Faith Matters

'Common good best served by rejecting abortion - and offering women real support'

Ahead of the Republic's abortion referendum, the Catholic bishops have written a 4,000 essay entitled 'Two Lives, One Love'

An anti-abortion rally held in Dublin earlier this month to campaign for the Eighth Amendment to be retained. Picture by Caroline Quinn/PA Wire

WHILE the Constitution celebrates the equality of the mother and the unborn child in its Eighth Amendment, we have an obligation to be at our most compassionate, our most merciful, if and when the expectant mother and father and their unborn child require support during a crisis pregnancy.

This support must be more than words. Public resources should be applied in a practical and in a creative way.

Supporting and sustaining a culture of life is in the interests of every generation and it defines us as a society.

We believe that human life is sacred from conception until natural death and that Article 40.3.3, sometimes referred to as the Eighth Amendment, reflects the appropriate balance of rights.

Some people argue that the right to life of the unborn should be a matter of personal choice on the part of the mother.

Others argue that, while they are opposed to abortion as a general principle, they believe that there are some children to whom the right to life does not apply either because they have been diagnosed with a serious medical condition or because they have been conceived as a result of rape.

We wish to state our firmly held belief, based on reason as well as faith, that there is no such thing as a human life without value.

We accept, of course, that death is part of our human condition. What we reject is the suggestion that any person can decide when it is time for another person to die.

The deletion or amendment of Article 40.3.3 would serve no purpose other than to withdraw the right to life from some categories of unborn children.

To do so would radically change the principle, for all unborn children and indeed for all of us, that the right to life is a fundamental human right.

There is no logical or scientific basis for considering, on the one hand, a born child to be a person with all the rights that this involves and, on the other hand, an unborn child to be a non-person.

The distinct identity of a human individual is already present once fertilisation has taken place.

We question why, in public discourse, healthy unborn children are always referred to as 'the baby' while those who, in the opinion of some, do not measure up to expectations are routinely defined as the 'foetus' or the 'embryo'.

We are concerned that language is being used with the intention of depersonalising certain categories of unborn children in a way which seeks to normalise abortion.

We are concerned that some elements of the Catholic Church's teaching on the right to life tend to be presented inaccurately.

The Catholic Church has never taught that the life of a child in the womb should be preferred to that of a mother. By virtue of their common humanity a mother and her unborn baby have an equal right to life.

Where a seriously ill pregnant woman needs medical treatment which may, as a secondary effect, put the life of her baby at risk, such treatments are always ethically permissible provided every effort has been made to save the life of both the mother and her baby.

Abortion, by contrast, is the direct and intentional destruction of an unborn baby and is gravely immoral in all circumstances. It is not a medical treatment.

When, sadly, a baby dies naturally in the womb before birth, there is no question of the mother being obliged to proceed with the pregnancy.

There is now only one 'patient', the mother. The mother becomes the sole focus of any medical care that is required.

Along with the father, the mother is entitled to the best pastoral care that we can offer, as they grieve the loss of their child.

It is very distressing for a mother to discover that the baby in her womb is seriously ill and, in all probability will not live.

The use of words like 'fatal' or 'lethal' to describe these conditions implies that there is something definite about the outcome and that death is imminent and inevitable.

The reality is that every case is different and that, while some babies will die before birth, and some will live for just a few hours, others will live for significantly longer.

We believe a lot more needs to be done to provide appropriate perinatal hospice services, which offer warmth, tenderness, nutrition and hydration and, in that way, support parents in caring for their sick children until natural death.

This, rather than the repeal of Article 40.3.3, should be the focus of government policy and it is something towards which we can and should all work.

Rape is an act of violence and a crime. A woman who has been raped needs compassionate care and support.

A child conceived following rape is also a person. He or she has rights, including that most fundamental of all rights, the right to life. Society must similarly extend its support to the unborn baby.

Our hope is for a Church and a society which, while rejecting abortion, reaches out to women who have had an abortion, with a listening ear and an understanding heart.

Most of all, we believe that the common good is best served by a Church and a civil society which, while rejecting abortion, continues to offer women real alternatives and real support.

:: The full 4,000 word text of 'Two Lives, One Love' can be read at www.catholicbishops.ie

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