Pope Saint John Paul II and the International Theological Commission addressed this question.
The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace (Book of Wisdom 1:1-3).
I have always felt as though I have an army of souls of unborn babies supporting me in my work, interceding before God. I pray to them always to obtain the graces I need to do this work of leading souls to Christ and healing. In the beginning, it was just my own son whose presence I felt, but as the years have passed, I know there are millions of souls, a whole army, behind the work, constantly interceding and praying for the healing and reconciliation of their families.
Many, I now know by name. I even pray in front of clinics where I know they have died. It is no longer “babies die here,” but Sally’s baby, Chris, died here, or Tom’s baby, Mary. There is a personal connection to both the child and the parent.
Many argue about the status of the souls of aborted babies. Some think there is no chance that they are in heaven because they have not been baptized. But, like the Holy Innocents, I believe theirs is a baptism of blood and that Our Merciful Savior and His Mother embrace them at their death.
Pope Saint John Paul II tells those who have lost a child to abortion in The Gospel of Life:
You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord (no. 99, original edition).
I remember the first time I heard those words “nothing is definitively lost,” it stirred up in me a hope of one day being with my child. We are made for heaven, for eternal life with the Lord. Our time here is limited and thanks to His mercy we can reconcile ourselves to Him and to our children.
Years later, the Vatican changed the sentence in no. 99 of The Gospel of Life – the one that had given so much consolation to women grieving over the loss of an unbaptized child, whether through miscarriage, stillbirth or abortion. It seems that theologians thought John Paul had gone too far in stating that unbaptized children were “living in the Lord,” implying that they were in heaven.
This sentence was replaced by one that speaks of God’s mercy and yet leaves open the possibility that unbaptized infants may not be with the Lord: “To the same Father and his mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child.” It’s no small thing to hope in the Father’s mercy, of course, but the thought of even the possibility of eternal separation from one’s child is more than many mothers can bear.
Thankfully, in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI approved a statement by the International Theological Commission (ITC) titled “The Hope of Salvation for Infants who Die without Being Baptized.” Although its endnote no. 98 approves the revised language in The Gospel of Life, the “Hope of Salvation” presents numerous reasons, drawn from Scripture and Tradition, why it is reasonable to hope these children are “living in the Lord.” In addition to the Church revering the Holy Innocents as saints, the Gospels of Matthew and Mark are filled with passages in which Jesus speaks lovingly of innocent children:
“Let the children come to me … for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19:14; cf. Lk 18:15-16, ‘infants’); “Whoever receives one such in my name receives me” (Mk 9:37); “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3); “Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:4); “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mt 18:6); “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 18:10). So the Church renews her commitment to show Christ’s own love and care for children (cf.
LG 11; GS 48, 50).”
In addition, they reason that (1) God’s grace is available to everyone and (2) that God does not ask us to do the impossible:
(God did not bind His power to the sacraments, so as to be unable to bestow the sacramental effect without conferring the sacrament). God can therefore give the grace of Baptism without the sacrament being conferred, and this fact should particularly be recalled when the conferring of Baptism would be impossible.
(Hope of Salvation, no. 82)
Of course, this does not make abortions ok. Abortion is never right or ok, but it does reveal the incredible mercy of a God who died for us, a God who allows us to reclaim what is lost through sin, in the light of His forgiveness and mercy.
Infants who suffer as they die may be likened to the suffering Christ and when they die by violence, they may be said to be baptized by their blood.
“Baptism for salvation can be received either
in re or
in voto,” meaning that a desire by an adult to be baptized in efficacious. When the sacrament of baptism is conferred on a child, “the Church professes her faith and intercedes powerfully for the infant, supplying the act of faith that the infant is unable to make.” By the same token, if “an unbaptised infant is incapable of a
votum baptismi, then by the same bonds of communion the Church might be able to intercede for the infant and express a
votum baptismi [baptism by desire] on his or her behalf that is effective before God” (no. 98).
I believe I will meet my son Joshua one day, and all the other babies whose parents I have been so very blessed to meet through this work. As we are embraced by the love and mercy of God, I believe we will learn how crucial the prayers and intercession of our children have been to uniting souls to God, a God who brings good out of all things, even the most terrible sins, if we allow Him to, God
– whose desire is to reconcile us to Himself – will allow us to embrace our children and to live together for eternity praising Him for His mercy.
(reprint from Aletia article 2014)