Most women understandably feel some degree of guilt about having an abortion. After all, abortion is a grossly unnatural act, and people who believe in God (as most aborting women do to varying degrees) have difficulty justifying the deliberate killing of a child that they know was willed into existence by Him.
All of us have a strong urge to rationalize our sins in order to calm our stinging consciences. It is just an inevitable feature of our human nature. “This big corporation won’t miss these little things.” “If I don’t cheat, I’ll be at a disadvantage.” “Taxes are way too high anyway, so I’ll just pad these deductions a little.” Similarly, women who abort often try to justify their actions in one way or another. The Guttmacher Institute has identified many of these justifications. They include “I don’t want people to know I am pregnant,” “I’m not mature enough for a baby,” and “I have relationship problems.”1
On the other hand, many women who abort actually believe that they are doing their babies a favor. They may have an abusive boyfriend or husband, they might be very poor, or they may sincerely believe that they simply cannot properly take care of another child. In such situations, abortion can seem to them like an act of mercy to a child who will not have to endure the difficulties of a disadvantaged life, and it is comforting to know that they have “gone on to a better place.”
As pro-life author Randy Alcorn has found, even some priests and pastors ask the question, “Why are you trying to do all this stuff to prevent abortions? Children are better off dying, they’re going to be in Heaven forever.”
Do Aborted Babies Go to Heaven?
So let us briefly consider the question: do aborted babies go to Heaven?
The greatest theologians of the Church, including St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine and St. Leo the Great, have all pondered this question at length. They concluded that God always provides the possibility of salvation at all times and in all circumstances. Some theologians believe that, after their deaths, God gives aborted and miscarried babies full knowledge so that they may make their own decision about eternity, just as they would have done here on earth.2
Beginning in the Middle Ages, many theologians, including Aquinas and Duns Scotus, postulated that children who died before birth resided in a place of perfect natural happiness known as “Limbo.” Although the theory of Limbo remains a theological possibility, it has generally fallen into disuse in favor of alternatives that hold out greater theological hope. It is certainly possible that unborn children themselves may desire baptism naturally in their pure state, because they are free of actual sin.
And, of course, there is the baptism of desire. If an expectant Catholic couple have the intention of baptizing their child after he or she is born, but miscarry instead, we can be confident that the child was baptized by the desire of his or her parents. This is usually not the case when women abort their children, which is why some Catholic groups pray in the place of the parents for the baptism of aborted children.
Before Vatican II, there were no liturgical prayers for unbaptized infants who died, but this deficiency has been remedied. The 1970 Roman Missal features a funeral Mass for a child whose parents intended for him or her to be baptized, and there are prayers for them in the Ordo Exsequiarum (1969 Latin edition of the Order of Christian Funerals). In its 1980 Instruction on Children’s Baptism, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirmed, “With regard to children who die without having received Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as indeed she does in the funeral rite established for them.”3
In 2007, the International Theological Commission concluded:
The many factors that we have considered above give serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and enjoy the Beatific Vision. We emphasize that these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge. There is much that simply has not been revealed to us.
So do aborted babies go to heaven? In short, there is no definitive way to know. Sacred Scripture and Revelation tell us nothing about the fate of unbaptized infants. Even if they spend eternity in a place like Limbo where they are perfectly happy, to deprive them of the Beatific Vision of God would be a horrible injustice. In other words, we cannot know the disposition of these children’s souls, so we must not kill them in a misguided attempt to “send them to a better place.”
Isn’t Abortion a Mercy to Some Children?
Those who assert that abortion is a kindness to some children are also forgetting several other important points.
1. Poverty Isn’t a Life Sentence
First, just because we are born into poverty or difficult family circumstances doesn’t mean our entire lives are going to be spent this way. Every one of us has the opportunity to better our circumstances — but that chance will cease to exist if we are aborted. The list of presidents, military leaders, sports heroes, multimillionaires, media personalities and movie stars who began their lives in poverty is endless. To abort a child because the mother’s circumstances are difficult is the ultimate statement of despair and is an offense against hope. It is also grossly materialistic, assuming that our personal welfare or status is our highest calling in life.
Of course, for those who do not believe in God and Heaven, we can invert this question. If Heaven is a fantasy, and if this life is all we have, then abortion steals everything a child is going to have, whether it is good or bad. This makes abortion a horribly cruel act, even for those who do not believe.
2. Poor People Can Live Meaningful Lives
Second, even if a child never escapes poverty, he or she has the opportunity to better the lives of all of those around them. All of us are called to care for others by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, comforting the afflicted, etc. The true measure of a person is not how much money or how many possessions they have, it is how much they care for those around them. Happiness is everyone’s goal, and it comes from giving, not possessing.
3. What about Birth Defects?
Third, many abortions are performed for actual or perceived birth defects, sometimes as trivial as cleft lip or palate. Many women simply believe that handicapped children are better off dead.
But we have all heard many stories about how a handicapped child has brought unexpected blessings to those parents who choose to let her live. The most common such story involves children with Trisomy 21, or Down syndrome, 90% of whom are aborted. A major 2011 study of the attitudes of people with Down syndrome and their families, published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics, revealed that 99% of parents loved their DS son or daughter, 97% were proud of them, and 79% felt their outlook on life was more positive because of them. 99% of people with Down syndrome were happy with their lives, making them the happiest identifiable group of human beings in existence. 96% of their brothers and sisters said they loved their sibling with DS, and 94% said that they were proud of their brother or sister with Down syndrome.
A child with a birth defect is still a child — no matter how serious his or her disability. With our limited intelligence and vision, we cannot even begin to perceive the intricacies of God’s plans for our own lives, let alone His intentions for a child who has not even been born yet.
4. The Slippery Slope to Infanticide
Finally, the assertion that aborted unborn babies go straight to Heaven is an excellent argument for infanticide. In fact, we occasionally hear about incidents where parents have murdered their infants or toddlers and claimed that they were “sending them to a better place” so that they could escape difficult circumstances on Earth. If we can kill an unborn child to save them from a difficult life, why can’t we kill a small child for the same reason?
In summary, Christians believe that aborted children are happy after they die, whether or not they are in the presence of God. However, aborting them is not an acceptable way of getting them there faster.
If it is not right to “send them to a better place” when they are two or three years old, it is not right to send them there by killing them before they are born.
 Aida Torres and Jacqueline Darroch Forrest. “Why Do Women Have Abortions?” Family Planning Perspectives [Alan Guttmacher Institute], July/August 1988, pages 169 to 176, Table 1.
 The Homiletic & Pastoral Review has printed several excellent discussions on the concept of Baptism of Desire. Specifically, see Father Francis C. O’Hara’s article entitled “Limbo ― in Terms of Abortion” in the January 1985 issue and the rebuttal letters by Father Thomas Cleary, Father David Altman and Richard A. Ruth in the June 1985 issue. Back issues of this monthly magazine, produced primarily to aid priests in the preparation of sermons, are commonly saved by priests in larger parishes and by offices of various Archdioceses.