Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
The Supreme Court The Supreme Court - Image of hands holding a gavel.
Check local listings
Home Timeline Games Supreme Court History
SUPREME COURT HISTORY
Law, Power & Personality
Supreme Inspiration
E-Mail this Page Glossary

Seeking Insights in the Great BooksSeeking Insights in the Great Books
The Bible Poetry Greeks & Romans Literature Philosophy Shakespeare Scientists, Futurists & Economists

Abortion
"Seed and what is not seed is determined by sensation and movement."
St. Thomas Aquinas

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8
Webster

v.

Reproductive Health Services
Abortion

Justice Stevens Concurrence and Dissent
July 3, 1989
Seal Of The Supreme Court
Excerpt:

As a secular matter, there is an obvious difference between the state interest in protecting the freshly fertilized egg and the state interest in protecting a 9-month-gestated, fully sentient fetus on the eve of birth. There can be no interest in protecting the newly fertilized egg from physical pain or mental anguish, because the capacity for such suffering does not yet exist; respecting a developed fetus, however, that interest is valid. In fact, if one prescinds the theological concept of ensoulment -- or one accepts St. Thomas Aquinas' view that ensoulment does not occur for at least 40 days -- a State has no greater secular interest in protecting the potential life of an embryo that is still "seed" than in protecting the potential life of a sperm or an unfertilized ovum.


Text Excerpt:

"Catholic Teaching on Abortion," prepared by the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress

"The disagreement over the status of the unformed as against the formed fetus was crucial for Christian teaching on the soul. It was widely held that the soul was not present until the formation of the fetus 40 or 80 days after conception, for males and females respectively. Thus, abortion of the 'unformed' or 'inanimate' fetus (from anima, soul) was something less than true homicide, rather a form of anticipatory or quasi-homicide. This view received its definitive treatment in St. Thomas Aquinas and became for a time the dominant interpretation in the Latin Church."

"... For St. Thomas, 'seed and what is not seed is determined by sensation and movement.' What is destroyed in abortion of the unformed fetus is seed, not man. This distinction received its most careful analysis in St. Thomas. It was the general belief of Christendom, reflected, for example, in the Council of Trent (1545-1563), which restricted penalties for homicide to abortion of an animated fetus only."


NEXT BACK