One of the Catholic Church's most public and controversial activities is its ongoing campaign against abortion. Generally the public sideline it as a religious issue because it is a religious community working against it. Damian will argue below that the religious ideas behind the Catholic Church's involvement in the pro life movement should be put on the back burner and the secular ideas be brought to the fore.
|March for Life 2010|
It's a grim reality that people do chose to "terminate pregnancies". The culture of death we hear so much about is not yet winning in our society against the culture of life in which, by and large, pregnancies are still seen as a cause of rejoicing. Even when those in favour of laws which allow abortions couch them in satitized terms such as "terminations" and "procedures" the phrases send a shudder down our cultural spine which is used to supporting outflung arms of rejoicing when discussing pregnancy and unborn babies. Yet, there are cases where people chose to end these pregnancies and the only way to do so is end the life of the unborn child.
Therefore it's a grim reality that we do have to talk about abortion. People have very strong feelings about the issue. Being pro life and willing to stand up for that belief can cause estrangement from friends. Provoke confusion in other people who cannot relate such an absolute stance with the loving personalities Catholics a required to cultivate or who assume a myriad of other political beliefs with a pro lifer which bear no relation whatever to one's real political persuasions.
It's a grim reality that we need to be pragmatic about putting our message on abortion across. As Catholics it is inescapable that one of our reasons for opposing abortion is because we believe that in the act of becoming incarnate God sanctified humanity. Catholicism is imprinted on our minds, our hearts and our souls. We are made in the image and likeness of God and were given life as a gift by Him. We can't deny that this belief influences how we think.
It is however, not how most people in today's United Kingdom think so we need to engage with people on a shared axiom. The most obvious being a belief in human rights.
The necessity for the preservation of human rights is discernable by reason alone. It is true that the preservation of human rights promotes a safe society for the individual. All individuals need safety in order to flourish and their flourishing benefits other individuals and society. Human rights do not work as a protection for society unless all living humans are afforded equal rights. Human rights are not innate or self evident or magically imbued into every person, they are social necessities which society affords to all living humans for its own benefit. These rights operate in a similar way to a jenga set, piled on top of each other with those lower down being more integral to the structure of the edifice that those higher up. You can afford to take a piece from high up without the whole thing collapsing. The right to life is the table upon which the jenga tower rests. Remove that and the whole thing comes tumbling down because one cannot have any rights if one is already dead.
There is an objective definition of what is alive discernable by science. An organic entity which is capable of moving, respiring, reacting to changes in its environment, growing, reproducing, excreting and taking on nutrients. At the moment of conception a zygote is objectively and undeniable alive. There is also an objective definition of what is human: an entity with human DNA.
Those who support laws which allow abortion typically accord the right to life to an embryo at an arbitrary point such as when it gains consciousness, can feel pain or can survive independently outside of the womb. These processes are all just that: processes, whereas with life and humanity, something is either is alive or not and either human or not. Trying to map a living human onto a scale of consciousness, sensitivity to pain, ability to survive outside the womb or whatever the criteria used is would be fine if what were being calculated were also a scale, but something either is alive or it is not. With some jenga blocks you can slide them out part of the way and the tower will remain, but if you move the table from underneath it at all, it will collapse. Being a feminist, I believe in a woman's right to make decisions about her life but I know that that right is less fundamental than the unborn child's right to life.
The other problem with the pro choice practice of assigning human rights to the embryo at these arbitrary points is that humans who have been born map onto these scales lower than other humans and so would less important rights based on these same principles. Are my rights worth less when I've had a drink and so feel pain less acutely, when I'm on a life support machine and so incapable of surviving without assistance or when I'm asleep and so less concious than someone awake?
For the application of the right to life we need a decisive and objective cut off point because life itself is either on or off. The only acceptable point at which to do so it the moment of conception at which the inadequately gened gametes become human and alive.
We need to be utterly convincing on this issue because our responsibility as the Church is to draw people to God. In the context of abortion, we need either to convince people not to have one or to embrace forgiveness when they have chosen to have one. The pastoral response of love for the woman who has had an abortion (whether they were free to chose to or not) is paramount. Therefore it is these terms in which we need to present our argument because it is these terms, human rights and love, which we share with the people to whom we are talking. Bluster about the incarnation and imago Dei is meaningless to most people, but human rights is a language we all understand.