Faith Matters

Fr Edward O'Donnell: The gospel of life protects the most vulnerable

Last week's historic change in Northern Ireland's abortion law is, argues Fr Edward O'Donnell, unjust and should be resisted by 'every person, every voter, every political representative'

Fr Edward O'Donnell

Anti-abortion campaigners gathered at Stormont last Monday to protest at the change in Northern Ireland's law. Picture by Mal McCann

THE Bible tells that death entered the world through violence, by the killing of a brother by a brother.

In the story of Cain and Abel the Lord asked Cain, "Where is your brother... what have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground."

The Lord's question - "What have you done?" - can today rightly be asked of our politicians.

On Monday October 21 our politicians, by their inaction, permitted abortion legislation, which had been rushed through the Westminster Parliament in July, to become law in Northern Ireland.

This legislation will enable all explicit protection for the unborn child up to 28 weeks of pregnancy, or viability if earlier, to be removed in Northern Ireland, thus leading potentially to one of the most liberal and unregulated abortion regimes in the world.

It is important to note also that the legislation was introduced over the heads of the people of Northern Ireland.

This in spite of the fact that thousands of citizens, from all sections of the community, had in the weeks before, petitioned our local elected representatives to make proper use of our democratic institution to prevent the State arrogating to itself the right to dispose of the life of the unborn.

We ask our local representatives, with deep sadness, "What have you done?" Do you realise that permitting the destruction of the unborn, extremely grave in itself, also dulls the conscience, making it difficult to distinguish between good and evil in regard to the basic value of human life?

Pope John Paul II pointed this out in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium vitae, on 'The Gospel of Life'. He also asked: "How is it still possible to speak of the dignity of every human person when the killing of the weakest and most innocent is permitted?"

How do you answer truly the question, "What does it mean to be human?"

The child in the womb is not a 'potential' life, but a life with potential - a precious and God-given potential that all of us, whatever our position in society, are called to respect and protect 

Our society presents itself as a champion of 'human rights' - but is it? Human rights are based on the affirmation that the human person cannot be subjected by others to aggressive domination, manipulation or exploitation - the one exception being the most vulnerable, the child in the womb.

That fundamental human right to life, granted by an authority higher than any constitution, state or parliament, is violently denied to the unborn.

What an extraordinary contradiction today's society lives with.

There are those who appeal to the 'right of choice', yet overlook the reality that such an argument promotes the understanding of 'the self' as one of absolute autonomy even to the point of rejecting 'the other'.

This is totally contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ who taught, "love others as you love yourself".

Because of the serious, indeed deadly, threats to innocent human life today, we, as citizens and as Christian men and women, need to speak out with courage on behalf of those who have no voice.

We have a duty to hold our elected representatives accountable for the decisions they make.

However, at the same time, as a Catholic Christian community, we must have nothing other than great compassion and understanding for those who find themselves caught in the emotional turmoil of a crisis pregnancy.

The burden of such a dilemma is indeed great. If we, therefore, truly believe that both lives matter then we, as a Christian community, must be willing to bear the responsibility of supporting practically, spiritually and financially, any woman in such a difficult situation.

She can turn to us for such support without fear or shame for we adhere to the Lord's injunction, "Judge not and you shall not be judged."

We, the followers of Jesus Christ, in spite of our own sinfulness, know instinctively that from the moment of conception, every human life is beautiful, precious and sacred.

In that moment a new, unique and genetically complete human being comes into existence.

This is the miracle of life and it grows and develops in the womb, not into a human being, but as a human being.

Parents who have gazed in wonder at an ultrasound scan, or listened for the first time to the heartbeat in the womb, or have felt the first movement in the womb, recognise their baby.

The child in the womb is not a 'potential' life, but a life with potential - a precious and God-given potential that all of us, whatever our position in society, are called to respect and protect.

Any law that removes the right to life is an unjust law and must be resisted by every person, every voter, every political representative.

This is not only a matter of protecting the human right to life but also a fundamental matter of Catholic faith.

Fr Edward O'Donnell is parish priest of St Brigid's Parish in Belfast.

Fr Edward O'Donnell

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