Is the sin of abortion lessened in degree based on moral culpability?


I wrote this to a friend today and wonder if this is correct. My interpretation of the verse below


Is the sin of abortion lessened in degree based on moral culpability; mortal to venial or mortal to no sin?

E.g. Some pro-abortion people believe they’re doing a good in preventing the future suffering of a child. Some pro-abortion people don’t believe other people should have to take responsibility for their actions, which involves sacrifice (suffering) in raising children. In both situations they do not value the gift of the human person, but one group believes they are doing a good.

Therefore, and I am not sure about this, it may be possible that some evil deeds or injustices, including abortion, may be lessened in degree of sin due to the inculpability of the person, especially in the first situation… again, I am not sure on that. But my point is that those truly seeking the Lord will inevitably understand justice completely, if not on earth, definitely in heaven. Those are my thoughts.

Based on this verse:

“Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it completely.” (Proverbs 28:5)

God Bless You,

Two things lessen culpability - one is if you lack sufficient understanding that the sin is a grave one, the other is if you are not freely consenting to it (ie you are under such a lot of physical or psychological pressure or suffering from physical pain or mental illness to a degree where you are less than rational about what you are doing).

My view, which I do not expect everyone to share, is that the greater the gravity of the sin, the higher the threshhold for anyone who would argue that their lack of knowledge or consent reduces their culpability. And the killing of an innocent babe in the womb is about as grave as it gets IMHO.

From the Catechism:

1857 For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”

If someone does not know that an act is a grave sin, and they die and come face to face with God, they remain free to be truly sorry for their actions when faced with their guilt.
It is when you know something is gravely wrong, and you freely choose to do it anyway that you are putting yourself at risk of being unwilling to accept Our Lord’s loving Embrace, and therefore freely cast yourself out of his presence for all eternity.

It is certainly possible that a woman who has been coerced by her unborn childs father, her own family, her employer, medical professionals, social workers or others into having an abortion is in truth a victim and not a sinner. She may be totally blameless in the act perpetrated on her and her baby. She may be guilty of a hugely lessened sin due to such circumstances. The guilt in that situation of course lies on the coercers - and more for the act of coercion, and evil perpetrated against both mother and baby… “It would be better for such that a great mill stone be tied around their necks and they be thrown into the abyss”

Many people in our society truly believe and teach each-other that there is nothing wrong with abortion. For someone like that they may truly not know any better. They’ve been told all their lives that “It’s just a clump of cells” “It’s an Embryo/Foetus NOT a baby”, They may never have had an opportunity to hear the Truth about the Gospel in a way that gave them a chance to hear, believe and accept it.
Such a woman, even though she made a “free” choice, may also be innocent of Mortal Sin. She may truly and honestly not know that her actions are wrong. - The whole feminist society that raised her has told her so.

The problem with this is, if we accept either position as mitigating culpability then we must accept either as mitigating culpability in any similar situation, as, for example, the following:

Take a parent who has a one year old child, would it lessen the culpability of the parent if they

  1. killed the child to prevent the future suffering of the child?
  2. killed the child because they don’t believe anyone else should have to be responsible for what was the result of their action?

We could even add an additional aspect to the question: What if the one year old had a life altering condition (such as a disability) that could affect the quality of their life in some way? Would even that that mitigate the culpability of the parent if they killed the child?

How those questions are answered reveals something about the moral thinking (or lack of it) of the person giving the answers. The answers to both questions relative to the one year old apply equally to the preborn child. Why wouldn’t they? It would seem to me that any attempt to answer them differently vis a vis the preborn child is an attempt to abdicate a moral position under the assumption that preborn children are not really “children” in the same sense that a one year old would be. That is only an assumption and not clearly the case.

So Hitler and the SS and mass serial murderers would have more culpability. I often wonder about the women SS as for some reason to read and see pictures of women doing some of the crimes they committed in their early 20’s is harder to understand then seeing men do them. I often wonder the culpability of some of those women and men. I read a person who knows about the holocaust remark they deserved what they got with being hanged as they weren’t so innocent, only if you been there. He mentioned something like that.

i wonder about the culpability of my own past sins that i lived in… what if i died? Can i compare my past sexual mortal sins to the mortal sins of murder? Why would they be culpable and not me?

Thank you for your thoughts!

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit