Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/75

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ABORTION
ABORTION
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which was exchanged after a few days for an animal soul, and was not succeeded by a rational soul till later; his followers said on the fortieth day for a male, and the eightieth for a female, child. The authority of his great name and the want of definite knowledge to the contrary caused this theory to be generally accepted up to recent times. Yet, as early as the fourth century of the Christian era, St. Gregory of Nyssa had advocated the view which modern science has confirmed almost to a certainty, namely, that the same life principle quickens the organism from the first moment of its individual existence until its death (Eschbach, Disp. Phys., Disp., iii). Now it is at the very time of conception, or fecundation, that the embryo begins to live a distinct individual life. For life does not result from an organism when it has been built up, but the vital principle builds up the organism of its own body. In virtue of the one eternal act of the Will of the Creator, Who is of course ever present at every portion of His creation, the soul of every new human being begins to exist when the cell which generation has provided is ready to receive it as its principle of life. In the normal course of nature the living embryo carries on its work of self-evolution within the maternal womb, deriving its nourishment from the placenta through the vital cord, till, on reaching maturity, it is by the contraction of the uterus issued to lead its separate life. Abortion is a fatal termination of this process. It may result from various causes, which may be classed under two heads, accidental and intentional.

Accidental causes may be of many different kinds. Sometimes the embryo, instead of developing in the uterus, remains in one of the ovaries, or gets lodged in one of the Fallopian tubes, or is precipitated into the abdomen, resulting, in any of these cases, in an ectopic, or extra-uterine gestation. This almost invariably brings on the death of the fœtus, and is besides often fraught with serious danger to the mother. Even if an ectopic child should live to maturity, it cannot be born by the natural channel; but, once it has become viable, it may be saved by a surgical operation. Most commonly the embryo develops in the uterus; but there, too, it is exposed to a great variety of dangers, especially during the first months of its existence. There may be remote predispositions in the mother to contract diseases fatal to her offspring. Heredity, malformation, syphilis, advanced age, excessive weakness, effects of former sicknesses, etc. may be causes of danger; even the climate may exercise an unfavourable influence. More immediate causes of abortion may be found in cruel treatment of the mother by her husband or in starvation, or any kind of hardship. Her own indiscretion is often to blame; as when she undertakes excessive labours or uses intoxicating drinks too freely. Anything in fact that causes a severe shock to the bodily frame or the nervous system of the mother may be fatal to the child in her womb. On the part of the father, syphilis, alcoholism, old age, and physical weakness may act unfavourably on the offspring at any time of its existence. The frequency of accidental abortions is no doubt very great; it must differ considerably according to the circumstances, so that the proportion between successful and unsuccessful conceptions is beyond the calculation of the learned.

Intentional abortions are distinguished by medical writers into two classes. When they are brought about for social reasons, physicians style them criminal; and they are rightly condemned under any circumstances whatsoever. They express utter contempt for the doctors and midwives concerned in them. They usually strive to prevent such crimes by all means possible in their power. "Often, very often," said Dr. Hodge, of the University of Pennsylvania, "must all the eloquence and all the authority of the practitioner be employed; often he must, as it were, grasp the conscience of his weak and erring patient, and let her know, in language not to be misunderstood, that she is responsible to the Creator for the life of the being within her" (Wharton and Stille's Med. Jurispr., Vol. on Abortion, II). The name of obstetrical abortion is given by physicians to such as is performed to save the life of the mother. Whether this practice is ever morally lawful we shall consider below. Of late years the leaders of the medical profession have employed commendable industry in lessening the frequency of its performance. Aside from moral considerations, they count it a gross blunder against the science of obstetrics to sacrifice the life of the child unless it be the only means to save the mother's life. Their efforts have met with gratifying success. The most enlightened among them never perform or permit abortion in any case whatever. At the sixty-first Annual Meeting of the British Medical Association (1893), which counts about fifteen thousand practitioners, Dr James Murphy said in his presidential address before the section of Obstetric Medicine and Gynecology: "It is not for me to decide whether the modern Cæasarean section, Porro's operation, symphysiotomy, ischiopubotomy, or other operation is the safest or most suitable; not yet is there sufficient material for this question to be decided. But when such splendid and successful results have been achieved by Porro, Leopold, Saenger, and by our own Murdock Cameron, I say it deliberately, and with whatever authority I possess, and I urge it with all the force I can muster, that we are not now justified in destroying a living child," (Brit. Med. Journ., 26 August, 1893). While the medical profession is thus striving, for scientific reasons, to diminish the practice of abortion, it is evident that the determination of what is right or wrong in human conduct belongs to the science of ethics and the teaching of religious authority. Both of these declare the Divine law, "Thou shalt not kill". The embryonic child, as seen above, has a human soul; and therefore is a man from the time of its conception; therefore it has an equal right to its life with its mother; therefore neither the mother, nor medical practitioner, nor any human being whatever can lawfully take that life away. The State cannot give such right to the physician; for it has not itself the right to put an innocent person to death. No matter how desirable it might seem to be at times to save the life of the mother, common sense teaches and all nations accept the maxim, that "evil is never to be done that good may come of it"; or, which is the same thing, that "a good end cannot justify a bad means". Now it is an evil means to destroy the life of an innocent child. The plea cannot be made that the child is an unjust aggressor. It is simply where nature and its own parents have put it. Therefore, Natural Law forbids any attempt at destroying fœtal life.

The teachings of the Catholic Church admit of no doubt on the subject. Such moral questions, when they are submitted, are decided by the Tribunal of the Holy Office. Now this authority decreed, 28 May, 1884, and again, 18 August, 1889, that "it cannot be safely taught in Catholic schools that it is lawful to perform … any surgical operation which is directly destructive of the life of the fœtus or the mother." Abortion was condemned by name,