Church's position on care for ectopic pregnancies

This article is going around the internet as an “example” of how pro-life laws and the Catholic Church “endanger women’s health.” ( I was confused as to the author’s point, but the some of the responses to the article were that the Church doesn’t allow pharmaceutical options for the treatment of ectopic pregnancies. Is this true?

Maybe someone can make sense of the article for me and explain why people want Catholic hospitals banned. I loved being in the Catholic hospital where my surgeon had privileges when I had two major surgeries and when my dad had emergency surgery at a regional Catholic hospital. I found the crosses and Bibles in each room comforting. But, then again, I am pro-life and a Christian.

An ectopic pregnancy is not child’s play, it can result in the death of the mother and certainly the death of the embryo.

The article is propaganda and totally misinformed on what the procedure is for treating an ectopic pregnancy.
The current knowledge and art of medicine is to operate cutting the fallopian tube where the embryo is implanted removing that section of the tube. As a result the embrio subsequenctly dies, however the procedure was not intended to abort him/her.
As such the Catholic Church condones this procedure and recognizes it as not being an abortion.

Hope this helps.

Here’s a good answer from the National Catholic Bioethics Center:


This is a sad person who doesn’t know the first thing about Catholic teaching, or healthcare for that matter. This is a hodge-podge of false and half-true, distorted ramblings.

The NCBC link posted above is a good place to get solid information on Catholic ethics.

I figured it was the case that it was likely a propaganda piece. The author wrote about one experience she had at a Catholic hospital, but more than likely, in my opinion, she had a poor experience with a doctor, and indited the entire Catholic hospital system.

Thank you, this did help.

Thank you for your opinion. I wanted to be sure it wasn’t just me who had issues understanding the article and her argument.

Excuse me for not reading the article, but others appear to have addressed it.

As to your explicit question above, it is true that the Church does not endorse any treatment of an ectopic pregnancy (which is a life threatening situation for both mother and child) where such treatment is directed at killing killing the child as a means to enable recovery of the mother. A common “secular” treatment for ectopic pregnancy is a chemical injection, the immediate end of which is to kill the child. Subsequent to that death, the mother recovers.

The Church has no objection whatsoever to medical procedures, promptly executed, which are directed to the mother’s body, and not to killing the baby. The typical procedure removes a small section of tube. As unfortunate as that is for the mother, it resolves the immediate health concern while actins morally toward both patients - mother and child. There is no procedure know which can save the baby - the baby will die.

Thank you for this brilliant thread.

It seems the Catholic Church is not happy with intervening to end an ectopic pregnancy. I know of a person who desperately wanted a child and had an ectopic pregnancy, however she went to a non-Catholic hospital for treatment and did not lose a fallopian tube, and was able to conceive later on and had another beautiful baby.

Can the principal of the double effect apply? The intention is to save the mother, not to kill the baby.

I read here ‘… the Catholic Church condones this procedure and recognizes it as not being an abortion.’ Does cutting out a fallopian tube, or a part of it, not kill the baby? Does the Church give a reason why this procedure is not considered an abortion.

If one cuts off a person’s head and the person’s heart stops is this not killing the person? If one puts a cushion over a person’s head and prevents breathing, is this killing? Is cutting a fallopian tube and depriving the baby of food not killing it?

The Church advocates good patient care. Treatment of the mother may hasten death of the child (for whom there is no treatment), but it is an unintended side effect and double effect is applicable. No direct attack on the child is permissible. Removing tube is not that.

It is not an abortion because the treatment is not the “intentional killing of an innocent”.

Consider the other acts you describe:

What good comes from cutting off a person’s head? There is none - that act is indistinguishable from killing the person.

What good comes from putting a cushion over a person’s head to prevent breathing? There is none - that act is indistinguishable from killing the person.

What good comes from removing a section of fallopian tube containing an embryo? Answer - the life of the mother is preserved. The moral object of this procedure is to remove the tube to preserve the life of the mother (a good), and not to kill the child.

Yet the operation is the trigger for the child’s death. How then do we understand that the act (surgery to remove the tube) is in fact moral? The principal of double effect recognises that an act with bad consequences can be accepted (that is, is moral) under certain conditions, viz:

  • the act must not be intrinsically evil (ie. the moral object must not be evil);
  • the good consequences must be directly intended;
  • the bad consequences may be foreseen, but must not be intended;
  • the good consequences must be proportionate to the bad;
  • the good consequences must not be achieved as a result of the bad;
  • there must be no (superior) alternative course of action to achieve the good.

The tube removal meets all these criteria.

More information:

thank you so much for your reply, which is thoughtful, considered, accurate and in conformity with Church teaching.

I would consider chemical treatment to save the life of the mother is also acceptable, as the primary purpose is not the killing of the baby and the principle of the double effect applies.

Finally the end does not justify the means, and one cannot do evil so good may come.

By this, do you mean chemical treatment that kills the baby?

If so, then no, double effect does not apply. In that case, it is the action performed that directly causes the bad effect. At that point, it’s not “unintended but foreseeable,” but rather, “intended.”

Finally the end does not justify the means, and one cannot do evil so good may come.

Right. Maybe I misunderstood what you meant by “chemical treatment”?

many thanks for your reply to me, I appreciate your interests in my concerns.

What I mean by chemical means is administering chemicals that save the mother’s life with the unfortunate side-effect that the baby dies.

To me it is the same as cutting the fallopian tube with the same result. In both cases the principle objective is saving the mother, and in both cases the baby dies. But if treated chemically the mother can go on to have other children, but with one tube this possibility is reduced.

A priest in our parish says that for all difficult questions there is a simple answer and it is usually wrong.

In a brief sound-bite one cannot solve deep moral issues always. I would like to read a more detailed reply, if my views are not accepted.

References from reputable sources would be helpful.

Alas, there is no such chemical. The only chemical acts to kill the baby. It is because the baby dies and withers away that the mother heals. Thus, this act of chemical injection fails the double effect analysis since the act itself is directed to killing the child - murder, an intrinsic evil. We cannot do evil so that good may come of it, and this may obligate us to accept unfortunate consequences such as the loss of a tube.

Did you read the reference on this subject given to you in a link in an earlier post?

thank you for your patient, courteous and respectful reply to me.

Perhaps I suffer from what used to be called invincible ignorance.

To do a procedure that kills the baby and saves the mother seems to be the same whether (s)he is killed by starvation by cutting the fallopian tube or using a chemical.

In both cases the primary intention is to save the mother. Hence if one case is justified using the principle of the double effect so is the other.

One cannot say starving the child is not killing it, but poisoning it is.

I will relook at the references. But I wish someone could explain why to kill by starvation is acceptable but not to poison it.

Thank you for referring me to the literature, which previously I had considered.

Fr Pacholczyk is knowledgeable and fair.

  1. He claims “A significant number of Catholic moralists hold that the use of methotrexate is not morally permissible” This means this opinion is not held by all Catholic moralists.

  2. Scooping out the living body and placing it in a dish is no more killing it directly than removing it along with part of the fallopian tube.

  3. Tubal removal also kills the baby. It is impossible for the baby to live when the tube is removed.

If one were pro-life the procedure that increases the probability of future babies is preferable. Hence the chemical approach should be considered in a prayerful and loving way.

I appreciate being allowed to contribute to this debate as it is of great importance to pro-life Catholics, who advocate life and rejoice in the birth of babies.

It can no longer be “invincible ignorance” for the matter has been explained to you and credible references provided. Another reference on moral principles:

If you dismiss the reasoning that tube removal is moral - that is, if you say it is identical to murdering the child, then you are drawing the conclusion that there is no moral treatment. In making this statement, I assume you accept the scriptural statement:
it is not licit to do evil that good may come of it (cf. Rom 3:8)

and the words of Aquinas repeated in the Catechism:

*1759 “An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention” (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Dec. praec. 6). The end does not justify the means. *

[To be clear - the “chemical” approach is to kill the baby, so that from the baby’s death and withering will come healing of the mother.]

The argument you’ve posted & that I quote above is a corruption of the meaning of “pro-life”; it rests on a (false, but not uncommon) belief that the final intention ie. “more babies”, “save the mother”, etc. can justify any act, or at least the killing of the innocent as in this case. That belief or ‘moral framework’ has been condemned by the Church for centuries, most comprehensively by Aquinas. This reference to the Catechism ( is explicit on this point, and it is also discussed at length in Veritatis Splendor - see link below.

Theories of morality that are based on weighing up the consequences of an act and choosing the one with the least resulting harm (as your statement above suggests is preferable in this case) are called “consequentialism” and are explicitly rejected by the Church (see for example the Encyclical, Veritatis Splendor paragraph 75:

Your proposal to consider the matter in a prayerful and loving manner is of course to be commended.

many thanks for entering into debate with me. I appreciate robust, respectful discussions, especially on fundamental issues.

I am somewhat out of my depth (which is obvious) and before continuing with this debate I need to study and pray more, and perhaps discuss the issue with my spiritual adviser.

I am very impressed with CAF which allows two Catholics to discuss their faith at a deep level.

Remember me in your prayers.

Your posts are thoughtful and well researched Nielfitz! I agree with your opinion concerning ectopic pregnancy. Without immediate intervention it is a sure death sentence for the mother and the growing baby. It seems logical that using the best means to save a woman’s future fertility should be used and removing the tube should be the last strategy considered. There is no slippery slope in these situations.

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