There’s a lot of rewriting of history going on. Nancy Pelosi isn’t the one doing it.
The current Roman Catholic church teaching on abortion defends ‘The inviolability of the innocent human being’s right to live “from the moment of conception until death”‘ and ‘The human being must be respected – as a person – from the very instance of his existence‘ (Donum Vitae – Congregation of the Doctrines of the Faithful, 1987).
This has not always been church teaching, a fact that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remarked on the NBC program Meet the Press on Sunday, August 24 (official transcript). Tom Brokaw referred to Senator Obama’s response to the question “When does life begin?”, that it was “above [his] paygrade”, and asked Ms Pelosi what she would tell Obama if he asked for advice:
When the subject of recent church teaching that life begins at conception was raised by Brokaw, she said:
There has been a storm of criticism from Catholic authorities on this, but what she says is correct. While Augustine condemned abortion as breaking the link between sex and procreation he did not believe that abortion was homicide, asking “But who is not rather disposed to think that unformed fetuses perish like seeds which have not fructified?” (Enchiridion). Aquinas agreed, and believed that males were “ensouled” by God at 40 days, females at 80 days (this referred to what Aquinas called the rational soul).
In 1211, Pope Innocent III issued an exception to a decree forbidding men who had shed blood to enter the priesthood. If the blood had been shed in an abortion of a fetus not yet “ensouled”, the candidate was not forbidden, the reasoning being that this was not homicide because no soul was present. In 1588, Pope Sixtus V decreed that abortion “at any time” was homicide, but his successor Gregory XIV rejected this interpretation as excessive and modified the law so that there was an exception when the fetus was not “animated”, in line with Augustine, Aquinas and other early thinkers. In 1869, Pius IX rescinded that exception. The church militant (ordinary Roman Catholics) remain divided on the question. Nancy Pelosi’s views represent a significant faction within the church, and quite possibly the view held by the majority of Catholics. Although the Papacy holds a different view, no Pontiff has made an infallible statement on the question.