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Revisionist History

On the occasion of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s upcoming visit with Pope Benedict XVI, a conservative American archbishop, Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl issued a statement attacking the pro-choice Pelosi by saying that Church teaching is clear, and has been clear for 2,000 years that abortion is "gravely contrary to the moral law."

Um, no. The historical record proves you wrong, Your Excellency. The Roman Catholic Church has had greatly different attitudes towards abortion over the centuries. It’s a shame to see His Excellency the Archbishop trying to get away with revisionist history.

Up until the medieval period, the rule generally was, as laid down by Saint Augustine, the Apostolic Constitutions, and the pagan philosophers that preceded them, that (so long as the intent was not to conceal fornication or adultery) abortions could be permitted up until around the tenth to twelfth week after conception (Augustine and the ancient pagans specified ninety days). In the Middle Ages, the marker was "quickening" or palpable womb activity, which started to occur round about the seventeenth week or 110 days. As David Morris points out, for 1500 years the Catholic Church’s position on abortion was pretty close to the one taken by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade: Early-term abortion is not a sin. It’s only been in the last 140-odd years that the majority of the church leadership has gone consistently and strongly with the life-starts-at-conception no-exceptions no-how rule.

Furthermore, as David Morris also noted, the Church seems to be much more tolerant of Republican pro-choice politicians than it is of Democratic ones: "While Catholic Democratic Governor McGreevey was sanctioned, in part for his support for abortions, Catholic Republican Governor Pataki of New York, who holds similar views on abortion, was not. Sacramento Bishop Wiegand chastised Catholic Democratic Governor Gray Davis for supporting abortion rights and recommended that he refrain from taking Communion. But he has issued no warning to Catholic Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who also supports abortion rights."

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