Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/77

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ABORTION
ABORTION
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were very severe among Christian nations. Among the Visigoths, the penalty was death, or privation of sight, for the mother who allowed it and for the father who consented to it, and death for the abortionist. In Spain, the woman guilty of it was buried alive. An edict of the French King Henry II in 1555, renewed by Louis XIV in 1708, inflicted capital punishment for adultery and abortion combined. To-day the French law is much less severe. It punishes the abortionist with imprisonment, and physicians, surgeons, and pharmacists, who prescribe or furnish the means, with the penalty of forced labour. For England, Blackstone stated the law as follows: "Life is the immediate gift of God, a right inherent by nature in every individual; and it begins, in contemplation of law, as soon as an infant is able to stir in its mother's womb. For if a woman is quick with child, and by a potion, or otherwise, killeth it in her womb, or if any one beat her, whereby the child dieth, and she is delivered of a dead child; this, though not murder, was by the ancient law homicide or manslaughter. But the modern law does not look upon this offence in so atrocious a light, but merely as a heinous misdemeanour." In the United States, legislation in this matter is neither strict nor uniform, nor are convictions of frequent occurrence. In some of the States any medical practitioner is allowed to procure abortion whenever he judges it necessary to save the mother's life.

The Catholic Church has not relaxed her strict prohibition of all abortion; but, as we have seen above, she has made it more definite. As to the penalties she inflicts upon the guilty parties, her present legislation was fixed by the Bull of Pius IX "Apostolicæ Sedis". It decrees excommunication—that is, deprivation of the Sacraments and of the Prayers of the Church in the case of any of her members, and other privations besides in the case of clergymen—against all who seek to procure abortion, if their action produces the effect. Penalties must always be strictly interpreted. Therefore, while anyone who voluntarily aids in procuring abortion, in any way whatever, does morally wrong, only those incur the excommunication who themselves actually and efficaciously procure the abortion. And the abortion here meant is that which is strictly so called, namely, that performed before the child is viable. For no one but the lawgiver has the right to extend the law beyond the terms in which it is expressed. On the other hand, no one can restrict its meaning by private authority, so as to make it less than the received terms of Church language really signify. Now Gregory XIV had enacted the penalty of excommunication for abortion of a "quickened" child but the present law makes no such distinction, and therefore it must be differently understood.

That distinction, however, applies to another effect which may result from the procuring of abortion; namely, he who does so for a child after quickening incurs an irregularity, or hindrance to his receiving or exercising Orders in the Church. But he would not incur such irregularity if the embryo were not yet quickened. The terms "quickened" and "animation" in present usage are applied to the child after the mother can perceive its motion, which usually happens about the one hundred and sixteenth day after conception. But in the old canon law, which established the irregularity here referred to the "animation" of the embryo was supposed to occur on the fortieth day for a male child, and on the eightieth day for a female child. In such matters of canon law, just as in civil law, many technicalities and intricacies occur, which it often takes the professional student to understand fully. In regard to the decisions of the Roman tribunal quoted above it is proper to remark that while they claim the respect and loyal adhesion of Catholics, they are not irreformable, since they are not definitive judgments, nor do they proceed directly from the Supreme Pontiff, who alone has the prerogative of infallibility. If ever reasons should arise, which is most improbable, to change these pronouncements those reasons would receive due consideration.

Antonelli, Medicina Pastoralis; Capellman, Pastoral Medicine; Eschbach, Disputationes Physicæ; Coppens, Moral Principles and Medical Practice; Klarmann, The Crux of Pastoral Medicine, The Right to Life of the Unborn Child; Slater, Principia Theologia Moralis.

Abortion, The Physical Effects of.—The expulsion of the human ovum occurring during the first three months of pregnancy, and occurring from any cause whatsoever, is called abortion. In the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh months, i.e., from the formation of the placenta to the period of viability—the occurrence is called immature delivery, or miscarriage; and a delivery occurring from the twenty-eighth week (the earliest period of viability) to the thirty-eighth week is called premature. To understand the physical effects of abortion we must know something of the causes, which are in the main the same as the causes of miscarriage and premature delivery. Abortion may be due to pathological changes in the ovum, the uterus, or its adnexa—one or both; to the physical or nervous condition of the woman, to diseases either inherited or acquired (syphilis, tuberculosis, rheumatism); to any infectious, contagious, or inflammatory disease; to shock, injury, or accident. It may be induced knowingly, willingly, and criminally by the pregnant person herself, or by someone else, with the aid of drugs, or instruments, or both.

Naturally, therefore, the physical effects of abortion will depend in direct ratio on the causation thereof, and the comparative malignity or benignity of such causation. In any case, abortion is fraught with serious consequences, direct and indirect; and is a sad miscarriage of nature's plan, greatly to be deplored, and earnestly, strenuously, and conscientiously to be avoided. Of course, when brought about with criminal intent, abortion is nothing less than murder in the first degree; and if the law of the land does not discover and punish the criminal, the higher law of the God of Nature and of Nature's inexorable reprisals for interference with, or destruction of her beneficent designs, will sooner or later most certainly do so. When abortion is due to pathological causes it is usually preceded by the death of the fœtus; so that the causes of abortion are really the causes producing the death of the fœtus. The causes may be grouped as follows:—direct violence (blows, falls, kicks, etc.); diseases of the fœtal appendages (cord, amnion, chorion, placenta); hæmorrhage and other diseases of the decidua before the complete formation of the placenta; febrile affections, excessive anæmia, starvation, corpulency, atrophy or hypertrophy of the uterine mucous mebrane, hyperæmia of the gravid uterus, excessive head or cold, diseases of the heart, liver, or lungs, long journeys, shock, excessive coitus, nervous influences, uterine anti-displacements, and the like. The abortion may be complete or partial. If complete, the danger is principally from shock and haemorrhage; if incomplete and any debris remains, there is danger of septicæmia, uræmia, endometritis, perimetritis, diseases of the tubes, ovaries, bladder, cervix uteri, vaginal canal, and rectum; together with catarrhal discharges from one or more of these parts, displacements, impoverished blood supply, various neuroses, and usually a long and expensive convalescence.

The retention of the dead fetus is not always so dangerous. Even if decomposition or putrefaction occur, Nature frequently—possibly more often than we are willing to give her credit for—eliminates the