Morality of Abortifacient Pill for Medical Reasons

The question has been often asked on CAF whether a woman may take an abortifacient variety of the “Pill” for a medical intention, while continuing sexual relations with her husband. The standard answer is “Yes” with a reference to an Apologist’s answer such as: forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=4618 or forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=636947

The answers from these Apologists are not particularly rigorous - they essentially answer the question with some limited explanation.

I thought I’d test this answer against the principals of Catholic morality and the double-effect principal.

To be moral an act must:

  1. Have a good Intention;
  2. Have a good moral object;
  3. Have circumstances (incl. consequences) which are on balance not evil.

Taking the Pill for a medical condition is a good Intention - healing, relieving pain, etc.

The moral object is likewise (IMHO) good - it is in fact the same as the Intention. *

The Circumstances (consequences) present some difficulties however, for they seem to be a mix of good and evil. The good is the highly likely cure, pain relief etc. together with a continued intimacy between the spouses. The bad is the (unintended) separation of unitive and procreative aspects of sex and the potential for death of babies (also unintended). How is it to be assessed whether this, on balance, is not evil?*

Individually and with one’s priest or a competent Catholic ethicist.

Taking any medical treatment can be morally licit if it meets the criteria of the principle of double effect.

We can look at the example of St. Gianna. She was pregnant when diagnosed with uterine cancer. The treatment would be removal of the uterus, resulting in the death of the child. The treatment would have been morally licit. She chose to forego it, and in doing so demonstrated heroic virtue (thus sainthood). She was not required to forego such treatment.

The proportionality aspect of the principle of double effect, IMHO, seems the biggest hurdle in any scenario where you are talking about the life of a child.

And remember, there is a difference between something like St. Gianna’s case and the hormones in BCPs. With BCPs you are talking about a theoretical **chance **that a pregnancy **could **occur and be terminated through the action of the pill. You are not talking about an **actual **pregnancy.

So, I think the threshold for proportionality is lower as well in that case.

There are four elements to the principle of double effect. I see you listed only 3.

ncbcenter.org/document.doc?id=132

Agreed. I was just listing the fundamental elements of morality from here:
vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c1a4.htm

The PDE is spelling out some more granularity in analysis (providing a “tool”) to help ensure no error in reasoning.

:slight_smile: OK, I asked for that! I suppose my question was more rhetorical. We can envisage situations where the consequences, good and bad, are like Oranges and Apples - presenting some difficulty to weigh up.

Taking any medical treatment can be morally licit if it meets the criteria of the principle of double effect.

Yes. But see above point.

We can look at the example of St. Gianna. She was pregnant when diagnosed with uterine cancer. The treatment would be removal of the uterus, resulting in the death of the child. The treatment would have been morally licit. She chose to forego it, and in doing so demonstrated heroic virtue (thus sainthood). She was not required to forego such treatment.

She was brave, and I presume such (potential) self-sacrifice is morally licit. But a decision to have the uterus removal would, I think, be taken on the grounds of a need to save her life. The balance of consequences in this case would seem to be “neutral” - much as in the ectopic pregnancy scenario so regularly re-hashed. I don’t believe it would have been moral to have that operation were it clear it could wait till after birth (for example).

The proportionality aspect of the principle of double effect, IMHO, seems the biggest hurdle in any scenario where you are talking about the life of a child.

And remember, there is a difference between something like St. Gianna’s case and the hormones in BCPs. With BCPs you are talking about a theoretical **chance **that a pregnancy **could **occur and be terminated through the action of the pill. You are not talking about an **actual **pregnancy.

So, I think the threshold for proportionality is lower as well in that case.

Yes, the risk of a miscarriage triggered by the Pill is far less than 1 (certainty) - which contributes to the difficulty gauging the balance of consequences.

Some religions view “conception products” as less than a person for a period of time. Catholicism is not one of them AFAIK.

I believe you misinterpreted my post. By “actual person” I referred to any person who has been conceived. By “potential person” I referred to persons who could be conceived, but who have not yet.

My point was that the morality of taking the pill when conception has not occurred is not affected by the possibility that, after it is taken, conception could occur and be followed by death of the baby.

That would limit the considerations of morality to consequences which are certain. What is the basis for your view?

In situations where it is morally certain that no actual person is in existence who would be victimized by the act, but only a potential person, I don’t see why it would matter if the potential person is prevented from existing or limited in the duration of its (physical) existence. In both cases, the person is only potential at the time the act is performed (which is the key point in determining the act’s morality).

Interesting reasoning.

Not in existence…when…at the time of swallowing the pill? First we may not be able to know that, and even if we could, I don’t think that gives the all clear to what might be termed a wreckless act (taking the pill while sexually active). Creating a hostile environment in a place where new life has a habit of arriving (pursuant to our other acts) without warning appears to have foreseeable adverse consequences (uncertain, I agree), which would need to be weighed in judging that act.

Is speeding through a crossing and around the corner not morally wrong if no person is in sight?

Is your reasoning “yours”, or have you read that line of reasoning elsewhere? I’d be interested in any references/sources you have.

Yes, at the time of of the act being judged.

Let me put it this way, I don’t see that the risk of harm to a potential person is a circumstance* which would make an act evil, although risk of harm to an actual person could.

I’ll try to find a source.

*Of course, it is an evil object, and could be an evil end.

I note the following extracted from an article by Ronald Conte Jr.

Any consequence that cannot be reasonably anticipated is not in the third font and does not affect the morality of the chosen act.

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