Guest Post: Abortion and Intrinsic Evil by Fr. Fields, SJ


Photo Credits:Wikimedia Commons

By:Stephen M Fields, SJ, Associate Professor of Theology, Georgetown University

The annual ‘March for Life’ convenes on the nation’s capital every January, the anniversary of ‘Roe v. Wade,’ the Supreme Court’s decision making abortion easily accessible.  In the wake of this year’s recent March, it is worthwhile for us to review why the Catholic Church insists so strongly on the pro-life stance.

The Church is guided in its teaching, not first and foremost by its religious faith, but by the “natural law.”  This is the system of ethics based on a rational reflection on human nature and its ends and purposes.  From this reflection, an understanding of what is good and bad, right and wrong, emerges.  The natural law, then, is simply those ethical norms that arise from the way our nature is intrinsically structured.  This structure is known by what we call “right reason”: that is, reason thinking consistently, coherently, and honestly about who and what we are and about our destiny and purpose.

The development of the natural law has a long history in the West.  We find it, for instance, in Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, in Cicero and the Roman jurists.  It was brought to a high point by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century, and it continues to be developed today.

A basic and fundamental norm of the natural law affirms the following: Evil may never be done, even to bring about a good purpose.  In other words, a good end never justifies a means that is wrong.  We see this clearly in Socrates, who argues that doing wrong does profound injury, not first and foremost to the person injured, but to the perpetrator — to the human being doing the injuring.  This is because doing evil fundamentally violates the dignity and integrity of our very nature.

The rule that evil may never be done stands at odds with other views of ethics, such as utilitarianism.  This states that what is good is determined by what produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people.  According to this system, one may make a moral case for the killing fields of Cambodia under Pol Pot in the 1970’s, and the massacres at Strebreniza in recent years in the Balkans.

Why then we might ask, is abortion an act that is intrinsically evil, and so may never be done, even to produce a good result?  The natural law shows us that abortion is what we call “the direct taking of innocent human life.”  As such, it is fundamentally wrong.  Let us explain these terms.

First, why is the fetus “human life”?  It is equipped from conception with the genetic and chromosomal material that defines humanity.  Human life constitutes a continuum from conception to death.  There is no point in this continuum where it makes sense to draw an arbitrary line and to say that at this point the embryo or fetus is not human.

Second, why is the fetus “innocent” human life?  The fetus has done nothing wrong that merits, in justice, any harm to itself.  It is not, for instance, a criminal convicted by due process and therefore worthy of punishment.  It is not a soldier fighting in a just war and therefore liable to harm.  In strict justice, therefore, the embryo and fetus merit protection and nurturing.

Third, why is abortion the “direct” taking of innocent human life?  The direct doing of any act means that a person consciously intends to do that act.  In other words, the person does not do something wrong by accident.  When, for instance, we are involved in an automobile accident and someone is harmed or injured, if we are obeying the speed limit and we skidded on some hard-to-see oil on the highway, then we would be judged far less severely than if we had been driving while under the influence of alcohol.  In the first instance, we would have harmed an innocent person indirectly.  We would not have consciously intended it, nor would we have done anything within our reasonable power to bring about the injury.  In the second instance, we would be much more directly responsible for harming an innocent person, because we had done something wrong – the drinking – that led to the injury.

In sum, then, because abortion is the direct taking of innocent life, it is always and everywhere wrong, no matter what the circumstances or the intention of the person doing it.  Consequently, it may never be done.


From The Hoya: Why We March

Originally published on 27th January 2017, this article was taken from the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus’s rotating column in The Hoya, entitled The Round Table. The column, written by members of the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus, is published every other Friday.

Photo Credits:

By: Richard Howell

Today, the 44th annual March for Life winds its way through Washington, D.C., starting at the Washington Monument and heading toward the steps of the Supreme Court.

We, the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus, attend the March every year in accordance with our desire to promote a culture of life on campus and around the nation. We oppose euthanasia, the death penalty and particularly abortion because of our belief in the supreme innocence of its victims.

We march because we believe each individual human being is created uniquely and lovingly by God. The act of creation does not occur at birth, but rather at conception, when the process of life begins. This belief is not only the official position of the Knights, but that of the Catholic Church and, ostensibly, the university as well.

Although we champion Georgetown’s values by marching, we will go this year, as we have in the past, without the university’s support. While many of our peers attending institutions such as University of Notre Dame and Catholic University of America receive a day off from class to attend, Georgetown University has refused the petitions of its attendees for a similar allowance.

The inaugural March for Life was held Jan. 22, 1974 and attracted 20,000 marchers. That day marked the first anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that reasoned a woman’s right to privacy allowed her to decide whether to have an abortion.

We continue to hold that abortion is the most pressing issue of our time even 45 years after Roe, as nearly 60 million abortions have been legally sanctioned in the United States, roughly the same number of people who died in World War II.

Although Nellie Gray, the founder of the march, had originally intended it to be a one-time event, she instead pushed to have an annual march to keep issues the opposition of abortion, the death penalty and euthanasia on the national radar.

Since then, the March has attracted hundreds of thousands of protesters, including more than 600,000 in 2013. Featured speakers have included sitting presidents such as Ronald Reagan in 1987 and George W. Bush in 2003, as well as numerous members of Congress. This year, Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway and Cardinal Timothy Dolan are set to deliver addresses.

Together, we reject the arbitrary distinction between born and unborn because we believe life persists fundamentally unchanged from womb to world. A child is no more alive one minute after birth than one minute, or even six months, before. Accordingly, no utilitarian argument could dissuade us from our stance against abortion.

Further, we reject the claim that a society, family or single parent would be so disadvantaged by the birth of a child so as to justify the destruction of the child’s life. No one has a right to determine for another when life is worth living.

Of course, we hope that all those sympathetic to the cause attend despite the university’s lack of accommodation, but more importantly we hope this occasion might instigate a respectful dialogue on campus centered on life, which we and the Catholic Church hold to be the single most essential value of human existence.

Many on campus disagree with us, often in the name of principles such as liberty and privacy. However, there is no scale on which to measure the value of a human life, which is qualitatively superior to privacy, liberty or any other right. The only choice, then, is whether or not to recognize the worth of every human being. Those of us who identify as pro-life stand on the side of human dignity and will not allow life to be cheapened.

Although the fetus starts as a clump of cells, it rapidly and ineluctably changes. I, too, am a clump of cells, but I am not the same clump as when I was conceived, nor will I be the same in 10 years. Life, then, is fundamentally a process of growth and change, which has its decisive, fragile and miraculous beginning in the womb.

Link to original article:


Person of Interest: A Pro-Life Mission

person of interest

Recently at one of our weekly Spiritual Discussion dinners, the topic of the missionary work of St. Patrick diverted into remarking on the influential role television and other popular forms of media have on people today in promoting a certain message, as well as the general lack of morality found in them across the board. How often are movies and TV shows today judged based upon excitement so often portrayed through violence and sex? And no, I’m not just talking about Game of Thrones (which I will defend to the last). We struggled to find a TV show that gives proper gravitas to teachings that the Catholic Church would promote. However, among shows such as Breaking Bad, The Blacklist, The Walking Dead, and Blue Mountain State, there is indeed a show that’s main focus, woven through all the thrill of an action and crime drama, and with a particular emphasis on the importance of life, is morality.

Person of Interest began in 2011, and I only started the show due to Michael Emerson’s (LOST) presence, but I was quickly hooked. The basic premise is this: a billionaire (Finch) has created a Machine that scans all cameras in New York City, and provides him with potential threats involving everyday citizens. Together, he and an ex-military operative (Reese) investigate the potential targets, deemed “Irrelevant” by the government, and determine whether they are perpetrator or victim, setting out to prevent crimes before they occur. Each episode has a brilliant combination of exciting action sequences, dramatic plots full of twists, and an air of mystery as the viewer works to solve the puzzle alongside the characters.

One of, if not the, major rules that Finch and Reese play by is that they work to save lives, and will not kill one person in order to save another. Regardless of a villain’s crime, nothing they have done justifies death in the eyes of the two protagonists. Even risking their own security and protection from a competitive private machine, Reese and Finch refuse to kill one week’s person of interest. The drama of that particular episode climaxes in the debate between the two, with Reese advocating that taking this one life will protect millions, but Finch retorting that he is merely a greedy Senator investing in a company, and reminds Reese that their purpose always is and has been to save people – they will not turn into murderers, even at the Machine’s behest.

Flashbacks within the series further emphasize Finch’s painstaking efforts to teach the Machine morality, demanding that it not place greater value on himself, despite being its creator. He plays chess against it, reminding it that people’s lives are not a game and that all are equal. In the present, the Machine is shown to be calculating various options (over 800,000) to get the protagonists out of a near-impossible situation, ultimately selecting the one with the greatest chance of survival for all. The episode is a fascinating feat of both creative storytelling and emphasizing the value of all lives that Finch has programmed into the Machine.

The show presently remains in my mind after the most recent episode as well, in which Finch plans to install a Trojan horse to dismantle the enemy machine through a woman’s program, but learns from another associate (Root) that by doing so, he will ultimately be traced down and killed through his personal connection to her. Thus, Root plans to poison the woman, as Finch will never back down from his plan, and because his life is far more valuable than hers. After a dramatic and fruitless plea to Root not to follow through with the plan, Finch resorts to drinking the poison himself, reiterating that all lives are equal, and that he will not be responsible for her death in order to preserve his own; if he is already dead, there is no reason to kill her.

The character development of the show follows a tremendous growth in understanding the value of life among all four of the current protagonists. Finch originally attempts revenge for the death of a friend, but ultimately shows mercy when the Machine labels him a threat to his own stated purpose. Reese, serving as a military operative with many undercover acts under his belt, finds new meaning when hired by Finch. Killing is no longer his method; however, it certainly doesn’t stop him from shooting enemies in the kneecap, for which he certainly becomes recognized. Shaw, another operative who joins their cause, comes begrudgingly to understand the lifesaving mission of Reese and Finch, also electing not to kill that one Senator, where she once might have without a second though. Finally, Root appears initially as a villain, kidnapping Finch and killing others mercilessly, before she is ultimately captured by Reese and Shaw and joins their fight. In the end, she comes to value life as well, and sees her companions as friends that she would, self-admittedly, do anything for. Despite coming from dark backgrounds where death is trivialized, these four transcend their earlier lifestyles and become strong proponents of saving lives.

No television program is perfect, just as no person is perfect. Person of Interest does indeed show death, and it certainly shows its fair share of illegal and immoral actions, among protagonists and antagonists alike. However, the fact that this show successfully centers on the question of life, and the morality that drives its main characters through any circumstance, is a remarkable achievement in modern society. Person of Interest is indeed a crime drama, but underneath that setting for its plot is a staunchly pro-life message, that is not compromised or altered to fit the needs of the characters. The value of lives worth saving (that is to say: all of them) that begins the mission of the show remains to this day through all the characters’ tribulations; we, too, must be steadfast in adhering to the morality of the Church, no matter what life throws at us.

Perhaps it is no coincidence, therefore, that Person of Interest’s Reese is played by Jim Caviezel, who portrays none other than Jesus Christ himself in The Passion of the Christ?

Written By: Richie DeMarco