“Is it fair to hire a hit man to solve a problem?” asked Pope Francis while deviating from prepared remarks during his weekly homily at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.
The pontiff’s rhetorical question — with “no” as the logical answer — was part of his comparison to the act of abortion to contract killing.
While the pro-life movement generally exempts the woman who gets an abortion from its call for criminal sanctions for the grisly practice, placing the blame largely on the abortionist instead, it is difficult to argue with the pope’s reasoning. After all, with an abortion, a pregnant woman does not kill the unborn child herself, but she does pay someone else to do it.
“Interrupting a pregnancy is like eliminating someone,” Francis insisted. “Is it fair to hire a hit man to solve a problem? It is not fair. We cannot take out a human being, even if it is small.”
Many conservative Catholics have, at times, been disenchanted with this pope’s remarks on other social and political issues, but in this case, he has held fiercely to traditional teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, which allows no exceptions for taking the life of an unborn child.
In his homily, Pope Francis denounced the killing of human beings, citing his opposition to war, exploitation, and a culture of wastefulness. But it was abortion that drew his strongest words. Challenging the argument from the so-called pro-choice crowd, Francis asked, “How can an act that suppresses innocent and defenseless life as it blossoms be therapeutic, civil or simply human?”
Francis, a native of Argentina, recently weighed in against an effort in that South American country to legalize abortion. The Argentine Senate voted down a bill in August that would have legalized killing unborn babies.
The pope has put abortion in the context of the modern society’s disposable culture, in which even human beings are seen as disposable: “Often human beings themselves … are discarded as unnecessary.”
In June, the pope even compared abortion to the eugenics program of the National Socialist regime of Adolf Hitler. “Last century, the whole world was scandalized by what the Nazis did to purify the race. Today, we do the same thing but with white gloves,” he told a family association in Italy. Rather than considering abortion, the pontiff urged couples to accept children — including children with deformities — “as God gives them to us.”
The view that some human beings do not deserve to live was prevalent in so-called progressive circles in the early part of the 20th century. For example, in Hunter’s 1914 Civic Biology, written by Darwinian evolutionist George Hunter, it was argued that human beings were continuing to evolve and that certain humans were “parasites” on society. “If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading.”
Such thinking horrified William Jennings Bryan, a devout Presbyterian, who read the high-school textbook and predicted such teachings could lead to terrible social consequences. Bryan’s concern was well-placed, as can be seen from its influence on Hitler and other Nazis. Abortion to rid society of its “unwanted” is a logical consequence of such thinking, as Francis has said.
In the early years of Christianity, Greek and Roman society viewed the lives of deformed children as very expendable, a view that Christians rejected. While the New Testament does not directly address the issue of abortion, in Paul’s epistle to the Galatians he lists “sorcery” as one of the works of the flesh that he condemns. The word translated “sorcery” is a Greek word from which we derive our English word pharmacy, and included the use of drugs to induce abortion. And, of course, the original Hippocratic Oath forbade a physician from giving a woman any drug to cause the termination of a pregnancy.
But what of Francis’ view that consent to an abortion is akin to hiring a contract killer? If someone hires a hitman to kill someone, both are viewed as murderers under the law.
He has previously acknowledged that women are sometimes driven by circumstances to abortion, and has allowed that women who repent of the sin can be forgiven. It is doubtful that many pro-lifers, including this pope, want women to be held criminally liable for abortion, leaving legal ramifications to be placed upon the abortionist.
However, the pope’s analogy is quite sound — paying an abortionist to take a human life is much like someone hiring a hitman to eliminate an unborn child.
Photo of Pope Francis: Edgar Jiménez via flickr