Page 4, 21st August 1970

21st August 1970
Page 4
Page 4, 21st August 1970 — Dividing the forces of righteousness by Norman St. John Stevas

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Dividing the forces of righteousness by Norman St. John Stevas

LAST week the CivritoLic HERALD carried news of the formation of a new society pledged to secure the repeal of the Abortion Act. It has been founded by Professor Scarisbrick of Warwick University and others. Of course, anyone is free to form any society they wish, but I think it is very foolish to divide the minority forces who are working to secure some return to morality in this field.

Professor Scarisbrick makes the point that my campaign is not directed towards the repeal of the Abortion Act and neither is that of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. That is perfectly true and the reason why that is the case is that we have come quite independently to the same conclusion.

In the present moral climate in Britain it would be quite impracticable to secure the repeal of the Act. The fact is that, whether we like it or not, the view of the majority in England (and it includes even some Catholic Members of Parliament) favours abortion in certain circumstances. Had I directed my campaign to a total repeal of the Act it would have got nowhere.

Nor am I convinced on wider jurisprudential grounds that a repeal would be desirable at this time. Laws enforcing moral precepts must be supported by a corresponding moral consensus in the community. If that is lacking the law will fail. If the Abortion Act was in fact repealed today, there would be a mass resort to back street abortionists. This would be both a moral and a social evil.

My campaign therefore is directed to two ends. First I wish to remove the abuses that have arisen under the present Act. To do this there must be amending legislation. There is little chance of getting such legislation without a preceding full scale inquiry. I have concentrated on obtaining this. I have worked for it for more than three years.

When the Abortion Act passed through the Commons in 1967, only 29 Members of Parliament voted against it. Last month over 250 Members signed my motion calling for an inquiry. This could never have been achieved without appealing to middle-of-the-road opinion. If Professor Scarisbrick put down a motion in the House of Commons calling for a repeal of the Abortion Act, I do not think he would get even 50 supporters.

The second aim of the campaign is to create a moral climate in Britain that will give a high value to human life. To advance this end I founded the Human Rights Society, whose aim is broader than that of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, which is concerned mainly with abortion. Human Rights considers the problem of the right to life under all its aspects.

We arc interested in the issue of the death penalty: we are opposed to euthanasia: we want to promote equal rights for illegitimate children: we wish to see a new attitude and adequate care for the dying. The principal aim of Human Rights is educational. We are not concerned with legislation as such, but in creating an informed opinion on all the issues which cluster round life and death. Only if this second aim succeeds can we expect to have moral as opposed to immoral legislation.

So I say to Professor Scarisbrick, do not divide the forces of righteousness. Remember that in this matter you need not only the simplicity of the dove, but the wisdom of the serpent. Do not come blundering in where angels are tiptoeing forward.

If you do, you will do much more harm than good. Your zeal no doubt is great, but prudence remains a virtue. Those of us who have been working for years in this field know exactly what is possible and what is not.

Support from Jews

I WAS very satisfied by the meeting of our delegation 1of both Houses of Parliament to meet Sir Keith Joseph and discuss the abortion law the other week. Sir Keith is an orthodox Jew and therefore has a high appreciation of the value of human life.

1 have noticed in the Commons that even Jews who no longer practise their religion have a great sense of the value of life and are uneasy about the working of the Abortion Act. Practising Jews have been amongst my strongest supporters, and the Chief Rabbi has put our Christian leaders to shame.

When I formed the Human Rights Society, he was the only religious leader in the country who gave his open and full support. Our delegation included Lady Wootton from the Upper House. She is a most remarkable woman, one of the best brains in Parliament, and her writings have greatly influenced thought on crime and punishment in England and the United States. She was primarily responsible for the report on Cannabis recently published in England, which is a model of clarity and sound reasoning.

Anyone who wants to understand the drug problem should read this works Interestingly enough, Lady Wootton is an agnostic and yet is as strongly opposed to abortion as any Catholic. One of the things that has convinced me that the present struggle is more than sectarian has been the support given to me by people of no religion. Lady Wootton is one, Mr. Leo Abse. M.P., is another. I am indeed grateful for their dedication and enthusiasm.

Disgrace to Catholic community

MEANWHILE Sir John Peel's committee on the morality and legality of experimenting with foetuses has started its work and appealed for evidence. What has the Catholic body in England done about this? As far as I know, precisely nothing.

The bishops have sent no evidence: not one of the ubiquitous commissions that have proliferated since Vatican II have sent in a word. What a disgrace this is to the Catholic Community.

I hope that rank and file Catholics will stir up the Hierarchy to remedy this grave omission, which amounts to dereliction of moral duty. Sir John's report will influence opinion on this matter throughout the world. I hope it will not offer yet another occasion for Catholic failure to contribute to the moral welfare of the worl1 in which we live.

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