The birth of the Christ child is an occasion to reflect on other babies and on life in the womb that precedes birth. The most dispiriting development recently in respect of prenatal human life is the European Parliament’s vote last month, directed mainly at Poland, but having far wider implications. Andrew Tettenborn examines its implications elsewhere in this issue. As he says, the parliamentary motion called denying access to abortion “gender-based violence” and contrary to the rule of law. It characterises abortion as a “fundamental human right” that “cannot be subordinated to cultural, religious or political considerations”. It demands that the Polish government legalise abortion and remove all criminal sanctions imposed on it. Then it calls for restrictions on the right of doctors and nurses to refuse to engage in abortions for reasons of conscience. It calls on the European Commission to produce a directive to prevent member states from restricting access to “sexual and reproductive health and rights”.
It is very easy to conceive what the Catholic founders of the EU would have made of this extraordinary overreach in the activities of the European Parliament. But it is important that we should not simply oppose this repulsive measure as Catholics. The Church does not oppose abortion for some arcane reason which non-believers would not understand; it seeks to protect the foetus because it is a human being, though a developing human being. This simple principle, that prenatal homicide is wrong, is one that people of no faith or other faiths can subscribe to. In fact, our appreciation of the rights of the foetus has been powerfully underpinned by contemporary scientific understanding of human development within the womb. Once, theologians felt that early prenatal life was barely human, that we acquired our souls when the mother felt the quickening of life in the womb; now we know life is a continuum from conception to birth.
So, it should be possible to mobilise a wide spectrum of opposition to the MEPs’ appalling vote. It fails to take into account that there are two human lives involved in any abortion, that of the foetus as well as the mother and it allows no rights whatever to the foetus. It rides roughshod over the sovereignty of individual states on a sensitive matter with profound implications for social and family life. And it shows no respect at all for those doctors and nurses who do not enter the medical profession to destroy life, but to preserve and cherish it.
This is not only a Catholic position; it is one that should be shared by any individual of goodwill, even those who may take a different view on, say, abortion in crisis situations. The European Parliament is arrogant in its overreach and limited in its perspective. We must hope that the European Commission takes a different view from MEPs.
This article is from the December 2021 issue of the Catholic Herald. Subscribe today.
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