As a Catholic, I know that I am accountable to a higher law than human/positive law. The natural moral law is the guiding force behind the formation of my conscience and if human laws are not in accord with the current law, I am obligated to deny/change/protest/ignore them.

As such, is it right, for me, to consider the moral crime of abortion to be equal in all instances to the moral crime of murder? Is abortion exactly the same as murder, under the natural moral law and in the eyes of the Catholic Church?

  • 4
    You are perfectly free to believe that abortion is morally equivalent to murder. That's a matter of opinion. Murder itself, however, is a technical legal term defined by legislatures. Neither you nor the Catholic Church (except in the Holy See itself) has any authority to claim that abortion is murder.
    – TRiG
    Jun 8, 2012 at 16:56
  • @trig I agree, you want me to edit that in to the question?
    – Peter Turner
    Jun 8, 2012 at 17:06
  • 5
    @TRiG I don't think that matters in this case. If the state enacts some bill that redefines theft so items taken from my neighbor worth less than $10 don't qualify for the definition of theft, that church is going to go own teaching exactly what it does in relation to the commandment not to steal, plus we'll add an explanation that in our economy theft of any amount is still theft. Those of us in politics would also lobby for the morally baseless definition to be fixed for the benefit of society as a whole. Murder is more serious, but the same principles apply.
    – Caleb
    Jun 8, 2012 at 21:00
  • 2
    @Caleb. There is a difference, in that theft is theft in any context, while murder is, by definition, unlawful killing. So the opinion of the legislature does matter.
    – TRiG
    Jun 8, 2012 at 21:05
  • 12
    @TRiG No offense, but your reasoning would make it possible for the same action to be a violation of the 5th commandment in some countries but not others. Christianitiy only makes sense taken in the context of God's absolute standards. No legislature has the right to set their own arbitrary definitions for things such as what it means to take a life, and if they do, Christians are certainly not bound only to them. Since one of God's commands is to submit to authority, we are bound to obey whichever is stricter of the states and God's laws. If they ever outright conflict, God is always trump.
    – Caleb
    Jun 8, 2012 at 21:14

4 Answers 4


Yes, in the eyes of the Catholic Church, under the guidance of the Pontifical Council for the Family abortion has been likened to murder.

The moral gravity of procured abortion is apparent in all its truth if we recognize that we are dealing with murder and, in particular, when we consider the specific elements involved. The one eliminated is a human being at the very beginning of life. No one more absolutely innocent could be imagined. In no way could this human being ever be considered an aggressor, much less an unjust aggressor!

Pontifical Council for the Family - Children, Springtime of the Family and Society, October 14-15, 2000

And the notion goes even deeper and predates Christian ethics, as tied to the Hippocratic Oath.

the evident synthesis of Hippocratic ethics and Christian morality cannot be contested -both Hippocratic ethics and Christian morality regard all forms of direct abortion or direct (whether active or passive) euthanasia as illegitimate because one is dealing with an act which destroys a prenatal life and with an act of murder which nobody can justify.

The Charter for Health Care Workers: A Synthesis of Hippocratic Ethics and Christian Morality

So, I think in the eyes of the Church, abortion is a form of murder. In fact it is the worst possible kind of murder because it destroys the life of a completely innocent human being.

  • I could be mistaken, but it seems to me that the phrase "worst possible kind" implies that killing a less-innocent person would somehow be better. Jun 8, 2012 at 17:56
  • 9
    Yeah, I think that's about the gist of it. I think it makes sense. It's why abortion, euthanasia and embyro-destruction are non-negotiable items in the eyes of the Catholic Church and self-defense, just war, and execution (in cases of public safety) are negotiable.
    – Peter Turner
    Jun 8, 2012 at 18:00
  • I'm a tad bit surprised to see the question posted here at all. The RCC is quite famous for its very clear and firm stance on this issue.
    – EvilSnack
    Oct 12, 2019 at 3:10
  • @evilsnack, I seem to remember the impetus for this question being another person on this site telling me that abortion murder because murder is a legalistic phrase or somesuch.
    – Peter Turner
    Oct 12, 2019 at 15:47

Context for the answer

Has Sacred Scripture and the Church referred to the human embryo as a child? And the answer is YES! [cf. RSVCE returned search results for 'with child' and the Didache, 2].

My position as well is that the human embryo is an unborn child.

Proceeding to the question

I read two questions here

1. Does the Catholic Church consider abortion to be murder? And
2. Is abortion exactly the same as murder, under the natural moral law and in the eyes of the Catholic Church?

Not all unlawful or unjust killings are murder

First Does the Catholic Church consider abortion to be murder?

Are both unlawful killings? And the answer is yes. If by murder is meant the unjust killing of an innocent person, I have yet come across any official Church literature or declaration that makes that equation.

In Catechism of the Catholic Church 2271, the Church interprets the Didache portion on abortion as follows:

You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish1

1. Distinguishing abortion from infanticide.

Thus at least from this, the gravely moral evil of killing an embryo by abortion is not equivalent to the unjust killing of an innocent person.

Second Is abortion exactly the same as murder, under the natural moral law and in the eyes of the Catholic Church?

The Church portion has been answered as above. For natural law, we go to what the fifth commandment, and it says You shall not kill. All the killings prohibited by this commandment for example intentional homicide, abortion, euthanasia, and suicide are listed here in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Therefore, whilst the Church considers direct abortion to be the very grave moral evil of killing an embryo, contrary to natural law, it does not equate it to murder/intentional homicide = unjust/unlawful killing of an innocent person.

Please note CCC 2323 Because it should be treated as a person from conception, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed like every other human being.

it should implying that universally it isn't treated as such.

Further reading

He illogically assumes that if the Church, at certain times and in certain circumstances, regarded abortion as less than homicide it probably "tolerated" or even "sanctioned" abortion. This is roughly equivalent to arguing that it must be all right to kill a privately owned racehorse because such an act does not constitute homicide. - c. 23rd paragraph.

Early Christian writers consistently classified abortion as a grave evil even though they did not uniformly agree that all abortion (particularly of the unformed fetus) is equivalent to homicide. - c. 19th paragraph.


In the eyes of natural moral law and the church direct abortion is tantamount to murder (whether the legislature agrees or not). Direct abortion is when one chooses to intentionally abort a fertilized egg. However, indirect abortion is not tantamount to murder. Indirect abortion is when one does something that is not intended to harm the child, but the outcome is that the pregnancy is terminated (i.e. a woman with cancer has exhausted all treatment options that will not harm her baby and opts for a treatment which results in the death of her child). This is not a light decision for a mother, but is not seen as morally abhorrent and the choice would be left to the woman (although I think it should be highly prescribed in cases where if not treated both the woman and child would be lost). If any of this is confusing, here is an article which discusses the topic I have presented in more thorough detail. cf. International Symposium on Maternal Health: Direct Abortion “Never Medically Necessary” | Catholic Moral Theology.


John Paul II, Evangelium Vitæ §58 (25 March 1995):

The moral gravity of procured abortion is apparent in all its truth if we recognize that we are dealing with murder

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