by Murray White
THE CHURCH must be forgiving towards women who have had abortions, the bishops conference has urged.
In a joint statement this week to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act coming into force, the bishops' acknowledged the efforts of families and organisations "to support those women who refuse the option of abortion, and to help the healing an forgiveness of those who have consented to abortion".
Nicholas Coote, Assistant General Secretary of the Bishops' Conference, said that the statement marked a more determined effort by the Church in this country to tackle the trauma of women after they have had abortions.
He explained that women who have had abortions "need space to heal themselves. not just sacramentally". There was concern that the Church had placed too much emphasis on addressing the sin in the past,
whilst neglecting the psychological impact of abortions, he said.
The softening of the bishops' pastoral line came as a Gallup Poll showed a majority of British people still oppose abortion on demand, for social reasons, or if the baby is of an unwanted sex. But according to the Gallup survey, commissioned by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), around three-quarters accept abortion when the child is handicapped, and more than 90 per cent, in the case of rape.
Phyllis Bowman, National Director of SPUC. welcomed the fact that most Britons oppose social abortions. "Naturally, we are always saddened that such a large majority support abortion in cases where the baby is handicapped," she said.
Catholics. Free Church members and Muslims were most opposed to abortion of any kind, according to the survey, which found that opposition increased in line with the frequency of church attendance.
Responding to the poll, a group of 50 MPs of all parties and faiths. led by Conservative MP Ann Winterton, Chair of the parliamentary pro-life group, Catholic Labour MP Joe Benton, and Ulster Unionist MP, Rev Martin Smyth, this week called on the Government to review abortion law.
Christopher Whitehouse, parliamentary assistant to Mrs Winterton, said them was "a growing body of opinion concerned that abortion is available on demand. The law has not operated as people think it should."
The bishops, at their Low Week meeting last week, praised the wdrk of British pro-life organisations for their "long and patient efforts" in working hard to change the law and persuade public opinion that change is necessary.
This contrasts with the antipathy the hierarchy showed to last month's forays by the militant US anti-abortion group Operation Rescue.
"The feeling is that if you should demonstrate, do it with dignity. The way forward is to work with the law, to build a consensus," said Mr Coote. He said it was a "mistake" to think that abortion had only been around for 25 years.
In expressing "deep sadness" that there have now been 3.7 million abortions in Britain, the bishops warned that the individual interests of women cannot take priority over the common good.