetic voice, speaking
out to protest injustices and indignities against the human
person. Catholics will continue in this work, whether our words
are popular or unpopular.
Since its beginnings, Christianity has maintained a firm and
clear teaching on the sacredness of human life. Jesus Christ
emphasized this in his teaching and ministry. Abortion was
rejected in the earliest known Christian manual of discipline,
Early Church fathers likewise condemned abortion as the killing
of innocent human life. A third century Father of the Church,
Tertullian, called it "accelerated homicide." Early Church
councils considered it one of the most serious crimes. Even
during periods when Aristotle's theory of "delayed ensoulment"
led Church law to assign different penalties to earlier and later
abortions, abortion at any stage was still considered a grave
When biologists in the 19th century learned more about the
process of conception, the Church altered its legal distinction
between early and late abortions out of respect for reason and
Since that time, science has only further confirmed the
humanity of the child growing in the womb. Official Church
teaching insists, to the present day, that a just society protects
life before as well as after birth.
The reasons are not difficult to understand. One official Church
document on the subject puts it this way:
"The first right of the human person is his life . . . It does not
belong to society, nor does it belong to public authority in any
form to recognize this right for some and not for others; all
discrimination is evil. . . Any discrimination based on the
various stages of life is no more justified any other
discrimination. . . . In reality, respect for human life is called for
from the time that the process of generation begins. From the
time that the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which is neither
that of the father nor of the mother; it is rather the life of a new
human being with his own growth."
Declaration on Procured Abortion, Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith (1974), paragraphs 11-12.