Catholics, Christians and abortion

Simon at Latte Labour has written a typically thought-provoking post laying out the dangers for pro-choicers of framing this debate in religious terms. I agree with him, but for entirely different reasons. The pro-life cause flows naturally from Christian belief, but it does necessitate it; it is a cogent logical, intellectual and philosophical position in its own merit. I know of many passionate rational atheist pro-lifers, who object to the assumption that they must be some sort of religious “crazy”. It is a certainty that at any point during the debate, a detractor when faced with the irrefutable logic of when life begins, starts to clutch at straws and hurls accusations of sky pixies and imaginary friends in an attempt to prove quite how irrational you are as a person and how your logic therefore cannot be trusted. Atheists find this every bit as frustrating as Christians, many of whom have reached their position partly through logic and reasoning. They have weighed up the same evidence as atheists and come to a different conclusion.

I also think he is wrong to frame this in a pro-life versus pro-choice context. It absolutely is not, given that no changes to the time limit are proposed, nor is counselling being made compulsory. This is not stating that women are not capable of coming to their own informed conclusions, it is providing the opportunity for some impartial advice, a breathing space, for those who feel pressured, either by the swift nature of the process itself or perhaps by a family member. It is not unknown for women to feel pressured into abortion by spouses or relatives. A opportunity to talk this through in a non-judgemental fashion and in an independent setting is imperative.

Simon seems to want to categorise the pro-life Christian as being that of either an Evangelical Christian or “traditional” Catholic. He compares the statement “You cannot be pro-choice and a Christian” with those who strongly believe that the only valid form of the liturgy is in the old Latin rite. This is a straw man. What I genuinely do not understand is how anyone can claim to be a Roman Catholic, in Simon’s case a lay Dominican as far as I believe, and be in favour of abortion. This is not a personal attack, but just something that I find incomprehensible. The Catechism is abundantly clear on the issue of abortion, this is not an issue of individual conscience unlike the death penalty or Summorum Pontificum which allows for the liturgy to be celebrated in different forms, both equally valid. There is no room for manoeuvre or legitimate differences of opinion. In his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Blessed John Paul II declared abortion to be binding on the faithful which means that one has to accept it, if one wishes to be part of the body of Christ that constitutes the Roman Catholic Church. When Roman Catholics receive the Eucharist they are accepting that they are in union with each other, the Church and her teaching. I cannot understand therefore, organisations such as Catholics for Choice, or individuals who profess to be Catholic, but reject an area of doctrine which is binding. Why not become an Anglican?

Although other Christian denominations allow for freedom of conscience on this issue, the Christian position on abortion is clear. There are several biblical passages demonstrating God’s love and concern for the unborn child. I’ll quote a few:

The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:4-5).

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:13-16).

Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. (Isaiah 46:3-4).
Jesus did not explicitly talk about abortion, but it cannot be forgotten that he would have followed orthodox Jewish traditions and customs, one of which outlawed abortion. Christ was a radical, he had absolutely no problem over-turning the established order, so had he wanted to endorse the practice of abortion, it is reasonable to assume he would have done so. Christ tended to liberalise Jewish laws concerning things such as diet but crucially he tightened up on codes of ethics, giving them stricter definitions than previously, such as in the cases of marriage and adultery. Adultery no longer simply consists of the physical act, Jesus extends the definition to incorporate the imagination. It is inconceivable, pardon the pun, to imagine that he would have sanctioned abortion, though no doubt he would have extended compassion and mercy to those seeking forgiveness.
When considering abortion in Christian terms, the ideas of compassion and welfare take on an entirely different timbre. Christians are ultimately concerned with eternal salvation or lack thereof. To love one’s neighbour as oneself is to desire for them the fruits of the kingdom. Christians do not wish to co-operate or corroborate an action that has the potential to lead to another’s damnation. We often steer clear of using these terms, I don’t want to talk about cliches of hellfires but we believe that the absence of God in the next life will be desolate, painful, lonely and eternal.Christians desire this neither for themselves or for others, hence many tend to be unequivocal on this issue. Though we cannot force our will upon others, we cannot sit idly by and watch people descend into destruction of themselves and others, without at least trying to help. It is absurd to reduct Christianity’s core creed to “be nice to each folks”. As I have talked about before, one has to love God with one’s heart and soul BEFORE one loves one’s neighbour and part of this includes keeping his commandments, of which the fifth is “thou shalt not kill”.
This goes some way to explaining why Catholics on the most part seem to be so quiet on the issue of this amendment. They can see it for what it is, i.e. not a pro-life issue. A very welcome consequence could be that the number of abortions are reduced, but Catholic ethics reject the principle that the end justifies the means. The fact that fewer abortions may be performed does not justify material co-operation in sin, which is what independent counselling technically constitutes. Regular readers will remember the series of posts and debates a few months ago, in which Joseph Shaw, pointed out the flaws in my support for LIFE from an ethical and philosophical stance. The amendment if passed, will mean that fewer people go to organisations like SPUC and Care Confidential (who incidentally fared extremely well in a Daily Mail undercover report). To support the amendment entails a potential co-operation in evil. Besides it does not go far enough.
This is the only reason that I can think of as to why the heavyweight Catholic MPs in the House of Commons have remained largely quiet on the issue, leaving the inevitable fall-out to land on the shoulders of two staunch Anglican MPs. I can well understand Nadine Dorries’ frustration. Catholics who are resolutely pro-life do not seem to be supporting something that will reduce abortions. No wonder she is baffled and bemused by us. She doesn’t understand Catholic ethics, nor appreciate that many Catholics do not want to see their pro-life organisations potentially jeopardised. Nadine has been explicitly clear that religious groups cannot be involved in the official provision of counselling services. Many Catholics seem to believe that this is a piffling amendment that changes nothing, one beset by ethical difficulties and not worth wasting their time over.
I would disagree. I think the amendment will go a long way to reducing the numbers of victims of abortions, both mothers and babies alike. It formally recognises the bias inherent in the provision of counselling services by abortion providers as well as the very nature of these organisations. This is significant. The amendment crucially separates the decision as to whether or not to have a baby from the medical procedure and those who accept the counselling will be encouraged to think through all aspects of their decision instead of being rushed through a conveyer belt process.
I know a thing or two about crisis pregnancies. I’ve experienced two. Believe me being pro-life does not make a crisis pregnancy any easier, if anything it is more of a taboo to discuss the fact that you are not exactly over the moon. None of the options are easy. No-one can go through it for you and you need to be utterly convinced that what you are doing is the right thing. No amount of counselling can take the decision away from you and in some cases it will have no impact on a decision that has already been taken. But it may give a woman the emotional resources to cope. It is better than the status quo, and even if the DoH do not include organisations such as SPUC and Care on its recommended list of providers, it supports the idea that counselling can be beneficial for those facing unplanned pregnancies and does not prevent these organisations from being promoted and used by members of faith communities. It may go a long way to reducing the numbers of abortion gone through in secret by those who feel they have nowhere else to turn. I have been a little disappointed by the lack of support from the Catholic community and Catholic leaders. It is not too late.
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2 thoughts on “Catholics, Christians and abortion

  1. Apologies for the typos below. Was posting from my iphone at the hospital. (A run down ghastly place as it happens. I was pleased to read by way of escape).

    I read your post with much interest. Though I have to wonder where this leaves me and my faith. I feel a little bit like it is me versus my faith at times. And yet I hardly asked to be in that situation last year. What started out as a joyful attempt to start a family ended in tragedy not of my own making but of God’s and from what I can glean our escape route led me and my husband to fall foul of our faith whether we wanted to or not. Confused. Generally though I think you put the catholic and christian position across very well.

  2. The amazing thing about this debate is that in reality, no one wants more abortions. It’s extraordinary that despite that, no one is really willing to limit the amount of abortions which take place.

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