Those challenging pro-lifers ignore key question: Is abortion murder?

A pregnant woman prays the rosary outside an abortion clinic in Eastpointe on Saturday, Sept. 26. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

In this tumultuous season, I am seeing a lot more public statements and posts on social media challenging pro-life people. Many statements seem to be charged with a great deal of fear, fear that the pro-life movement is gaining traction as people become increasingly aware of the horrors of abortion. 

The statements I have seen do a lot of mocking of pro-life people. The critics who write them drag out a number of old and tired arguments in favor of abortion or against the pro-life position, but none of them has even attempted to answer the real question:

“Is abortion murder?”

If “murder” is defined as the intentional killing of an innocent human life, then science and logic tell us that abortion is a form of murder. And murder is always wrong. It is what is known in moral theology as an “intrinsic evil,” an act that is always evil, regardless of the circumstances, personal motivation, or other extenuating factors.

If “murder” is defined as the intentional killing of an innocent human life, then science and logic tell us that abortion is a form of murder. And murder is always wrong.

When I was young, politicians and others who supported abortion would claim that they didn’t know when human life begins. I don’t hear anyone claiming that anymore, as science so clearly indicates the existence of a new human life from the moment of conception that such a claim would rightly be labeled “anti-science.”

Other social media posts, even some by prominent Catholic writers, ask whether or not pro-life people are truly pro-life or “just pro-birth” (to quote one way the matter is expressed). Are pro-life people as committed to helping mothers and born children as they ought to be? Are they sufficiently committed to other social justice causes, such as immigration, caring for the poor and the sick, and so on? To be pro-life, those who post such things assert, requires being “pro” all lives and not just those of the unborn.

This argument makes an important point, but evades the burning question at the center of the abortion debate: Is abortion murder?


A pro-life person should stand ready to support mothers in difficult situations, to adopt or otherwise help children born into difficult circumstances, and support all of the causes that promote human dignity from conception to natural death. And personal experience tells me that they very often do.

But even if a pro-life person is a rotten person in every way except that he opposes abortion, he is still correct in opposing abortion. There is no other attack on human life or dignity about which we say that in order to oppose X you also need to oppose Y and Z and do A and B, or your opposition to X doesn’t count.

There is also the horribly misleading, “I’m personally opposed to abortion, but...” argument. This argument fails to recognize the basic truth that no society can be a true society if it “leaves people alone” to the point of allowing them to destroy human life. 

There are many ways we can and ought to “live and let live” in a free society such as ours. And the rights of women deserve special respect because they have so often been violated. But it would be an extremely toxic kind of lawlessness that allowed murder of any kind to remain legal.

Then there is the argument that men should not tell women what to do with their own bodies. Here it is important first to acknowledge that motherhood is a blessing and a burden that no man could fully understand or appreciate. 


Having said that, however, the essential point is that from the moment of conception, there is a new body that must be taken into consideration, that of the unborn child

Abortion poses a mortal threat to an unborn child’s body, and so it is a moral imperative that we do all we can to protect these children. And there are many millions of women who are at the forefront of the pro-life movement, so it is disingenuous to cast all pro-life people as manipulative and power-hungry men.

The final argument, at least of those that I have seen, is the one that rejects abortion except in cases of rape or when the mother’s life is in danger. 

First, it needs to be said that such cases represent only the tiniest fraction of abortion cases. Secondly, no matter how difficult the circumstances, it is never OK to perform an evil action in order to achieve a good result. You cannot murder one person in order to heal or save another. [Here I am not referring to cases when it is possible to accept that harm will befall an unborn child due to treatment given to a mother, such as would be the case in some chemotherapy treatments. Specific moral guidance is needed for such specific circumstances, but an abortion is never permitted.]

While we firmly hold that abortion is an evil and we work for its elimination, it is also true that we must love and care for all people, including those who have promoted abortion or had an abortion themselves. For example, Rachel’s Vineyard is an excellent ministry of the Catholic Church dedicated to bring healing to those wounded by abortion. And it is our faith that God loves every person and forgives every sin confessed to Him in the sacrament of reconciliation. We are all sinners in need of God’s incredible mercy.

As we pray in the Divine Mercy Chaplet, “For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” May He show His great mercy to all unborn children, their parents, all politicians and medical personnel, and to all of us as we strive to proclaim the Gospel of Life.

Fr. Charles Fox is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit currently assigned to the theology faculty of Sacred Heart Major Seminary. He is also a weekend associate pastor at St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Shelby Township and chaplain and a board member of St. Paul Evangelization Institute, headquartered in Warren. Another version of this article was published in Detroit Catholic on May 22, 2019.