General Articles

Canadian Archbishop: “Early Induction” on Babies with Lethal Fetal Anomaly is “Direct Abortion”

John-Henry Westen,

TORONTO, April 3, 2009 ( – The scandal of Catholic priests advising expectant mothers, whose babies are diagnosed with lethal fetal anomalies, that having an early induction in such cases is not opposed to Catholic teaching, is not new. The problem was already apparent in 2002, and denounced then by Archbishop Terrence Prendergast in a column in The Catholic Register.

The issue came to the fore recently after published an exposé of such recommendations and procedures at St. Joseph’s Catholic hospital in London Ontario. Fr. Michael Prieur, the ethical director at the hospital, is responsible for the practice and believes it in synch with Catholic teaching.

Two mothers revealed to LSN that they were advised by Fr. Prieur that early induction would be permissible according to Catholic teaching, since their children were diagnosed with lethal fetal anomalies. In both cases the mothers’ lives were not in any danger from their pregnancy, they were not asking for early induction and their strong sense that it was wrong caused them to reject the advice given to them by Father Prieur.

Archbishop Prendergast, who is now the Archbishop in the national capital of Ottawa, warned clergy specifically against giving such false advice.

Writing in his December 22, 2002 column in the Register about “adverse prenatal diagnoses,” such as “Anencephaly and Trisomy 18”, Archbishop Prendergast noted that, “many parents are pressured to ‘terminate the pregnancy’ through ‘medical termination’ which is another word for abortion, either through ‘induced abortion’ or ‘early induction of labour’.”

“While most Catholics understand and agree with the prohibition against elective abortions – abortions undertaken because the pregnancy is unwanted,” said the Archbishop, “many do not realize that a so-called selective termination of pregnancy or genetic abortion – undertaken because of the discovery of a fetal anomaly – is also a direct abortion and so prohibited according to Catholic teaching. This includes terminations undertaken for fatal conditions such as anencephaly …

“Some Catholics – including clergy,” he said, “seem to treat genetic terminations as regrettable but permissible, but they are wrong to teach this.”

Prendergast stressed: “This is a major issue of pastoral concern because the pressure to abort once an anomaly has been detected is enormous. It is essential, for the sake of the child and for the parents, that priests and others, to whom they may turn at such a terrible time, be clear about Catholic teaching on this point and supportive of it.” (see a scan of the full article from the Archbishop here:…)

Conflicting testimony on the matter from Church authorities can in these cases cause the death of unborn children. While the teaching of the Church on the matter is clear, when described by Fr. Prieur, the procedure was made to sound more than acceptable.

Describing his thoughts In an interview with in December, Fr. Prieur said: "[The babies with a lethal fetal anomaly] are dying and basically here’s what happens, and I’ve been doing, we’ve been doing these for, like I said, for almost twenty years. People who are pro-life to their fingertips want the baby, get the diagnosis, find out that the baby is dying, will say, ‘Is there any way we can hold that child while the child dies?’ And I’ve often felt in my heart of hearts that’s a signal from God, that what we’re doing is the right thing. And there’s a factor, and this is a technical term in theology – the instinct of the faith – and it’s like, you know, in your heart of hearts you say, you know that makes sense. This is not your normal abortion, where we want to get rid of the baby. Not at all. See what I mean. And here’s where we’ve got Catholic obstetricians here in town that say, ‘Yes, this is the right thing to do.’"

The National Catholic Bioethics Center, which is reviewing the procedures at St. Joseph’s hospital now, states in their position paper on early induction of labour: “induction of labor before term performed simply for the reason that the child has a lethal anomaly is direct abortion.” (see the full statement here: