Page 3, 25th January 1980

25th January 1980
Page 3
Page 3, 25th January 1980 — WE, THE Catholic Arch bishops of Great Britain, address this

Report an error

Noticed an error on this page?
If you've noticed an error in this article please click here to report it.


People: John Paul, Even


Related articles

Building A Pro-life Movement

Page 6 from 26th December 2008

The Seven Bishops On Abortion

Page 3 from 25th January 1980

Bishops' Joint Blast As Battle For Life Rages

Page 1 from 25th January 1980

We Cannot Defeat The Culture Of Death On Our Own

Page 6 from 30th July 1999

Abortion And Pogrom

Page 4 from 8th July 1977

WE, THE Catholic Arch bishops of Great Britain, address this

joint statement on abortion to our fellow Catholics, to our fellow Christians and indeed to our fellow citizens of every religion and none.

We speak in defence of life against the evil of abortion. We speak in a society where all enjoy a freedom which is rightly prized and which was affirmed by the Catholic Church in the Second Vatican Council: a full freedom of religious belief and practice, and a freedom to seek the truth about everything including moral matters. We live in a society where many differing moral and political opinions are conscientiously held and pursued in practice. We make no attempt to override the consciences of our fellow citizens. We do not seek to have all Catholic moral teaching imposed by law, or even adopted as public policy.

But we too have the right, as members of this pluralistic society, to appeal to the consciences not only of our fellowCatholics, but also of our fellowcitizens and our political leaders and representatives. We too have consciences. And we cannot in conscience remain silent while the most basic human rights of hundreds of thousands of our fellow human beings are ignored and overriden by the law and, increasingly, by the public policies and everyday practices of our country. These developing human lives may be unborn and silent but they are already our neighbours, living in our midst and are part of our human family. They need to be defended.

An issue of basic human rights and dignity

The Church speaks out against abortion, as it has from the beginning, because it acknowledges the human right: and dignity of all, including the unborn, and is committed to their defence. There is here a crucial point of principle. It has everything to do with the intrinsic value and inalienable rights of each individual. It is a matter of respect for our neighbour.

Our stand against abortion is one aspect of our stand against all practices that degrade human rights tnd dignity. Scottish bishops have made many statements, both individually and collectively, on the need to aid developing nations, on social justice :it home and abroad. on unemployment problems and on help or the needy and deprived_ The bishops of England and Wales issued in 1971 a major statement 1,11 Moral questions which ranged over Christian living. race relations, violence and peace. Since then the bishops have tackled the housing problem. disarmament and many current social issues. The bishops have tried to derend the insulted, the despised, the disadvantheed. With other Christians we hase resisted racism. We have stressed the brotherhood of man and rejected any discrimination based on colour or race.

The whole of Christian social teaching can he seen as an appeal to the conscience of the relatively welloff and powerful to give practical

recognition to the humanity and rights of the poor and the weak, And that social teaching proclaims as well the rights of minorities against majorities who treat them with unfair indifference or hostility.

More often than not the expected child is wanted and welcomed by parents and family and is later received without question by the community at large. But when we look at the law of OW land, when we reflect on the practices which result in oser 140,000 registered abortions a year. when vse note the changing attitudes of Many who work in health care. we feel obliged to say unborn children in Great Britain are today a legally disadvantaged clam: they are cal:: they are a minority. So they arc entitled to be defended by anyone of humane conseience, hut also. particularly, hy, those who. like us, profess that every human being without exception has the unique dignityof an eternal destiny..

Protecting the innocent against direct attacks What we have to say about abortion is consistent with the whole Christian teaching about the right of the innocent to live. That teaching is central to our civilisation. Without it, no other human rights are secure. Sometimes there are occasions when individuals or nations, in self-defence, may rightly use force, even deadly force, against anyone who by his own use of a similar degree of force is unjustly attacking them. But the right of self-defence is limited: it never entitles us directly to kill the innocent, that is those who are not contributing to the unjust attack.

I his is why the Second Vatican Council emphatically declared that every warlike act directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or large areas ss ith their inhabitants is a crane. [he reason for that teaching is that in such act. because indiscriminate, would inevitably involve a direct attack on the life of innocent inhabitants of these cities or other areas.

The Catholic teaching on abortion is no more than one application of the fundamental teaching that the innocent may not be directly :mocked.

Each of the unborn is 'a unique, human individual

Even before the processes of human reproduction became well

understood, Christian teaching always regarded the unborn, at all stages of pregnancy, as possessed of a distinct, new life which noone could rightly seek to destroy. For many centuries, Christians like others took for granted scientific and philosophical theories which suggested that the newly-conceived human being did not become formed or ensouled until several weeks after conception. So in those times the .ecclesiastical penalties and censures for causing an abortion early in a pregnancy were often less severe than those for abortion in later pregnancy. But throughout those centuries, the Church never wavered in its teaching that abortion, at whatever stage of pregnancy, is seriously wrongful. Today the course of human development is much better understood. Modern science enables us to see better than ever before the fundamental significance of the time of conception.

For at the time 01:conception there conies into existence a new tile. There is a union in sshich a living cell from the father fertiliees a living cell froni the mother. That union. a transmission of life. is the beginning of new life. Usually this new life is and will always remain a single indisidual: sometimes. in was s not fully understood, there mas then or a few days later he division resulting for example in identical twins. But scientists can tell us that. from the time of conception the features which distinguish us from each of our parents — the colour of our eyes, our shape of face, and so on — are all laid doe ii on the "genetic code" that comes into existence then. Lach such new lire is the life not of a potential human being but of a human being with potential. The deselopment of this potential is normalk a process of profound continuity_ No one can point tit say. the fourth week of that process, or the eighth, the twelfth. the twentieth, the twenty-fourth or twenty-eighth, and say "That is when I began being me." Birth itself is certainly an event in the life-story of each one of us. But for the beginning of that story sse must look to the time of our conception.

The unborn child has not yet deseloped all its potentialities, and it is dependent on its mother. But the newly-born intim( too is dependent and even adults have not yet developed all their potentialtiitierse. Scientists

tists can tell us ore and io

details of the ways in which the bodily organisation of the growing child in the womb is, from the beginning. biologically distinct and clearly separate Iron) the pregnant woman's body. which is physicalls contributing to, sustaining and embracing her child's. It makes 11011SCI1NC to speak of this living and developing being as simply a part of the woman's body _ Medical technology can reveal to us the early. stages of the child's heartbeat. brainwaves, muscular movement, sensitivity to touch all within a less weeks of conception. We helieve that all this is becoming more and more widely known. Certninly it deserves to he known. or the development :ind essential completion of the bodily eonstitution ot the child iii the womb is one of the wonders of this created universe. And this knowledge helps to break down the prejudice that the human community consists only of those already born or siable. That prejudice is the root of the ne■xly respectable yet still unjust discrimination tshich is ahortion.

Abortion is unfair discrimination

Much is made in society today of woman's rights and within the abortion debate much is made of a woman's rights over her own body. No doubt we all have certain moral rights but, of course, no rights are unlimited. The question of a woman's rights in respect of her own body is too often put as a one-sided slogan which is deceptive and which ignores consideration for others and for the bodily rights of others. Many responsibilities arise from the need to respect the rights of others.

Since men and women have rights in respect of their own bodies, children have such rights too. It does not matter whether we call our children "neonates" (the inedical term or those just born). or "fetuses" (the medical term for the unborn in midor late-pregnailes ). or "embryos" (a medical term or the unborn in all earlier stages pregnancy): the lact remains that the young and grossing orlspring of human parents are children. Unborn chiklren have rights in respect of their own bodies, even while the are enclosed within and sustained las their mother's bodies.

kVhat is their right? It k the right not to he made the object of attack. So the course of their development before birth must not be interfered with hy any procedure or technical process carried out with the intention of preventing the continuation of that development. When we speak of abortion and condemn an attempt to procure a. we are referring to any procedure or technique which is adopted with that intention. Interference wah the unborn child just in order to get rid of it would ohs iiiusls he abortion, even it one did not positively %5 Inn to kill it hie ailed regardless of the certainty or risk that it would thereby die. If a teelinique or device aehieves such cites:is tI ter eonee it is in tact an abortitheient. an abortion-device. even if o is often called by other names NIICh us C111111.11CCPIIVC“ or

extractior" ;Intl so on.

Si mit: abortions. perhaps mans. appear to he performed for reasons which are basicalls selfish or even irked. Others are the results of strong social and psychological pressure. Lack of support, or even hostility. front the father of the child, especially if the pregnancy is seemas a lailure in the use of contraception, may leave the mother abandoned and despairing. A similar attitude of recrimination from parents or friends can drise a lonely unmarried girl to a tiled deeision which in her heart she does not really want. In mans such eases it is difficult to think of iihortion as in any full sense a free choice on the part of the molten iigainst her defenceless unborn child and also against her deeper instincts of presersation and love for her offspring. Honest recognition by others of their duties and responsibilities towards the pregnant 'soma!' and her child would Linen remove the pressures driving towards abortion.

Termination of pregnancy by induced abortion means death for the unborn. It means killing. That is what is offered as the solution to problems of inconvenience or embarrassment, or of some risk to the mental or physical well-being of the mother or perhaps of her other children. To condemn such a solution as we do is not to minimise those problems. But we cannot shirk the fact that bringing up children after their birth can likewise cause problems of inconvenience, embarrassment, poverty and risk to their parents and brothers and sisters. The "moral" arguments for abortion can equally be used as arguments for infanticide, for killing children after birth. That is the logic which the pagan world before Christ followed to its conclusion: the "exposure", that is killing by act or neglect of unwanted or inconvenient children after birth. It has to be recognised that neither birth, nor viability, makes any real difference to the intrinsic rights of a human being. Our civilisation still makes a moral judgement about our responsibilities to young children after birth. We all say that they are entitled to care and rescue even at the cost of hard and thankless work or even risk. The same judgement has to be made about our responsibilities to those other children still unborn but who differ only in the degree of their development.

Thew eorsiderations of justice are real and valid. We realise that to many people they ss ill seem hard and unfeeling. 'The pregnant girl or woman experiences her situation with all its difficulties and ma see her unborn child as a threat rather than as a living hilinan being. Tie PSC inlinnig whom she ale assure ol her present problems which mas say out or

practical me Will res l relief and support. The unborn child. on the other hand, remains unseen and unheard, with a lil'e and destins which

only the future Call bring to It takes a vigorous effort of imagination and of clear, "hard" thinking to appreciate that the unhorn child has a Cia1111 Which calmoi he outweighed bs inconsemeeces and risks and a ale whisk CII111101 I :tirly be sacrificed or reasons health: the unborn ehild has a claim ss (inch calls for the respect due to a living human being.

The Handicapped Are Entitled to Live But what about a child who will or may be born handicapped in mind or body? Here again we must be clear. No one has a right to kill another human on the basis that that other would be "better off dead". Once we see that the child before birth is not essentially different from the child after birth, we are also forced to conclude that selective abortion, that is killing unborn children to save them from a life of handicap, is also to be condemned. Such selective abortions are equivalent to asserting the essential rightness of euthanasia — the killing of the aged, infirm or handicapped, with or without their consent, because someone judges that they would be better of dead. And these abortions are profoundly at odds with the caring work for handicapped children and adults to which so many of our fellow Christians and fellow citizen. have devoted and arc devoting so much of their lives. Many handicapped people are themselves deeply opposed to abortion, having discovered for themselves the inner richness of human existence.

Particularly hard cases Rape: We speak with equal feeling about the bodily rights of women and of their unborn, perhaps unwanted offspring.

People, sometimes argue that abortions are justified if a child is conceived as a consequence of rape. Who can adequately express the outrage suffered us the victim of a rape? A ss onion is cell:mils entitled to defend ten sell' against the COatilltarig erred, ol such nii attack and to seek immediate medical assistance with a slew to preventing conception, In a sinall number of cases.

L onception may in fact 1.1 I . I hen there exists .1 new being who indis iduality. distinct from each of its parents and from oily of their cells, we time already described. Trom that time. the requirements of the moral lass. transcending even the most II nderstandable emotionul reactions, are clear: the newly-conceived child C annot rightly he made to stiffer the penalty. of death for a man's violation of a woman.

Danger Of Death Of The Mother. C:aholie teaching on abortion accords I ully ti h principles of moral reasonableness. I lir abortion that must he judged always unacceptable to the upright moral conscience is the direct ahortion that we described earliei (pant 16): those procedures and techniques that are intended to stop the unborn hild•s continuing development. We are not speaking of eases where the interference with the unborn child is in) lad an unintended, though foreseen, side-effect of procedures necessary to save the mother from some underlsine or supervening condition that threatens her life. For example, a treatment or eancer of the uterus can he justified Cs.cil if it also Lemmas a misearriage. lActi in such eases. however, it is the doctor's duty to regard both the mother and the unborn child as his patients. and to try to sustain the pregnancy so long IIS there is any reasonable prospect of saving both of them.

If there remain any cases. which in contempoeiry medicine are certainly exceedinels rare or perhaps esen nonexistent, in which the life of the mother could not he saved without a direse iiisiriiont. 1 sensitise and upright conscience must in these cases be guided by the fundamental principles ss hich govern all these matters: innocent life is not to be directly.' attacked: the •unhorn child has an intrinsic riele to life.

I nn suell a situation. the law of God, which is eiso the rule of reason, makes csceptionally high demands. In real I irming that lass we are riot asserting that the lass i.e. the land should treat its criminal the acts ot someone ss ho, in that situation, does not acknowledge of does trot live up Is) those demands. 1-10( we point out, once again. that what we have to say about aboitioni is but one application of wider principles. The principles that the t hurch proeleinis arc not fin "time ideal or theoretical world or for humanity in the abstract, They speak diresa ly to the conseienees or men area women in this ss odd. I hey are principles that can on occasion demand heroic self-sacrifice of hidis iduals and nations. Tor there are situations. or example in war. in Os in I -tiVre!TICC COW(' 110L be Ci fcc i is t• 55 iiliOiIt the commission of acts ss loch must nes er be done, ',hawser the consequences. Innocent hostages. or example. must never be killed. And has ing said all that, we may add that the toils practical and pressing problem iii modern Britain is not the tins propimion of cases in which the mother s life is in jeopardy. The real problem is rather this. The Sas) Himont s of abortions carried out in Great Britain represent a massive and growing trivialisation ol human life. an increasing acceptance ol the practice of killing at tic! I 1;11Ill.

land should coincide in every respect with the moral law. And, in relation to abortion, we have just mentioned (para 24) a situation in which the requirements of the criminal law might reasonably be less demanding than those of a truly moral conscience. As Catholic archbishops of Great Britain do not intend now to make complete commentary on eith the present or the ideal state the law on abortion. But we w say three things: a 11

aile ioniplteisnti that aruree basic law o w

every other field: innocent life is to e protected hs the criminal law a d public policy: no law shou d etenitenance discrimination by I e strong against the weak.

(2) The present law, the Aborti n Act 1967, is erossIs unjust. It permi s the killing of the unborn because their handicap or even because some "substantial risk" that they nit y suffer some "serious handicap". t wrongly presumes that such perm e can he treated as if they were "bett r off dead".

(3) The Abortion Act's eriterio or kissful abortion is essentially t same criterion as any doctor wool use in any operation when only o patient is at stake; "Will operati ins olve greater risks than n operating'!" Thus, apart from som • extra paperwork, our law seems to pi I abortion on a par with cosmeti operatious. It treats the presence of

me Iiiiman heing as insignificant, treats the very life and existence t that new human being as out-v, eighe I in sal lie by another humalbeing perhaps slight or passing oniems o physical or mental well-being.

In both these ways, the Abortio Act 1967 departs fundamentally Iron Ike most basic tradition of our law: th innocent and weak. as much as th powerful and healthy, are entitled t the equal protection of the law.

Conccience And Medical Practic Ilaving spoken about the existing la as it affects the unborn and those wh lance LO deal with them, we must sa something about the way this law tending in practice to affect medica personnel because of thei conscientiously-held beliefs about th rights of the innocent to live. It is har to deny. that there are talented an devoted men and women who are, in effect, tieing debarred. or at leas seriously deterred. From pursuing thei chosen speciality. not only in obstetrics and gynaecology but 1 other medical spheres closely relate to the abortion procedure. Simpl reform of the conscientious objection clauses of the Abortion Ac 1967 would not be enough to put a end to this deplorable development. Positive administrative action should

be instituted both in tarls that h and the

community services ue h

be instituted both in tarls that h and the

community services ue h

manythousands Lilleath engaged arc not indirectly induced to act in conflict ss it h their deepest convictions. Employing authorities should not require participation in the abortion procedure as a necessars. condition of employment.

Positive responsibilities of Christians and o Society A stand against abortion is stand for humanity. It therefor involves a stand for women particularly those who are or wh may be pregnant. Whether or not her pregnancy results from he inadequate awareness of the moral significance of sexual intercourse, a girl or woman should always be given the practical help she may need to carry through her pregnancy. She should be given it unstintingly and without moral censure. The help may include counselling and advice, for example about the possible adoption of her baby, or about bringing up a one-parent family. But it must always be given in a way that fully respects her freedom and responsibility.

Very necessary and very encouraging are the efforts of those voluntary associations in which Catholics and non-Catholics work Ltipether i LI atlack abortion at its roots I) ‘ pi os icling moral and material suppint to any and every mother-tobe who is willing to allow her baby to hi: born and not aborted. Many of our own dioceses have pledged themselves to provide such help. confidentially and :it no expense to the woman: this help includes, if she so ishes, the care for her 'baby after birth. But more, much more, will need to be done, by Catholics and by all '5 ho care about mother and child alike. ( iosernments and local authorities. too. are not entitled to look to abortion to relief them from their responsibilities. for example to tztekle the problems caused by . shortage of housing. Still less may they treat abortion as it "solution" to problems of overcrowded schooling. one parent families, and juvenile delinquency. Calculations of cost eflectiveness and drives for economy must :ilways he subordinate to basic orinLiples iti human eights.

A word of encouragement To all who arc working against abortion and for the life and future of the unborn and their distressed mothers, we say: Du not be discouraged. The laws, practices and opinions of our society may seem, at times, all too firmly set in favour of abortion. Substantial reform may at times seem beyond reach — let alone Inc full justice which ;oil seek. But NOW ssork is roil in vain. At the very least a pi esers es our society from Calor and more rapid corruption. At the N.en, least it also preserses for e%eryone an Option that would others% ise become stifled aud lorgiaten: the option ,,f pregnant si omen and their relatives and friends, ot doctors. or nurses. of social workers to respect innocent life and to refuse to take part in its destruction, And at best, your efforts may well be crowned with success. Success has so 01 ten appeared to social reformers to be beyond their reach, almost up to the moment when thus attained it.

A call to commitment By practising and condoning abortion, our society has lost its way. Each one of us must ask what we have done and are doing to help show the way to those of our fellow citizens who have lost their bearings in this matter. If we arc in medical practice, nursing or social work, have we really stood firm? If we arc teachers, have we taught without compromise? If we are young and eager for justice, have we extended our concern to our neighbours, the unborn? Very many of us must now recognise that we have not done enough. Now is the time for those of goodwill to commit themselves, in one way or another, to work against abortion and for the life and future of the unborn and their distressed mother.

I o our fellow Catholics sot' can add this: when we acknowledge and respect the sanctity of human life we :ire acknowledging both the unique sillue of every hu Milt{ individual made in the image and likeness of God. and the &minion of God over that life and Os el its creation and its ending. Work .ipaiiist abortion and for the life of the tinhorn and their distressed mothers is a work of true charity, of everlasting eieniticance. As Pope John Paul IL in his first encyclical. Redemptor !lominis. recalls (para 16) we must all bt: Mindful of the scene of the last ludeement according to the words ot Christ related in Matthew's Gospel (Matt 25:31-46). Going beyond those words to their wider meaning. we must suppose that when that day of the Lord

just i

ot rd " ice. .onlront those is iiiotho Mercy or repentance killed the innocent unborn. But he will also addles, those who tried to save the lives al those innocents. And to them, we inas surely suppose. the Lord will stty: -Inasmuch as you defended the klast of these. you defended me."

blog comments powered by Disqus