This post will discuss abortion, and may be upsetting or distressing for some. If you believe you may struggle with this topic, I encourage you not to read on, or to read it in the company of someone who can support you. I am always available to talk and provide support for any of you, don’t hesitate to call me.
As I commence I want to be clear: If you or someone you love has had an abortion, you/they will not face any judgement, hate or discrimination from me. You and/or they are welcome here, you are loved here and you are deeply loved by God.
Recently there has been significant media coverage of a letter written to the Prime Minister and co-signed by the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney and the Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia. Much media reporting has been rather uninformed or outright sensationalist on this issue.
So what exactly did the Archbishops write to say? Are they demanding a boycott? Are they anti-vaccination? Despite the sensationalist reporting, no they are neither of these things.
The letter in fact begins with a clear statement that the Archbishops are praying for an effective vaccine to help bring an end to the pandemic. The concern raised is that the the vaccine for which that the Australian Government has signed an agreement to procure, should trials be effective, is one which is being researched with the use of human foetal cells which have been cultured and grown for research, the original cells used to begin this culture were taken from an electively aborted baby.
This along with initial statements from the prime minister that the vaccine would be made 'as mandatory as possible' raised concerns for the Archbishops that some people may find themselves with an ethical dilemma regarding taking a vaccine that was developed using tissue that while now many years removed, was originally taken from an electively aborted baby.
The Archbishops do acknowledge that for some people, even those who have a significant concern regarding the use of the cells, the cells in use now are sufficiently remote from the abortion that occasioned the original cell line that there will be no impediment in taking the vaccine. Their concern however is that there will be some who despite the 5 decade gap will find themselves unable to accept something they know began with such an ethical problem.
The Archbishops therefore ask the Prime Minister for 3 assurances:
(1) that the use of the AstraZenica/Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine will in no sense be mandatory; (2) that no-one will be pressured to prescribe, dispense or consent to the use upon themselves or their dependents of the vaccine against their conscientious religious or moral beliefs or disadvantaged for failing to do so; and (3) that the government will ensure that an ethically uncontroversial alternative vaccine be made available in Australia if it is achieved.
So as you can see the main concerns of the Archbishops centre around the fact the vaccine is being developed using a cell line derived from a electively aborted human foetus and secondly that it may be made compulsory for people to take this vaccine - even if it goes against their religious or moral conscience to do so.
Addressing the ethical concerns:
So now we have established what the clear concern of the Archbishops is, how do we address it? Well firstly we can look at the work of Christian ethicists who have studied this specific issue in the past.
The Pontifical Acadamy for Life (A Vatican group especially established to support a pro-life stance) was asked to consider the issue of vaccines developed using cell lines from aborted foetus' in 2005. In their comprehensive response they make the point that where there is no other option available, and there is a serious health risk either to the individual or to wider society should a Christian refuse the vaccine, the Christian should take the vaccine for the benefit of the health and safety of themselves, and especially the wider society in which they live.
The document (which you can read here: https://www.immunize.org/talking-about-vaccines/vaticandocument.htm ) makes the point that Christians could and should still argue for the cessation of research using aborted human foetal cell lines, but until there is an alternative available they should also do what they can to protect health and life by taking the vaccine, and argue for the research and development of alternatives which don't benefit from these cell lines.
In 2017 the academy addressed this issue again in the context of vaccines for Rubella, Hepatitis A, Polio and other diseases which also use these same cell lines:
The technical characteristics of the production of the vaccines most commonly used in childhood lead us to exclude that there is a morally relevant cooperation between those who use these vaccines today and the practice of voluntary abortion. Hence, we believe that all clinically recommended vaccinations can be used with a clear conscience and that the use of such vaccines does not signify some sort of cooperation with voluntary abortion
As you can see the key point is that whilst there is an ethical problem with the use of electively aborted babies in research, what is being done now is so far removed from that issue that it should not be a hindrance to people receiving a vaccine. This is because from an ethical stand point the breach is at the point where the abortion and harvesting of cells takes place. Those who utilise a vaccine decades later, which uses cells which are genetically derived and descendant from that event cannot be held to have participated in it or endorsed it.
The Academy also makes the point that research using cell lines from aborted human foetus' does not involve continual harvesting of cells or organs from abortions. In fact the cells lines in use today are from two abortions which were conducted in the 1960's. The cells that were taken from those babies were then cultured and have been grown in laboratories ever since. This means that the cells that are in use for research now are NOT in fact from a foetus, they are cells grown in a lab using technology, which are genetically the same as those which were taken from a foetus 5 decades ago, but which are obviously NOT the same cells.
What about me? What do I think?
This is a challenging issue. As I have made clear before on this site, my personal view, which I regard as Scripturally sound is that abortion should be a available for medical reasons to protect life, while believing that elective abortion where the mother or another child is not at risk should not be supported. Based on that., you may believe that I have an ethical dilemma with using vaccines which use these cell lines.
However I tend toward the same view expressed by the Pontifical Academy for Life. It was ethically wrong for the cells of an electively aborted baby to have been taken for research purposes, and where there are alternative options available they should be used. However, where no such options exist there is no sin or ethical breach in a Christian using a vaccine derived from cell lines which are 50 years separated from the original ethical breach, and which are in reality no longer foetal cells, but are in fact lab grown cells.
Also, as I think with sadness about the two babies who were lost to the world, I give thanks that despite their loss, their lives have been given meaning through what has been achieved through their cell lines. Literally millions of lives have been saved because of the vaccines that were developed using these cell lines. Their lives should not have been taken, but they were, so now we are left with a choice to make - do we reject a possible vaccine because of the tragic loss of these two babies 50 years ago, or do we focus on saving lives now, and honour the memory of these babies who though they were never born have contributed to the saving of millions.
From my perspective there is no genuine ethical dilemma for a Christian or any other person who is morally opposed to elective abortion in receiving a vaccine derived from the cell lines of aborted foetus'. While we should rightly argue that it should not happen again, the fact is that the cells that are utilised now are so far removed from the moral breach that occurred in the 1960's that there is no compulsion on us to boycott the vaccine or encourage others not to take it. In fact the morally right thing for us to do is to encourage as many people to get vaccinated as possible in order to protect as many lives as we can now.
With that in mind I believe that the Archbishops letter was not helpful in the current climate, and while the ethical concerns raised around abortion and the use of foetal cells are genuine, they have adequately been examined previously.
I encourage as many people as possible to get vaccinated once there is a safe, tested vaccine available - whether it uses these cell lines or not.
Finally, I acknowledge again, this is a challenging topic, and for some it will have brought up painful memories and heartache. If that is you let me again re-iterate if you or someone you love has had an abortion, you/they will not face any judgement, hate or discrimination from me. You and/or they are welcome here, you are loved here and you are deeply loved by God.
Let me also say if this post has distressed you please know you can talk to me without fear of judgement or condemnation. However if you would prefer to talk to someone else please call:
Pregnancy Help Australia:
Offer post abortion support and counselling.
24 hour support:
1300 792 798
Lifline: 24 hour counselling support:
13 11 14
You can read the letter from the Archbishops below:
Daryl is a priest and chaplain living in regional New South Wales Australia. Learn more on the About page.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of my church or any other organisation I am affiliated with.