Monday, 28 December 2015

Abortion and the Catholic Church today

It is not easy to write about the subject of abortion. The ready availability of access to abortion in the UK since 1967 means that, in any audience reading a blog post or listening to a speaker, there will be people with their own experience of abortion. And amongst that audience the experiences will differ from one person to another, and inevitably will differ from that of the writer or speaker. A writer needs to take care, therefore, to be non-judgemental of the experiences and decisions of others, whilst at the same time articulating their own view point.

1. There is no one narrative that captures the experience of a woman who makes a decision for abortion (or, perhaps, a decision against abortion). Each and every woman is an individual in their own individual circumstances, with their different pressures which in some way constrain the freedom of their decision making. Sure, some will be able to exercise a "right to choose" in its fullest sense; but even publications from supporters of legalised abortion (I have one such book on my desk as I write this post) demonstrate the wide variety of different circumstances which lead women to have an abortion.

2. The Catholic Church is not immune from the experience of abortion - it would be extremely naïve to think otherwise. Within a typical Catholic parish it would be surprising if there were not women who have had abortions, or families where the phenomenon of abortion has affected family members. If this is just hidden by a silence, and by a rejection of the women involved, parish communities expose themselves to the same kind of risk that in the past led to the social rejection of unmarried mothers. It may not be an easy thing to do, and it certainly needs to be done with sensitivity; but how a parish community responds to those who have experienced abortion should be part of the ordinary pastoral conversation in which all members of the community play a part, ensuring that when the need arises the reaction is one of loving care rather than rejection.

3. A part of the phenomenon of abortion in the UK is the existence of organisations dedicated to the provision of abortion as a service to women. Some time ago, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, one of the UKs leading abortion providers, published research indicating that some two thirds of its clients who had abortions over a three year period had been using a form of contraception when they became pregnant. More recently, they responded to an enquiry to confirm that some of the women undergoing abortions provided by BPAS had, with explicit consent of the women and on a non-profit basis for both BPAS and the women involved, have donated foetal tissue for research purposes. In addition to the experiences of abortion itself, the phenomenon created by the legal availability of abortion includes a quasi-commercial sector which embeds the phenomenon in different aspects of our contemporary culture.

4. The acceptance of ready access to abortion has become widespread in the years since the 1967 Abortion Act. Though not often the subject of open discussion, it is nevertheless now a feature of our culture. The Catholic Church, however, offers a resistance to this cultural acceptance of abortion, and from time to time it is well for the Church to express this resistance, not as a condemnation of those who have experienced abortion, but as a testimony to her own belief as to what is true about the question of abortion and a challenge to the quasi-commercial sector indicated above. The following is taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life......  
2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law .... Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.  
2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae," "by the very commission of the offense" and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law. The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.
 5. The Year of Mercy that has just begun provides an opportunity for the Church to reach out to those who have been affected by abortion. The provisions for remission of the penalty of excommunication associated with procurement of abortion already present in Canon Law (a Bishop already has authority to allow that remission and, it would appear, in many Dioceses has delegated that authority to the priests of the Diocese; and at an event such as the World Youth Day in Madrid, that authority was extended to all priests hearing confessions in the context of the World Youth Day) have been given to the priests who will act as "Missionaries of Mercy" during the coming year. In my own diocese, one of the events for the Year of Mercy is to be dedicated to those affected by abortion. In this way, the scope of mercy to which the Catechism refers can be made manifest in a special way.

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