Holy See abortion policy grounds on which abortion is permitted

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Grounds on which abortion is permitted:
To save the life of the woman No

To preserve physical health No

To preserve mental health No

Rape or incest No

Foetal impairment No

Economic or social reasons No

Available on request No
Additional requirements:
Not applicable.


Government view on fertility level: Satisfactory

Government intervention concerning fertility level: No intervention
Government policy on contraceptive use: Major restrictions
Percentage of currently married women using

modern contraception (aged 15-49): ..

Total fertility rate (1995-2000): ..
Age-specific fertility rate (per 1,000 women aged 15-19, 1995-2000): ..
Government has expressed particular concern about:

Morbidity and mortality resulting from induced abortion ..

Complications of childbearing and childbirth ..
Maternal mortality ratio (per 100,000 live births, 1990):

National ..

Developed countries 27
Female life expectancy at birth (1995-2000): ..


The position of the Catholic church on abortion has been long-standing and consistent: the Holy See rejects abortion because it destroys the life of a developing human being. This opposition to abortion is on moral grounds. Sacred Scripture defines man as having been created in the image and likeness of God, taken from dust of the earth and carrying within him the divine breath of life. Thus, man is characterized by an immediacy with God that is proper to his being; man is capax Dei and because he lives under the personal protection of God, he is “sacred”: “If anyone sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has man been made” (Genesis 9:6). According to the Catholic church, this statement of divine right does not permit exceptions: human life is untouchable because it is divine property.

The Holy See underscores the fact that life is a gift from God. It is a violation of the Divine Law, an offence against the dignity of the human person, a crime against life and an attempt against humanity to suppress the life of an innocent human being, whether it be foetus or embryo, child or adult, elderly, incurably sick or dying. The Holy See believes that an understanding of the sacred dignity of the human being leads one to attribute a value to all stages of life. The firm position of the Catholic church is that abortion, the destruction of life during its earliest stages of development, should not be permitted either as a demographic strategy or as a way of dealing with problems related to pregnancy.
Realizing that abortion is increasingly being performed with financial support from Governments and international organizations, the Holy See has appealed to all Governments and international organizations to affirm clearly and explicitly the value, inviolability and dignity of human life from the moment of conception, and to prohibit and exclude abortion as an element of family planning.
In a letter to bishops throughout the world, released 21 June 1991, Pope John Paul II called upon the bishops to promote respect for human life in the schools and seminaries, and to ensure that practices in Catholic hospitals and clinics should be “fully consonant with the nature of such institutions”. As means permit, the bishops were urged to support projects that offer practical help to women or families experiencing difficulties. The bishops were also urged to encourage scientific reflection and legislative or political initiatives.
The Holy See views the widespread incidence of abortion as a war of the mighty against the weak. By deciding which human beings are or are not the subject of rights and by granting to some the power to violate the fundamental rights of others, the State not only contradicts the democratic ideal to which it appeals but allows the law of force to prevail over the force of law. The Holy See maintains that in the modern world, the respect for life is no longer a question of a purely individual morality but one of social morality, as States and international organizations become the grantors of abortion, pass the laws that authorize them and provide the wherewithal for those putting them into practice.
The position of the Holy See is that the human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the very moment of conception. From that same moment, one's rights as a person must be recognized; among them is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life. The Holy See maintains that a new life begins at the time that the ovum is fertilized, a life which is neither that of the mother nor the father but is the life of a new human being with its own growth. In addition, the biological identity of a new human individual is already constituted at the time of fertilization. Thus, the Holy See believes that from the first moment of its existence, the embryo must be guaranteed the unconditional respect morally due to a human being in his spiritual and bodily totality.
Responding to the challenge of the abortion issue, the Holy See has insisted on the defence of life as a fundamental duty of every Christian; numerous papal statements have addressed the problem. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has published several important documents on the moral issues concerning respect for human life. In his 1991 address to the Extraordinary Consistory of Cardinals, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany pointed out that any future Vatican document on the defence of human life should not only concern individual morality but should also address social and political morality. The various threats against human life could be confronted from five points of view: (a) a doctrinal approach could propose a solemn affirmation of the principle that the direct killing of an innocent human being is always a matter of grave sin; (b) a cultural approach would allow a denunciation of the anti-life ideology based on materialism and justified by utilitarianism; (c) a legislative approach would highlight the implicit presuppositions of various types of laws, showing that they are intrinsically immoral and clarifying the proper function of civil law in relation to the moral law; (d) a political approach could show how laws are always the implementation of a social plan and that the implicit intention of anti-life laws is basically totalitarian within a society and imperialistic on the part of developed countries seeking to contain third world countries on the pretext of demographic politics; and (e) a practical approach would make people aware of the evil involved in using certain abortifacient or contraceptive-abortifacient means to end innocent life.

In its recent universal catechism issued on 17 November 1992 to confront the new challenges posed by social, economic, political and scientific change today, the Catholic church reaffirmed its strong stand against abortion. The view of the church is that human life must be respected and protected from the moment of conception; from the beginning of existence, a human being should enjoy the rights of the individual, including the inviolable right to life. Thus, formal participation in abortion is considered a serious error.


Source: Population Policy Data Bank maintained by the Population Division of the Department for Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat. For additional sources, see list of references.

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