When asked on Aug. 24 edition of Meet the Press, “When does life begin?” Speaker Pelosi replied:
…as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition …. St. Augustine said at three months. We don't know.
Speaker Pelosi is in error. Pagan Roman society used contraception, abortion and infanticide quite freely. Under Roman law, the father of the household had the right to kill any infant in his household for whatever reason he wanted. He could require his wife or concubine to abort. Any child born with a defect, such as the defect of being female, could be abandoned. In theory, the father was placing the child on the road for anyone to pick up. In fact, the children almost uniformly died. Infanticide was so common that we still unearth ancient Roman sewers clogged with the bones of discarded infants. Infanticide and abortion killed so many women that it heavily skewed the sex ratio: Roman society could not reproduce. By the time of Christ, the Roman government was paying families to have children, and was forced to import immigrants from outside the boundaries of Empire in order to fill jobs. The population was unable to replace itself.
Christians were unusual in that they uniformly condemned contraception, abortion and infanticide. In fact, part of the reason Christians were considered wretched heretics is that they rescued exposed children, inventing orphanages to care for them. We knew the image and likeness of God was formed in the mother’s womb. All Christians agreed the fetus had a soul from the earliest moment of existence.
But when it came to contraception or abortion, it didn’t matter to the early Christians how that technical theological question was answered. Precisely because Christians didn’t know which it was, we had to treat the unborn as a fully human being. Making use of either contraception or abortion was acting against God’s life-giving work in the womb.
Thus, in his work On Marriage and Lust, Augustine condemned both abortion and contraception as immoral. St. Basil the Great, writing just a few years before Augustine, puts the ensoulment issue in proper perspective: “The hairsplitting difference between formed and unformed [ensouled and unensouled fetus] makes no difference to us. Whoever deliberately commits abortion is subject to the penalty for homicide.” No early Christian commentator can be found who held a contrary position. The Catholic Church has always known and taught that contraception and procured abortion is gravely evil.
Pelosi: The point is, is that it shouldn't have an impact on the woman's right to choose. Roe v. Wade talks about very clear definitions of [trimesters]...
As a Catholic, Speaker Pelosi should know that no one has a right to choose to kill an innocent person.
Pelosi: And so I don't think anybody can tell you when life begins, human life begins.
Ask any embryologist. Life begins at conception. As George Weigel points out in Newsweek, the widely used medical embryology text, The Developing Human, states: "Human development begins at fertilization when a male gamete or sperm (spermatozoon) unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to produce a single cell—a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual." Embryologists specialize in studying the human embryo. While those who specialize in disciplines that do not study the embryo may pretend otherwise, the science of embryology agrees with the Church on this point: life begins at conception.
Question: Doesn’t the Church teach life begins at conception?
Pelosi: This is like maybe 50 years or something like that. So again, over the history of the church, this is an issue of controversy. But it is, it is also true that God has given us, each of us, a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions. And we want abortions to be safe, rare, and reduce the number of abortions. That's why we have this fight in Congress over contraception. My Republican colleagues do not support contraception. If you want to reduce the number of abortions, and we all do, we must--it would behoove you to support family planning and, and contraception, you would think. But that is not the case.
Speaker Pelosi fails to recognize the reality. As the use of contraception has increased, it has, paradoxically, increased the rate of surgical abortion, just as Pope Paul VI predicted it would. Worse, every hormonal contraceptive acts, in part, by thinning the lining of the uterus, making it impossible for the embryonic child to implant correctly. Thus, every hormonal contraceptive causes chemical abortion.
Even if we discuss only barrier methods, it is the case that the promotion of contraception leads inexorably to more abortions, more STDs, more deaths because it dramatically increases the rate of promiscuity. Uganda, the only country in Africa that has steadily reduced its rate of AIDS infection, did so through a campaign that promoted abstinence. Every other African country promoted condoms. Every other African country saw AIDS increase.
Catholics cannot use or support the use of contraception. Nancy Pelosi is a baptized Catholic. She has a duty to become informed about why the Church teaches as She does on contraception.
Brendan Daly, a spokesman for Pelosi, said in a statement defending [Pelosi’s] remarks that she "fully appreciates the sanctity of family" and based her views on conception on the "views of Saint Augustine, who said, ‘The law does not provide that the act (abortion) pertains to homicide, for there cannot yet be said to be a live soul in a body that lacks sensation.’ "
If Speaker Pelosi had based her views on a full reading of St. Augustine, she would abhor contraception and abortion as intrinsically evil. This is what Augustine said about both:
Sometimes, indeed, this lustful cruelty, or if you please, cruel lust, resorts to such extravagant methods as to use poisonous drugs to secure barrenness; or else, if unsuccessful in this, to destroy the conceived seed by some means previous to birth, preferring that its offspring should rather perish than receive vitality; or if it was advancing to life within the womb, should be slain before it was born. (De Nube et Concupiscentia 1.17 )
Brendan Daly implies, and many people believe, that since the Church imposed different penalties for abortion at different periods, the Church has not had a consistent teaching on abortion or contraception.
It is true that Church penalties have varied over time as the Church has tried different methods to wean Her flock away from these enormous evils. In 1588, for example, Pope Sixtus V even tried to discourage abortion by reserving confession and absolution to the Holy See alone, a restriction used for only the most heinous sins. But this proved too impractical, and he soon resumed allowing local bishops the permission to absolve this sin. Today, the sin is so common even priests can absolve it.
By using different penalties for abortion performed prior to the perception of movement in the womb versus abortion performed after the perception of movement in the womb, the Church recognized that a woman who killed the child she felt moving in her womb was acting in an even more wicked manner than someone who had not yet been taught by the movement of life inside her about the sacred gift she carried. Church teaching has been consistent: abortion and contraception are always gravely evil.
So what do you do if you have used or encouraged the use of contraception or abortion? First, make a good confession. Refrain from receiving the Eucharist until you have a chance to receive absolution. Thank God for the gift of repentance, and ask the saints, most especially your guardian angel, to assist you in avoiding this sin in the future. Learn more about the teachings of the Church so that you may grow in holiness before God, our Creator and Father. And praise God always for His goodness and the life He gives us.
*I can create a one-page (back and front) PDF of this and make it available for download if anyone is interested.