Question: Is it sinful to physically attack a doctor who performs abortions and break his fingers so that he can not perform an abortion? If yes, why? If no, why? Does it depend on the circumstances?

Arguments against:

  1. It would seem that one should not attack a doctor because he is not doing something unlawful.
  2. It would seem that one should not attack a doctor because one does not have the authority to exert violence.

However, these arguments seem not to be good. To explain why I will give an analogy.

Imagine a situation where some guy wants to dismember a 3-year-old child. You see him going toward the child, and you know for certain what he plans to do. You are able to stop him via violence (and no-one except that guy will be harmed in the process). However, your stopping him will be illegal. It still seems that you should stop the guy. This analogy seems to explain why neither authority nor what is (il)legal matter, and therefore it shows why arguments against are not good arguments. Also, it is often said that: "Necessity does not know the law." And that "Unjust laws are not really laws."

  1. If it were not sinful to attack a doctor who performs abortions someone would already be doing it. But we did not see such a case.

Arguments for:

  1. Using the same analogy as above, it seems not only that it is not sinful to attack a doctor, but that we have a duty to attack a doctor, just as we would have a duty to stop someone (if we are able to) who wants to dismember a 3-year-old child.

Maybe the arguments above depend on whether we see a doctor who directly goes to the hospital to perform an abortion, but not to a doctor who does not directly go to perform an abortion.

I am interested in responses from a Catholic viewpoint (preferably a natural law response).

  • A question like this needs to be carefully scoped, so I've modified it accordingly. Adding the scope to the title made it too long, so I shortened it a bit as well. – Nathaniel Aug 22 at 15:40
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    I initially voted to close as 'is X a sin' is off topic unless scoped to a denomination (which I at first did not see). I still kind of see this as should be closed as you haven't shown any research on the subject. There are several vaguely related questions here and here – depperm Aug 22 at 16:11
  • @depperm I thought about the question a lot, however, I do not see the answer clearly. If you think that the answer is a corollary of these two questions you linked, I would be thankful for your answer. – Thom Aug 22 at 16:20
  • I have the felling that this question is more opinion based than doctrine based. The Catholic Church does not permit such acts by the individual and through his own judgment in dealing with sinners. This question deserves to be closed. – Ken Graham Aug 23 at 22:30
  • @KenGraham It seems to me that the question is not opinion based. Although the Church does not explicitly mention answer to my question, I think it should be possible to deduce the answer from the principles that we do have. – Thom Aug 23 at 22:32

Ends do not justify means.

It is never permissible to do evil so that good may come about: "let us not do evil that there may come good" (Rom. 3:8). Sin sometimes must be tolerated in order to prevent a greater evil.

St. Thomas Aquinas's answer to the question of "Whether the rites of unbelievers ought to be tolerated?" (Summa Theologica II-II q. 10 a. 11 co.) could be applied, mutatis mutandis, to whether abortionists ought to be tolerated:

although God is all-powerful and supremely good, nevertheless He allows certain evils to take place in the universe, which He might prevent, lest, without them, greater goods might be forfeited, or greater evils ensue. Accordingly in human government also, those who are in authority, rightly tolerate certain evils, lest certain goods be lost, or certain greater evils be incurred: thus Augustine says (De Ordine ii, 4): "If you do away with harlots [or abortionists], the world will be convulsed with lust."

cf. Vermeersch, S.J.'s Tolerance

In "Whether human law should repress all vices?" (Summa Theologica I-II q. 96 a. 2 co.), St. Thomas shows that human law should forbid murder:

human law is framed for a number of human beings, the majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like.

Thus, "laws" permitting murder are no laws at all.

Abortion a state of war?

If the millions of abortions happening yearly constitute a state of war, then just war theory might be applicable. "In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary" (Summa Theologica II-II q. 40 a. 1 co.):

  1. "the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged"

  2. "a just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked [e.g., abortionists], should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault [e.g., killing innocent babies]."

  3. "it is necessary that the belligerents [e.g., anti-abortionists] should have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil [e.g., ending abortion]."

Conditions #2 and #3 certainly could apply to abortion, but its unclear that condition #1 applies. Has any civil ruler ever openly declared war against abortion?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Peter Turner Aug 23 at 15:16
  • Note that while St. Thomas's arguments are good and representative of church teaching, the Summae aren't church teaching-- the arguments presented here are totally compatible with Catholic teaching but rejecting portions of the Summae isn't rejecting church teaching-- other theologic and moral positions are acceptable within the broader bounds of the Church's teaching. – the dark wanderer Aug 24 at 23:07
  • I mention this because a citation from a strictly binding document-- like the CCC or canon law or a papal bull or something-- might allow this answer to make the stronger claim that the Church forbids such violence rather than allows and generally encourages inasmuch as Thomastic theology is encouraged that one not do it. – the dark wanderer Aug 24 at 23:09
  • @thedarkwanderer There is no doubt that the Church teaches that ends do not justify means; Romans 3:8 clearly says: "let us not do evil that there may come good". – Geremia Aug 24 at 23:30
  • @thedarkwanderer The 1992 new catechism is not a "strictly binding document". Even bulls or encyclicals are not necessarily infallible. St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica has authority because the Church "invests it with its own authority". – Geremia Aug 24 at 23:38

According to Catholicism, is it sinful to physically harm abortion doctors or expectant mothers in order to prevent them from having an abortions?

The short answer is yes.

The big objection with your example is it is the mothers to be who are are going to such doctors. Should they also be the ones to be harmed or even sterilized in order to stop future abortions, your question does not address!

It is true that the ends do not justify the means as Geremia’s answer points out.

St. Thomas Aquinas states the individual does not have this right, for it remains with the state. Only the state can judge such sins and carry out sentences involving prison, mutilation or even death.

On the contrary, Augustine says (De Civ. Dei i) [Can. Quicumque percutit, caus. xxiii, qu. 8: "A man who, without exercising public authority, kills an evil-doer, shall be judged guilty of murder, and all the more, since he has dared to usurp a power which God has not given him."

I answer that, As stated above (Article 2), it is lawful to kill an evildoer in so far as it is directed to the welfare of the whole community, so that it belongs to him alone who has charge of the community's welfare. Thus it belongs to a physician to cut off a decayed limb, when he has been entrusted with the care of the health of the whole body. Now the care of the common good is entrusted to persons of rank having public authority: wherefore they alone, and not private individuals, can lawfully put evildoers to death. - Question 64. Murder

If St. Thomas says that it is unlawful for the individual to execute the guilty, it follows that the individual can not harm that same said evil doer. Besides in our present day, he is protected by law as abortion is not considered a sin or crime by many modern governments.

No one has the right (privilege) to take the law into his own hands.

It is the law that allows abortion to flourish that must be changed in order to stop a doctor from accomplishing such crimes. Until then the doctor is protected by the law of the state.

Since many states allow abortion, the question of how to stop this crime in our modern society is very complex to say the least.

The main point here is that society has to be sanctified. And that main work: a lot of work. It must always start with individuals and work outwards.

We must be willing to do penance and mortifications in order the our modern societies will repeal the laws allowing abortion. We need many more St. John Vianneys in order to bring holiness back into the Church and society in general. This is the way to really stop abortions.

To end the practice of abortion; both contraception and pornography must also vanish from being mainstream in every day life. Hearts and minds must renewed and purified, otherwise abortion will simply continue as it is.

Yes, we have our work cut out for us.

13 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. - Submission to Governing Authorities

Besides, no pope or council has or ever will officially accept the idea that doing harm to an abortion doctor is sinless, since it stops abortions. Let’s do our part by doing penance, mortifications and prayer in order to convert the sinner.

Nowhere does the teaching magisterium of the Church allows us to exercise our personal ideologies outside established laws of legitimate governments. The Church does not and will not permit individualistic anarchism to rule.

Individualist anarchism refers to several traditions of thought within the anarchist movement that emphasize the individual and his will over external determinants such as groups, society, traditions and ideological systems. Individualist anarchism is not a single philosophy, but it refers to a group of individualistic philosophies that sometimes are in conflict. Benjamin Tucker, a famous 19th century individualist anarchist, held that "if the individual has the right to govern himself, all external government is tyranny".

Open season on abortion doctors is not a Catholic social teaching that I have heard about!

If the Catholic Church were to allow the faithful to physically harm or mutilate a physician in order to stop him from preforming abortions, it would be widely known. No such principles exist in Catholic thought, tradition, philosophy or theology. End of argument!

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    We need to make a distinction between, 1) Punishing someone, 2) Defending someone. I agree that if someone wanted to punish some evil-doer that he can not do it because he does not have the authority to do it. However, the case, where the abortion doctor who walks toward the hospital to perform an abortion is attacked is not punishment, but rather a defense of the innocent from immediate danger. It seems to me that Aquinas is not speaking of defending the innocent but rather of punishing someone for some crime with a lack of proper authority. – Thom Aug 23 at 21:47
  • It is the law that allows abortion to flourish that must be changed in order to stop a doctor from accomplishing such crimes; not harming or mutilating him. – Ken Graham Aug 23 at 21:55
  • You seem to be missing the point which I am trying to make. I agree that we should respect authority and that we should not take law in our hands and punish others without proper authority. But that is not the point which I am trying to deny. I can use an analogy to bring out my point. If we saw, someone trying to kill a 3-year-old child, and we could stop him physically (not murdering him, just some kind of minimal violence), would you agree that we should stop him? – Thom Aug 23 at 21:59
  • I understand your stance, but one cannot take the law into one’s own hands. – Ken Graham Aug 23 at 22:19
  • How do you define "taking law into one's own hands" and how do you prove that it is bad, and how does my example fit into your definition? – Thom Aug 23 at 22:20

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