I don’t normally discuss abortion in the context of religion – not because it doesn’t have a worthy place in the debate, but because I believe that abortion concerns the entire of humanity, not just those members who may belong to a specific creed. We all have a right – and duty – to be concerned with the effects on abortion on our world and that concern doesn’t have to stem from any specific religious belief.
That said, it is difficult to ignore those who campaign on a platform that specifically tries to found a pro-choice argument within a religious context. By bringing religion into the debate, they leave themselves open to some very serious questions concerning faith as well as humanity.
There is one main group which has been building its own momentum recently in the hope of gaining support on this ground and it might be time to put some of its claims under the microscope.
So step forward, US-based group, Catholics For Choice.
Catholics For Choice is an unusual group in that the campaigning brief on its website sets out its intention – to ensure that all men and women have “access to safe and legal abortion services”
Leaving aside for one minute the disarming misnomer that is “safe and legal abortion” – abortion is always risky for the woman and always fatal for her unborn child – the deeper problem here is the misleading claim that it is feasible to be a Catholic while campaigning for abortion.
At this point, I should say that I am by no means a Catholic apologist – the Catholic Church gets some things wrong, as does every other large organisation prone to human fallibility. But Christianity lies at the heart of the Catholic Church – and with it comes the universally comforting figure of Jesus Christ who was no slouch when it came to protecting the weak from those who could do them harm. It is this type of Christian humanity which is so alarmingly ignored or subverted by Catholics For Choice.
The Refusal To Engage
But before we get on to an analysis of their claims, I would point out that I have tried to engage with Catholics For Choice on Twitter – most notably when they retweeted a post calling for legislation on Ireland’s X Case. At that time, I pointed out to them that any legislation for the X Case would have to introduce abortion up to birth due to the fact that no time limits were introduced. I received no response.
More recently, I logged onto their Facebook page and saw that they were asking people to follow them on Twitter As I already follow them, I left a comment on their page in the hope that they would begin some sort of fruitful discussion so that I could at least understand where they were coming from. I explained my position, and asked how they could reconcile their beliefs with the strong pro-life ethos that pervades the Judeo-Christian belief, and Catholic teaching. Specifically, I mentioned the words of Jeremiah 1:5 – “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.”
I asked then, and still wonder now, how it can be that this God who formed each individual in the womb – indeed, knew each one beforehand – could somehow give authority for that life to be extinguished while still in the womb? I received no response – none, that is except for the removal of every comment box on their facebook page. Catholics For Choice, it would seem, are happy to support Choice, so long as they don’t have to defend it to anyone.
Hence this post.
Let’s move on to what the Group’s website and publications tell us – seeing as they refuse to discuss their position.
The Problem With “Personhood”
They publish an informative little leaflet entitled “Truth About Catholics And Abortion”, available here. I should say, it’s not informative about the actual truth about Catholics and abortion, but it does give an interesting insight into the way the group formulates its thinking. For example, much is made of the history of the Church’s teaching on this issue, the fact that “personhood” was not attributed to the foetus in the first trimester by Saints such as Augustine and Aquinas. On this point they are correct, although they fail to mention that both of those saints lived a few centuries before developments such as 4D imaging, or modern embryology. They couldn’t watch this video. Thanks to our current level of scientific knowledge, we know that the unborn child is a human life from the moment of conception. He or she possesses 100% of their human DNA at that stage. Nothing further is added but time. There is no doubt but that a new human life is present. Abortion ends that life.
Hasn’t it occured to them too, that any group clinging to the out-dated notion that the unborn child is not a “person” is on a sticky wicket in the light of human rights abuses of the past? Women, African-Americans and various other groups have been denied the privilege of “personhood” throughout history – often with devastating results.
The only suitable criterion in this case is human life because it does not involve any degree of philosophical debate regarding notional ideas such as “personhood” or “ensoulment” or any other subjective consideration. Biology is very clear on when human life begins – sperm meets egg, fertilisation takes place and an entirely new, never-to-be-repeated human life comes into being.
Few things in each human life will be certain – but we can be confident that each life begins at that specific moment. Catholics For Choice skip over this fact with bizarre indifference to this very basic fact of life.
The Question Of Papal Infallibility
Throughout the various explanations in this pamphlet, there is clear evidence of the group’s eagerness to convince the reader that it is possible to follow the precepts of the Catholic Church while still advocating the right to choose abortion.
For example, a surprising amount of importance is attributed to the fact that the late Pope John Paul II chose not to apply the doctrine of infallibility to his papal missal Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel Of Life) in 1995, following discussions with then-Cardinal Ratzinger, now-Pope Benedict XVI. This is seen to be have immense significance, despite the fact that papal infallibility has only been applied three times in the history of the Church. Yet Catholics For Choice proclaim this as almost a given sign that abortion is a take-it-or-leave-it aspect of the Catholic belief.
We are told that the Second Vatican Council published a Doctrine on Religious Freedom, calling on Catholics to respect other faith positions – which is all very well, until we come across the pointed comment telling us that the Catholic Church is more conservative than those “other faiths” when it comes to abortion. We’re not told what those hip and trendy “other faiths” are, but it doesn’t really matter. Remember, we’re still reading from the “Truth About Catholics And Abortion”. Although I’m starting to think it should be entitled “The Truth About The New Church I Want You To Join” – because it doesn’t seem to have any interest in the Catholic Church or what it actually teaches.
But in case we’re feeling left out, we’re told that “many Catholics” don’t support the Church’s official position on abortion. Well, that’s alright then…alright, until you remember that we’re not talking about a group where serious issues of life and death are decided by a show of hands. To even insert such a statement into a pamphlet that purports to express what this group is about says much, and none of it is very good.
By this reasoning, the Church would never adhere to a position on anything because there will always, ALWAYS be members of that Church who don’t agree with one or more of its precepts. I also find it quite bizarre that a group calling themselves Catholics would so randomly overlook any mention of the Holy Spirit, who guides and inspires the Church in issues of faith and morals.
To it’s credit, the leaflet espouses a desire to help many people who are living in poor social conditions, and perhaps this is the saddest aspect of the group’s existence. It talks about the need to protect women and children but appears blind to the fact that the fundamental right is the right to life. Without first safeguarding that right, there will not be a need to even think about anything else.
A Line In The Sand
In one of its first articles posted this year, the group made what is for even the most hard-line pro-choice group an extravagant step – it tried to defend Partial Birth Abortion. Under the heading “Shying Away From Explaining Abortion”, the author shines a spotlight on the “awkwardness” felt by some lawyers during litigation hearings involving partial birth abortions, as they strove to find the words to describe what actually happened during this most grotesque of abortion procedures.
The article is couched in the terminology of medical treatment – a partial birth abortion is described as “necessary medical treatment”. As usual in these types of debates, the distinction is never made between the case of a doctor who delivers a baby from a desperately ill woman with the intention of keeping both of his patients alive throughout – and the case of a doctor who performs a partial birth abortion on a baby, thus carrying out such steps as to ensure that the baby does not survive. In this sense, the irony of calling for an “honest conversation” seems to be lost on the writer.
I choose not to discuss the physical realities of partial birth abortion, but if you are not familiar with this gruesome technique (and if you can stomach it) I would urge you to read the article, which sets out the position of Catholic For Choice without any of the complications of true Catholicism which advocates allowing life to continue un-assaulted on its human journey from conception to natural death.
A Group Adrift
I wrote this post because this group is in error.
I respect the beliefs of any group composed of people who have the courage of their convictions, who set out a belief – however much I may personally disagree with that belief – and who are prepared to debate and discuss that belief with others so as to try and reach some accord. We are all contributing to this debate in the hope of improving our world for the good of its inhabitants.
But Catholics For Choice are not interested in debate; on the contrary, they shut it down wherever it rears its scary head. I believe this to be because they have no answers to the genuine questions that prolife Catholics, Secularists and pro-life advocates of other faiths would pose to them. This is not a mature attitude, neither is it fair or just to the many Catholics of good faith who may happen across their site, believing their strictly-censored fora to be an accurate reflection of Catholic teaching on this subject.
At a deeper level too, there is a more fundamental crisis at the heart of this group. Its founders and members have not understood that the Catholic Church does not authorise or condone any Choice which results in the the ending of human life. It does not because it cannot. The Catholic Church believes that only God, the Creator of each Human Life, has the power and wisdom to take each Life back to Himself, at a time of His own choosing.
If Catholics For Choice cannot accept this basic tenet of faith, then “in good conscience”, they need to look again at either their mission statement, or their name.
But has God even featured in their considerations? I wasn’t sure, so I ran a search on their website’s signature magazine, “Conscience”.
This time, I got a response -
All things considered, that sounded about right.