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Intrinsic evil acts are stubborn things

The limitations of the political process are indisputable. But we must never make peace with deeply flawed abortion legislation, however necessary the increments may be.

"Slaves Waiting for Sale: Richmond, Virginia" (1861) by Eyre Crowe (Image: WIkipedia)

Paraphrasing John Adams, intrinsic evil acts are stubborn things. The Fifth Commandment prohibits murder. Abortion is murder. It is always and everywhere wrong. A person who commits — or formally cooperates in a direct abortion — is guilty of murder. The early Church document — the Didachetaught: “You shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is begotten.” The ancient Greek Hippocratic Oath also opposed abortion. Doctors promised: “…not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion.”

In 1995, Pope John Paul II wrote in Evangelium Vitae:

…taking up the words of the [Second Vatican] Council and with the same forcefulness I repeat that condemnation in the name of the whole Church, certain that I am interpreting the genuine sentiment of every upright conscience: ‘Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practise them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator.’

Most modern political entities prohibit murder and punish murderers because the violence undermines public safety and threatens the common good. Many do not recognize the humanity of unborn babies even though abortion undermines general reverence for life. Further, many who acknowledge an unborn baby’s right to life are hesitant to believe the right is a moral absolute. So the comparison with slavery is instructive.

A recent Wall Street Journal editorial treats abortion like the United States treated slavery in the 19th century. Phil Lawler comments: “…the Journal has adopted the approach to ‘popular sovereignty’ once championed by Stephen Douglas, in his debates with Abraham Lincoln. Douglas won the election that year. He took a balanced, reasonable approach. He was a solid, honorable legislator. (‘So are they all, all honorable men…’) But the face of Douglas is not carved into Mount Rushmore, and his memorial is not on the National Mall.”

Abraham Lincoln was also a practical politician, outlawing slavery incrementally. He awaited the military (relative) success at Antietam before he issued the Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln’s proclamation declared: “all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

The Proclamation did not put an end to slavery. It was a military measure and applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Union control. Abolitionists were initially unhappy. But Frederick Douglas – the ex-slave abolitionist — came to appreciate Lincoln’s political maneuvering as necessary to win the Civil War. The total abolition of slavery would have to wait.

Congress passed the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ending slavery in 1865, and the states ratified the Amendment by the end of the year. Later in the decade, the 14th and 15th Amendments established full civil rights for the freed slaves.

Minus a bloody civil war, granting the right to life to unborn babies from conception might follow a similar protracted path beginning with the enactment of pro-life legislation in the states. (Although the war is already bloody with mangled bodies of tiny babies on the surgical operating table.) Persuading most Americans that direct abortion is murder and intrinsically evil will be arduous, and we can expect unavoidable political and legislative compromises along the way. The Wall Street Journal ably describes the challenge but misses an essential emphasis. Direct abortion is intrinsically evil – murder — always and everywhere wrong.

The Journal’s warning on the limits of pro-life legislation has political merit in its realism. However, it fails to instill a sense of urgency in opposing a terrible injustice that even exceeds the injustice of slavery. Substitute “slavery” for “abortion” in the opening paragraph of the Journal’s editorial: “The press corps is making a big deal of the defeat of the Kansas slavery referendum on Tuesday, and for once they’re right. The 20-or-so point rout of the effort to strip slavery protections from the state constitution is a message to Republicans and the anti-slavery movement that a total ban isn’t popular even in a right-leaning state.”

The limitations of the political process are indisputable. But we must never make peace with deeply flawed abortion legislation, however necessary the increments may be.

Pope John Paul II acknowledged as much when he wrote in Evangelium Vitae:

The Church well knows that it is difficult to mount an effective legal defence of life in pluralistic democracies, because of the presence of strong cultural currents with differing outlooks. At the same time, certain that moral truth cannot fail to make its presence deeply felt in every conscience, the Church encourages political leaders, starting with those who are Christians, not to give in, but to make those choices which, taking into account what is realistically attainable, will lead to the re-establishment of a just order in the defence and promotion of the value of life.

We may legitimately delight in defective legislation that incrementally reduces the number of abortions. But we cannot permit our politicians to forget that direct abortion is intrinsically evil. We cannot rest until our civil laws coincide with God’s decree and fundamental law of human nature: Thou shalt not murder.

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About Father Jerry J. Pokorsky 33 Articles
Father Jerry J. Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington. He is pastor of St. Catherine of Siena parish in Great Falls, Virginia.. He holds a Master of Divinity degree as well as a master’s degree in moral theology.


  1. The “encyclical” Veritatis Splendor ranks higher that Amoris Laetitia (lower, as an “exhortation”), and reads:

    “Each of us knows how important is the teaching which represents the central theme of this encyclical and which today is being restated with the authority of the Successor of Peter. Each of us can see the seriousness of what is involved, not only for individuals but also for the whole of society, with the REAFFIRMATION OF THE UNIVERSALITY AND IMMUTABILITY OF THE MORAL COMMANDMENTS [italics], particularly those which prohibit always and without exception INTRINSICALLY EVIL ACTS [italics]” (n. 115).

    Meanwhile, a clique of clerics in red hats and red faces continue to contemplate their navels, or whatever.

    • The one and only halfway intelligent idea that Catholic dissidents expressed in the past half century has been when they, in arguing for a married priesthood, contend how distorting it can be to man to have no one in his life to remind him when he is being a fool.

      Well we know the consequences of men separated from the normal consequences of managing daily stresses in life and the multitude of venial sins to which normal men are tempted in managing their way through a self-sustaining existence. Modern clergy come to believe that Jesus really meant us to have a Mr. Rogers neighborhood Church, and if they don’t author the stupidities themselves, they tolerate moral sophistries from liberal theologians “rethinking” sins into acts of hidden benevolence when they obtain the authority of the episcopate. Now we have a Pope who throws the word mercy around with impunity and with cold-blooded mercilessness towards the victims of sin.

  2. “Persuading most Americans that direct abortion is murder and intrinsically evil will be arduous, and we can expect unavoidable political and legislative compromises . . . Direct abortion is intrinsically evil – murder — always and everywhere wrong.”
    If you think getting folks to understand abortion is intrisically evil, try telling many otherwise pro-life folks that contraception is intrinsically evil, and in marriage is a perfectly fine option.
    We have a very, very long ways to go

    • “If you think getting folks to understand abortion is intrisically evil, try telling many otherwise pro-life folks that contraception is intrinsically evil, and abstinence in marriage is a perfectly fine option.”
      Typo, fixed it

      • Kathryn let us say you are right with that perception: the approach they are taking at this time is not a teaching one and does not address it even, it wants to discover how “doctrine progresses by not saying no at the start”.

  3. Feticide and slavery are never going to go away altogether. They’ll just continue in some form under the radar along with other evils. The important thing is that they will not be enshrined in law. At least not in federal law.

    • Sadly, you are right, they will never completley go away. The real problem is the attitude towards sex. No one really speaks or debates this issue. Hence the reason for so many abortions. The so-called sexual revolution has been an absolute failure & it still continues.

      • The sexual revolution was a disaster, but unwanted infants have met terrible fates in the past-born & unborn. Infanticide was a real thing in the 19th century. Infant skeletons were dredged up in the Erie Canal & babies were found bobbing in barrels in the river in NYC. So many immigrant girls working in domestic service or factories were taken advantage of & would become unemployable with an illegitimate child. This prompted people like Fr. Nelson Baker to open foundling homes like Our Lady of Victory. Mothers could drop off babies anonymously.
        Children are a vulnerable population & we still do a lousy job protecting them. But at least we now have a better chance to do the right thing, state by state following the end of Roe.

  4. Within my hearing, the first to squarely position the abortion question against the “life, liberty and pursuit” clause, was Fr. Mitch Pacwa. My complaint would be how little attention is directed to this way of framing the issues. I am not saying it isn’t done, just that as an ordinary member of general public and someone who listens to American media, it is not there.

    You had to be on EWTN LIVE or Scripture and Tradition, that one time when he addressed it. But you see what has to be grasped is that this is not an exclusively “Catholic religion” or otherwise “religion” issue. It is to do intrinsically with 1. humanity, 2. integrity of law, 3. political coherence and 4. intrinsic society.

    As I’ve said elsewhere, right now the supposedly open media debates are skewed to try to make everything wrong, fit; in order to stage what is said to be “the happy ending” where everyone can go home with his rights and feelings intact. This is not a good way. Apologetics gone too far. There is no embarrassment about criminalizing abortion. It might spill into criminalizing homosexuality -but that is not the argument! But if you enter one of the debates, you must prepare for it better.

    Without the “life” clause winning the “we the people” clause will be the legal rule for everything; and that can not be right. On the other hand, the interpretation of the “life” clause as being against abortion is in keeping with juristic convention down through the ages and even with the US. Roe overturned something, actually, that was there already reflecting what is true, actually.

    But you have to be able to say that the Constitution must be read under the Declaration -and can only be read like that. This does not need any particular method of legal interpretation or construction. There was never any break in the linking and the instituting of the two documents. The second document has evidential standing too.

    The “we the people” clause placed at the beginning of the Constitution document was not meant to make criminality legal nor was it meant to dissolve the “life” clause or other parts of the Declaration. I think that many other refinements like this are there waiting to be elevated.

    That is why I’d say “the limitations of the political process” (above) are party with the problem, giving sanctuary that is never going to be good faith nor be justified by necessity. The intent always was that the “we the people” is supposed to uphold and give effect to all the tenets intended and embraced. Thanks Fr. Pacwa. God bless.

  5. “Persuading most Americans that direct abortion is murder and intrinsically evil will be arduous, and we can expect unavoidable political and legislative compromises along the way.”

    This isn’t correct. There can be no compromise with injustice. It was the false, evil “decision” Roe v. Wade which likely has played a large part in making Americans believe that abortion wasn’t murder and intrinsically evil.

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