Pope Francis’ general audience in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, Sept. 29, 2021./ Vatican Media.
While papal observers may sometimes adopt differing interpretations of Pope Francis’ statements on controversial topics, on the issue of abortion the pope has been unambiguously clear that the humanity of an unborn child must always be protected.
In recent years, Pope Francis’ public statements on abortion — often unscripted — have been more graphic and striking than even some of the pro-life statements of his predecessors, such as his comparison of the procedure to homicide and Nazi eugenics.
With multiple rosary crusades for the protection of the unborn underway in October, and a looming U.S. Supreme Court case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which is widely seen as the most direct legal challenge to Roe v. Wade in the nearly five decades of legalized abortion in the United States, here is a look at some of the strongest papal statements on abortion.
Sept. 15, 2021: ‘Abortion is murder’
When a journalist from the Jesuit publication, America Magazine, asked the pope on Sept. 15 about “a woman’s right to choose” and giving Communion to politicians who have supported pro-abortion laws during an in-flight press conference, Pope Francis responded that “abortion is more than an issue. Abortion is murder.”
“Scientifically it’s a human life. The textbooks teach us that. But is it right to take it out to solve a problem? This is why the Church is so strict on this issue because accepting this is kind of like accepting daily murder,” Francis said.
Sept. 25, 2020: Speech to the United Nations
In a speech to a high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly, Pope Francis said that it was unfortunate to see “some countries and international institutions are also promoting abortion as one of the so-called ‘essential services’ provided in the humanitarian response” to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is troubling to see how simple and convenient it has become for some to deny the existence of a human life as a solution to problems that can and must be solved for both the mother and her unborn child,” the pope said.
Oct. 10, 2018: Abortion is like ‘hiring a hitman’
Pope Francis compared abortion to “hiring a hitman” during his weekly catechesis.
“How can an action that ends an innocent and defenseless life in its blossoming stage be therapeutic, civilized or simply human? I ask you: Is it right to ‘do away with’ a human life in order to solve a problem? Is it right to hire a hitman in order to solve a problem? One cannot. It is not right to ‘do away with’ a human being, however small, in order to solve a problem. It is like hiring a hitman,” he said.
The pope has repeated this line about the “hitman” many times since, including when asked by a Spanish television journalist in 2019 about the permissibility of abortion in the case of a woman who has been trafficked and becomes pregnant by rape.
June 16, 2018: Abortion of disabled is like ‘what the Nazis did’
The pope has said that abortion of children who are sick or disabled is like Nazi eugentics “but with white gloves.”
“I have heard that it is in fashion, or at least customary, in the first months of pregnancy to have certain exams, to see whether the baby is not well, or has some problems. The first proposal in that case is: ‘Shall we do away with it?’ The murder of children,” Pope Francis said in a speech a family association.
“In the last century the entire world was scandalized over what the Nazis were doing to maintain the purity of the race. Today we do the same thing, but with white gloves,” Pope Francis said.
Feb. 18, 2016: Abortion is ‘against the Hippocratic oath’
When asked about abortion for pregnant women amid the Zika virus scare, Pope Francis responded that abortion is “an absolute evil” and against doctors’ Hippocratic oath.
“Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to throw someone out in order to save another. That’s what the Mafia does. It is a crime, an absolute evil,” the pope said in his in-flight press conference returning from Mexico.
“Abortion is not a theological problem. It is a human problem. It is a medical problem. You kill one person to save another, in the best case scenario. … It’s against the Hippocratic oaths doctors must take. It is an evil in and of itself,” he said.
June 18, 2015: Care for creation is ‘incompatible with the justification of abortion’
In Pope Francis’ landmark environmental encyclical, Laudato si’, the pope emphasized that respect for creation and human dignity go hand in hand.
“Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion,” the pope wrote.
“How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?”
Aug. 16, 2014: The pope prays at South Korea cemetery for abortion victims
Pope Francis prayed at a cemetery for aborted babies during his papal trip to South Korea in August 2014. Stopping to pray in silence before the horde of journalists that document the pope’s every move during a papal trip, Pope Francis used this silent gesture to communicate the Gospel of life.
The pope also visited a cemetery for unborn children on the outskirts of Rome to pray on All Souls’ Day in 2018.
Sept. 20, 2013: Every unborn child unjustly aborted has the face of Jesus
In a speech to a group of gynecologists and obstetricians, the pope said that doctors “are called to care for human life in its initial stage” and asked them to remind people that “in all its phases and at any age, human life is always sacred.”
“Every child who, rather than being born, is condemned unjustly to being aborted, bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the face of the Lord, who even before he was born, and then just after birth, experienced the world’s rejection,” Pope Francis said.
Pope Francis’ strong statements mark a continuation of the Catholic Church’s clear pronouncements that abortion is a grave evil. Here are some other notable statements made over the decades since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the United States.
Pope Benedict XVI, Dec. 3, 2005: ‘Intrinsic evil of the crime of abortion’
Among Benedict XVI’s many pro-life statements, one that stands out was a speech he gave to bishops from Latin America on family and life issues in which he said that “children have the right to be born and to be raised in a family founded on marriage.”
“Children truly are the family’s greatest treasure and most precious good. Consequently, everyone must be helped to become aware of the intrinsic evil of the crime of abortion. In attacking human life in its very first stages, it is also an aggression against society itself. Politicians and legislators, therefore, as servants of the common good, are duty bound to defend the fundamental right to life, the fruit of God’s love,” he said.
St. John Paul II, March 25, 1995: The ‘Culture of Death’
In John Paul II’s groundbreaking encyclical on the Gospel of Life, Evangelium Vitae, the late pope defined the emergence of a “culture of death” and a “war of the powerful against the weak” in which “a life which would require greater acceptance, love and care is considered useless, or held to be an intolerable burden.”
“Disregard for the right to life, precisely because it leads to the killing of the person whom society exists to serve, is what most directly conflicts with the possibility of achieving the common good …. Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize,” John Paul II wrote.
Pope Paul VI, 1974: First papal reaction to Roe v. Wade
The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a declaration on procured abortion, which was ratified and published by Pope Paul VI in 1974.
“Respect for human life is not imposed only on Christians: reason is sufficient to demand it,” the declaration stated.
“From the moment the egg is fertilized, a life is inaugurated that is not that of the father or mother, but of a new human being that develops on its own,” it said.
Second Vatican Council, Dec. 2, 1965: Abortion an ‘unspeakable’ crime
Eight years before the Roe v. Wade decision, the Second Vatican Council’s pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world, Guadium et spes, described abortion and infanticide as “unspeakable crimes.”
“For God, the Lord of life, has conferred on men the surpassing ministry of safeguarding life in a manner which is worthy of man,” it said.