Pope Francis: Prenatal diagnosis of illness is no excuse for abortion

Pope Francis poses during an audience with a delegation from the Institute of the Innocents, a Florence-based organization dedicated to caring for children. The pope met the delegation at the Vatican May 24, 2019, during an audience marking the 600th anniversary of the Italian institute. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)Pope Francis poses during an audience with a delegation from the Institute of the Innocents, a Florence-based organization dedicated to caring for children. The pope met the delegation at the Vatican May 24, 2019, during an audience marking the 600th anniversary of the Italian institute. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- "Abortion is never the answer" to couples seeking a way to deal with a prenatal diagnosis of serious illness or disability, Pope Francis said.

"Human life is sacred and inviolable and the use of prenatal diagnosis for selective purposes must be strongly discouraged because it is the expression of an inhuman eugenic mentality, which deprives families of the possibility of welcoming, embracing and loving their weakest children," the pope said on May 25.

Advertisement

Addressing participants at a Vatican meeting on medical care for "extremely fragile" babies and on the pastoral care of their parents, Pope Francis said the Catholic Church's total opposition to abortion is not primarily a religious position, but a human one.

"Just two phrases, two questions, can help us understand this," the pope said. "First question: Is it licit to eliminate a human life to solve a problem? Second question: Is it licit to hire a hitman to resolve a problem?"

[Don’t miss the latest news from the church and the world. Sign up for our daily newsletter.]

"No," he said, "it is not licit. Never ever eliminate a human life nor hire a hitman to resolve a problem."

When there is a prenatal diagnosis of serious illness or disability, the parents need medical staff and pastoral workers to be close to them and support them, the pope told participants at the conference sponsored by the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life.

While some may define the baby's condition as "incompatible with life," he said, the fact that there is movement and that the mother knows she is pregnant means there is life and the mother's experience of that must be honored.

Every child conceived in a mother's womb "is a gift that will change the story of a family, a mother and father, grandparents and siblings," he said. "And this baby needs to be welcomed, loved and cared for."

[Want to discuss politics with other America readers? Join our Facebook discussion group, moderated by America’s writers and editors.]

"When a woman discovers she is expecting a baby, she immediately experiences a profound sense of mystery. Women who are mothers know this," he said. "The awareness of a presence that grows inside her pervades her being, making her not only a woman, but a mother."

The baby insider her, he said, immediately becomes a son or daughter.

When a prenatal diagnosis reveals that the child has a malformation or illness the serenity of the parents is disturbed and the experience of pregnancy changes, the pope said. "The sense of solitude and impotence and the fear that the baby and the whole family will suffer emerge as a silent cry, a plea for help."

Fortunately, he said, advances in prenatal medical treatment are starting to catch up with the ability to make prenatal diagnoses. And even in cases where there is nothing doctors can do to heal the child, more services exist to assist parents of children with disabilities or to provide hospice care to newborns who are not expected to live. Those services, the pope said, must be made more widely available.

When it is likely the baby will die, Pope Francis said, many people assume that the parents' suffering will be lessened if the baby is aborted. But welcoming the child, holding him or her and giving comfort and love helps bring "completion to a family's love."

"In fact," he said, "taking care of these babies helps the parents work through their mourning and understand what happened not only as a loss, but as a stage of a journey taken together. That baby will remain in their lives forever, and they were able to love him or her.

"Many times those few hours that a mother was able to cradle that baby leaves a trace in her heart that she will never forget," the pope said. "She feels like a mother."

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Crystal Watson
2 months 4 weeks ago

The idea that fetuses with fatal illnesses should be delivered so they can suffer, and the parents can suffer, until they finally die is just sick. There is no redemptive value in suffering, and no sane parent would put their child through unnecessary suffering just so they can find "closure".

Rhett Segall
2 months 4 weeks ago

Crystal, God alone has the right to terminate innocent human life. For our part we must do everything we can to nurture human life. We leave the rest up to God's providence. This truth is foundational for the human family. In fact there is redemptive value in suffering. As St Paul said: "I make up what is lacking in the suffering of Christ" (Colossians 1:24) This is an extremely important and consoling point about the good news!

Crystal Watson
2 months 4 weeks ago

Yes, I know the idea that suffering is redemptive is a Catholic belief. But it isn't Jesus' belief .... when he saw people suffering he didn't tell them to endure it for the good of their souls, he healed them and made their suffering go away. Suffering is a bad thing, and trying to prove otherwise with convoluted theories is just pious BS.

Christopher Lochner
2 months 4 weeks ago

So, what is Church Teaching concerning a situation where both fetus and mother will die if there is a continued pregnancy? I get a sense of both deaths being sort of OK (we're so sorry for your loss, here's the bill for the funeral service {and there IS a cost despite what may be heard}) and in line with "natural law" which is a way of maintaining a dark ages status quo into modern times. I really believe Jesus is rolling his eyes at his modern church as they appear to enjoy selective suffering far too much: a mother and baby die during pregnancy equates to good suffering while migrants suffering is the bad and disallowed type. Not disparaging immigrants but the continued and institutionalized hypocrisy is really quite bizarre and certainanly unholy. Lord save us from the ruminations of theologians and the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin.

Crystal Watson
2 months 4 weeks ago

And PS - how exactly does the pope, a man and one without children of his own, know what it's like to be pregnant or what is best for terminal babies? It's one thing to have an opinion, but he knows his opinion will be taken up by millions as "the truth".

[Explore America’s in-depth coverage of Pope Francis.]

Advertisement

The latest from america

Light streams into St. Gabriel’s Passionist Parish in Toronto. (Photo courtesy of Larkin Architect Limited)
The daily light show at St. Gabriel's in Toronto is not just aesthetically moving, writes Dean Dettloff. It is part of a church design that reminds us of human dependence on the earth.
Dean DettloffAugust 23, 2019
“The Church is a family of families,” Pope Francis writes in “Amoris Laetitia.”
Kerry WeberAugust 23, 2019
Our commitment to God is expressed through living out the gospel, but also in your fidelity to prayer. Day in and day out. “Showing up and shutting up,” as my friend likes to say about daily prayer.
James Martin, S.J.August 23, 2019
In this Aug. 20, 2019 drone photo released by the Corpo de Bombeiros de Mato Grosso, brush fires burn in Guaranta do Norte municipality, Mato Grosso state, Brazil. (Corpo de Bombeiros de Mato Grosso via AP)
A record number of wildfires and the rapid deforestation of the Amazon are prompting Latin American bishops to plead for international action, writes America’s correspondent in Brazil, Eduardo Campos Lima.
Eduardo Campos LimaAugust 23, 2019