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Roman Catholic Teaching on Abortion and Contraception

  • Category(s): Moral Essays
  • Created on : 28 June 2013
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  • Author: Richard Michael Lamb


Features relevant to the abortion and contraception debates with particular attention to the power of conscience.


Clearly no one pursues abortion for its own sake. No woman will readily admit to a termination. Nevertheless modern medical science has made it available under the law since David Steel’s Act in mid-late 1960’s. That Act removed the dreaded back street abortionists (Vera Drake) and brought in the era of religious condemnation of legal abortion. Someone has to do the dirty work in any side of life and abortion is that side of medicine delivering the woman from her perceived bondage to child rearing. For all sorts of reasons woman seek terminations – they should be treated with generosity of spirit and likewise those who administer the abortion who are essentially carrying out their instructions.

Condemnation and black and white answers will achieve nothing. If the termination is to be carried out it has to be done – there are no prizes for doing the right and proper thing in this world. We should not despise doctors, surgeons and nurses who work in this field. To turn up your nose at this work and refuse to get involved in it is simply taking the easy way out of satisfying your conscience – not truly following its dictates. You should not leave your medical colleagues defenceless and unprotected in any sense - Medicine needs cohorts.

Naturally some individuals feel very strongly under Society of the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) and other anti-abortion pressure groups. They should be allowed to express and believe what they espouse within the law. Those individuals should not create an atmosphere of shame and fear amongst women seeking abortion and those ministering to them. No young woman in my legal experience will admit to having a termination – it will be called a miscarriage. Anyone who says a woman has had an abortion is gratuitously offensive. Thus the debate is not between abortion and no abortion – that issue is decided. The current issue is between those who seek to smother debate whether by bludgeoning the pro-abortion lobby or by the pro-abortionists in effect brushing the truth under the carpet and going under cover.

The net result will create insincerity and no honesty; no moral climate will survive in those circumstances. Each wing should respect the other and each individual be she pregnant or not should make up their own mind in an informed way. Thus it should be a victory for conscience not one argument over the opposite; that is the essence of life. The woman who has had the abortion is entitled to complete confidentiality and is in the very special position of altering her life course by the decision; it must be her choice alone. Nevertheless we are now 50 plus years down the track since David Steel’s Act and research should be gathered in quiet from those counselling the young women, the medical profession and young women themselves to find out these attitudes and how these expectant women may best be supported post the abortion. The political/religious debate is either too judgemental, argumentative or apathetic.

Religion is not a one issue matter – abortion pro or contra will not get you to Heaven. Let us open our eyes to Christ who is the only way to the Father.


If a woman chooses to have an abortion that is her choice alone and she will still live her life to the full. She will not look back. God will not make her feel bad but treasured. We will admire her courage as we admire all women whether they are child bearing or not. God does not discriminate – we are all equal yet different. (Col. Stuart Townsend HM of Hill House School, Knightsbridge died circa 2005). Life is never the same – that is the test and challenge laid down for us all. Abortion is not exclusively a religious, medical or psychological matter – it is ultimately a personal decision to make and no one should make those decisions for the young women concerned however if she lacks capacity the baby should be born.


The starting point is Humanae Vitae Pope Paul VI Encyclical of 1968 circa which ruled contraception by artificial and intrusive means including condoms contrary to Roman Catholic teaching. It caused an enormous furore and was widely condemned at the time by Catholics and non-Catholics alike and has been to this day. The encyclical recommended the rhythm method which was thought to be unreliable. The Pope, a célibataire was not pontificating on matters he did not understand. He was not a familial man but he was supreme pastor and this was a matter of pastoral leadership. The encyclical was not ex Cathedra and not infallible doctrinal teaching. That was clear at the time. For many years like my mother I condemned Humanae Vitae but now I realise Montini, former Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, was seeking to support dignity for fertile women and respect from men for those women worldwide.

If a woman is subjected to repeated sexual intercourse through contraception there is a danger she may lose that dignity and she may not respect the man as a result. Clearly a loving relationship is the desired objective but contraception removes the danger of conception and creates a false sense of reality and security. Caution and care is needed in every personal relationship I would endorse. I am really saying copulation with condoms or other contraception effectively turns the woman into a vehicle for sex, like it or not, because the element of child birth and conception is removed and cleansed. Why should African men and women be told what to do by monolithic Western Charities, the UN and governments? These Africans, like all of us, should make up their own minds. Don’t be condescending to Africa and give them free condoms – it is down to them not us. It is worth the price of death to believe in conscience.

Ultimately contraception like all Catholic teaching must be seen through the eye of the conscience and Paul VI was a strong Pope (effectively the last Italian Pontiff). You ignore Montini (Paul VI) at your own risk but you are free to do so. |He left it open to Catholics to read the encyclical and not follow it like my own mother a non-Catholic. At the end of the day Paul VI wanted better quality of life for everyone in the world be they Catholic or non-Catholic – he wished to bring the world together and succeeded through this magnetic teaching in spite of the disagreements. A Pope of immense strength, moral and religious – truly worthy of the title God’s representative on earth. The real victor was God the Father Himself – La Gloire de Pere. Paul VI was so clearly the Vicar of Christ, the ultimate Good Shepherd, through this enduring example of life enhancing teaching – this encyclical.


Humanae Vitae perplexed many of all beliefs and agnostics. The encyclical went to the heart of the matter. Do you serve loving enduring physical pleasure or Heaven through abstinence? The choice is yours – there is no second best – either choice will suffice but how is God calling you? To be servant of all, yes like the Holy Father himself and like him you will then be the greatest of all.