Pelosi, Abortion & St. Augustine – UPDATED

I was just out driving, had the radio on and heard this Meet the Press sound bite by Nancy Pelosi, on Limbaugh’s show:

REP. PELOSI: I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. And Senator–St. Augustine said at three months. We don’t know. The point is, is that it shouldn’t have an impact on the woman’s right to choose. Roe v. Wade talks about very clear definitions of when the child–first trimester, certain considerations; second trimester; not so third trimester. There’s very clear distinctions. This isn’t about abortion on demand, it’s about a careful, careful consideration of all factors and–to–that a woman has to make with her doctor and her god. And so I don’t think anybody can tell you when life begins, human life begins. As I say, the Catholic Church for centuries has been discussing this, and there are those who’ve decided…

MR. BROKAW: The Catholic Church at the moment feels very strongly that it…

REP. PELOSI: I understand that.

MR. BROKAW: …begins at the point of conception.

REP. PELOSI: I understand. And this is like maybe 50 years or something like that. So again, over the history of the church, this is an issue of controversy. But it is, it is also true that God has given us, each of us, a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions.

I am writing very fast, here, because I have to run out again, but I am mildly amused to see that Mrs. Pelosi, who is one of those Democrats who thinks of the Constitution as a “living document” that can evolve, is effectively sneering at the notion that the Catholic Church has only defined life as beginning at the point of conception “like maybe 50 years” ago, or something. She is wrong about that, (thanks, Shana) but even if she were not, why wouldn’t an “evolved” position in a “living” church be worth her respectful consideration.

Moreover, if Pelosi wants to quote Augustine’s saying “three months,” as somehow authoritative – even if the church does not – how does she reconcile that with her abortion voting record, which upholds later term abortions, partial birth abortions, embryonic experimentation, etc, etc. She says “I personally think the answer is 16 weeks,”, but that’s just an opinion, like anyone else’s opinion, even mine – and if she believes the answer is 16 weeks, how can she possible vote in favor of, say, partial birth abortion?

Pelosi is completely right that God gives us free will, and that we all have to make our decisions, deal with our own consciences and deal with the repercussions both here and in the afterlife. I know pro-life Catholics who have very ambiguous feelings about Roe-v-Wade specifically because of free will. But Pelosi is seriously misrepresenting what the Catholic Church teaches, and she is doing it in order to spin and obfuscate. Excuse the crudity, but it takes some pair of balls, frankly, to try to argue that the Roman Catholic Church has any sort of wishy-washy teaching or belief about the sacredness of human life, or the gravity of expediently and arbitrarily ending human life, whether at its beginnings or its end, or experimenting with human life.

Pelosi needs to read her Catechism. We believe that we are created creatures, loved into being by God. Both war and capital punishment are to be undertaken only with the greatest reluctance, after a great deal of consideration, and only when it is deemed necessary to prevent a greater evil. Abortion is a whole ‘nother issue; as I wrote at Pajamas Media, when discussing abortion and Obama – it is graver, even, than either of those two, war and capital punishment. The church is not “in controversy” about that; the church is actually unambiguous as all get-out on the issue of abortion. The “controversy” exists within individual Catholics, themselves, perhaps, but not in the church. And, as Ed Morrissey says, membership in the church is voluntary, afterall.

Finally, even if Senator – St. Augustine said “three months” or “we don’t know” I strong suspect that he – and every other Doctor of the Church, as well as millions of Catholics and non-Catholics Christians, and non-Catholics and even secular humanists like Nat Hentoff – would advise people to “err on the side of life.”

I mean, I’m not expert, and I’m far from brilliant. But one does not have to be brilliant to figure that out. Err on the side of life, not death. It might be a legislative conundrum, and a sickle into the side of free will and free conscience, but in simple terms of life and death, the moral calculus is not really that difficult.

I wonder if Mrs. Pelosi will hear from her Bishop on this? I tend to doubt it, but it does seem to me the province of the Bishop to tell a member of his flock who is publicly misleading – or mistaken, or simply lying – others about the teaching of the church to stop doing that.

Read all Ed Morrissey has to say about Pelosi on MTP.

More here at Catholidoxy, and here, at Inside Catholic. Also, STACLU says Pelosi disagrees w/ Roe v Wade. Hmmmm.

In the comments, fschmieg notes that – quite unsurprisingly – Archbishop Charles Chaput, of Denver, who is an excellent teacher, a Franciscan and a true shepherd (and who has a just-released book discussing the question of rendering unto Caesar) has responded to Pelosi, and he pulls no punches. Excerpt:

Since Speaker Pelosi has, in her words, studied the issue “for a long time,” she must know very well
one of the premier works on the subject, Jesuit John Connery’s Abortion: The Development of the Roman Catholic Perspective (Loyola, 1977). Here’s how Connery concludes his study:

“The Christian tradition from the earliest days reveals a firm antiabortion attitude . . . The condemnation of abortion did not depend on and was not limited in any way by theories regarding the time of fetal animation. Even during the many centuries when Church penal and penitential practice was based on the theory of delayed animation, the condemnation of abortion was never affected by it. Whatever one would want to hold about the time of animation, or when the fetus became a human being in the strict sense of the term, abortion from the time of conception was considered wrong, and the time of animation was never looked on as a moral dividing line between permissible and impermissible abortion.”

Or to put it in the blunter words of the great Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has
bestowed on this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder.”

Ardent, practicing Catholics will quickly learn from the historical record that from apostolic times, the Christian tradition overwhelmingly held that abortion was grievously evil. In the absence of modern medical knowledge, some of the Early Fathers held that abortion was homicide; others that it was tantamount to homicide; and various scholars theorized about when and how the unborn child might be animated or “ensouled.” But none diminished the unique evil of abortion as an attack on life itself, and the early Church closely associated abortion with infanticide. In short, from the beginning, the believing Christian community held that abortion was always, gravely wrong.

Of course, we now know with biological certainty exactly when human life begins. Thus, today’s religious alibis for abortion and a so-called “right to choose” are nothing more than that – alibis that break radically with historic Christian and Catholic belief.

Abortion kills an unborn, developing human life. It is always gravely evil, and so are the evasions
employed to justify it. Catholics who make excuses for it – whether they’re famous or not – fool only themselves and abuse the fidelity of those Catholics who do sincerely seek to follow the Gospel and live their Catholic faith.

The duty of the Church and other religious communities is moral witness. The duty of the state and its officials is to serve the common good, which is always rooted in moral truth. A proper understanding of the “separation of Church and state” does not imply a separation of faith from political life. But of course, it’s always important to know what our faith actually teaches.

Don’t ask me why Chaput does not have a red cardinal’s hat yet; I don’t know. I do know that if they gave him one, he would be exactly what NYC needs to replace Cardinal Egan, who has left the Metro area starving after the exemplary shepherding of the Mighty John O’ Connor. It won’t happen, but I can dream.

UPDATE II: The US Conference of Catholic Bishops gets into the act. (H/T Deacon Greg.) Widgets

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • ShanaSFO

    Very, very early on, the Church stated that abortion was a sin. Its in the first ‘catechism’ of the Church, the Didache (dated usually around 70 AD, but possibly as late as 3rd century by some scholars), chapter 2:

    And the second commandment of the Teaching; 2 You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery, (Exodus 20:13-14) you shall not commit pæderasty, you shall not commit fornication, you shall not steal, (Exodus 20:15) you shall not practice magic, you shall not practice witchcraft, you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is begotten.

    So – Mrs Pelosi is either a liar, invincibly ignorant or insane if she claims she’s studied this issue for more than a few hours and says that she found no definate answers in the Church from its earliest years forward!

    And by the way, it is St Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica that *theorized* by his best knowledge on preborn human anatomy (and the fact that a mother doesn’t feel a baby move until the 4th month) that a body was not ‘ensouled’ by God until sometime in the third month.

    He also didn’t make the claim that a pre-ensouled body was able to be killed by abortion and the Church’s teaching on abortion has always been quite clear.

    Far as I know, Augustine doesn’t mentions this topic, although I’ve not read all of Augustine’s writings to be certain about that.

  • lsusportsfan

    Anchoress the whole thing is a huge Scandal that is for sure.

    I would like to recommend a NON Catholic (she is looking at Orthodoxy and Catholcism) had the best response to the MTP saga on what the Church has teached on this issue here

    One of the oldest Christian Documents we have, perhaps older than parts of the bible , is explict that abortion is wrong

    Also the question is when shoudl HUMAN RIGHTS be protected. That is the true question and not theories of ensoulment

  • DWiss

    Man, this is a topic that really gets my blood pressure up -all the tortured logic that people go through to justify abortion. It would be hilariously funny if it weren’t so deadly serious.

    A few points:

    Peter Kreeft used this analogy (I paraphrase): If you were in the business of demoloshing buildings, and you were about to demolish one but suspected that there may be someone still inside the building, would you just go ahead and demolish? No, of course not. You’d stop and make absolutely certain that there was no one inside. You’d err on the side of life. In fact, to not make absolutely certain no one is inside would leave you liable to civil and criminal penalties in our society.

    As an “ardent, practicing Catholic”, if the Church’s teaching on when life begins (at conception) were just 20 minutes old, you would be obligated to follow that teaching. Pelosi’s “50 year test” is so arbitrary as to be laughable. Again, as Kreeft says, if you don’t know when life begins, then assume it begins at the earliest possible time so as to not make a mistake. Err on the side of life.

    Roe vs. Wade didn’t create abortions. People were having them before it was “legal”. If we could reverse Roe vs. Wade abortions would not stop. The bigger question is, what kind of society do we want, one that condones and encourages abortion, or one that deplores it as the disrespect of life that it is? So, yes, free will and all that. But must we, as a society, be complicit in the sin?

    There’s now a whole generation of people who never saw a time before Roe vs. Wade. For many of them, abortion, packaged as a “woman’s right to choose”, is as natural a concept as universal suffrage. Politicians pander to that mindset. It’s so easy. How can we ever go back?

    There will soon be a presidential election when neither party offers a pro-life candidate. Maybe the very next one if McCain loses in November. How do Catholics vote then?

  • fschmieg

    The archbishop of Denver HAS responded. Find it here.

    [edited to admit link - admin]

  • joelwickham

    A few bishops are standing up to pro-abortion politicians. For example, Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, PA has forbidden Tom Ridge, also a “practicing” Catholic, from speaking at any Catholic event in the Erie diocese (Tom’s home diocese).

    I find this unfortunate (Tom’s position on abortion, not Bishop Trautman’s stand). I went to high school with Tom, and had many of the same teachers he did. I thought he had paid better attention.

  • kelleybee

    you know, I’m not sure if I want to slap Pelosi or the US Bishops up side the head. I guess I’ll just pray for all of them.

  • lisapope

    I actually contacted the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and spoke with a terrific woman in communications–She told me she had alot of calls about this and told me to contact the Archbishop of San Francisco–also to e-mail UUSCCB at

    I then spoke with the communications dept in San Fransisco who asked me to WRITE A LETTER (no e-mail) to :
    Most Rev. George H. Niederauer
    One Peter Yorke Way
    San Francisco, Ca 94109

    My letter is including a call for action as her statements were made to a nation-wide audience with an “incalculable number of “ardent and devout” Catholics…and I reminded him it was his duty to publicly denounce Ms Pelosi’s statements ans well as show the rest of the nation that there are repercussions to continually misrepresenting the doctrines of the Catholic Church–BY the way –I also quoted Ed Morrissey with the ‘membership is voluntary” line!

    Maybe Catholics will rise up as a group on this one!! It would be about time!

  • Joe Odegaard

    Either life is sacred or it is not.

    Either the newborn are innocent or they are not.

  • dmd25

    So glad that you blogged about this! I heard Rush, too—and was just incredulous. Good for the Bishop for responding to her–I hope he isn’t the only one from whom she hears.

    “Finally, even if Senator – St. Augustine (I love that you quoted the Senator-St. Augustine!) said “three months” or “we don’t know” I strong suspect that he – and every other Doctor of the Church, as well as millions of Catholics and non-Catholics Christians, and non-Catholics and even secular humanists like Nat Hentoff – would advise people to “err on the side of life.””

    My dh is an Ob/Gyn and is a non-Catholic Christian. He has made this exact point over and over again to people, with those exact words–”err on the side of life.” Really, it only makes sense. I would love people to rise up over this–I may even write a letter as suggested by one of your other commenters.

  • Sally June

    I don’t know what is worse: politicians who pretend they never took junior high Biology and so can’t figure out when life begins, or pro-abortion politicians who pretend they are still Catholic. They make me want to vomit!

    However, I was amused at Obama’s pro-life stand, to whit:

    1. Knowing when life begins “is above my pay grade,” i.e., only God knows when life begins.

    2. In the Bible it says: in your mother’s womb I knew you; therefore, God says life begins in the womb.

    3. Since God says life begins in the wonb, but we don’t know when, since it is “above our pay grade,” we must respect God’s perogative to determine when and stay out of the womb.

    That was what his answer implied to me, anyway.

  • TheAnchoress

    [StHuntz Comment moved from wrong thread - admin]:

    sthuntz1 Says:
    August 25th, 2008 at 6:14 pm e

    I appeal to Bishop Chaput to be a true shepherd. Like all the bishops, he provides us with moral direction. But, like all the bishops, he is disturbingly silent after a certain point. He criticizes Catholic legislators, but that’s the extent. I wish I could hear just what the bishops forsee on the day they/we achieve the goal of overturning Roe v. Wade.

    Let’s say, for the fun of it, that day has come. And, just to make it sweeter, let’s say the equal protection clause of the constitution has been extended to the moment of conception. What would the good bishops like to see the various state legislators enact regarding abortion? Would they then applaud first degree, premeditated murder charges brought against women and their spouses who procure an abortion? If they do not desire this, then on what basis? We believe that the murder of a 3 month old child ex-utero should be punished don’t we? We believe there is no qualitative difference between that child and a three month old in-utero child. So if my sister-in-law is suddenly no longer pregnant, and her explanations are evasive, should the police not investigate and prosecute? And would pre-meditated murder charges not be appropriate?

    How about the doctor who suspects a patient is going to seek an abortion? Let’s say the woman has already had two abortions. Does the doctor act as a mandated reporter and go to authorities? Wouldn’t we expect the authorities to place the child under threat into protective custody?

    I’m serious when I ask for some guidance from our bishops. Please, can I get some serious consideration of these matters? Is it possible that being a Catholic legislator is not an easy black and white matter and that those who stand on the sidelines and condemn haven’t given serious consideration to the results of their moral positions.

    Come on folks, respond to these questions.

  • TheAnchoress

    I believe you’ve touched on the crux of the matter; not simply the overturning of legal abortion but the criminalization of abortion. I suspect that it is a road most Americans do not wish to go down.

    I think most pro-lifers(and I think I count myself among them) would like to see an end to abortion because it is morally the correct choice, but would not be especially happy to see women facing criminal charges on the issue – doctors, that’s another question entirely, and one that someone, doubtless, will want addressed.

    The bottom line – even for many pro-lifers – is that while they hate abortion, they also hate the idea of savages and hacks profiting from the misery of women, and many of us would also NOT want to see “child protective services called” if someone had an abortion – you’ll excuse me, but I think that’s a rather extreme scenario you’ve suggested.

    Overturning Roe v Wade is desirable but many do not consider that doing so will not really change much; it will remand the question to the states and possibly cause a bit of a civil war between factions about inter-state travel. And consider that even when Congress passed a law banning partial birth abortions, and the president signed it, the law was immediately rendered void pending civil suits; the same thing will happen whatever happens re Roe v Wade. Overturning it is, truthfully, another can of worms.

    I believe President Bush was correct when he said the best way to end abortion is to change their thinking on it, and appeal to their hearts, not issue handcuffs.

    However: Are you suggesting that these questions preclude any discussion of abortion? Does that mean Pelosi is justified in playing around with Catholic moral teaching to suit her political goals? I suggest it does not. And does that excuse a Catholic politician – particularly one who is going to publicly proclaim his or her faith – from their responsibility to at the very least legislate for MINIMAL rather than MAXIMAL abortion options and NO fetal-experimentation?

    Of COURSE this is a very complicated issue. But if you’re going to call yourself a member of the church, and say you “struggle” with the issue, then at the very least get the church teachings right, and maybe, just maybe, let your voting record reflect that rather struggling conscience, rather than a mind that seems pretty well made up and running on auto-pilot?

    Also, I must ask: do we simply, because the LAWS are complicated to ponder, just sit around ignoring the morality of abortion, altogether? Do we say, “gee this is complicated, so let’s just not address it?” It seems to be what you’re suggesting; that a bishop should not talk about the basic moral issues of abortion, unless he’s got all the legal answers at his fingertips, as well. Does the goalpost have to be that high in order for instruction and discussion to take place?

  • layla

    She misquoted St Augustine–he was referring to miscarriages, not abortions. What kind of crack-pot ‘denies’ the Church’s unwavering 2000 year old doctrine regarding the sanctity of life? This woman has got to be out of her mind.

  • gissi66052

    I could get philosophical, theological, political etc etc.

    St Paul said it best in Romans 1:22 — For professing themselves to be wise, they became fools

    The effects of excessive Botox injections is clearly evident on Nancy Pelosi, who now is an authority on St Augustine.

    Hey morons, life begins at conception and ends at death. It is that simple. We can skirt around it, but it does not change the assertion. When I grew my tomatoes from a seedlings, guess what Ms Pelosi

    we got a tomato! (As Gomer said, surprise, surprise!!)

    God help us all!

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  • rightwingprof

    Do you know about Fr Z’s blog, What Does the Prayer Really Say? I just discovered it, and didn’t see it on your blogroll.

    [Hmmm - you know, I never see this blog. Taking a look at his blogroll, I see his interests and mine only intersect here and there. I think we must travel parallel but different roads :-) - admin]

  • DWiss

    Responding to sthuntz1′s post:

    While I agree that few people who are against Roe vs. Wade want abortion to be illegal, i.e., that seeking one would lead to criminal penalties, what other logical choice is there? If we say that life begins at conception, and that abortion is the taking of a life (murder), then how can we say it shouldn’t be punished? I really do think we lose the effectiveness of our pro-life message if we go wobbly on what happens after Roe vs. Wade gets reversed.

  • Wayne

    Her statement shocked me as well … I’ve posted the interview and transcript on Jeremiah Films … Used an excerpt from your post and linked to your site Here

  • galensmark

    I’m with gissi and DWiss.
    It is so tedious explaining ad nauseam to life forms afflicted with LLD (Liberal Logic Dementia) that once those cells start splitting on their own, the host is out of control time. Game over. God’s in charge…as always.

    We are living in a time when meaning twisting is very popular, according to what you “feel comfortable” with. No rules, no consequences, so, of course, no regrets. And you don’t have to “punish” any one with a baby.

    As Willie sings in the song, “The Lord will set them down”.
    I hope I see that day. Meantime…I’m a speak’n stone.


  • lisapope

    Hey Anchoress!!

    Please see link

    What an amazing “my mouth dropped open” response from none other than Cardinal Egan!! I think Qeen Pelosi was just “miter slapped”! haven’t seen any thing like this in my entire life!! Is this a call to arms for all Catholics out there to replace the Speaker???!!!

    also–Why is NO ONE covering this response??? it should be posted at the top of all Catholic blog sites!!!

  • lisapope

    Anyone who dares to defend that they may be legitimately killed because another human being “chooses” to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name.

    Direct qote from Cardinal Egan!!!

  • lisapope

    whoops– missed my “u” in queen and quote!

  • loregazer

    Actually, Pelosi is correct: neither St. Augustine nor St. Thomas maintained that life begins at conception, let alone “human life” let alone “human person” let alone “a being with rights” etc. They did believe that abortion was morally reprehensible, since it was a common device to cover up sins of adultery and fornication. And her point is that reasonable people, including reasonable Catholics like Augustine and Aquinas, could hold this view, especially when considering the other arguments that appeal to autonomy that support a women’s right to choose (I think of Judith Jarvis Thompson in this regard…)

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  • Rorschach

    Even predating the Roman Catholic Church or the Advent of Christ, even the very first doctors recognized the sanctity of life. Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine made every one of his students swear out an oath that forbade the practice of abortion, or assisted suicide. The Hippocratic oath is no longer sworn out by Doctors. Apparently life is far cheaper today.

    ” I swear by Apollo, Asclepius, Hygieia, and Panacea, and I take to witness all the gods, all the goddesses, to keep according to my ability and my judgment, the following Oath.

    To consider dear to me, as my parents, him who taught me this art; to live in common with him and, if necessary, to share my goods with him; To look upon his children as my own brothers, to teach them this art.

    I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone.

    To please no one will I prescribe a deadly drug nor give advice which may cause his death.

    Nor will I give a woman a pessary to procure abortion.

    But I will preserve the purity of my life and my arts.

    I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art.

    In every house where I come I will enter only for the good of my patients, keeping myself far from all intentional ill-doing and all seduction and especially from the pleasures of love with women or with men, be they free or slaves.

    All that may come to my knowledge in the exercise of my profession or in daily commerce with men, which ought not to be spread abroad, I will keep secret and will never reveal.

    If I keep this oath faithfully, may I enjoy my life and practice my art, respected by all men and in all times; but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my lot.”

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