A June 23 statement from the USCCB Committee on Doctrine addresses the Arizona controversy, and calls upon the teachings of the Holy Fathers to explain the issue at hand. “The Distinction between Direct Abortion and Legitimate Medical Procedures” clarifies Church teaching, and applies it succinctly to the Arizona case.
Church teaching, said the statement, holds that direct abortion is never permissible. Direct abortion is an act whose primary intent is to terminate a pregnancy and kill an unborn child. However, medical procedures which have other primary intentions, and which indirectly end the life of the unborn child, are not considered to be direct abortions nor immoral.
“The difference can be seen in two different scenarios in which the unborn child is not yet old enough to survive outside the womb,” says the statement. “In the first scenario, a pregnant woman is experiencing problems with one or more of her organs, apparently as a result of the added burden of pregnancy. The doctor recommends an abortion to protect the health of the woman.”
“In the second scenario, a pregnant woman develops cancer in her uterus. The doctor recommends surgery to remove the cancerous uterus as the only way to prevent the spread of the cancer. Removing the uterus will also lead to the death of the unborn child, who cannot survive at this point outside the uterus.”
The first scenario is an example of a direct abortion, because the surgery directly targets the life of the child. The procedure only affects the function of the woman’s organs, and thus her health, in an indirect way, explained the document. “As the Church has said many times, direct abortion is never permissible because a good end cannot justify an evil means.”
In the second scenario, the surgery “indirectly and unintentionally (although foreseeably) results in the death of an unborn child.” However, it “directly addresses the health problem of the woman” and her “health benefits directly from the surgery, because of the removal of the cancerous organ.”
In that scenario, “the surgery does not directly target the life of the unborn child,” explains the statement. “The death of the child is an unintended and unavoidable side effect and not the aim of the surgery.”