Sun Dec 04, 2022
December 04, 2022

The Struggle to legalize Abortion and the Catholic Church

When we talk about legalizing abortion, we cannot forget to mention the role of the Catholic Church in this matter. In all countries where Catholicism is strong, the high clergy along with its most orthodox followers interferes not only in discussions going on at the society, but also uses its power to influence the resolution bodies responsible for the decision about legalization as they did recently in Argentina.
By: Lena Souza from São Paulo women’s secretary – PSTU Brazil
Even though among the women who have already had the need of an abortion there is huge amount of Catholics, the topic is a taboo and the Church’s position about legalizing abortion makes the majority of these women carry (in different levels) the burden of guilt.
As for any other topic though, we should not hide or waive because of the pressure of those, who in the name of “life defense” do not open their minds even to learn about Catholic Church’s history on this matter. Nowadays it is easier to access such information, making it possible that dogmatic positions become known, deconstructed or at least questioned.
Therefore, it is worth it to talk a bit about the history of positions taken by the Catholic Church about abortion. The disclosure of such history made by sectors of the Church, which are not recognized and have no voice inside the institution, such as the (female) Catholics for Choice, is hampered by those at the high command of the Church who do not allow the diffusion of information, opting for the ignorance to impose their position.
The attitude of the Catholic Church in relation to abortion has not always been the same. There are authors who defend that their position nowadays results from political negotiations of its leadership, and not from religious placements.
Actually, the Catholic Church has never had, in about two Thousand years, an agreement about abortion. Its position ranged between flexibility and prohibition.
Studies about the opinion of theologians show that “St. August, already on the IV century, defended that it was only possible to talk about life after forty days of pregnancy (six weeks). A thousand years later another Catholic intellectual, Thomas Aquinas, reaffirmed that he did not recognize as a human being an embryo which had not completed 40 days at the belly of its mother” [1].
“The studying of first Christian writings – from the so called priests of the Church and from theologians of the first centuries of Christianity -, shows us a very diverse scenario. Analyzing the tradition of the Church when the subject is abortion, Hurst has found that the reason to condemn abortion was, at first, related to the problem of adultery, which could be hidden interrupting pregnancy. And also because of the sin of fornication (having sex without aiming at procreating)” [2]
Only in 1869, Pope Pius IX adopted the theory of the human soul being incorporated on copulation, and started to condemn abortion at any level of pregnancy. Many authors have revealed that adopting this position was a result of political negotiation:
“The Pope has used some writings from Emperor Tertullian (III century) and St. Albert the Great (century XIII) to give a “theological” face to a political decision. They defended the immediate humanization – in other words a human being exists since its fertilization” [3]
“It has happened because France was in a low birth rate crisis, which was inconvenient for the plans of industrialization of its government. So the Pope, moved by political matters, told the people that from that moment on abortion would be a sin, at any stage of pregnancy.”[4]
These same authors also state that the agreement would have be done because Pope Pius IX was in need of support from the French to not allow the attachment of Rome on the Italian unification war.
Who is aware of the Catholic Church’s history and all atrocities it has joined, supported or hidden to keep its power has no doubt about the truth of these facts. Excommunication sentence for abortion was established because of political interests, and not in “defense of life” as they want us to believe.
Hypocrisy and dictatorship on the position of the Church
There is an endless list of examples to confront, question and doubt about the “truth” of this position of the Catholic Church on the “defense of life”
As we have seen above, this great defense is based on the idea that a human being exists since its fecundation moment. Even though the Church tries to justify its divergent positions in the past, claiming that science had less knowledge at that time, nowadays there is still no common ground among scientists about existence of life at conception.
“The defense of life right since conception, defended in the past by the high clergy based in the fact that life starts at conception and that it is a divine gift, which people do not have any right to interfere, gets new ornaments in the current disputes. They try to use biology, medicine and philosophy to justify their position of life starting at fecundation …”[5]
This argument is not enough though, as José Roberto Goldim (Bioethical professor at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul-Brazil) says, “there are at least 19 medical ways to decide when to recognize an embryo as a person.”[6]
Conclusion: “This is a discussion full of contradictions and different answers. A debate in which Medicine is closer to be part of Human rather than Biological Sciences, and frequently there are scientists using religious and not scientific arguments”
Even if there were scientific unanimity about life existing since conception, the Church, who stands firmly on “defense of life”, as when they say: “ We explicitly express our strong commitment with life since conception until natural death, with special attention to the most undermined life […] an imperative condition to allow democracy to be consolidated”[7] do not show themselves so devoted or even interfere when it comes to State issues or facing the dominant class’s power. But if the “defense of life” is so important, why has the Church never acted with such fierce and resolution to face governments in a discussion that is so important nowadays such as immigrants situation, where lives of thousands of human beings are literally lost for having denied the right of having a place to live? Including children at all ages (those still inside their mothers’ bellies as well)? We do not see the Church lobbying with parliamentarians or governments at any country, when it comes to vote laws for liberating the entrance of immigrants through borders of countries.
We also do not see the Church joining the discussion about the war responsible for the murder of thousands of teenagers and children, mainly black and poor on the suburbs, like in Brazil, where poverty is the main reason. Or has anyone seen the Church intervening on the discussion about feminicide, which takes away the life of thousands of women around the world? On the contrary, in its sexist position about women the Church, in fact, encourages violence and feminicide. We could enumerate a hundred examples at the present time about defense of life (without quotation marks), where the church is not seen fulfilling this role.
All of it without mentioning that, the Church has been historically the main complicit or silent in face of serious genocides such as colonialism, slavery, Nazism, dictatorships and a long etc… Or even yet when the Church itself has tortured and taken lives through its Inquisition, killing and mutilating thousands of human beings who were considered witches, heretics, etc…
We also do not see the church being radical when judging pedophile priests who, in their acts, cause the destruction of individual and family lives. We have to hear from voices inside the church, such as the Archbishop of Tuxtla Gutiérrez Archdiocese in Mexico, Fabio Martínez Castilla, saying that an abortion is much more alarming than a Priest abusing a child.
From this and many other lines and practices we see today, we can conclude about the true position of the church on “defense of life”.
We defend a secular State… and furthermore, we defend a socialist society
The religion or the belief of each one must be a private matter, in relation to the State. No one should be decriminalized or persecuted by the State because of his or her religious beliefs. It means a secular State, which does not decriminalize and does not support any religion. It guarantees the existence of worship of any religion and non-interference of any religious worship on social, economic or political matters of the State. Even less that religions that have the majority of worshippers be able to impose any kind of religion over smaller religions or those who declare themselves atheists. The Catholic Church, disguising its arguments under scientific words, is forcing all of the people to submit to their opinion when they say women should not have the right to abort.
The Church and the powerful people say that socialists are atheists, and that they want to impose their conviction over society, forcing it not to believe in God. It is true that socialist conception defends atheism, but that is not the criterion used to develop the struggle for socialism.
We defend, differently from the Church and bourgeoisie that, as Lenin has said: “any decriminalization over a citizen related to his religious beliefs is completely unacceptable. Including any mention in official documents about any religious belief of citizens must be unquestionably suppressed”.
Continuing with Lenin: “In what is related to the socialist proletariat party, religion is not a private matter… but… let us not divert towards an abstract or idealist defense about religion for the “reason itself” without considering class struggle… It would be an absurd to believe in a society based on endless oppression and brutalization of the masses of workers it is possible to end the religious prejudices exclusively through preaching”
When talking about socialism in Russia, he says: “In this political regime, freed from the medieval way, proletariat is going to go through an open and wide struggle for the liquidation of economic slavery, which is the true origin of religious cheat over humanity”.[8]
The Church questions those who defend legalizing abortion saying “we ask then, if the solution for them [pregnant women] is on interrupting pregnancy or on the fierce of all of the people for a nation in where fundamental rights are effectively respected and fulfilled”[9]
The answer from the Church itself to this questioning is preaching humility and resignation during life on earth to wait for a reward in celestial life.
We defend the struggle for a decent life here on earth and now. In contrast to the church, we do not preach resignation, we defend a revolutionary struggle for a socialist society, in which we can guarantee life in all its dimensions, where we do not have children nor adults starving to death, without a house, a job or a place to live as it happens to refugees.
We do defend life in all its moments and dimensions. Unlike the Church, who, in the name of moral and “defense of life” wants to forbid abortion and then kill thousands of women who practice an unsafe abortion, or that “defends life”, but does absolutely nothing about the reasons for the death of millions of human beings every year by the lack of a decent life.
We want a socialist society that guarantees freedom for women to decide over maternity, if they want to become a mother and the moment for that. A society where those women who freely decide to become mothers have guaranteed this right through state assistance with health service, education, living, work, etc., so that them and their children can be truly treated as human beings.
In addition, for those who decide not to become mothers, but for any reason need to have an abortion, this right shall be guaranteed, with freedom and without blame.
That is why we call all women and men from the working class to fight for legalizing abortion and more than that, to fight for a socialist society, the only one truly able to guarantee the conditions for the real emancipation of women.

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