LEO XIII 1878-1903

Craniotomy and Abortion *


[From the Response of the Holy Office the Archbishop of Lyons, May 31st, 1899 (May 28th 1884)]


1889 To the question: Whether it can be safely taught in Catholic schools that the surgical operation which is called craniotomy is licit, when, of course, if it does not take place, the mother and child will perish; while on the other hand if it does take place, the mother is to be saved, while the child perishes?”


The reply is: “It cannot be safely taught.”


[From the reply of the Holy Office to the Archbishop of Cambresis, August 19 1889]


1890 The reply is similar with the following addition: “. . . and every surgical operation that directly kills the fetus or the pregnant mother.”


[From the reply of the Holy Office to the Archbishop of Cambresis, July 24, 25, 1895] *


1890a When the doctor, Titius, was called to a pregnant woman who was seriously sick, he gradually realized that the cause of the deadly sickness was nothing else than pregnancy, that is, the presence of the fetus in the womb. Therefore, to save the mother from certain and imminent death one way presented itself to him, that of procuring an abortion, or ejection of the fetus. In the customary manner he adopted this way, but the means and operations applied did not tend to the killing of the fetus in the mother’s womb, but only to its being brought forth to light alive, if it could possibly be done, although it would die soon, inasmuch as it was not mature.


Yet, despite what the Holy See wrote on August 19th 1889, in answer to the Archbishop of Cambresis, that it could not be taught safely that any operation causing the death of the fetus directly, even if this were necessary to save the mother, was licit, the doubting Titius clung to the licitness of surgical operations by which he not rarely procured the abortion, and thus saved pregnant women who were seriously sick.


Therefore, to put his conscience at rest Titius suppliantly asks: Whether he can safely repeat the above mentioned operations under the reoccurring circumstances.


The reply is:


In the negative, according to other decrees, namely, of the 28th day of May, 1884, and of 19th day of August, 1889.


But on the following Thursday, on the 25th day of July . . . our most holy Lord approved a resolution of the Most Eminent Fathers, as reported to him.


[From the reply of the Holy Office to the Bishop of Sinaboa, May 4, 6, 1898] *


1890b I. Will the acceleration of the birth be licit, when because of the woman’s structure the delivery of the fetus would be impossible at its own natural time?


  1. And, if the structure of the woman is such that not even a premature birth is considered possible, will it be permitted to cause an abortion, or to perform a Caesarean operation in its time?


III. Is a laparotomy licit, when it is a matter of an extrauterine pregnancy, or of ectopic conceptions?


The reply is:


To I. That the acceleration of the birth per se is not illicit, provided it is performed for good reasons at that time, and according to the method by which under ordinary conditions consideration is given to the lives of the mother and the fetus.


To II. With respect to the first part, in the negative, according to the decree (issued) on Wednesday, the 24th of July, 1895, on the illicitness of abortion.–As to what pertains to the second part, nothing prevents the woman, who is concerned, from submitting to a Caesarean operation in due time.


To III. That when necessity presses, a laparotomy is licit for extracting ectopic conceptions from the womb of the mother, provided, insofar as it can be done, care is taken seriously and fittingly of the life of the fetus and that of the mother.


On the following Friday, the sixth day of the same month and year, His Supreme Holiness approved the responses of the Most Eminent and Reverend Fathers.


[From the reply of the Holy Office to the Dean of the faculty of theology of the university of Marienburg, the 5th of March, 1902] *


1890 c To the question: “Whether it is at any time permitted to extract from the womb of the mother ectopic fetuses still immature, when the sixth month after conception has not passed?”


The reply is:


“In the negative, according to the decree of Wednesday, the 4th of May, 1898, by the force of which care must be taken seriously and fittingly, insofar as it can be done, for the life of the fetus and that of the mother; moreover, with respect to time, according to the same decree, the orator is reminded that no acceleration of the birth is licit, unless it be performed at the time and according to the methods by which in the ordinary course of events the life of the mother and that of the fetus are considered.”

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