The National Catholic Review
Could federal health care money be used for abortion?

Since the Affordable Care Act became law in March 2010, the two chambers of Congress have held diametrically opposed views. The House, under Republican control since 2011, has voted many times to repeal the entire act; the Democratic-controlled Senate has resisted changes.

The Catholic bishops’ conference has not joined in either agenda. Supporters of national efforts to achieve universal health coverage for almost a century, the bishops have urged specific reforms in accord with the moral principles they articulated during consideration of the A.C.A. The bishops support basic, life-affirming health coverage for everyone, including immigrants; compliance with longstanding federal policies on abortion funding; and respect for rights of conscience.

The A.C.A. remains deficient in these areas. The bishops have urged Congress to pursue comprehensive immigration reform, including reform of the way our health laws treat immigrant families. On abortion issues—both federal funding and conscience rights—the implementation of the A.C.A. over four years has brought its defects into sharper focus.

One barrier to progress on the act’s problems regarding abortion is that many, including some Catholics, are confused about those problems or deny that they exist. Here, then, are the abortion-related problems the bishops’ conference finds in the A.C.A.

1) Under existing federal jurisprudence, federal funds appropriated by the A.C.A. are available for elective abortions. For decades, federal funding of abortion has been prevented by a patchwork of appropriations riders that must be renewed each year, as well as a few more permanent provisions governing particular programs like the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Each provision governs only the bill it amends. The first and most important appropriations rider, the Hyde Amendment, amends the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations bill and prevents only use of the funds appropriated by that act from supporting abortion (except in the rare cases of danger to the mother’s life and pregnancy due to rape or incest).

The A.C.A. is unusual because it both authorizes and appropriates billions of dollars for its numerous programs. The usual process is for Congress to authorize a program, either permanently or for several years, and then appropriate that program’s level of funding for a given year through separate annual appropriations bills. The A.C.A. bypasses the appropriations process, thus bypassing the Hyde Amendment and similar riders, and for many programs it supplies nothing in their place.

It is useful to review the history of the Hyde Amendment to understand the importance of this absence of language prohibiting the use of federal money for abortion. Congress first approved Hyde in 1976, after discovering that the Medicaid program (funded by the Labor/Health and Human Services appropriations bill) was paying for an estimated 300,000 abortions a year. The Medicaid statute, enacted in 1965 when abortion was generally a crime, nowhere mentions abortion as health care. But federal courts concluded that once legalized by the Supreme Court, abortion could be construed as part of Medicaid’s broad mandate for family planning, physicians’ services and other items a physician deems “medically necessary.” In the context of abortion, moreover, phrases like “medically necessary” were to be read in light of the Supreme Court’s 1973 decisions, which defined a “health” reason for abortion to include anything a physician thinks will serve a woman’s social, emotional or familial “well-being”—hence the 300,000 tax-funded abortions a year. If Congress wanted to stop this, it had to enact a provision clearly saying so. That is why it approved the Hyde Amendment.

The Hyde Amendment was modified in 1993 so it no longer prohibited funding abortions in cases of rape or incest, and the Clinton administration said funding these abortions was now mandated by the underlying Medicaid law. No state could refuse to provide matching funds for these abortions, even if its state constitution prohibited funding abortion except in cases of danger to the mother’s life. The federal courts consistently sided with the administration and invalidated “life only” state laws. Under these precedents, if a new health law is not governed by Hyde or similar existing provisions and that law fails to supply Hyde-like language of its own, its funding is available to pay for abortions.

One area of concern is the Community Health Centers program. For decades these centers have offered free or low-cost medical care to Americans who may not otherwise find a provider. To qualify as such a center, a provider must offer “family planning,” “obstetrics” and “gynecology” services. Since 1976 the Hyde Amendment has prevented funding of elective abortions under such categories. The A.C.A. directly appropriates $11 billion to expand the C.H.C. program, however, bypassing Hyde while supplying no abortion limitation of its own.

President Obama’s executive order notes that an existing regulation forbids use of H.H.S. funds for abortion; but that regulation only implements the annual Hyde Amendment and relies on that amendment for its validity. The order also says that “under the [Affordable Care] Act” this policy has been extended to cover A.C.A.’s funds; but no provision of the A.C.A. does this, and the order does not create new law on the issue.

Are elective abortions being subsidized with these A.C.A. funds now? We do not know. If not, that result would seem to be only one lawsuit away.

Another A.C.A. program has a more visible record. The act appropriated $5 billion to pay for medical claims in a temporary “high risk” insurance pool for people who could not obtain health coverage due to pre-existing conditions. The program is administered by states, with H.H.S. approving the state benefits packages and providing all the public subsidies for coverage.

In July 2010, pro-life groups discovered that at least three states had included elective abortions in high-risk plans that had been approved by H.H.S. The resulting protests inside and outside Congress ultimately led H.H.S. to announce that it would exclude elective abortions—a decision criticized by pro-abortion groups, who said there was nothing in the A.C.A. requiring this result. The Congressional Research Service confirmed that these groups were right: There was nothing in the A.C.A., or in President Obama’s executive order issued at the time of the act’s approval, to exclude abortion. H.H.S. Secretary Sebelius had the discretion to refuse to fund abortions only because this particular provision of the A.C.A. explicitly authorized her to set (unspecified) additional restrictions not found in the statute. Such authority, allowing an executive decision not to fund abortions, is absent from other A.C.A. provisions, and the secretary can reverse her decision on this program at any time.

2) The act violates the policy of all other federal health programs by using federal funds for health plans covering elective abortions. Again, we need a little history. In 1997 Congress found that the Hyde Amendment was being circumvented. Some states were using their federal Medicaid funds to enroll low-income patients in H.M.O.’s, where one annual fee qualifies a patient for all medical care provided by the plan’s network. There are no bills for individual services. Many H.M.O.’s covered elective abortions and were paid by the federal government to provide them to these Medicaid patients. So Congress modified the Hyde Amendment to prevent this by barring use of Labor/H.H.S. appropriations funds to help purchase a health plan that includes such abortions. This same policy prevails in every other program where federal funds combine with other funds to buy a health plan, most notably the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. For 16 years, this has been part of what it means to ban federal abortion funding.

The A.C.A. discards this longstanding policy. Federal subsidies, in the form of advanceable, refundable tax credits, will be used to help purchase health plans that cover elective abortions. The A.C.A. calls these credits “federal funds,” and the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 73 percent of the funds will be paid as checks drawn on the Treasury (because the credits often exceed enrollees’ tax liability). Each such plan must require each and every enrollee to pay a special premium solely for elective abortions, to be placed in a separate account from the federally subsidized premiums for the overall plan.

This has been called a “compromise.” But it is a compromise between the policy that every president and Congress agreed to for 16 years and a more pro-abortion agenda. It violates half the Hyde Amendment.

Supporters of the A.C.A. have said it takes power away from insurance companies and gives it back to the consumer. This provision does the opposite. The insurer alone chooses whether to cover elective abortions—and most for-profit insurers want to do so because abortion is cheaper than childbirth (and much cheaper than covering new children in a family health plan). The government then provides the same federal subsidy as for other health plans and requires the plan to collect a direct subsidy specifically for abortions from all enrollees—including those who have a strong moral objection. This is the first and only time since Roe v. Wade that the federal government has forbidden private organizations to allow an exemption for those with moral objections to abortion.

Can pro-life Americans choose a health plan in the marketplace without elective abortions? Yes, but it is easier said than done. The A.C.A. forbids insurers to inform consumers about their abortion coverage except as part of the long list of benefits provided to those already enrolling. It also forbids them to reveal how much of the enrollee’s premium will go into the separate account for abortions. Thus a common impression that enrollees will write a “separate check” for abortion, which pro-life dissenters might try refusing to sign, is apparently false—the funds are separated at the insurer’s end. Some states have said that every health plan on their exchange will cover elective abortions.

This is troubling in light of polling commissioned by the bishops’ conference during consideration of the A.C.A. Most survey respondents opposed measures that require Americans to support abortion with their tax dollars or their premiums; 68 percent said that if the choice were theirs they would not want abortion in their health coverage. On each question, women gave stronger pro-life responses than men. The majority of American women who oppose abortion coverage will now often face a sad dilemma: Either pay for abortions anyway or have greatly reduced options when looking for a health plan to meet their families’ needs.

An example is health coverage for members and key staff of Congress. Before passage of the A.C.A., all federal employees received their coverage under the widely envied Federal Employees Health Benefits Program mentioned earlier. Each employee could choose among dozens of health plans and receive an employer subsidy from the federal government paying up to 75 percent of their premium. No plan could include elective abortion. Federal employees in Washington, D.C., could choose among over 100 federally subsidized health plans without subsidizing such abortions. Under the A.C.A., members and key staff of Congress are transferred to their local health exchanges—where they will still receive the employer subsidy, except that this subsidy will now pay for pro-abortion health plans. Congressional employees in Washington, D.C., who do not want to subsidize elective abortions can now choose from among only nine health plans out of 121 on the district’s exchange.

Some say the elaborate “segregation of funds” exercise within health plans keeps “taxpayer funds” from paying for elective abortions on these exchanges. That statement is misleading in two ways. First, the federal tax subsidies for plans covering abortion still violate the abortion policy that prevails in every other federal program. Second, the money that Americans will have to pay for other people’s abortions, as a condition for getting the individual health coverage that meets their needs, is still mandated by the federal government—insurers that cover abortion are forbidden to let anyone opt out. And that money is earmarked more directly and specifically for abortion than any tax Americans have ever paid before. The fact that it is a mandatory premium rather than a “tax” scarcely seems relevant to the moral issue involved.

3) The A.C.A. lacks important conscience protections. This is clear from the dozens of lawsuits on their way to the U.S. Supreme Court over the mandate for covering contraception and female sterilization as “preventive services.” Even that contraceptive mandate abandons a long bipartisan tradition in Congress and the White House of exempting those with a moral or religious objection.

The “preventive services” mandate raises potential conscience problems on abortion in three ways. First, some mandated drugs and devices can prevent the survival of a new human embryo before implantation (e.g., the copper IUD) or even afterward (ella, a close analogue to RU-486). That would be an abortion in Catholic teaching and in the eyes of many others, including the Christian business owners now before the Supreme Court. Second, if the Food and Drug Administration follows the lead of the World Health Organization and accepts RU-486 (mifepristone) as an “emergency contraceptive,” the drug known worldwide as the “abortion pill” would automatically become part of the mandate. Third, arguably no language in the A.C.A. stops this or a future administration from mandating even surgical abortion as a “preventive service” (preventing unwanted births instead of unintended pregnancies). The A.C.A. says the government cannot mandate abortion as an “essential health benefit,” but that provision does not mention the distinct mandate for “preventive services.”

More broadly, the final version of the A.C.A. deleted an important conscience provision from the original House-passed bill, which incorporated the Hyde/Weldon Amendment that has been part of Labor/H.H.S. appropriations bills since 2004. That law withholds Labor/H.H.S. funds from a federal agency or program or a state or local government that discriminates against health care entities that refuse to provide, refer for, pay for or provide coverage of abortion. Like the Hyde Amendment on funding, the Hyde/Weldon policy on conscience does not govern funds appropriated by the A.C.A.

4) Finally, it has been said that federal judges in Virginia and Ohio have ruled there is no abortion funding in the A.C.A. That is not quite true.

In a Virginia case (Liberty University v. Lew), the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals said Liberty University had failed to prove it is forced by the A.C.A. to provide or pay for abortion coverage. In this regard the Fourth Circuit was correct. The university could purchase or sponsor student and employee coverage without elective abortions. In fact, Virginia is one of 24 states that have rejected the A.C.A.’s approach and banned most abortion coverage on their own state exchange. This case does not contradict what is said above about the A.C.A.’s own abortion policy.

In Ohio (Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus), a congressman claimed that a pro-life group had defamed him by saying during his re-election campaign that he voted for federal abortion funding by supporting the A.C.A. The trial judge rejected a motion to dismiss the case, stating that the pro-life group had not identified “any provision in [the A.C.A.] that appropriates taxpayer funds to pay for abortions.” The court did not reach a decision on the merits because the congressman’s suit was later dismissed on other grounds. But the judge’s initial comment was correct: No provision in the A.C.A. expressly appropriates money for abortions themselves. As explained above, it is the absence of an express exclusion that, under existing jurisprudence, creates the problem. And the A.C.A. does appropriate funds for health plans that cover abortions.

A proposal that would settle many such issues is the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” (H.R. 7, S. 946). As approved by the House in January, H.R. 7 would codify the policy of the Hyde Amendment and similar provisions, so they would no longer be subject to annual attack during the appropriations process. This policy, made consistent across the federal government, would also govern the A.C.A. and future legislation.

Health plans on the state exchanges would make this change in the next plan year, 2015; until then, these plans would at least have to disclose their abortion coverage and its cost to potential enrollees. Beginning in 2015, those wanting elective abortion coverage could purchase an overall plan that includes it, without federal subsidy; or they could purchase a plan without such abortions, receive the subsidy and choose to purchase separate abortion coverage with non-federal funds. The minority who want abortion coverage could purchase it; the majority who do not want it would not have it forced on them, either absolutely or as a condition for obtaining the health plan best for their families.

The reaction to H.R. 7 from legal experts who support abortion has been interesting. One expert, Sara Rosenbaum, has testified against the bill in Congress and had opposed the original Stupak Amendment, which H.R. 7 closely resembles in its effect on the A.C.A. The Stupak amendment was supported in 2009 by the bishops’ conference and by 64 House Democrats and approved by the then Democratic-controlled House; but it was rejected by the Senate and is absent from the final A.C.A.

Unlike some in Congress, Rosenbaum does not make the false claim that H.R. 7 bans privately purchased abortion coverage. Instead she notes that over the decades, Medicaid and other federal programs have excluded abortion from the category of health care that the government expects Americans to obtain and support. If the A.C.A. further increases the role of the federal government in health coverage and applies this same policy to federal subsidies for a broader class of Americans, this may produce a “tipping point” at which health care without elective abortion becomes the norm. Abortion and abortion coverage will still be legal and available, but rare.

To this I would add: Yes, and what is wrong with that? Pro-choice presidents have said they want abortion to be legal but rare. The great majority of American men and women do not want to support abortion with their taxes or health premiums. A recent poll of obstetrician-gynecologists showed that only 14 percent perform abortions, and the latest abortion statistics show abortion rates and the number of abortion providers at their lowest since 1973. To all but the most committed enthusiasts for abortion, that tipping point cannot arrive too soon.

Richard M. Doerflinger is associate director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Adjunct Fellow in Bioethics and Public Policy at the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

Show Comments (88)

Comments (hide)

Jim McCrea | 4/7/2014 - 4:49pm

Eich has learned a valuable lesson. Freedom of speech protects one from prior governmental restraint; it has nothing to do with private corporate actions. Freedom of speech has nothing to do with reactions that follow and the consequences that flow from those reactions.

Michael Barberi | 4/7/2014 - 8:17pm


Thanks for your thoughts.

I think you would agree with me that no CEO of a private company (with thousands of stockholders) should be forced out of office because of his religious beliefs unless he is forcing his religious beliefs onto his employees that represent religious pluralism and disrupting the workplace and the primary objectives of the company. This does not mean that a board of directors cannot fire a CEO because of a violation of an ethics policy that is very orthodox (as in a case where the company is run by a religious organization or one dominated by a religion). Nevertheless, for the typical medium or large corporation, it is my experience that firing a CEO because of his religious views is a very rare event.

The U.S. Supreme Court will have its hands full over distinctions between an S-type corporation that is closely held by a few individuals, and a private-public corporation with thousands of stockholders. We will have to wait to see if freedom of speech, and the freedom of religion/religious conscience will allow corporations to exclude certain healthcare services from their corporate health benefits plan. As to the firing of a CEO, or any employee, in a corporation, the typical employment-personnel policies of most large companies would allow them to fire an employee for any cause. However, most corporations define "for cause" and that includes any breach of ethical policy. This commonly means if the senior executive was having an affair with a subordinate or harassing female workers, et al. Most companies do offer severance policies to an employee, especially a senior officer of the firm, if he/she is let go for budgetary/financial problems. However, it is rare or not publicly well known or publicized when a company fires a CEO because of his religious beliefs.

I can see a small company firing a CEO for his religious beliefs regardless of the consequences to the company, assuming that this is legal. A company may not be interested in attracting or retaining an employee or a CEO that does not abide by a strict belief in a particular religious belief or code of ethical conduct. Again, this assumes that firing an employee for his religious beliefs is legal.

Tim O'Leary | 4/7/2014 - 6:45pm

So, you would have the same judgment if Catholics, Mormons and Muslims demanded the firing of CEOs who voted against keeping marriage between one man and one woman - if you were to be consistent, which is a rare talent here.

Marie Rehbein | 4/5/2014 - 10:45am

It intrigues me how some people can be so extreme in their understanding of events and inspired to such hostility that they spew it over everyone with whom they have any kind of disagreement. I suspect this happens when someone of a certain disposition senses that he is losing an argument.

Tim O'Leary | 4/5/2014 - 12:59pm

Yes. Those who demanded that the Mozilla CEO be fired for having the same position as Obama just a couple of years ago are certainly extreme spewers of intolerance. Imagine how intolerant they must be when the likes of Bill Maher and Andrew Sullivan even call their tactics Mafia-like and Neo-nazi. Andrew Sullivan even compared them to the pigs in Animal Farm! To quote Andrew "The whole episode disgusts me – as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society. If this is the gay rights movement today – hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else – then count me out."

Marie Rehbein | 4/5/2014 - 3:07pm

Wasn't the issue that the CEO had contributed to the fight against gay marriage? He had done this years ago, and, quite frankly, I don't think too many people agree with his firing. However, just as the extreme right is very vocal and active, so is the extreme left.

Tim O'Leary | 4/5/2014 - 4:49pm

In 2008, Brendan Eich gave $1,000 to the supporters of the referendum in California to keep the definition of marriage to one man and one woman. The referendum won with 52% of the vote. A mormon woman restaurant owner gave $1,000 and the gays ruined her business forcing her to resign. Jeff Bezos of Amazon gave $2.5M to the other side. No one I know on the right called for his resignation or threatened to boycott Amazon. See here for more people targeted by the gay extremists

The gay extremists want to intimidate Catholics and Mormon and Evangelicals from defending traditional marriage. They are trying to stop their opponents from having freedoms of speech and political participation. That is why the situation has reached a new seriousness, similar to what happened in the 1930s in Germany.

Marie Rehbein | 4/6/2014 - 10:12am

Really, Tim, 1930's Germany? What do you know about 1930's Germany? My mother lived there then. She said they were in economic distress and Hitler fixed it. He was elected because he was an inspiring speaker, and then he delivered on his promises. My mother's family knew Jewish people who were enthusiastic supporters of Hitler when he came on the scene. My mother's family was just happy to get by and not political.

Now, my recollection of what I learned was really going on was that Gays were exterminated along with Jews.

Tim O'Leary | 4/8/2014 - 3:21pm

Marie - I am not old enough to have personal experience with 1930's Germany but there is a wealth of information on that period and I have read some of it. It is actually similar to your description of the situation. Many people just went along with ever intolerant restrictions because they thought the country needed Hitler. As you say, even some Jews were initial supporters. And many more Catholics were sucked in, just as today. But, that is my exact point. One must oppose early signs of extreme intolerance before they grow to where they are much harder to oppose.

Before Hitler got to the gays and Jews, he targeted the mentally ill and disabled for execution. And, even so-called good Catholics went along. Any opposition (such as sermons from the pulpit) was attacked as religious hokum by the Hitler youth and other organizations. The amount of anti-Catholicism was actually much more than is generally recognized today. Of course, while he targeted Jews in a most particular way, Hitler ended up killing more Catholics than any other religion (if one counts his exterminations in Poland and Slavic lands). And he killed thousands of priests in Dachau. He also targeted gypsies and any conscientious objectors.

He called priests "an abortion" and was early on pro-choice on abortion for Jews, even as he opposed it for "Aryans." It was his early form of extermination. It took less than 50 years to turn a crime against humanity into a civil right.

Marie Rehbein | 4/6/2014 - 4:51pm

I do not think you are right that the intolerance that you identify is intolerance, while the intolerance you express is not intolerance. The comments that you have made, and they style you use to express yourself, shows as much intolerance as those whose intolerance you fear. You actually seem to have no tolerance for tolerance itself.

I think if you step back a bit, you would see how taking your place in the vast middle instead of the other extreme is far more likely to prevent a situation that you equate with life in Nazi Germany.

Tim O'Leary | 4/7/2014 - 1:54pm

Marie - there is actually a huge difference. I may be very critical of an opponent's argument and deem their logic flawed or even irrational. I may think they are doing immoral things. But, I do not want them to lose their jobs, or even worse. I want to try to persuade them, not deprive them of a living or hurt them physically. The liberal side of politics has a great deal of difficulty with this. If one disagrees with them, they want you removed from the conversation, to be hurt physically. I think this differences comes down to the distinction between loving the sinner while hating the sin. Liberals insist the sin be loved as well as the sinner.

Here is another example of a person fired for their beliefs, this time for refusing to support planned parenthood at the public school.

Marie Rehbein | 4/7/2014 - 2:55pm

I think you are forgetting about the teacher in a Catholic School who was gay and got married and got fired.

Tim O'Leary | 4/7/2014 - 7:48pm

Good point, Marie -except that there is a difference you may have missed. The Parish school is private and has a mission to teach a Catholic ethos, which this teacher contradicted. The government and the public school should be neutral on religious belief and practice since Catholics are compelled to pay for it. But, it is instead teaching a new religion with a false anthropology, one that promotes abortion and homosexual marriage. Here is a solution we may be heading to, bring in school choice and let the gays and abortionists pay for their schools and the religious groups pay for theirs.

Marie Rehbein | 4/8/2014 - 9:24am

My kids have been educated mostly in Catholic school, but they have also been in public schools. In no public school that they have attended has there been a promotion of abortion and homosexual marriage.

Michael Barberi | 4/5/2014 - 6:57pm


You missed Marie's point. There are extremists on the right and left. Those who embrace extremism are not the majority. Clearly, extremists on the right and left have left Washington broken. What we need is leadership and centrism. This is not Obama, nor is there a centrist in either party that appears appealing. If Chris Christie can move beyond Bridgegate, he might be a good candidate. At least he challenges his own party and has been able to move legislation for the people through a Democratically controlled legislature. On the other hand, Obama is clearly not a centrist, nor is Hilary.

On the point in argument with Marie, no CEO of a private company should be forced out of office because of his religious beliefs unless he is forcing his religious beliefs onto his employees that represent religious pluralism and disrupting the workplace and the primary objectives of the company.

Michael Barberi | 4/4/2014 - 6:36pm

Careful distinctions must be made about the opinions of Catholics and others especially when there are wide and misleading claims about what the great majority of American men and women think about what should be legal or moral relative to abortion. It is misleading to say that Americans are either Pro-Life or Pro-Choice without clear definitions. In truth, most Catholics are against abortion-on-demand but believe that it is morally right to terminate a pregnancy in cases where the life of the mother is threatened by an unviable fetus and in cases of rape and incest. What is far to common in articles that discuss abortion is a type of extremism and false picture about what Americans think or want, especially Catholics, namely one either believes in the definition of abortion according to the magisterium, and if you do not, you are classified as Pro-Choice. This is highly misleading and the particular conclusions that are deducted from this erroneous assertion.

As for illegal loop-holes circumventing the Federal law about abortion or the irresponsible Government oversight and management of the law and its regulations regarding abortion coverage and funding, they should be closed. Gray areas should be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court or a Federal Court of appropriate jurisdiction.

Tim O'Leary | 4/4/2014 - 8:50pm

Michael - am I correct in interpreting your comment that you believe it is morally right to kill an innocent human being, if they were conceived by rape or incest? Or do you believe that ensoulment and human rights begins at conception for only some people? Once again, have you thought through your own contradictions? They are legion.

Michael Barberi | 4/4/2014 - 10:09pm


See my comment below to your reply to one of my previous comments.

Jim McCrea | 4/4/2014 - 5:25pm

In San Francisco we have been paying a restaurant surcharge for about a couple of years now for the voter-mandated city provided healthcare for employees of such places who didn't offer it before.

No one is questioning what is included in that healthcare, be it abortion services, contraception, sterilization, vasectomies, in vitro fertilization or any number of other services.

Defining necessary healthcare is up to the medical profession and with the agreement of the patient, as it should be.

Tim O'Leary | 4/4/2014 - 8:51pm

Yes, better to keep those pesky ethical questions out of the discussion, just like those fine euthanizing "doctors" in Belgium and the Netherlands. (Note to Michael - I am being sarcastic). But, you at least understand that government mandates do cost something.

Marie Rehbein | 4/5/2014 - 10:30am

Perhaps you missed the part where the Belgian medical establishment opposed the child euthanasia laws.

Tim O'Leary | 4/5/2014 - 1:05pm

Those Belgian doctors would not be the euthanizing doctors, of course, who were the target of my criticism. Even in America, only 14% of OBGYN doctors kill by abortion. There are many doctors still around who go into medicine to support life, and not become agents of death, thank God.

Michael Barberi | 4/4/2014 - 4:33pm

Tim O'Leary offers a link to an article in order to justify giving the morning after pill to a rape victim but fails to understand precisely what the article actually said. This is another way of blindly arguing or being misguided by ignorance. The article makes clear that "appropriate testing" must be given to ensure that fertilization has not occurred before the pill can be given to a rape victim. Further, the article makes clear that healthcare providers must administer a Luteinizing hormone dip test or a progesterone blood level test to reasonable ensure that ovulation has not occurred. If it has, then fertilization may have occurred and the pill must not be given to the rape victim.

This procedure of giving a ovulation test was what bishops in the U.S. used to follow but the Archbishop of Connecticut and others argued in a famous rape case that a pregnancy test was reasonable given state and federal law. In other words, they caved in to state and federal law which authorized a pregnancy test but not a ovulation test. If Catholic and other hospitals did not abide by the law they might lose federal/state funding etc.

Thus, I repeat….a pregnancy test is not an appropriate test to reasonably ensure that ovulation did not occur by a rape victim. A pregnancy test will only be positive after implantation has occurred or if the rape victim was already pregnant before the rape.

The case in Connecticut was also followed in another state where the bishop had no problem with a pregnancy test. This is not only inconsistent and contradictory with USCCB guidelines but it is a sham. The argument that I made in my previous comment, and the Connecticut case, was the subject of a contentious theological debate that went on for many years. The bottom line is inconsistency and contradiction with respect to a moral teaching. By the way, I do believe that a rape victim should be given the pill because of many reasons, the least of which is the fact the the sexual intercourse was aggressively forced upon the victim against her will and most likely under the threat to her life. Rape is a horrific crime.

Tim O'Leary | 4/4/2014 - 8:55pm

Michael - you are always characterizing your opponents arguments as blind when you obviously do not understand them. I know you are stretched to your intellectual limits (to put it mildly) in understanding the Church's teaching but you are just being lazy in constantly repeating these characterizations. You are in serious need of help. It is not reasonable to think that all the orthodox theologians in the Church are contradicting themselves in their logic or cannot understand the subtleties of the arguments. I recommend that anyone reading this go to the link and not rest their interpretation on Michael's characterization. It does not mention the Connecticut Bishops' argument and does not use their faulty reasoning, which was criticized as caving to politics at the time. Here it is again .

A rape is violence expressed sexually. Humanae vitae strongly emphasizes that a women and a man should only give themselves in full freedom. Pushing a rapist away, or putting an obstacle between the rapist's sperm (including a chemical obstacle) and the women is completely legitimate and moral. What is not moral is to kill a new human being, if one is sure a new human being has been formed (I believe from previous comments that Michael thinks killing such an innocent human is morally permissible). If there is doubt, or uncertainty in a specific situation, one must try to do what is right. One should defend but not kill.

Michael Barberi | 4/4/2014 - 10:08pm


You conflate and misrepresent what I say to support your extreme positions and orthodoxy. To you, anyone who disagrees with a Church/magisterium teachings is doing the devils work or is not Catholic enough, or is leading good Catholics in the morally wrong direction. I made a legitimate point about the Archbishop of Connecticut's decision as an example of inconsistency and contradiction, but you deflected from this fact and moved to reaffirm your point about that article which you did not fully understand, nor did you relate it to my argument.

If the Bishops can give the morning after pill to a rape victim based on a negative pregnancy test that will be alway negative because a pregnancy test cannot detect ovulation or fertilization or pregnancy until "after implantation", then how is the administration of the pill in these circumstances not potentially killing an innocent human being (your argument)? Your own argument falls under its own weight as misguided and wrong.

If my judgment in the case of rape and the administration of the pill is morally wrong, according you and the magisterium, then I am in good company for the majority of Catholics feel the same way. My judgment of conscience is not supported by an opinion poll but supported by legitimate philosophical and theological arguments. Tim, you will always deflect and misdirect when anyone offers a reasoned position that is in tension with a church/magisterium teaching or a contradiction in principle which was my point.

Tim O'Leary | 4/4/2014 - 10:33pm

Michael - you never address your own inconsistencies. To be "in good company" with any group is not an argument for anything but popularity. Can't you just address my question regarding why you think both that 1) human life and ensoulement begins at conception and 2) it is morally right to kill them if they have been conceived by rape or incest? Or just admit you are being inconsistent. You fancy yourself an educated moralist but you can't address questions a freshman student would have to face.

Michael Barberi | 4/5/2014 - 3:47pm


Since this is Lent I will try to be clearer about my argument which you deflected from and did not understand, nor address.

My comments pointed to inconsistency and contradiction to the teaching about taking actions to prevent fertilization from occurring after a rape. The teaching of the magisterium, in particular USCCB guidelines, say that an ovulation test is to be administered to the rape victim. If this test is positive, it means that ovulation has occurred and that fertilization is possible, and the morning after pill cannot be given to the rape victim. That is the teaching of the magisterium.

While I can argue over the moral justification of administering the morning after pill to rape victims, I felt a much stronger argument was to point to the inconsistency and contradiction of this teaching. This is why I explained the issue about using a pregnancy test by bishops (e.g. the Archbishop of Connecticut and other bishops) because it is a sham as "an appropriate test". In other words, a pregnancy test will "always be negative" unless the victim was already pregnant or the test was administered after implantation occurred (about 3 weeks after fertilization occurs)…which is not the case because a pregnancy test is administered usually within 72 hours of a rape.

When a teaching is not the "absolute moral truth", you get moral dilemma in concrete circumstances that causes one to try to resolve the dilemma by trying to justify an exception. In rape cases, the problem manifests itself as a contradiction in principle when you try to justify the teaching by using a pregnancy test (and not an ovulation test). This casts the teaching as a sham. In other words, the underlying principles and philosophy that underpin the teaching cannot be a moral absolute (e.g., where under no circumstances, ends or intentions can you perform the act). There are exceptions that can be justified. Don't you get this? The teaching must be responsibly reformed or the bishops must be instructed by the CDF to stop the use of the pregnancy test and use an ovulation test. This has not been done. Nor has the magisterial addressed other cases of moral dilemma where a teaching is causing unnecessary and harmful burdens for many people and families.

Hence, when a pill that is potentially abortifacient is used because a pregnancy test is negative (usually administered within 72 hours of a rape and always negative unless the woman was already pregnant), then you get a contradiction in principle because you are preventing the fertilized egg from implantation which is according to the magisterium killing an innocent person.

The USCCB said nothing. The CDF said nothing and you said nothing about the fact that many bishops morally authorize to use a negative pregnancy test to justify administering the morning after pill to rape victims.

As usual Tim, you did not address my argument but repeated your questions. The reason you did not respond to my argument is because you have no adequate answers. My argument is only one argument, and not the only argument, for justifying the administration of the morning after pill to rape victims. When you refuse to address my argument Tim, we go around in circles. I have pointed this issue out to you on previous occasions with examples, and all you do is continue to deflect, misdirect and avoid the major point of my argument. This is also why debating with you Tim becomes unproductive. Your style of argument is similar to the magisterium when they do not adequately address the many moral dilemmas, problems, inconsistencies and contradictions in existential reality. Some of these problems are profoundly complex and cause serious and unnecessary burdens for many Catholics. This is why Pope Francis called a Synod on the Family to try to adequately address some of these issues.

I do not fancy myself as anything other than an educated and informed Catholic. Trying to nail down you to the points in an argument is like trying to nail jello to a wall.

Tim O'Leary | 4/5/2014 - 5:24pm

Michael - there you go again. Avoiding a clear simple question on your own inconsistency. You are the cause of the circles, repeating a third time in the same detail your complaint of inconsistency in the CT bishops with the Magisterium. Maybe they were inconsistent. I do not disagree on this point (I do not follow their arguments blindly, as you claim). I am not even defending the Magisterium in this case. I just want to know what your position is regarding a human being conceived in a rape. You say you think it is morally good to kill such an innocent fetus (surely you have a better argument than an appeal to popularity - "I am in good company with a majority"). Even Marie attempted to answer for you (mercifully, in less words), which should have made you blush. I cannot believe her interpretation of your argument - that you think that killing an embryo or preventing it from being conceived are morally equivalent (see next comment). That would put contraception as morally equivalent to abortion, undermining your life's work!

Or do you agree with Marie's argument that all conceived humans begin with minimal human rights that grow with gestation (and beyond that to adulthood) of their bodies and their souls?

Or just admit to your inconsistency. To paraphrase Jesus in Mt 7:3, address the huge inconsistency in your own eye before you attack the small inconsistency in others.

Michael Barberi | 4/5/2014 - 6:23pm


I would like to make a few points for your consideration and reflection.

1. You commentaries continue to have a very negative and almost hateful undertone. You seem to on a self-appointed crusade to defend the magisterium regardless of the reasons or points of counter-argument. Any person who argues against a teaching is the enemy or someone that is leading good faithful Catholics in the morally wrong direction. Therefore, any strategy you choose to employ to counter these evil opinions is justified.

In your world, whatever the magisterium says is the absolute moral truth is so…end of discussion. Contradictions, inconsistencies, and sound arguments that point to legitimate reasons for a responsible change in a teaching are not important or misguided. Somehow these arguments are not seeing the real truth. This is what the Church/magisterium and traditionalist apologists have been doing for the past 50 years on the contentious issues of sexual ethics. Trying to have a civil and respectful conversation with you is almost impossible. This does not mean that I think you are ignorant or not asking good questions, but that your style of argument eventually leads nowhere, unless things change.

2. I clearly see what you write and when I determine you are going off-point or not addressing my argument, I try to bring you back to the points I am making. A debate is a two-way street. If one is constantly ignoring the other's points, and insisting that only their questions be answered, then this becomes a one-way street. I don't want to, nor will I, chase your style of argument all over the place inclusive of your questions that try to box your interlocutors into some type of checkmate illusion. If you adequately address the points I am making, I will answer your questions or try to explain why your questions are not being framed correctly.

There is very little give-and-take between us. I choose not to be forced into your alleys of argumentative questions if you do not respectfully consider and adequately address to the points I am making.

3. An example of your conflating things is your statement that I am using opinion polls or appealing to popularity as a basis for my augment. I specifically said in the next sentence where I mention that I am in good company with the majority of Catholics on this point about rape, that I use legitimate philosophical and theological arguments for my viewpoints. Yet, you chose to ignore this fact in the very next sentence, a fact that I deliberately made because I thought you might make a claim that I am using opinion polls. You then stayed true to your style of argument and picked a few words of mine out of context to drive home your erroneous accusation that I am appealing to popularity. Shame on you! Don't you realize Tim that people see right through you and these tactics?

4. You say there may be inconsistencies with the teaching on rape and the use of the morning after pill. You say you are not defending the magisterium on this point. Ok, then you must also see that many bishops are doing what you seem to condemn, namely, that giving the morning after pill to a rape victim based on a negative pregnancy test is tantamount to killing an innocent person! The actions of bishops in these cases are in contradiction to magisterial teachings. If you agree, then you must also agree that something is seriously wrong with the teaching or the moral methodology that is being used by many bishops and the magisterium. If you agree with this conclusion, then say so. Then, we can move the conversation forward to address other related questions.

There is the issue of double effect as well as the moral method of Aquinas that justify the administration of the morning after pill to rape victims. This case is no different from terminating a pregnancy where the life of the mother is threatened by an unviable fetus. I ask you Tim: if your wife was in this situation, would you let your wife and the unviable fetus die, or would you save your wife's life by terminating the pregnancy, preserve your marriage, give your existing children the benefit of a mother, and look forward to another day when your wife might had another child?

Tim O'Leary | 4/6/2014 - 9:51am

Michael - while you avoided for the 4th time to directly address the humanity of the child conceived by rape, I think the gist of your response is that you agree you too are inconsistent on this issue. Ok, but people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. So, all I am suggesting is that you realize your dissent from Church teaching is itself filled with gaps and inconsistencies. That should lead to a much more humble expression of disagreement when you perceive the Church is not satisfying your charge of inconsistency.

You did ask one direct question to me at the end. In some very rare situations, more common in the past or undeveloped world, an unborn child can pose a risk to the life of the mother if carried to term. It is almost certainly in the late third trimester that this risk can be known with high certainty (like Eclampsia as happened to Sybil on the Downton Abbey series). They portrayed it like it really is, a true risk to life for both mother and child. In such a terrible situation as this, I would pray to God with all my might that both would make it through the birth but I would hope I would never kill my child directly. If I did, I would fall on my knees for my sin and humbly ask God for forgiveness, through the sacraments of the Church. I would never become a dissenter campaigning for the Church to change its teaching just to assuage my pain in the tragedy. The Magisterium has faced all the tragedies of two millennia, and they, like us, must look at real tragedy and dilemmas in its human face when they use the power Jesus gave them to bind and loose and the promise the Church would not teach error. I do not have that promise, and neither do you. That is my faith.

Michael Barberi | 4/6/2014 - 3:31pm


Your logic and arguments are full of hot-air assertions without any examples and descriptions to back up you erroneous accusations. This is you style of argument and this is why our discussion go around in circles and are unproductive. I am consistent on all issues and offer details in argument. For example, I explained to you how you take things out of context, and make erroneous accusations, such as your claim that I am appealing to opinion polls as a basis for my disagreements with certain Church/magisterium teachings, when I clearly said no such thing. In fact, I fully explained the basis of my arguments. So, what do you do? You do nothing!! You ignore what is blatantly obvious to anyone reading this blog because you don't want to admit you exaggerate and distort what I write in an effort to claim some type of foolish superior argument. You simply move on to your hot-air accusations and erroneous assertions without anything remotely substantial and intellectually persuasive. You provided no details of my so-called gaps and inconsistencies. It does not matter what I say. You just ignore anything that you can't argue against.

I disagree with certain Church/magisterium teachings for legitimate philosophical and theological reasons. Kindly get that into your head. I have explained myself, in detail, many times on this point.

As to your response to my last question, your answer is the answer you were seeking to the questions you posited to me. Yet, you are blind to this. The fact that you would save your wife's life and terminate the pregnancy in this case where an unviable fetus and pregnancy is threatening her life is exactly the point. You think you gave a good answer, but you failed to see your own inconsistency and contradiction. Your hypothetical decision in this case is the right one…make no mistake about it. When our informed conscience tells us what is true are right, we always should pray that we are not offending God because we only see a partial truth. However, that is not the point!! We should never go against our informed conscience, and your hypothetical decision is an example of that. It is not in weakness that you would have made that hypothetical decision, it is through strength of your faith, love of God, reason and the guidance of the Holy Spirit that your informed conscience directed your judgment and actions. I would make the same decision but for legitimate philosophical and theological reasons that inform my conscience. I would also pray, seek priestly advice, et al.

Granted a woman threatened by a pregnancy is not a frequent occurrence, such as the Phoenix Case. However, what you fail to understand is moral theology/moral method and how principles and philosophy are used to substantiate and justify certain moral teachings. The Church/magisterium cannot issue a moral absolute and then allow exceptions. But this is exactly happens such as in the case of rape and the Connecticut Archbishop's decision regarding the use of a pregnancy test as justification for administering the morning after pill to the rape victim within 72 hours of the rape. It is a sham and you know it because such a decision is killing an innocent person…based on their definition and teaching. You either fail to see this or minimize it. That is your problem, not mine. I disagree with this teaching for good reasons. You don't, but you can't justify the inconsistency and contradiction and you will never see this as the problem with the teaching.

Such inconsistencies and contradictions point to the fact the something is wrong with the teaching or the moral method being utilized. You don't go there or try to address it because you don't like the implication and the sham. You merely move on to argue a different point.

You can pontificate all you like about quoting Scripture but all you are doing is what is commonly referred to as proof texting, not to mention your misunderstandings.

Lastly, you like to use demeaning language a lot, such as calling anyone who has a legitimate disagreement with a church/magisterium teaching a "dissenter". Such disparaging language weakens your argument. I think we are done here Tim, unless you have something substantive to offer.

God bless.

Tim O'Leary | 4/7/2014 - 2:15pm

Michael - so many words, while still avoiding the rape inconsistency. Yet, you claim to be fully consistent. Note I directly addressed your question to me. But, you missed that I prefaced my reply with an "if." We also have a very different idea of conscience. I know that my conscience can be biased by my fears and desires in a tough moral situation, hence my "fear and trembling" attitude to doing anything against Church teaching. You seem to think that your conscience fully and confidently absolves you in such situations, so when you run into a disagreement with Church teaching and your conscience, it is never your weakness or inconsistency, but the Church's. This is our difference in a nutshell. Now, maybe we are done. God Bless.

Michael Barberi | 4/7/2014 - 3:02pm


You have not explained in anyway my gaps and inconsistencies. Until you do, your assertions are unsubstantiated and erroneous. They are only your assertions because you cannot back them up.

I have no idea what your idea of conscience is because you never explained it. That is the problem with most of what you say, but I acknowledge that you answer some questions and address some issues and give rationale reasons for some of your points of view. With respect to conscience, I have given you a lengthly description of conscience and how it is to be informed, and the process to follow when one's conscience is in tension with a magisterial teaching. I did this to answer one of your questions awhile ago. So, I have no idea what you are talking about or your ridiculous accusation that my conscience fully and confidently absolves me in such situates where my conscience is in tension with a magisterial teaching. Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead of asking me this questions, you leap to unsubstantiated conclusions to suit your argument which is to chastise me without evidence.

From your answer to the hypothetical case of terminating a pregnancy to save you wife's life, which one of the following describes your state of mind on this issue:

1. You knew that terminating the pregnancy to save you wife's life from the threat of an unviable fetus was a mortal sin, and your informed conscience told you not to terminate the pregnancy, but you did it anyway. You then asked God to forgive you in your state of fear and trembling.

2. Your faith was not strong enough to overcome your informed conscience which told you that terminating the pregnancy was immoral, but in your weakness you did it anyway. Then you asked God to forgive you in your state of fear and trembling.

3. Both #1 and #2 are correct.

I will wait for you reply, but it seems to be that #3 is correct.

As to my conscience, and I have repeated this many times to you Tim but you never let it sink in to your head, that my conscience is a 'temporary judgment/conclusion' n such matters where it is in tension with a magisterial teaching (after following the process I have outlined to you in detail). I continue to pray, educate myself, seek constant mentoring from my priest and expert advisors, receive the sacraments, et al. My prayers are always filled with humility and if I offend God, I ask for his forgiveness, wisdom and guidance.

Like you, I fear God and tremble, but I also trust in His mercy and my faith that the Holy Spirit will guide me to the truth and the good. My conscience in these matters is one of joy and peace. If my conscience was troubled, I would not do what is troubling to my conscience. This does not mean that my conscience is perfect but as Benedict XVI has said, as well as the magisterium, one must never go against their "informed conscience". Hence, any conscience is not justification for doing what one wants to do. However, you think that any conscience is wrong and distorted if it is in tension with a magisterium teaching regardless of the reasons, regardless of how one has informed his/her conscience. This is where we disagree.

Sorry Tim, by no cigar this time again. I am still waiting for you to tell me all about my gaps and inconsistencies. I won't hold my breath. God bless.

Tim O'Leary | 4/7/2014 - 4:42pm

Are you serious, Michael? In your last sentence you again ask me to re-ask my same question a 5th or 6th time? Ok, here I go. You have said you believe with the Church that a human life begins at conception. You also believe that taking an innocent human life is wrong. Yet, you believe that if the child was conceived in rape, then taking its life is morally good. Is that not inconsistent?

I am happy to respond to your specific question as well, but I don't want to distract you from this question, so I will do it after you answer this question.

I am hopeful the "cigar" will be delivered now. Thanks.

Michael Barberi | 4/7/2014 - 7:00pm


I do believe that "life" begins at conception but I am not certain that a human person is formed at that point. If a child is born by accident in my marriage, I would welcome the child into my family with unconditional love. I would not abort the unplanned child. However, you cannot take this statement and draw any conclusion you choose to do about my moral method or consistency. Take the example of killing a person which is evil. The voluntary human act of killing a person is not ipso facto immoral. It is immoral if you kill a person for vengeance but not to safe-guard justice or in self-defense. I am not being inconsistent in the slightest way because I follow the moral method of Aquinas that takes circumstances, intentions, ends and the act/object into full consideration in determining if a voluntary human act is immoral or not. You follow a moral method called deontology where anything that the magisterium says is immoral is so regardless of circumstances, ends, et al. You don't even try to grasp what I am saying but that does not mean I am being inconsistent. Quite the opposite.

There is a significant difference between calling something evil and calling something morally evil. You can do evil for a good, but you cannot do a moral evil for a good. The debate about the morality of voluntary human acts (moral evil actions) has been going on for the past 50 years. There is so much inconsistency and contradiction in many magisterium teachings, even within the traditionalist theologian community, that it is unclear if we will get any definitive reception of certain teachings or a convincing moral theory that most people can understand. Some theologians that condemn contraception, don't have any problem with a discordant couple using a condom during sexual intercourse. The list goes on. All of these examples go right over your head because you don't understand fundamental theological ethics, moral methodology or the problem.

There are many moral dilemmas the confound us. Your own decision to terminate a pregnancy where an unviable fetus threatens your wife's life, is a good example how you are being inconsistent and contradictory. All you can say is that I am weak, my faith cannot overcome my informed conscience, I sinned and I will ask tremble before God for ask for mercy and forgiveness. We all sin Tim, but the point of my question to you is to open your eyes to the fact that most people would do the same thing because something is wrong with the teaching and the moral method used to justify it. Most theologians and informed Catholics who study moral theology are not convinced that the teaching is the absolute moral truth. The case we discussed challenges the hierarchy of values as well as the moral method being used by the magisterium to justify this so-called moral absolute. The last thing I am is inconsistent. The problem is that you don't understand moral theology. You only choose to abide by every teaching of the magisterium regardless of circumstances, but you cannot argue your points with any degree of intellectual persuasion.

The case of rape is a case of inconsistency and contradiction, as in the example I gave you about many bishops justifying the morning after pill as long as a pregnancy test is negative. Yet, you never admitted that this is killing an innocent person according to the magisterium and USCCB guidelines. You won't admit it and you won't see how this contradiction destroys the claim of truth. You think it is just one exception. You think the bishops are wrong, but the magisterium is right regardless if they don't do one thing about it. Open your mind and try to education yourself more fully on the morality of voluntary human actions.

You get no cigar Tim. God bless.

Tim O'Leary | 4/8/2014 - 12:20am

Michael - you cannot see your own obvious contradictions in your thinking. You are willing to kill an unborn child (you don't limit this to the first trimester) if it was the victim of rape but would think aborting the same child at the same age of viability when otherwise conceived is wrong. What makes an innocent child somehow deserving of capital punishment?

But, since you cannot even understand my hypothetical, I am not surprised. I will leave you alone about it because you have a complete blind-spot on this. The log in your eye is obscuring your capacity to see. You use demeaning language yourself (full-of-hot-air assertions, blindly arguing, misguided by ignorance, extreme positions, get that into your head, ridiculous, sink into your head, etc., etc) while constantly complaining about it - another blind-spot. You keep bringing up the Magisterium as a curse word as if I was arguing for it in my comments on this string, but it is you who are obsessed in your opposition, not me in my support. Oh well.

I did promise to address your question in your penultimate comment, so here goes.
1. I believe that it is never right to directly intend to kill my innocent child at any time after it has been conceived.
2. I also believe it is a great good to protect my wife from harm
3. The situation in early pregnancy rarely if ever presents a direct and immediate threat to the mother. This threat really only becomes realistically evident in the third trimester.
4. So, the dilemma I have is two family members in the third trimester and I am faced with the choice of leaving it in God's hands (hence the heart-felt and constant prayer) or taking an active role to kill the child. I believe I could not do that and so I would leave it in God's hands, crying out to God to relieve me of the temptation to kill an innocent child.
5. I see this moral dilemma as a little similar to a situation where my wife and my 2-year old child are in a house on fire and both are unconscious. I can only save one. What do I do? What do you do? You must leave one. Whatever I do, I will be torn with guilt in leaving the other behind. I pray I am never in such a position, nor you. God bless.

Michael Barberi | 4/8/2014 - 4:31pm


You are confusing several things such as the definition and the role of intention in the morality of voluntary human action (and moral method as well). I am not intending to kill an unborn child in the case of administering the morning after pill to a rape victim within 72 hours of a rape. My "intention" is to prevent fertilization and pregnancy from occurring due to a violent horrific criminal act committed against the woman's will. This is quite different from a situation where a birth control method failed for a married couple who did not want children, and is faced with an unplanned pregnancy. Aborting the pregnancy in this case is immoral because the end and intention is not good, nor is the act of terminating the pregnancy in accordance with virtue. Nor is the act appropriate, suitable or proportionate to a good end. It would be abortion-on-demand.

In the other case, the intention is not to kill an unviable fetus that is threatening the life of the mother. The intention is to save the life of the mother in a situation where the fetus will die with certainty regardless of what is done (e.g., it is unviable as in the infamous Phoenix case). The choice is to allow two to die or to save one life provided everything possible is done to save both. Your choice to allow two to die by leaving this up to God is not my choice. If you are at peace with such a decision because it is a magisterium teachings and if this decision does not go against your informed conscience, then you must never go against your informed conscience. In this situation, my informed conscience would tell me I should not allow my wife to die if I could save her life, retain my marriage, give my existing children the benefit and love of their mother, and allow for the possibility of having another child in the future.

The other issue you failed to understand is my example of killing a person. Killing a person is an evil act, but killing a person for the good end/intention such as to safe-guard justice or for the end/intention of self-defense is not immoral provided that the act is appropriate, suitable and proportionate to the good in the end/intention…and is in accordance with virtue. Killing a person is immoral if the end/intention is for vengeance. This is the moral method according to Aquinas.

In the case of rape, "it is the magisterium's teaching" that says that administering the morning after pill is killing the person and immoral if an appropriate test confirms that ovulation has occurred and fertilization is possible. Yet, many bishops administer the morning after pill to rape victims based on a negative pregnancy test (not an ovulation test) during the first 72 hours of the rape. A pregnancy test will always be negative in this situation and it is not an appropriate test for ovulation and the possibility of fertilization. In this case, the bishops are killing an unborn child (your words and the magisterium's, "not mine") because the possibility of fertilization has occurred. The magisterium and USCCB guidelines forbids this, yet the magisterium and the USCCB has done nothing about this practice and contradiction and inconsistency with the teaching. Tim, are the bishops not killing an unborn child in this situation in accordance with magisterial teaching? If not, please explain.

The reason I brought this up was to argue over the claim that this teaching (as well as other teachings in dispute) is a moral absolute with the emphasis on the word 'absolute'. If you argue that the bishops have good reasons for an exception in the rape case (some theologians have argued this for them, and the USCCB and magisterium said nothing but allows this to continue), then there can be "other good reasons" for "other exceptions". Therefore, the teaching cannot be definitively declared a moral absolute.

The misunderstanding I believe we have is over claims the certain teachings are moral absolutes. If I have to boil down the past 50 years of debates over sexual ethics, it would be over absolutes. When the church/magisterium declares a specific voluntary human act is always immoral regardless of circumstances, ends and intentions, it is by definition a moral absolute. The argument that a teaching is not a moral absolute does not mean that there is no truth in a teaching, but that there can be exceptions for good reasons according to acceptable moral methods. This is why the church/magisterium has never been able to put forth a convincing moral theory in support of their teachings they claim are moral absolutes. In other words, they have no convincing moral theory for many concrete cases that defy common sense and moral methods that theologians and the church/magisterium use. This is why I bring up these cases Tim as well as the inconsistencies and contradictions. They all point to valid and strong arguments that certain teachings, declared as moral absolutes, can have exceptions. Many of these teachings cause unnecessary and unreasonable burdens on Catholics and cause moral dilemma. These cases and the harm caused by adhering to certain moral absolutes should be rectified. Witness the many issues that Pope Francis and the Synod on the Family know are significant problems that require a rethinking: the divorced and unmarried Catholics and the denial of the sacrament of reconciliation and Eucharistic reception, contraception for married couples who do not have an anti-life attitude but have children and want not more for good reasons and where NFP does not work for them, same-sex unions/marriages, allowing sterilization or other viable contraceptive methods by married women whose lives are threatened by another pregnancy, the list goes on.

I believe our disagreements may be rooted in a misunderstanding about what I am arguing about. The use of inconsistency and contradiction is only one example of my argument that certain teachings are not moral absolutes. I believe you see certain exceptions as not pivotable to claims that teachings are moral absolutes. I believe you think that some exceptions don't make the teaching false, so they can remain moral absolutes. This is where we disagree because by definition there are no exceptions to moral absolutes. This is the debate that has been going on for the past 50 years for a variety of reasons and arguments.

In conclusion, my argument is that there are legitimate and good philosophical and theological reasons for certain teachings to have specific exceptions based on sound moral methods. Inconsistencies and contradictions involving certain teachings are only one example that support my argument. My major argument revolves around the justification for responsible reform of certain teachings based on the moral method of Aquinas that most theologians have been arguing about for the past 50 years.

Tim, I know you don't think you tend to extreme and unsubstantiated view points. I know you believe that
"any" conscience that disagrees with a magisterium teaching is wrong regardless of the reasons or how one has informed their conscience. I know you think your arguments are right and my arguments are wrong. Unfortunately, I don't agree with you for good reasons and I have offered you at least a partial description of my arguments that is appropriate for a blog comment. If we cannot agree, then we will have to agree to disagree and further discussion will likely not be very productive.

Why don't we allow those who follow our arguments decide for themselves.

God Bless

Marie Rehbein | 4/5/2014 - 10:42am

I think Michael is saying there is no difference between preventing an embryo from continuing to follow the natural course of events and intervening to stop the natural course of events.

You are saying that a woman has been identified by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church as having a right to defend herself from becoming a host to an individual who was conceived due to rape, but does not have a right to stop being a host of such an individual if it implanted itself and began using her body's resources to develop even when she did not have to opportunity to defend herself from that development.

You are also saying, if the Magisterium of the Catholic Church says something is so, it is absolutely so, and you are not recognizing that the Magisterium has changed teachings of matters of reproduction and not seeing that this means that its teachings on these matters is never absolute.

Tim O'Leary | 4/5/2014 - 5:25pm

Marie - your first sentence is a whopper, ethically speaking. You're not helping Michael, who does not think human life begins at implantation. But, at least no one can accuse you of concrete thinking. I think he might have a more logical response, if he gives one.

Marie Rehbein | 4/6/2014 - 9:36am

Tim, I am afraid that I have to agree with Michael that you tend to misinterpret what people are trying to say. I am saying that Michael is saying that there are logical inconsistencies in the teaching of the Catholic Church. They state principles and then make exceptions for real life situations. However, the exceptions are not nuances of the principles, they contradict the principles. So, if you say life begins when the sperm and egg combine and that this happens because it is God's will that the new individual be given a chance for life with all the help humans can give, then logically you should not do anything to prevent implantation; it's no different than terminating a pregnancy, logically speaking.

In my opinion, the Church should revisit its logic about the sacredness of embryos. From what I have gathered, the only Scriptural foundation for what it teaches is a verse in which God says he knew someone before he was born. If there is anything else, I'd love for someone the explain it. However, that passage from the Bible, I think, speaks to God's omniscience, and those who interpret it have somehow premised that interpretation on a human understanding of the sequence of events. I don't know if Michael agrees with that or not.

Tim O'Leary | 4/6/2014 - 3:27pm

Marie - your idea of a developing soul is a logical problem so to go along your way of thinking a little, the Church would have to separate ensoulment from human conception. It was science that proved the human being's body begins at conception. The Bible teaches multiple places that directly killing innocent humans is evil. The Church would have to find a time later in gestation that humanity appears. Implantation makes no sense as it is just a source of nutrition to a living embryo. The old idea of quickening (40 days) has been discredited by modern science. One could try to come up with a time of development of the brain. At another extreme, one could push ensoulment to post-birth, connecting it with development of reason, as Peter Singer at Princeton does. But, the Church cannot just make this kind of thing up, as a university philosopher can. It must seek the Truth as it really is (as God means it). The Church has taken such a definitive stance on ensoulment that if they abandoned that now, you may as well throw out its whole teaching. I note that the Didache, from the first century, calls abortion evil. The Hippocratic oath considered abortion evil. And, even if one could move ensoulment later, it would not change the Church's teaching on contraception. But, maybe, his logic is too concrete for you.

Marie Rehbein | 4/6/2014 - 4:40pm

The Church's teaching on contraception is not based on the humanity of the embryo. However, the political objections of some non-Catholics to some forms of contraception, when on the whole they have no objection to the practice, is based on believing what the Catholic Church teaches about the humanity of the embryo.

I still contend that the soul is not necessarily a complete thing, and I like your suggestion that one could see the first sign of brain development as being significant. In my theory, this would be an ideal time for the soul to begin growing, as well.

The Church has, and will continue, to make this kind of thing up. It thought it was on stable ground with the moment of conception, because this was considered scientific and science was the new truth. However, identifying the moment of conception as so significant that the fertilized egg is considered a full human being is in error, because, quite obviously, it is not a full human being. There is so much more that goes into making the person out of the directions that are found in the embryo, that it seems obvious to me that the Church will need to change its teaching.

The directions for making any person are found in any cell, really. Combining genetic material from two cells of different people is not beyond the capabilities of scientists. Declaring that each time something like this is done, we have a sacred moment and the equivalent of another new human being is ludicrous.

Michael Barberi | 4/6/2014 - 6:14pm


Thanks for your thoughts about my interlocutor, Mr. O'Leary. As for ensoulment, we know that the Catholic Church believes that ensoulment occurs at conception. Other Judeo-Christian religions do not have a definitive dogma on ensoulment. As you pointed out, there are many theories and the Church/magisterium has changed its beliefs about ensoulment from ancient times to the recent present. The issue of ensoulment continues to be a mystery.

When I argue about a specific issue, my position is the framework for making ethical and moral right decisions, which is the field of moral theology/moral method. In other words: how does one determine what is right or wrong behavior/actions in concrete circumstances where often there is moral dilemma.

Historically, the Church/magisterium has issued juridical, legalistic and absolute norms of right and wrong behavior, often in the form of sins. In other words, one must always do this, and not that. In early times, a moral manual of these so-called sins were developed to guide priests in confession to determine if a sin was committed and if so, the appropriate penance. However, a listing of sins were not so easy to follow when confronted with the ever-ending multitude of circumstances, ends and intentions of the person. Sometimes doing the so-called right thing resulted in some evil, and doing something that was considered evil for a good was morally justified (e.g., killing a person to safe-guard justice). Thomas Aquinas tried to resolve this dilemma by formulation a moral method which in part, but not always, is followed today by the magisterium, although there are several interpretations of what Aquinas meant by certain terms and things he wrote about in the Summa Theologia. Nevertheless, it is a sound moral method for ethical decision-making that most theologians consider in theological debates especially on specific issues, such as contraception, terminating a pregnancy that is threatening the life of the mother, etc.

To demonstrate how complex, and not absolute, some teachings are is to understand that traditionalist theologians who argue in support of magisterial teachings, also disagree on many complex issues, such as, whether it is morally right to terminate an unviable fetus that is threatening the life of the mother. Such prominent theologians that argue for the teaching on contraception, such as Germain Grisez and Martin Rhonheimer, "disagreed" with the decision of the Bishop of Phoenix and the magisterium over the Phoenix case where the procedure to terminate the pregnancy to save the life of the mother was not direct abortion (as the bishop and Rome argued), but indirect abortion and morally permissible. Of course, Mr. O'Leary will argue that the magisterium is protected from error on all moral teachings claimed to be the truth. In any case, the issue of ensoulment was not a morally determinative factor relative to the moral analysis of the direct-indirect abortion issue in the infamous Phoenix case. This does not mean that ensoulment was not important but that it was not determinative in moral decision-making.

For these reasons, I hope you can appreciate my reluctance to argue over the issue of ensoulment. It is not the right question or issue to debate when it comes to determining the moral species of voluntary human action.

Marie Rehbein | 4/7/2014 - 12:27pm

As you say, Michael, the issue of ensoulment will never be resolved. It is a matter of faith and guesswork. Unfortunately, I believe the current Catholic position on the matter is an obstacle to a compassionate position on the matter of contraception to a large extent, abortion to a degree, and IVF in the extreme.

Your comment brings to mind a topic that I recall from my teenage years in religious education. This was situation ethics. Our instructor was a non-Catholic seminarian who gave many examples of situations in which right could be wrong and wrong could be right. I was not comfortable with this simple approach to ethics, because determining whether an outcome was good or bad would require a kind of omniscience that humans clearly do not have.

Nevertheless, one cannot rule out consideration of which likely potential outcome best conforms to the overall sentiment expressed in Jesus Great Commandment when one makes a moral choice. Clearly, in the example to which Tim gave a response above, the choice Tim said he would make conforms to this teaching of Jesus.

Tim O'Leary | 4/7/2014 - 7:39pm

Marie - you say no one can know when ensoulment occurs but also that the Church is in error on this point. So, here I think you are again contradicting yourself. You say the Church is making things up about ensoulment and Michael does not say he disagrees with you, but I think he does. In any case, I only respond here to correct your and Michael's misinterpretation that I was advocating for the morality of my two hypothetical points (notice the word "if"). It is NOT my suggestion that brain development is a good way to determine a right to not be killed. That is a terrible idea (one who had a stroke would lose their humanity, some born children with brain defects would be deprived of a right to life, just as the nazis advocated). Also, I would hope I would not kill my child in the case discussed (hence, I used the word just). I can see e face of one of my children now and I could not kill them and think it is morally good, even if it saved their mother. It would be a terrible "Sophie's choice" but I cannot think Jesus would want me to kill a child, even to save her mother. God does not always provide a way for us in life to avoid tragedy and loss. But He does not want us to do one wrong to avoid another.

Marie Rehbein | 4/7/2014 - 8:10pm

Of course, the error is that the Church is saying it does know when ensoulment occurs, but it has nothing with which to substantiate that. It is no more valid than my suggestion for a later time, which I believe because of how many fertilized human eggs never develop into babies no matter how much the potential parents want them and other observations that I will not go into here.

I realize that you did not suggest brain development being a good guess for an ensoulment point. You simply prompted me to consider that option.

You take my suggestion further than I would, however, and seem to think that I am linking the quality of the brain development with the quality of ensoulment. I can see why you might think that, but there is no reason to assume it.

Souls are a given in Christian belief; otherwise, what goes on to be with God after death? However, the things that supposedly impact the condition of the soul do not rely on intelligence, but rather love or lack thereof. My understanding is that this impulse to love comes from deep within the brain -- in the amygdala -- and is moderated by the cerebral cortex.

Of course, as you know, there are all kinds of exceptions for culpability in sin including a person's capacity to comprehend. Therefore, nothing is lost by saying that a soul develops as a fetus develops. And, given that a lot of tempering supposedly happens to the soul after death, the loss of various brain capabilities due to stroke would mean absolutely nothing, since in death there is no brain function at all.

With regard to the hypothetical scenario posed to you by Michael, I would add that I see the matter as you do. It's not necessarily the only right choice or the only wrong choice. As Michael keeps saying, though, your conscience is guiding such a choice, which must mean that when you make it you believe you are making the best of choice from the choices available to you and not that you are saying you don't care what God thinks about this and so will do what works out best for yourself.

Marie Rehbein | 4/4/2014 - 8:02pm

It is characteristic of authoritarian institutions and individuals to make the rules and to make exceptions to them while not allowing others to do so. There is a difference between the ideal, which could be achieved in a perfect God-pleasing world, and the real, which involves coming up short and requiring forgiveness.

Tim O'Leary | 4/4/2014 - 8:28pm

Marie - it is characteristic of pro-abortion commentators like yourself to think pro-lifers arguments are illogical or motivated by self-interest. Why can't you just be honest and say our differences hinge on the timing we believe ensoulment occurs. I believe it is most logical that it occurs at conception. So does the Church. I am not 'blindly' following anyone, as Michael insists. It is just that I find that the most reasonable stance. Maybe, you can say when you think ensoulment occurs and/or when an unborn human becomes worthy of full human rights?

Marie Rehbein | 4/4/2014 - 8:35pm

You have asked me that before, and I answered, but perhaps you missed it. I believe that the soul develops along with the fetus and that it sprouts shortly after the embryo implants. I also believe that our souls are developing throughout our lives.


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