New approach to Abortion

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Cardinal Keith O’Brien and Cardinal Cormac Murhpy-O’Connor, respectively Presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences of Scotland and England/Wales issued an open letter on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of the UK’s 1967 Abortion Act which liberalized abortion.

What’s especially interesting about this letter is the positive and respectful tone of the letter. The Bishops, while respecting the idea of “women’s choice” challenge the community to reflect if people really are making a free choice when they are constrained by their economic situation, by career pressure or family stresses.

Key to their remarks is the call to work “achievable” changes to the abortion laws in the U.K.  I remember having a conversation with Jim Hughes at the Campaign Life Coalition about such “achievable goals”.  For the coalition it’s an “all or nothing” fight.  The goal is to ban all abortions… nothing else will do. They reject the notion of “achievable goals.” I think this is a short-sighted vision which leads to inaction and many more abortions.

The advances in prenatal care are keenly observed by our citizens. Babies are viable at an earlier and earlier age. It makes sense to take advantage on this awareness and work collaboratively for some time-limits on abortion.  As the bishops state:

“While upholding the principle of the sacredness of human life, it is both licit and important for those in public life who oppose abortion on principle to work and vote for achievable incremental improvement to what is an unjust law.”

Canada’s bishops would do well to reject the hostile tactics of other groups and rather build bridges with women and men of goodwill, intent on working towards achievable goals.


  1. As a former Bonny parishioner who now attends a more traditional parish, I must say I disagree completely with this approach. Jim Hughes is right on the mark to reject this Faustian bargain and we ordinary Catholics should reject the well-meaning Cardinal’s reasoning errors when forming our own Christian conscience. Followed to their natural ends, this support of abortion time limits over the real issue of the sanctity of life undermines the divine truths of Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae and the fundamentals of the faith from the documents of Vatican II on down the centuries of Church teaching.

    The trouble with arguments about abortion time limits, is that they are inherently irrational and go against natural reason. Every Catholic must form his conscious by answering the following question: “why should it be acceptable to abort a baby today, at say, 11 weeks but not 15, 22 or 23 weeks?” The development of any organism is a continuous process and there’s no break-point in the development of a human for the acquistion of any faculty, be it sentience, viability, reason, maturity or whatever. The ONLY clearly defined point is its beginning – fertilization. To define life as a “process of becoming” which resides on a sliding sociopolitical scale trades the Catholic truth that all life is sacred from conception until natural death, for the nonsensical notion that that “there are too many abortions.” Either abortion is moral, in which case it doesn’t matter how many there are; or it is immoral, in which case there shouldn’t be any – and that is what we Catholics must campaign for.

    More simply put: if a premature baby was born at 24 weeks and someone crept into the hospital and turned it’s incubator off, that person would be tried for murder. Why then, is that same baby allowed to be killed in the womb? At Woman’s College Hospital the premature infant intensive care wing is on the 4th floor and the abortion clinic is on the 19th. So should we Catholics define life by God’s word, or by the number on the elevator button we push? These are the cold hard facts of what we are dealing with–let’s not darken God’s Gospel of Life with the situational ethics of the culture of death. We are creatures, not the creator.

    As for Cardinal O’Connor, I’d be willing to bet that Rome will quietly lower the boom on his initiative. The latest figures for the UK show more 185,000 abortions were carried out in 2004, but only 124 were carried out at 24 weeks. Focussing the Church’s efforts toward time limits that impact a fraction of one percent of the unborn belies the cardinal’s stated goals. If he really wants to save the unborn he needs to speak the truth and, if necessary, be willing to bear the cross of society’s hatred toward him for doing so. Just as Jesus had done before us. It would have been better for the him to state: “we welcome any reduction in the abortion rate – but….” (and follow it will a firm stance on abortion – what it is , how it happens and how obscene a violation of both the mother and society that it truly is).

    The Cardinal is “calling for a new approach to fighting abortion,” but where is the novelty? His approach is exactly the same as the one adopted by Cardinal Hume twenty years ago when he strongly supported David Alton’s bill to lower the abortion time limit to 18 weeks. The result of that lengthy upper-limit campaign (from 1987 to 1990) was that the abortion limit was EXTENDED UP UNTIL BIRTH for disabled babies. In practical terms there was no reduction in the stage at which other (social) abortions took place, though the law specified a new limit of 24 weeks. If there was no chance of restricting abortion twenty years ago under a conservative government there is no chance of doing it under the present abortion-committed government, with its overwhelmingly large pro-abortion majority.
    And what catholics are NOT being told in round two is this: The current proposal will make abortion EASIER below the limit, by removing the need for two doctors to sign, and effectively making it on demand de jure as well as de facto. Reducing the limit will be futile if the point as to abortion being on demand is conceded. Catholics should not forget that this abortion time-limit debate has been largely prompted by a growing unease for abortion in general– partially due the new new windows into fetal life now opened by embryology research. Who would have expected this even five years ago, let alone 10 or 30?

    As John Paul II said: “Do not be afraid…” We should not be afraid to proclaim Christ. We Catholics possess the full Truth about eternal life, so Britons should not cash in their chips now as the devil tempts them with a 20-week abortion limit, a prize which will probably land in their lap anyway as the Holy Spirit awakens that indolent society’s conscience.

    “Distinction must be made between error and the person in error.” This is another maxim that belongs to the moral legacy of John XXIII. This principle is absolutely correct, and it draws its power from the Gospel message itself: error can only be deprecated, hated, combated by the disciples of him who is the Truth; while the errant person – in his inalienable humanity – is always a living image, however rudimentary, of the incarnate Son of God; and thus he must be respected, loved, and assisted as much as possible. All of us need to pray for mothers and fathers contemplating abortion; for our priests and bishops, and for ourselves that we be vigilant and defended against by those who sow error, without judging anyone’s subjective responsibility, which is known to God alone.

    Yours in Christ,


  2. I only wish that G Shelly would start a blog – or if one exists that we would be be allowed to learn where it is. G Shelly’s comments are a welcome antidote to the touchy-feely drivel from Friar Rick.
    Yes, Father, I understand from reading your blog that your Catholic high school formation in Quebec was dreadful. But, sadly, from the comments in your blog it doesn’t appear that your seminary education did much to improve upon it. And all the magnificent teaching of JPII and Benedict seems to have passed right over your head. Not unlike so many other priests today, unfortunately.

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