The Pope forgives abortions as the US government limits reproductive rights

AP

Pope Francis just extended permission to all priests of the Catholic Church to absolve those who have had abortions. Historically, the institution regarded abortion as an unforgivable sin. 

Abortions are "gravely contrary to the moral law," the Catechism of the Catholic Church states. "The Church imposes the canonical penalty of excommunication for this crime against human life."

The Pope first offered absolution for abortions in September 2015 in anticipation of the Jubilee of Mercy, a year in which the church offers forgiveness. At the time, Pope Francis argued for a radically different approach to people who've had abortions, saying many had "no other option." 

As the Jubilee of Mercy came to a close on Nov. 20, 2016, he declared that absolution for abortions shall be granted indefinitely.

"I henceforth grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion," Pope Francis wrote in his Apostolic Letter on Sunday, published by the Vatican Monday. "The provision I had made in this regard, limited to the duration of the Extraordinary Holy Year, is hereby extended, notwithstanding anything to the contrary."

The Pope still maintains that abortion is a sin. He stressed, however, that it isn't beyond forgiveness.

Pope Francis delivers a speech in St. Peter's Basilica, the Vatican, on Nov. 19.  Gregorio Borgia/AP

"I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life," he wrote. "In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God's mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father."

Meanwhile, President-elect Donald Trump continues to paint abortion in a less forgivable light. Trump — who has said women who have abortions should be "punished" — has also suggested there should be a repeal of Roe v. Wade, the seminal 1973 Supreme Court case that grants people in the United States the legal right to have abortions.

The Pope's announcement also comes at a time when reproductive rights have been so substantially and systematically curtailed by state laws that many are considering pre-Roe v. Wade alternatives: D.I.Y. abortions. As restrictive U.S. laws have forced abortion clinics to close at record rates — thereby limiting people's access to safe abortions — Google searches for self-induced abortion have gone up, according to analysis by the New York Times.