Vaccines & Abortion

Can we do more to challenge the worst evils of these harrowing times?

Pope Francis calls for the wide use and distribution of the new anti-COVID vaccines, as do our bishops. They do so in the name of the common good. But they do not teach that everyone has an obligation to use the vaccines. Much less do they argue against ongoing reflection on the ethical implications of the new vaccines.

Ongoing reflection is alive and well in the matter of the equitable distribution of the vaccines. Too often the most vulnerable have been overlooked. Ageism is a factor in this injustice, compounded by the de facto deportation of many of our elders to “care facilities” in which caregivers are badly compensated.

But ongoing reflection is at risk about links the new vaccines have, in production and development, with cell lines taken from aborted babies. At issue is our cooperation with evil. To be sure, such cooperation is a matter of degree. When one’s cooperation is intentional, it is always wrong. Such cooperation is “formal.” (One’s intention “forms” a “behavior” into the act that it is.)

Often, though, we find ourselves indirectly cooperating in wrongdoing. The producers of Kirin beer help fund the military in Myanmar. There’s a strong case for boycotting Kirin beer, but not for boycotting a neighborhood Mom & Pop store that sells it.

And what of abortion? It is the intentional killing of an innocent human being. Anyone who acts with the intention of doing so, for whatever end, acts wrongly. So does anyone who joins his or her intention to that of the abortionist.

One might, of course, use a vaccine that depends on a cell line taken from an aborted baby without intending to support any past or any future abortion. Indeed, one might use such a vaccine while both publicly opposing abortion and urging pharmaceutical firms to make available vaccines that do not depend on even past abortions. The Vatican and our bishops urge that we do both.

Many Catholics, however, do neither. Moreover, the uncritical acceptance of the new vaccines serves to offer them a measure of support. After all (so goes the self-exculpation), just look at the good that comes from using fetal cell lines and imagine the good that is still to come. The highly touted Dr. Anthony Fauci accepts abortion dependent research and advocates for our funding international abortion.

In this grim context, I am grateful to Catholics who witness against abortion and medical research that is dependent on abortion by choosing to delay their vaccinations until abortion-independent vaccines become available. Kudos, as well, to Nicanor Austriaco, OP, who is now in the Philippines doing the research needed for such vaccines.

I also applaud Kevin L. Flannery, SJ, for his scholarly new study Cooperation with Evil: Thomistic Tools of Analysis. The virtue of prudence, that is, right reason in acting, is critical if we are to act rightly in the matter of the new vaccines.

Some, no doubt, will dismiss those who are delaying vaccination as “sensitive souls.” Better, I submit, to appreciate their vocation. For their part, they should take extra precautions to safeguard the day-to-day welfare of others, and to make clear the explanation of their decision.

Admittedly, we cannot, unless we become like the Desert Fathers, free ourselves from every compromise of a corrupt culture. Nonetheless, we might well ask ourselves whether we could do much more to challenge, by non-participation, the worst evils of these harrowing times. Here I think Servant of God Dorothy Day has much to teach us.

More and more even our tax dollars support abortion and nuclear stockpiling. Tax resistance, no doubt, is only for the stouthearted. Even those who are free enough from guile to consider it must also be wily enough to find a way to do so! So what would Jesus do? St. Gregory Nazianzen reminds us that “He pays tax—yet he uses a fish to do it” (Matthew 17: 24-27).


Jim Hanink is an independent scholar, albeit more independent than scholarly!

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