Is abortion ever allowed for Catholics? For a 10-year-old rape victim?

Katie Yoder   By Katie Yoder for CNA


null / Thanatip S/Shutterstock.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 15, 2022 / 10:31 am (CNA).

The Catholic Church teaches that human life is sacred and must be respected and protected from the moment of conception. Following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide in 1973, Catholics — and pro-life Americans in general — are facing new questions about abortion in certain situations, such as the story of a 10-year-old rape victim who traveled from Ohio to Indiana to obtain one.

Here is the Catholic Church’s teaching on abortion.

May a Catholic woman ever get an abortion?

Abortion is “never permitted,” according to the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

The U.S. bishops go on to define abortion as the “directly intended termination of pregnancy before viability or the directly intended destruction of a viable fetus.”

In other words, the Catholic Church forbids any action that has, as its sole and direct purpose, the ending of human life in the womb. Abortion is prohibited regardless of whether an unborn baby is viable — or can survive outside the womb.

Instead, the bishops say, the unborn should be protected from the moment of conception.

“Every procedure whose sole immediate effect is the termination of pregnancy before viability is an abortion, which, in its moral context, includes the interval between conception and implantation of the embryo,” they add.

What about abortion for 10-year-old rape victims?

Catholics should embrace life — not the destruction of it — even in the most difficult situations, Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, the director of education and staff ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA. The center, located in Broomall, Pennsylvania, is dedicated to upholding the dignity of the human person in health care and biomedical research.

“Encouraging a direct abortion never offers an authentic solution for a young woman facing a crisis,” Pacholczyk explained. “When a 10 year old girl becomes pregnant from rape, responding to her trauma by offering a second trauma makes no sense.”

“It exacerbates the original act of violence with yet more violence,” he said of abortion. “It plays off of the emotional vulnerability we all feel whenever tragedy strikes home.”

Pacholczyk pointed to a different solution for a victim facing a situation like this: love and support.

“What a young woman needs in such a situation is the support of family and friends, along with the reassurance that ‘we can get through this together,’” he said. “What she really needs is the love, hope and compassion that buoys up anyone facing uncertainty about her own future.”

Support, he said, can make all the difference.

“Young women who have had to walk this hard road, when supported generously by their families and friends, will often look back on what happened and express their relief that they were not offered the chance to destroy their own child following a sexual assault,” he said.

He referenced the recent story of Kathy Barnette, who unsuccessfully ran as a Republican Senate candidate in Pennsylvania in 2022. Barnette was conceived in rape when her mother, Mamie Jo, was just 11 years old. Mamie Jo chose life.

Pacholczyk emphasized that the child in the womb is innocent.

“By promoting abortion following a rape, we also take aim at the wrong target,” he said. “The child in the womb did not perpetrate the sexual assault, and should not be treated as if he or she did so.”

“Rather than targeting an innocent bystander, we should target the man who carried out the assault,” he concluded. “If efforts are not made to identify and apprehend the offender, who sometimes may be a family member or relative, an abortion may end up paving the way for the perpetrator to ‘cover his tracks’ and continue abusing a minor who should instead be provided with safety and protection from further abuse.”

What about ectopic pregnancies and cases where a woman’s life is at risk?

A Catholic woman is allowed to undergo life-saving treatment — even if it means that her unborn baby will die indirectly as a result of that treatment, according to the U.S. bishops’ directives. The intention and action, here, is to save the mother’s life. It is not to end her baby’s life through abortion, or “the directly intended termination of pregnancy.”

“Operations, treatments, and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child,” the directives read.

The bishops also address ectopic, or extrauterine, pregnancies that are life-threatening for the mother.

“In case of extrauterine pregnancy, no intervention is morally licit which constitutes a direct abortion,” the directives say.

Instead, for ectopic pregnancies, Catholic medical experts agree that women can undergo a partial salpingectomy, which is the removal of a portion of the Fallopian tube where the unborn baby is located, the National Catholic Register reports. The intent and the direct action is to remove damaged tissue, not to end an unborn baby’s life.

According to the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “Continuation of such a pregnancy cannot result in the survival of a baby.”

In other situations, the directives state that labor may be induced for a “proportionate reason” after the unborn baby is viable.

Can Catholic hospitals provide abortion?

The bishops’ directives stress that Catholic health care institutions are not to provide, or in any way help provide, abortion procedures. However, the bishops add, Catholic health care workers should provide help and comfort to women suffering after abortion.

“Catholic health care providers should be ready to offer compassionate physical, psychological, moral, and spiritual care to those persons who have suffered from the trauma of abortion,” the directives read.

Pacholczyk concluded: “Catholic healthcare always respects the equal dignity of the mother and child, and acknowledges that every pregnancy involves at least two individuals, two patients, with the explicit aim of providing outstanding medical care, as much as possible, to both.”

What does the Catholic catechism say about abortion?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which summarizes Church teaching, recognizes the intrinsic dignity and worth of the unborn.

“Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception,” the catechism reads. “From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.”

The Church considers abortion a “crime against human life” and obtaining an abortion – or helping someone else obtain an abortion – are grounds for automatic excommunication.

“Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law,” the catechism says.

At the same time, the Catholic Church offers forgiveness and mercy for those involved with abortion.

“The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy,” the catechism reads, but instead “makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.”

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  1. A very good response to a very difficult reality by Katie Yoder CNA. She deserves plaudits. Despite the tragedy of a ten year rape victim we can penalize the life of a human being formed in God’s image. The monster who raped her deserves death in my opinion.
    With today’s legal system compromised by Leftist judiciary financed by George Soros he may well be sentenced for a short term in prison, and Biden and co will exploit this to further abortion.

    • Correction: We cannot penalize the right to life [the infant in the womb] of a human being formed in God’s image. The rapist of the ten year old has forfeited that right.

    • Apparently, the rapist in this case is the boyfriend of the victim’s mother. She is defending him. You are right to be concerned that he will not receive serious punishment for his foul deed.

    • The very thought of forcing a child to give birth to a rapists baby -with NO consideration of the risk to her life or mental health- sickens rational adults. As the survivor of a home invasion rape, near murder at age 11, I am outraged at MALE priests claiming abortion is a “greater trauma” than months of psychological torture followed by guaranteed C section birth. I am outraged at your absurd claim that ANY traumatized 11 year old CHILD CHOSE to give birth. Of course you’ll never publish this. At least one of you had to read it.

      • My son’s middle school had so many pregnant 11-15 year old girls that they had to hire a fulltime faculty member to tutor them.
        So, yes very young girls do choose to give birth. As sad as the situations behind those pregnancies may have been at least they weren’t compounded by the taking of innocent life.

        I’m so very sorry to read about the trauma you suffered. God bless you.

  2. This is a painful subject to discuss. I am not pro-abortion. However I dont believe that even the most pro-life of my friends and acquaintances would insist a child of that age be forced to spend 9 months of her life to bear her rapists child.Sometimes one needs to choose the lesser of two evils. The few minutes it took to rape the child will be a horrific memory for the remainder of her life. Are we also suggesting she be the subject of cruelty and speculation from her peers for 9 months? Or maybe just lock her up someplace away from everyone for that time? The church would ask she spend 9 months like this? Then, be subjected to the pain and bloodiness of childbirth, while still being a child herself? THAT is a trauma. Fortunately pregnancy as a result of rape remains a rarity so the option of abortion need seldom be considered. Irrational positions like this when promoted by the church give the lie to a church of love and instead presents one of rigidity where the rules trump reality and mercy. Where, in fact, is the church’s mercy being extended to the child in this scenario?? The church can claim it’s position is correct in this instance all it wants, but in the end it will be preaching it to empty pews.The baby is POTENTIAL life; the CHILD is living here and NOW. Her needs must be considered first. Much like the birth control pill when it was made available, the church had the opportunity to take a realistic moral stand and declare its legitimate use in defined situations by MARRIED couples. Instead, it declared it illicit for ALL people in ALL circumstances and as a result, they were ignored, and millions fled the church. The church lost its position of moral leadership on the issue and there are NO recognized societal limits on its use today. Its all well and good to present the case for how many angels dance on the head of a pin, and be absolutely RIGHT theologically. But human reality is a lot more messy than theology. The church needs to see that in some instances, 9/10 of a loaf is better than none. However the church usually unrealistically insists on the full loaf, and as a result, gets no loaf at all.To save the life of the mother, medical procedures which result in abortion are performed legitimately. Would not forcing a child this age to carry a pregnancy result in a life-long mental breakdown? In my opinion it most certainly would. Insisting small children carry a rape pregnancy to term is a losing argument which makes church leaders look irrational and cruel. A significant reality check is needed.

    • LJ, I certainly have respect for the views of a woman who has had children. Although, the issue here is life or death, either or for the innocent infant in the womb, or the child rapist.
      Some moral decisions are extremely difficult. For one, whether you as a Christian were asked to deny your faith in Christ while a Muslim holds a blade to your throat. Yes you live in denial of Christ. No you die a martyr. We’ve had a multitude of such martyrs in recent years. Insofar as Justice, here a heinous crime was committed. A penalty is deserved. Would Justice be served if we kill the unborn child while the assailant is permitted to live?

      • Father, my interest in abortion is personal. Not because I have had one. But because my husband and I were fortunate to adopt two children after many painful years of infertility. I love them dearly and am forever grateful to the women who chose to give them birth when abortion existed as an option for them. This case here is a situation where there are two potential victims. The pregnant child and the fetus. In the end only one can be saved.Which will it be: the fetus which is POTENTIAL life, or the living child who exists here and now? It must be obvious that forcing a child to bear their rapists child for 9 months will result in life-long psychic trauma, from which they may well not recover. The fate of the rapist does not play into this decision. It is not a case of choosing if the rapist suffers or the fetus. It is a matter of saving the obvious victim , which is the pregnant child. Again, the church need not even “approve” of the abortion . The church can acknowledge the loss of the fetus is a tragedy, yet advancing the necessity of mercy for the child, as the lesser of two evils. As a mother who adopted her children, this choice pains me more than I can say. However I think the concept of advocating a child victim bear her rapist’s child is unconscionable, and continues to undermine the moral authority of the church. At some point, reality must intrude upon theology.

        • Your response is of course compelling LJ [a fetus in Latin Means prenatal infant]. Using the term fetus doesn’t diminish the reality of an unborn infant as indicated. We’re addressing an innocent human life. As difficult as it is the Church cannot permit the killing of an innocent life. We don’t know precisely how the 10 year girl may respond. We do know that if she receives the love and care she deserves she may do quite well.
          Saint Maria Goretti was 11 when a 20 yearold man wanted to rape her and she resisted pleading God doesn’t want this, leading to her martyrdom. We may say here killing the infant in the 10 year old’s womb that “God doesn’t want this”.

          • Father, I respect your point of view. And I am aware a fetus is an unborn infant. However if I were asked to have to choose between one or the other I would chose the health and well being of the living child.The church makes it’s pronouncement and walks off. The child is in the hands of it’s parents and peers, who may or may not be kind.The child will be subject to all sorts of public speculation and a lack of privacy, (which surely all rape victims want,) just as it is in the media right now, exposed by adults scoring political points. I know the story of Maria Goretti, most catholic women do. I would point out that protecting your purity is much different than spending an agonizing 9 months having a baby, and then LIVING with the aftermath of the experience for the remainder of her life. Goretti is a saint for several reasons, her forgiveness being one of them. Most people are not that forgiving. Were you not the one advocating for the death of the rapist? Most of us would instead opt to prevent more pain for the child. That would mean ending the pregnancy before more permanent physical and mental damage is done to her. If the church plans to spread the word of Jesus by pushing a rigid point of view advocating pregnancy for raped 10 year olds I would suggest you will find no takers. This sort of merciless position, sadly, can only give the church a black eye. And I think the church is already trying to recover from several of those. Where, in fact, is the mercy of Jesus in this position? Again , bear in mind I am an adoptive mother and not pro-abortion. Its impossible for me to understand the church position in a case like this.

  3. I love the comment above by Lj and want to add some thoughts. I’ve had two children as an adult. The second birth almost killed me and my daughter because they missed a dangerous umbilical cord defect. My body has not recovered from giving birth 4 and 8 years ago. I did not get all those checks everyone else got for themselves and children during the pandemic because something was wrong or missing from a form, either. A pregnancy is potentially life threatening to a ten year olds mental and physical health both. The article en espanol said she was 9 when the rape happened so it’s a girl who turned ten in the last 6 weeks. Most women who get abortions don’t want to and feel they need to. Argue with them. Don’t argue with a girl who was raped at 9, and also don’t believe for a second he didn’t do it more than two times as the news reports. Imagine if you were that girl, she probably can’t watch tv or go online now without her mom looking at every screen, lest she see an article like this. What if she’s catholic? Katie Yoder. Imagine you’re that little girl and you are catholic and just read this and are crying. Now respond to yourself as the real adult you. Council her in a reply to this comment about how every life is precious and the baby in her was a innocent bystander. I’d love to read your response because it would make you think to write it.

    • No, the child was violated twice. Once by the rapist & secondly by the abortionist. Adding one act of violence to another is not justice.
      We can’t read the victim’s mind & no one is attempting to argue with her. All life is sacred in every stage of development & ability. Period.

  4. This is insanity.
    This is cruelty on top of more cruelty.

    I think it is safe to say a ten year old (as a matter biology and safety) cannot bring a pregnancy to full term without it causing severe life long health issues… if not potentially death for the sexually assaulted child.

    And if you do force a child like this is forced to carry the pregnancy to term what do you do when there are inevitable complications t her small body as the fetus develops… do you give her a cesarean section?!

    How mentally and physically scarring is that? How many doctors would want to carry out that kind of procedure on a regular basis?!

    If cases like this occur and abortion is denied as an option, it will cause a severe political backlash. Full stop. Most Americans are not Catholic. Many Americans do not support the church on cases like this and because there is no national ban on abortion what could happen is so called pro-life politicians in many states will be voted out of office and pro-life laws will be removed from the books.

    This isn’t an issue of so called pro-life morality, this is an issue of biology and the fact that public policy is still subject to public opinion. I wish the borderline integralists would get that.

    • I think it is safe to say a ten year old (as a matter biology and safety) cannot bring a pregnancy to full term without it causing severe life long health issues… if not potentially death for the sexually assaulted child.”
      That’s really a question for medical professionals but I do know that my son’s middle school had a number of pregnant students, the youngest being 11 years old & they all did just fine carrying & delivering their babies. It was a sad situation because in many cases you had the same scenario alleged in the case of this 10-year-old: molestation by the mom’s live-in boyfriend. But because the African American community there did not support the taking of unborn lives the girls at least were supported during their pregnancies & the school offered them tutoring so they could continue their education.

      • Why would a be girl biologically capable of getting pregnant at nine if it would cause her harm? I’m not advocating that, just saying that the human body is designed for it. Ditto for boys who are old enough to impregnate. We were created for life.

    • Abortions carry risks as well, including harm to the reproductive organs. Honestly, I would think a skilled surgeon could perform a c-section much more safely than an abortionist an abortion

  5. I’m actually the descendant of a 12-year-old bride. Twelve is older than 10 but I’ve heard the same sort of argument used that would have justified feticide for my great-grandmother.
    The only positive thing that could come out of a tragedy like the one this 10-year-old faced is the saving of another life.
    I think we shouldn’t try to be medical experts or psychologists here. I have heard about Latin American girls this age successfully carrying a pregnancy & delivering a child. The one I’m thinking of did not want to have her baby killed. Which is more psychically traumatic, knowing your child was destroyed by an abortionist or that you & your family chose life for it?

    • You can name a case or two when pregnancy this extreme situation resulted in a birth. I wonder how many resulted in people with life long mental illness or death? Those cases tend not to make the news, nor have survivors live to tell the tale.. In addition, there is a whale of a physical and mental difference difference between a 10 year old and lets say a 14 or 15 year old. While such outlier cases may happen , it might be well to recognize why our states for the most part do not allow the marriage of children so young. Its because neither their minds nor their bodies are mature. They cannot give informed consent nor can their immature bodies generally survive the resultant physical effects of sexual activity and pregnancy/birth.

  6. “What a young woman needs in such a situation [pregnancy] is the support of family and friends, along with the reassurance that ‘we can get through this together,’” he said. “What she really needs is the love, hope and compassion that buoys up anyone facing uncertainty about her own future.”

    I absolutely agree!! I myself raised 2 children on my very own, without much of ANY OF THE ABOVE MENTIONED. And yes, absolutely, I could have made very good use of all the above, and not just from family and friends, but also from the entire society. Well… I guess, what doesn’t kill you makes your stronger…. You know, who needs that anyway, after all, all three of us made it quite successfully WITHOUT!!!

    Now, what did I get instead?

    What I hear is that if I would have chosen differently, because been absolutely terrified to face the challenge of raising 2 children on my very own, without much of any of the above mentioned, I would have been a murderer – correct?

    I get that. And, THANKS for incredible valuable educational aspect of that!!!

    Furthermore, it would have been the right of the public to judge and persecute me of killing my own child(ren), in the court room and way beyond. GREAT!!!

    I get that!!

    Now, here is my question: THIS is how YOU PROVIDE LOVE, COMPASSION, HOPE, etc.?

    Well, I get that as well, because that sounds about right, considering the rich history of the Catholic Church and its teaching!!! By the way, I am Catholic!!

    Do you know what the CATHOLIC CHURCH did in the past, when elsewhere abortions became legal? Oh, by the way I was around at one of such occasions, before I got pregnant, and witnessed that!! Well, guess what, they shut down their pregnancy crisis centers because these were no longer needed!!! OK, they called it differently: THEY could no longer do that job (of providing HOPE, COMPASSION, SUPPORT etc.) because this would have supported abortions. This is not a joke.

    Now, explain to me how I, from where I am standing, having raised 2 children with not much of any of the ABOVE MENTIONED, should understand this other than that you are hopelessly hypocritical! HAVE YOU LEARNED ANYTHING AT ALL FROM HISTORY???

    I am not pro abortion, I love my children and I raised them quite successfully, despite the largely absence of any of the ABOVE MENTIONED, and never thought one second of choosing differently! And, would do it ALL OVER AGAIN – there is absolutely NO QUESTION!!!

    However, it makes me absolutely sick to watch what is going on currently with that “making abortions illegal” thing!!!

    Is this really the only you can possibly come up with to tackle the dilemmas that naturally come with pregnancies????? And then call that: PROVIDING LOVE, COMPASSION, HOPE, and SUPPORT, and that even IN the name of GOD?


    Frankly, if I were to become pregnant (again, if I were younger, so this would be possible), it would NOT be the fear of having another child WITH the LARGELY ABSENCE OF THE ABOVE MENTIONED that would scare me to death and make me question how I should “choose LIFE”.

    Raising kids, DONE THAT, BEEN THERE, CAN DO IT, DESPITE of the largely ABSENCE of the ABOVE MENTIONED!!! Some call this grit, and I suspect I must have a lot of that…

    Instead, that I would be forced to do it, and the uncertainly of getting adequate help if something were to go wrong with my pregnancy, out of fear of persecution, which would scare me to death. Up to 1 out of three pregnancies end in natural miscarriage. Statistically, I would be due for that….

    What would be my chance of survival and NOT being publicly persecuted? I am not so sure, but certainly substantially lower than when I had my children, at a time when abortion was LEGAL!!! Excellent job guys!!!

    Yes, MOTHERS, especially those who struggle, are in desperate need of a lot of LOVE, COMPASSION, HOPE, and SUPPORT, but the understanding of WHAT that IS, appears to be in YOUR EYES very different from MY understand!!!

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