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Philosopher who backs legal abortion appointed to Vatican pro-life academy

Biggar has said he thinks the limit for legal abortion should be 18 weeks (PA)

Pope Francis has appointed 45 new ordinary members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, according to a statement on the Vatican website. They include Nigel Biggar, who has said that he thinks the limit for legal abortion should be 18 weeks.

In a dialogue with fellow philosopher Peter Singer in 2011, reported by Standpoint magazine, Biggar said: “I would be inclined to draw the line for abortion at 18 weeks after conception, which is roughly about the earliest time when there is some evidence of brain activity, and therefore of consciousness. In terms of maintaining a strong social commitment to preserving human life in hindered forms, and in terms of not becoming too casual about killing human life, we need to draw the line much more conservatively.”

He said: “It’s not clear that a human foetus is the same kind of thing as an adult or a mature human being, and therefore deserves quite the same treatment. It then becomes a question of where we draw the line, and there is no absolutely cogent reason for drawing it in one place over another.”

Biggar, the Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at the University of Oxford, has opposed the legalisation of assisted suicide, saying that its proponents are “naive”, and that changing the law “would give us a radically libertarian society at the cost of a socially humane one”. His book In Defence of War criticises pacifism, and argues that the 2003 invasion of Iraq met the criteria for a just war.

Other members on the list include Cardinal Willem Eijk, Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney and Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus.

In November, the 172 members of the Pontifical Academy for Life were removed – though some may be readmitted – and the academy’s statutes were changed. The statutes previously required that members promise to defend human life in accordance with the Church’s magisterium.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the head of the academy, responded: “The new statutes require a stronger commitment on the part of Members to the Church’s pro-life teaching than do the old. The new statutes themselves require Members to promote and defend the principles of the value of life and the dignity of the person, interpreted in conformity with the Magisterium of the Church.”

One former member, Mercedes Wilson, has said that members of the academy should be people of “proven courage that have been defending the teachings of the Church, in particular human life and the family that is under attack as never before”.

The Academy will be re-launched in October. As well as the 45 ordinary members, there are five honorary members, including Cardinal Carlo Caffarra. There will also be an as-yet-unspecified number of “corresponding members” and “young researchers”.

In a statement, Archbishop Paglia said: “With these appointments Pope Francis has formed a College of academics of the highest professional standing that will offer to the Catholic Church and to the whole world a deep and wise vision in the service of human life, especially life that is weakest and most defenceless.

The Academicians named by the Holy Father come from 27 countries around the world and are outstanding in diverse fields of human knowledge. Among them are a number of non-Catholics, either belonging to other religions and non-believers, a sign that the protection and promotion of human life knows no divisions and can be assured only through common endeavour.”