Story at a glance

  • The New Orlean Archdiocese said the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is “morally compromised” due to abortion-derived cell lines.
  • Scientists have been using cells from embryonic tissue for decades.

As pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson achieves emergency approval for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate, the Archdiocese of New Orleans has warned its parishioners against using the vaccine, saying it is diametrically opposed to the ethics and values of the Catholic Church.

In an announcement released on Feb. 26, the New Orleans Archdiocese said that in accordance with guidance from the Vatican, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and The National Catholic Bioethics Center, the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is considered “morally compromised” due to the cell line sourced from aborted fetuses that composes the vaccine. 

Abortion and pregnancy termination has long been opposed by the Catholic Church.

The New Orleans Archdiocese noted that Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines are approved for usage since they don’t rely on cell lines derived from abortions.

“We maintain that the decision to receive the COVID-19 vaccine remains one of individual conscience in consultation with one’s healthcare provider. We also maintain that in no way does the Church’s position diminish the wrongdoing of those who decided to use cell lines from abortions to make vaccines,” the statement reads. “In doing so, we advise that if the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine is available, Catholics should choose to receive either of those vaccines rather than to receive the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of its extensive use of abortion-derived cell lines.”

This follows the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s statement issued in December 2020 that contradict the Archdiocese of New Orleans’s statement, saying that it is morally acceptable for Catholics to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have been manufactured with cell lines from aborted fetuses. 

The Vatican then justified its decision by saying that reducing the spread of COVID-19 is an urgent global priority, and for Catholics to be vaccinated against the pathogen will not constitute any cooperation with abortion.

“In any case, from the ethical point of view, the morality of vaccination depends not only on the duty to protect one's own health, but also on the duty to pursue the common good,” the statement reads. “In the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination, especially to protect the weakest and most exposed.”

Church officials do note, however, that this permission does not act as a stance of support for abortion. The note also writes that receiving a vaccine dose must be consensual, and those who opt to forgo it for ethical reasons must continue to practice public health protocols. 

The usage of aborted fetus-derived cell lines in vaccine production is a popular talking point among certain religious groups and anti-vaccination communities. 

Gigi Gronvall, an immunologist and associate professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says she first became aware of the issue in 2009 during the H1N1 pandemic.

In research and testing new medicines, scientists want to formulate a medication that can interact well with the human body, and using tissue from abortions is one of the most biologically similar environments. This makes medicines more tolerable for the human body.

Gronvall clarifies that many treatments and vaccines, including the COVID-19 candidates, utilize cell lines derived from aborted fetuses. These cells are decades old, and are immortalized for continued proliferation. 

“The things that make them problematic are some of the things that make them good cell lines,” she said.

Published on Mar 02, 2021