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The natural law

In the Summa Theologiae St. Thomas Aquinas orders his presentation on The law we have in us by nature in the following way.  He first refers to what distinguishes man's awareness of the law in its relation to reason: 'The law we have in us by nature is the sort of product of reason propositions are'249.  Then he says that these products of reason are to 'reason planning action what the first premises of the sciences are to reason pursuing truth: the self-evident starting points'250.  Thirdly he goes on to say that the first principle of the natural law 'is that good is to be done and pursued and evil avoided'151.

Therefore, it seems to me, articles 58-60 are a discernment of the natural law on the following things: the contemporary 'crisis of the moral sense, which is becoming more and more incapable of distinguishing between good and evil'252; the truth about the act of procured abortion: that it is a 'deliberate and direct killing'253; the truth about the victim of this act: 'an innoccent human being'254; the truth about who's responsible for this 'death of the child in the womb'255; the truth that can be known by reason concerning 'a personal presence at the moment of the first appearance of a human life'256; and the truth of the natural law with which it concludes: that the 'inviolable right of every innoccent human being to life257'258 is a truth which is and has just been rationally demonstrated to be independent of any outstanding uncertainty concerning the moment at which the soul is created one with the body259.

I now wish to consider more closely the language in which these conclusions of the natural law are expressed.

But first a clarification: it should be said at the outset that these different expressions do not qualify the wrong of procured abortion.  In other words, to quote again from Donum Vitae: 'The Magisterium has not expressly committed itself to an affirmation of a philosophical nature, but it constantly reaffirms the moral condemnation of any kind of procured abortion.  This teaching has not been changed and is unchangeable*'260.  In other words, whatever is uncertain about the moment of ensoulment, the nature of the act of procured abortion is not uncertain: it is categorically wrong.

What is of particular relevance to this discussion are the different ways that the Pope has addressed the victim of a procured abortion.  He first of all says that the one who is deliberately and directly killed by a procured abortion is 'a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence, extending to birth'161.  This quite clearly takes up the observation of Instrumentum laboris, cited above, which says: 'at the moment of the union of the male and female gametes, all the characteristics of the new human being, including gender are defined'262.  Thus the witness of science contributes to the degree to which the identity of each human being is both established and recognizably established as masculine or feminine.  In other words, even from a biologically scientific point of view, the human being at conception is already a particular man or woman.

Secondly, the Pope affirms: 'The one eliminated is a human being at the very beginning of life'263.

Thirdly, because 'No one more absolutely innoccent could be imagined'264., the Pope goes on to say that procured abortion is 'the deliberate killing of an innoccent human being'265.

Following on these expressions the Pope says, in the first sentence of the following article, article fifty nine, that the objective end of the decision to procure an abortion is 'the death of the child in the womb'266.  This could be said to be a further objectification of the identity of the one who is killed: the one who is killed is, quite simply, a child: a child with a mother and a father.

Finally, in the opening sentence of article sixty the Pope cites the following justification of procured abortion: 'Some people try to justify abortion by claiming that the result of conception, at least up to a certain number of days, cannot yet be considered a personal human life'267.  What then follows can be understood to be a separation of the two elements of this statement by way of an answer to each one of them in turn.  I will put these two elements in the form of two questions in the order that, it seems to me, article sixty of Evangelium Vitae answers them.

249 ST, Pt II, Qu 94, art 1, page 286.    Back
250 ST, Pt II, Qu 94, art 2, page 286.    Back
251 ST, Pt II, Qu 94, art 2, page 287.    Back
252 EV, art 58, page 103.    Back
253 EV, art 58, page 104.    Back
254 EV, art 58, page 105.    Back
255 EV, art 59, page 105.    Back
256 EV, art 60, page 107.    Back
257 This is the last part of his quote from Donum Vitae, I, 1, page 14.    Back
258 EV, art 60, page 108.    Back
259 Ibid.    Back
260 Donum Vitae, 1. 1, page 13.    Back
261 EV, art 58, page 104.    Back
262 IL, I, page 7.    Back
263 EV, art 58, page 104.    Back
264 Ibid.    Back
265 EV, art 58, page 105.    Back
266 EV, art 59, page 105.    Back
267 EV, art 60, page 107.    Back

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