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Why does the Church treat abortion differently than other sins?

The Church is especially vocal in its opposition to sins that devalue the sacredness of human life. Although abortion is perhaps the most prominent of these sins, Catholic teaching also opposes the death penalty, nuclear war, euthanasia and other assaults on the basic value of life. The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin linked all these issues together in a comprehensive ethical system called “the consistent ethic of life.” This perspective was later expressed by Pope John Paul II in his landmark encyclical, The Gospel of Life.

Cardinal Bernardin acknowledged that issues are distinct and different. Capital punishment, for example, is not the same as abortion. Nevertheless, the issues are linked. The valuing and defense of life are at the center of both issues. Cardinal Bernardin once said publicly, “When human life is considered ‘cheap’ or easily expendable in one area, eventually nothing is held as sacred and all lives are in jeopardy.”

Along with his consistent linking of distinct life issues, Cardinal Bernardin acknowledged that no individual or group can pursue all issues. The consistent ethic of life rules out contradictory moral positions about the unique value of human life—and it would be contradictory, for example, to be against abortion but for capital punishment or to work against poverty but support euthanasia. This linkage of all life issues is, of course, the very heart of the consistent ethic of life. This linking challenges us to pull together things that we might have kept apart in the past. Often our convictions seem to cluster around ‘”’conservative” or ”liberal” viewpoints—as in the above examples. But the consistent ethic of life cuts across such divisions, calling us to respect the life in the womb, the life of a criminal, the life on welfare, the life of the dying.
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