Letter: The history of the Roman Catholic Church's involvement in abortion laws
Wells writes, "The Roman Catholic Church has had 150 years of pulpit power to inculcate its members to these beliefs, but no other world or apostolic church places any credence on the papal infallibility, Mary's immaculate conception, or ensoulment strictly at conception because none of the three are backed by scriptural evidence."
One explanation for the aggressive involvement of the Roman Catholic Church in the abortion laws of the U.S. is the Papal decree "Ineffabilis Deus" (God Ineffable) made by Pope Pius IX at the annual observance of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, 1854. After long discussions and fervent prayer with church elders, the Pope proclaimed that the Virgin Mary was herself the product of an immaculate conception and the beneficiary at the very moment of conception (better understood since the advent of the microscope as the exact moment of fertilization) of an absolutely perfect, blameless soul free even of original sin. This made Mary of Nazareth the most blessed being in all of God's creation, heaven or earth, worthy of being the mother of the Son of God as well as a shining female centerpiece of Catholicism.
This new doctrine was officially written into church law in 1869 with the added proviso that not only does ensoulment for everyone occur at the moment of conception, but it is the only time that ensoulment can occur. Job one for the church is saving souls, and this decree emphasized that ensoulment creates a complete human being from zygote to embryo to fetus to birth. Two years later, in 1871, the church declared the Pope to be infallible, precluding any discussion or argument over the new immaculate conception and ensoulment doctrines. The Roman Catholic Church has had 150 years of pulpit power to inculcate its members to these beliefs, but no other world or apostolic church places any credence on the papal infallibility, Mary's immaculate conception, or ensoulment strictly at conception because none of the three are backed by scriptural evidence.
For the last three decades of the 19th Century these dogmatic changes compelled Catholic clergy in Europe and North America to work to enact laws criminalizing abortion. In the U.S. they were successful in over 30 states, often collaborating with the new (1847) American Medical Association which was intent on educating and licensing physicians and getting rid of quack doctors some of whom were performing abortions. In the early 20th century the same clergy worked to convince local authorities to arrest and jail purveyors of modern birth control methods. And since Roe vs. Wade passed, the Catholic Church has put a great deal of money and effort into re-criminalizing abortion, resulting in abortion clinic threats, vandalism, and the murders of clinic staff members.
Women in the U.S attained the legal standing in 1970 to challenge the states' anti-abortion laws, although by then 13 states already allowed abortion on demand. The plaintiffs made it clear to Supreme Court Justices that they wished to overturn these 19th century laws and have legal access to safe hygienic abortions, and in 1973 the Court agreed to strike down those laws. Earlier this month in Supreme Court arguments regarding Mississippi's challenge to Roe v. Wade, at least one justice expressed confusion as to what Constitutional right was at stake. In my opinion the Ineffabilis Deus declaration of 1854 was based on nothing more than a self-proclaimed revelation or epiphany of a group of churchmen intent on rejuvenating their faith in the face of many obstacles. This long and highly persistent campaign against abortion by the Roman Catholic Church has been an attempt to inject their questionable dogma into the laws of this nation, which to me represents a serious violation of the American Constitutional right to freedom of religion.
Dudley Wells lives in Twin Valley, Minn.
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