Foetal reduction

A new phrase has entered our Orwellian vocabulary: foetal reduction. What this means is that a mother who, following artificial reproduction, discovers that, rather than having the three babies who are growing in her womb, she would like to cull one or more of them. If the word cull carries the overtones of culling young seals, abhorrent indeed to many animal lovers, I can’t help that. Foetuses are clearly inferior to seals. However, while Jewish skin was on occasion converted into lampshades, I have yet to see, say, a foetusskin handbag.

At one level this is perfectly reasonable. The mother never wanted three babies; they were implanted as backup. Not only are triplets a handful, but there are outcomes in terms of increased risks. As one, oh so sensible, woman said “I just want the best possible outcome for my pregnancy and my children, and that might not be keeping all three.” (Telegraph 28 Dec 2011)

I am not a mother but I find it depressing to think about what stages of human decline such a mother must have sunk through to think that with sincerity. I can understand, though I do not agree, why a mother might feel an embryo of 10 days to be of less account. But in this case it was at 12 weeks. Has she ever seen a scan of a 12 week foetus?

Figures published this year showed that, in 2010, 482 babies with Down syndrome were aborted. Ten of these were over 24 weeks old. Another 181 were aborted due to a family history in inherited disorders. In total, there were 2,290 abortions in 2010 for reasons of some handicap or genetic problem. Of these 147 were performed after 24 weeks of gestation. Getting these figures was, I am told, like drawing teeth. The Department of Health knew well the extent of the fuss made by late abortion of babies, some of whose disabilities were trivial.

You can read a much fuller description of the abortion of the disabled in Zenit – a fine Catholic news site. At

About Quentin

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222 Responses to Foetal reduction

  1. claret says:

    Orwellian is an apt description of ‘word play’ and is used at its most devestating when used to mask the word ‘killing.’
    Society cannot quite bring itself to use killing to describe abortion but ‘getting rid’ seems acceptable.
    ‘Partial birth abortion’ of killing a baby while on its way from the womb into the world ranks as something of such horror that it should be unspeakable and yet is a vote winner in some minds.
    Indeed to use the word ‘kill’ in any description of abortion is regarded as a cruel use of language!

  2. st.joseph says:

    The Catholic World Report- has reported an article on their web site- ‘Abortionists charged with murder of viable unborn babies’ 4th Jan 2012. 2.34am (CNA)

  3. tim says:

    The only trouble with this topic is (perhaps) the likely lack of disagreement among the usual contributors. And were we to get a dissenter, could (indeed, should) we maintain our customary level of civility?

    • Quentin says:

      Tim, your suggestion that we might not be able to retain our usual courtesy with a dissenter is a timely reminder to consider how we should behave. We must not assume that dissenters are necessarily evil people. Most of them have not had any moral education, and few will have considered the issue in any depth. Yes, perhaps they are thoughtless, perhaps they are selfish, perhaps they are easily swayed by the opinions of other like-minded people. Perhaps in their situation they are frightened. (In some respects maybe a bit like us with regard to other questions.)

      Our objective in the first place is surely to get them to accept the possibility that they might be wrong. We won’t achieve this either through hostile responses or through clever argument – however valid. We may do more by saying quite simply that we believe all human life to be so precious that we should protect it under all circumstances. If we are challenged to explain further we might say that the human being has the same identity from the very beginning and it develops continually according to the instructions in its genes – which are there from the beginning. Until it is old enough to decide for itself we have to make decisions on its behalf. And our decision must be to follow its best interests – and these can never include its destruction.

      Perhaps others can find words to express this more effectively than I have done. But I am sure that bearing witness in charity is the way to go.

      • st.joseph says:

        The soft option is not working. Pro-lifers have tried everything else.
        We ought to be calling it murder, because that is what it is!.
        It should be made illegal and forget about the back street abortions as people claim will happen.
        We need the strong arm of the law in situations like those.

      • Rahner says:

        Any detailed discussion of abortion involves consideration of the philosophical issues about the moral status of the unborn. However, philosophical arguments for or against a given position are rarely absolutely compelling and so apart from changes to time limits etc I suspect that in a secular culture people will just have to agree to disagree on this issue. Of course, theological based arguments against abortion are unlikely to have much impact in a secular culture.

      • tim says:

        Thank you, Quentin. I’m sure your last sentence is right (that’s not to say that the rest of it isn’t). I see I was too pessimistic – both about the possibility of dissenters and the way they might be treated. But righteous indignation can be a terrible temptation, where there is a sufficient consensus – it may easily be confused with a duty (perhaps sometimes it is a duty?). I recently got into some trouble by suggesting that it wasn’t necessarily objectionably racist to abuse the French (defending someone else rather than doing it myself, I hasten to add).

  4. Nektarios says:


    Laying out the statistics of abortions to those with handicaps displays the scientific and the use of statistical data is all very well for analysis. Let us remind ourselves what analysis means. It means breaking everything down into its component parts, measuring, weighing observing it and putting it all back together again. Statistics have there uses, but it does not lead to action. All very mechanical.
    I notice also, your use terminology, with medical overtones, these are descriptives,
    not actual. This is deliberate, and is in the realm of ideas. Pity it did not just stay there!
    They want the Pro-Life lobby and all anti-abortionists to use less emotive words while murdering unborn babies; shall I care a damn (excuse expletive) about being diplomatic about their feelings? As Claret righty points out, abortion is actually killing!!

    So let me roll up my sleeves and begin to weigh into this subject of abortion, or killing of unborn babies.
    As I have said, recently, over the last 40 years in the UK alone, OVER NINE MILLION ABORTIONS HAVE BEEN CARRIED OUT. The yearly amount of abortions are set to rise to around 348,000
    per year. I wonder, Quentin, if there is an accurate figure for abortions globally per annum?
    It would be a horrific number, that is for sure.

    But, with all this information, statistics, technological and mechanical labeling of a human being,
    so losing sight of a human being made in the image of God; reducing him/her to just matter, with an interesting set of electical circuitry, is it any wonder then, abortionists view of human beings are mechanical?
    Do you see just how mechanical the workings of the human mind has become; alienated from God, with the mind darkened? What is man to do? He invents or rather re-invents himself as a god, albeit a fallen one, given to violence, fear, anxiety and pleasure.

    Will come back later on this serious issue of abortion later.

  5. Nektarios says:

    Find out, Rahner, find out, discover the whole truth on this issue.
    One will find abortion, or the killing of unborn babies does not happen out of nothing,
    or in isolation to many other aspects in this life. Find out!
    Abortion has been going on for thousands of years, it’s a fact. It was seen as shameful and done by back-street operators often putting the mother’s to be lives in danger also. These numbers were small by comparison of today, where millions are being aborted globally anually.

    Such abortions took place out of shame of not being married, could not support a child. There was the stigma to all this in the past, there still is of course, but not so much as once was here in the West. Why is that? Find out.

    I am only providing pointers here to assist us to find out for onself.

    In the West, during and after the WW1 the West lost its faith, as millions died on the battlefields.
    During and after WW2, the West lost its sense of morality.
    As nature will not have a vacuum, along comes the secular State and a Humanistic and Nihilistic
    philosopy filling the gap and all that that implies as it bears on abortion. Does all that have any bearing on present day attitudes to abortion? Find out!
    Abortion also occurs owing to lack of security. Is this true? Find out!

    You ask, Rahner, what am I actually going to do about abortion? Well, I suppose, I could bury my head in the sand;
    I could become totally monastic or do this, finding out what actually is, concerning abortion
    and how as it relates to everything else.

    It is not me telling you anything, it is together, we are finding out, and discovering together, not only the outer aspects of abortion, the mechanics of abortion, the social impact
    of abortion, the statistics and all that, but also the inward aspects, within our own skin as it were, and seeing it totally and by so doing, bring it to an end.
    But so many,don’t want to expend the energy, the effort finding out and discovering for themselves, but like couch-potatoes, just want to sit and be told, or manipulated or swayed
    in their views, then fall asleep, not caring a jot as long as it does not impose on them and there petty little world.
    I know what I prefer!

  6. Nektarios says:


    As to good manners and general courtesy I can totally agree with you and of course, the love of Christ, shed abroad in our hearts, if we let it, knows how to behave itself.

    To get others to accept they may be wrong in participating or having an abortion, has not worked in the past and I cannot see it gaining much ground, if fact, with the numbers of abortions set to increase, the approach you advocate has not been successful on the whole.

    Perhaps a whole range on approaches are needed.
    Cetainly, what is needed most, is not some mantra,` all life is precious, &c, but to enable others to see that for themselves is, but how?. This is what I was suggesting by way of pointers, that we too, not only know the mantra in words only and be satisfied with that, for that is not enough, clearly.
    But to discover, to find out, to see that life as precious, why it is precious, what is sacred about it &c. Only then does one live, conducting themselves accordingly, seeing the totality of that precious life, and that would always lead to and be, right thinking, with right action and at the right time. That is real action concerning our approach.

  7. John Candido says:

    What I am about to write here is not intended to shock, cause dismay, discomfort, and or possibly lead to visceral responses from any person. Although I am sure that some of you will be affected by this post in unpleasant ways. I do understand that most people who read this blog will be aghast with the view I am about to unleash on them. All I ask of you is to respect my sincerely held point of view without descending into acrimony and pejorative assessments concerning my character. I will not ask any of you to agree with me, because you will most certainly not agree with me! And it is a given that I will respect your difference to my own sincerely held views.

    While I generally agree that in the vast majority of cases, embryos should be allowed to develop and evolve into living human beings; there should be a legal avenue to cover dire contexts for women and families, so that they have access to safe, medical abortions. I have always felt that this was far more sensible than an absolute blanket-ban on medical abortions as espoused by the Catholic Church.

    My position comes from a number of premises. We live in a cosmopolitan, democratic, secular, liberal, pluralist, multi-religious, multicultural society and views such as the Catholic Church’s on the immorality of abortions cannot be considered to be the only sincerely held view in our communities. I caution anyone, including myself, to say that sincerity is to be a determinant in what is the truth of any situation. Anybody can be sincere and wrong on any number of issues.

    As a liberal Catholic I always have a dichotomous approach to ethics and morality. I read and respectfully note the teaching of the church on any issue, and balance this with the context that individuals and families find themselves in. This is the objective/subjective dynamic that is a legitimate part of Catholic moral theology.

    There needs to be a mature debate about what is made illegal and what is legalised, and most importantly what is legalised and carefully regulated, in our society. I believe that our communities are far better off legalising and regulating things such as drugs, prostitution, as well as medical abortions.

    There, I have said it. I will now go to my dungeon and wait for the many arrows, axes, and spears to descend upon my head! Before I go to my safe room, I want to wish everybody a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

    • st.joseph says:

      John Candido.
      I dont think you need to fear us because of your opinion.It isnt only the Catholic Church that believes human life begins at conception.
      To think that only catholics hold that view is a very great dishonour to those of other beliefs!.
      I think that we must fear God the most .
      I may be as presumptious as you in your disbelief.
      Good to hear from you, even if we do differ in beliefs.

    • Vincent says:

      John, would you clarify your view. Do you believe that abortion is wrong, but that you are prepared to countenance it out of respect for the beliefs of others? Or, to avoid the potential damage of illegal abortion? Or do you believe that, while it is usually wrong, you believe it is not wrong in certain circumstances? And, if the latter, what kinds of circumstances do you have in mind?

      • John Candido says:

        As I have said on a number of posts, the rightfulness of an act is partly determined by the intention of the actor, the objective rule of the church, and the subjective circumstances that they find themselves in. Abortion is the ending of the life of a human foetus. This is not disputed. Rules are established as to when abortion can or cannot occur, as the foetus in an abortion can be beyond a certain window of being accomplished.

        The overwhelming majority of people agree that killing a person is totally wrong. Think of the context of an individual when they are unjustly attacked by another person intent on killing them? Everybody is entitled to defend their lives providing it is proportional to the threat that they face. Think of the context of a legally declared war between two or more sovereign states. Killing will occur during war on a grand scale, but when killing occurs that is consistent with the laws of war; these acts are not subject to criminal proceedings as they are entirely legal.

        The rightfulness or wrongfulness of abortion would depend on the intention and the context of the people involved in such as serious decision. And or course an abortion is a very serious matter requiring serious reasons for its legal acceptability. In an ideal world, there would never be a single abortion. However, we don’t live in an ideal world, which is why we should keep medical abortions legal, and regulate it as to when and under what reasons it may occur.

        Some of the circumstances that I have in mind that should allow a person to procure a medical abortion are where a woman or girl has been subjected to rape, where the life of a woman is under threat, and a decision has to be made as to who will survive a natural birth; the woman or the foetus. If a woman was married or in a de facto relationship, and there was a dire threat to them should their husband or partner find out that they are not the father, and whether or not a family or a community can financially support another child, or children where there is the possibility of a more than one child being born at the same time.

        The forgoing is a collection of the more serious reasons that should allow a woman to procure a medical abortion. As Rahner pointed out, there are lots of other reasons that woman procure abortions. Some of these reasons I find less serious to the one’s that I have outlined above, as well as other examples that other people can think of that are somewhat more trivial.

        It begs the question as to where the community will draw the line as to what is acceptable and what are unacceptable reasons for having a medical abortion. For me, it is analogous to past and present day divorce law. Although I am not a lawyer, there was a time when divorce was more tightly regulated as to who can or cannot obtain a divorce from a court of law. It depended on serious reasons such as adultery. Today anybody can obtain a divorce and it can depend on an irretrievable breakdown in the marital relationship.

        For similar reasons, I think medical abortions should be available to anybody who seeks one, regardless of what their intentions and motivations are. Providing that both pre and post counselling was available to any woman or couple seeking a medical abortion, having a set of serious reasons, admirable as they are, is akin to an unworkable police state as Rahner pointed out. Who in the end will determine ‘legitimate reasons’ for allowing or disallowing medical abortions? Will it be a single person or a committee? What will their qualifications be? Will it be a medico-legal body?

        An abortion should only ever be conducted by medically qualified people and conducted in appropriate places such as a well-resourced and well-staffed, legally registered, aseptic hospital, or medical clinic. This is what I mean by a ‘medical abortion’. The last thing that I would espouse is a backyard abortion where nefarious individuals are offering the service for financial gain.

        Of course it has just occurred to me that we have the medical technology for doctors to prescribe tablets or abortifacients, such as one called RU-486 or Mifepristone. So I imagine that providing a woman has not gone past a certain medical window, the need for a surgical abortion can be done away with by a pill that will perform the same task. Abortifacients make the argument for continuing the legality of medical abortions, and of maintaining an unrestricted, open policy of medical abortions, even stronger in my mind. Providing that such abortions do not go beyond what medical authorities consider to be outside an acceptable window of opportunity for them to take place. When I consider the notion of exceptions for hard cases make bad law; they do make bad law and they make good law as well. I think that it is dichotomous proposition and it would ultimately depend on the issue at hand.

      • John Candido says:

        For anybody interested in further information about Mifepristone, you can go to Wikipedia to read about it.

    • tim says:

      These are very understandable ideas, John. And I agree with you completely that there is a debate to be had about what immoral things should be made illegal. That is particularly important when we live in a pluralist society,

      So let me tackle it from that end. I challenge your view that there should not be an absolute legal ban on medical (not quite clear what you mean by that term – is it just to distinguish from spontaneous?) abortions. There are over 200,000 abortions annually in Britain (before anyone accuses me of exaggerating, Britain includes Scotland – if you count only England and Wales it could be slightly less). Of these, the number done to save the life of the mother is negligibly small. Women’s lives have been saved not by legalised abortions, but by antibiotics. This is apparent because mortality has declined not only in countries where the laws have not been relaxed, but even in countries where they have been tightened.

      But should not there be exceptions at least to cover the situations that I so casually dismiss as negligible? I say No. The reason we have so many abortions is because of such exceptions. Over 90% of abortions are for reasons of ‘danger to the physical or (in the vast majority of cases) mental health of the woman’ (in theory, two doctors have to certify this in good faith).

      [Digression: A recent study suggested that there is no detectable difference in mental health between women who have abortions and those in similar situations who don’t. This is quoted to refute the suggestion that women who had abortions were more prone to mental problems. The result that abortion does not affect mental health (which, if true, suggests that abortion for reasons of mental health should be illegal) seems to have been passed over.]

      Exceptions for ‘hard cases’ make bad law (had you suggested, in 1967, that in 30 years’ time there would be 200,000 abortions a year, you would have been dismissed as a mischief-making scaremongerer). What we need is a ‘bright line’. ‘No medical abortions’ provides that. There would be hard cases, of course. But we don’t normally make specific exceptions for hard cases in the law. It is illegal to steal from a supermarket even if your family is starving. But if you do, for that reason, you may be less likely to be prosecuted – and if you are prosecuted and found guilty, the sentence that follows can take that into account.

      ‘Bright lines’ are important. At present, we have one for euthanasia. Doctors are not allowed to kill their patients (even for the highest motives). Nor are they allowed to help them to kill themselves. Tremendous efforts are currently being made to remove this taboo – starting with the completely sane but terminally ill, suffering unbearably from incurable diseases, who repeatedly request help to kill themselves. At present that’s illegal (in UK). But should it cease to be so, pressure to extend the ‘benefits’ of the policy to others (Alzheimer’s victims; the healthy but depressed; teenagers crossed in love; etc) will eventually be crowned with success.

      A ‘bright line’ taboo may well be responsible for our avoiding nuclear war since 1945. In the 50’s, the US military establishment was keen on using tactical nuclear weapons – shells, and so on – to capitalise on the US advantage in such weapons, and to save US soldiers’ lives. Luckily they acquired a political advisor who saw how dangerous this was. He succeeded in reinforcing the taboo, rather than allowing it to be weakened. This is part of the reason we survived crises in Berlin and Cuba.

      So let’s restore the bright line for abortion, and keep it for euthanasia!

      • Rahner says:

        So what punishment should be imposed on, say, a middle class woman who has an abortion because a child would interfere with her career in investment banking? A life sentence for homicide? And would you also want women to be prevented from leaving the country in case they had an abortion abroad? Would you have them arrested, tried and punished if they returned to the UK after having an abortion? To effectively enforce a law against all abortions – and you know perfectly well that there will never be such a law – you would have to turn the country into a police state.

      • Quentin says:

        Tim, I was very much involved with the Abortion Bill, and got to know a number of the leading Abortion Law Reform Association. At that time they claimed that 100,00 illegal abortions were carried out per year in the country. Although strangely the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) estimated that the number was around 15,000. I was to discover many years later (from an old opponent from that time) that ALRA had picked the figure out of the air. But they gave it the greatest publicity when public opinion polls were in the air. Apparently it just sounded a good substantial figure. And the public fell for the lie. A lot of babies have died for that.

        Incidentally the Catholic bishops were quite useless over the whole matter. The laity who were doing their (relatively powerless) best were mightily ashamed of them.

      • st.joseph says:

        Tim, Children as young as 11 can obtain the morning after pill,from the web and can actually order some to keep in hand.How sick is that!
        I heard that a female can go to Marie Stopes Clinic and be given a pill and the baby aborts at home, then has to take the aborted baby back to make sure it is all there and not left inside her!.
        These girls are not all cases of mental health, they are just promiscuous teenagers, who know it is available if they become pregnant.
        The young men who take them, are just laughing at those praying.
        Where is the Law when under age sex is allowed, and no one speaks about that.
        Is there something wrong with society that it does’nt matter if one breaks the Law of the land now. If one goes through a red light one can be prosecuted.
        We live in a crazy upside down world.

  8. Iona says:

    Nektarios makes the point that abortions (illegal) used to take place because of shame, and / or inability to support a child. Neither of these conditions now pertains, – it is now accepted and acceptable that people have children despite not being married nor even in a long-term supportive relationship; and in many Western societies at least, it is usually financially possible for an unsupported woman to bring up a child, maybe in relative poverty but with a roof over their heads and food on the table. Yet abortion now burgeons. Why?

    A parallel case may be seen with suicide / voluntary euthanasia. Once suicide was a matter for shame and condemnation, even though at that time pain relief was nowhere near as good as it is today. But now, even though pain can usually be alleviated if not entirely eliminated as a person moves towards natural death, we have assisted suicide / voluntary euthanasia legalised in some countries, and pressure for it to be legalised in others. Why?

    (I can’t answer these questions. I should just like to know others’ opinions)

    • mike Horsnall says:

      Thats a really interesting question. I think its probably something to do with the way things become custom and practice in strongly organised communities. In other words when we do things in our societies we do them on large scale and almost industrially-this setting up of things then becomes a raison d’etre for them continuing…the reasoning and the methodology exists so is used-a bit like the holocaust I guess.

      I think also there is an underlying tendency, grown over these past 20 or 30 years to place the weight of all decision making on the shoulders of individual citizens who are themselves strangely locked into implacable and merciless institutionalised frameworks-This is a murderous set up where individuals are processed along automatic routes, feeling their responsibility yet powerless before the institutions that control them. I had a moving account of this from a friend of mine telling me about the moment they switched his Dad off in the hospital.

  9. Iona says:

    John Candido – no arrows, no axes, no spears.

    You don’t mention what “dire contexts for women and families” you have in mind, which might imply that recourse to a legal abortion could be the lesser of two evils.
    People often refer to pregnancies resulting from rape as constituting one such dire context, and maybe that was one of the possibilities you were thinking of. But if the wrongness of abortion consists in the personhood of the foetus, then permitting abortion in cases of rape is simply illogical. Indeed, to permit abortion in cases of rape and not in cases where the sexual act was consensual, has a whiff of “punish the woman” about it. And punishing the woman has nothing whatever to do with our reasons for considering abortion wrong.

  10. st.joseph says:

    Iona, I think years ago there was a fear of God in many things,
    Now in a Godless society, He doesn’t matter any more because they dont believe in Him.
    So offending Him is not in the frame.!
    We are our own gods in most things now,

  11. Horace says:

    I remember when I was a medical student one particular anatomy class;
    when we arrived the lecturer’s desk was decorated with an array of embryo models.

    Our anatomy lecturer entered and standing before the desk declaimed:-
    “There was a time when those of us who were to be most beautiful (indicating with a sweeping gesture the front row where the half dozen ladies in our class of 125 were seated) looked (turning and selecting one of the ugliest of the little models) like this!”
    The point is that it is very difficult to imagine embryos, especially early embryos, as being really human beings. This, of course, is why there is a temptation to believe that causing the death of an embryo is not really murder.

    As Nektarios points out ” . . Abortion has been going on for thousands of years”. While amongst primitive societies unwanted infants were simply left out on the hillside for the wolves, such practices are unacceptable to civilised society but simply getting rid of an embryo is different because the embryo is not recognised as really human.

    [Parenthetically while animals may have miscarriages, and abortion may be practiced by some animal breeders, as far as I know there is no record of even the most intelligent of animals exhibiting behaviour which could be construed as directly leading to abortion.]

  12. st.joseph says:

    It doesn’t have to be theological based.
    We speak so much now about the advancement of science and how we are enlightened as to how we are today with advanced knowledge.
    It doesn’t have to be a religious debate now-but a humanist truth!

  13. st.joseph says:

    Have we reached the conclosion that abortion is wrong from the moment of conception?
    If so we are we so much against Fertility Awareness.?
    I don’t mean to be muddining the waters here but I dont understand the reasoning, when the arguments are against NFP in some cases.

  14. st.joseph says:

    Rahner, when abortion was illegal did it make it a police state.
    Spain is trying to overturn their abortion law. They probably see its consequences now.
    Ireland still has no abortions, grant they come toEngland. They wouldn’t do if we didnt have it legal.
    It has to start somewhere.
    Mother Teresa said the country that aborts it children are the the poorest in the world.
    The point you make is a negative view of the future towards Gods Will!

    • Rahner says:

      “when abortion was illegal”
      Before 1967 abortion in the UK was legal in certain circumstances and in any case we now live in a different social/cultural context than existed before the 1960s. Anyone who thinks 300+ MPs would vote for the criminalisation of all abortions is simply deluded.

      • Quentin says:

        Just a little background here. The Bourne case in 1938 was used as a case law precedent confirming the principle that abortion could only be justified if the life of the mother or her mental health was severely endangered. Its application was very narrow, but the fact that wealthy people could actually have legal abortions while the poor could not was often used as an argument in favour of widening the abortion facility. Interestingly Dr Bourne later said:
        “Those who plead for an extensive relaxation of the law [against abortion] have no idea of the very many cases where a woman who, during the first three months, makes a most impassioned appeal for her pregnancy to be ‘finished,’ later, when the baby is born, is thankful indeed that it was not killed while still an embryo. During my long years in practice I have had many a letter of the deepest gratitude for refusing to accede to an early appeal.”
        Bourne became a founding member of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.

  15. Nektarios says:

    All contributors on abortion so far

    I notice so many of us appeal to history, to the changes in modern times and thought. There is modifications to thought, but do we know it is a response to our own memory?
    Grasp this, please, If we appeal to thought, we appeal to our memory. What we think about in the present, is in fact out our past.
    If we project that into the future, our past with some modifications, will be our future.

    Why do we want others to make the decisions for us? It is not the Church’s body ladies, it is yours. It is not the Government’s body, it’s yours, so why do you want these ruthless politicians and the many other external authorities take charge of you and make decisions for you?

    Such external authorities with all their cunning and ruthlessness are in the dark, they lurch from one crises to another, falling into the ditch, eventually. Don’t we realize, believer in Christ,
    made in the image of God, we have authority, we have power, we have insight, then why oh why do we subject ourselves to such people with no light and even less understanding?
    When will we take responsibility for our actions? Are we saying we don’t know the Truth and what the Truth has to say about abortion?

    Have we not noticed, decisions made by clever cunning an often ruthless politicos and religious politios too, lead to deeper and deeper problems further down the line?

    Abortion or killing of the unborn, is one’s nature in disorder. The Abortion Bill when it came in
    was to supposedly stop back-street abortionists and unnecessary deaths so the claim was.
    The Abortion Bill passed, the numbers of abortions increased astronomically….it proves only this:
    Those who are living in disorder themselves, and most of us are, cannot produce order, only
    further disorder. It is a fact.
    So my fellow contributors on this sad subject of abortion, let us take responsibility for our actions.
    I end with this: The little soul that enters at conception is God’s, not ours. He is the Creator, we are participating. If we love God, as we say we do, then we love not only the child in the womb, but all that He has made.

    • Rahner says:

      “The little soul that enters at conception is God’s, not ours” As I have said previously, theologically based arguments will have little impact in a secular culture. And of course, some theologians accepted a theory of delayed hominisation…..

      • st.joseph says:

        Rahner, ‘you were you’ from the moment of conception!
        We are speaking about morals here as well as theologhy.
        The Natural Law applies not only to religious.What every man has in their hearts.
        It is one thing to be abused, but I can assure you I would prefer that to being aborted!
        One question to you – and that is – Would you?
        And please don’t say that isn’t relevant -because you wouldn’t be here if you were aborted.

        It is a case of ‘doing unto others what you would have done unto you’

  16. mike Horsnall says:

    I completely agree with Tim regarding ‘bright lines’ for abortion along with the understanding that mercy and compassion are its quiet arbiters in difficult cases. After my five years in China working in hospitals and orphanages the thing that stays with me is the shudder behind the eyes you would often see among those on the periphery of the implementation of those projects. In the dying rooms of the orphanage I used to visit it was hard not to feel greatly for the staff; China’s policy of abortion hangs over it like the death pall it is…we can’t see ours here for some reason.
    From a theological perspective we have a fairly clear line on abortion based on what we believe to be the will of God. I don’t think we should work ourselves up into froths of prophetic tirade about all this but we should wherever possible work towards a change in the law and give to charities which promote life …but we should be very careful about thunderous denunciations and we should remember that perfectly decent people do choose abortions freely at times.Nektarios seems to have inadvertently put forward a clear case for a womans right to choose….I would like the choice to be better informed and for abortion not to be anywhere near a first choice, probably the result of altering the law regarding it would be a change of behaviour somewhere along the line. Finally I do think that talk of ‘secular society’ is a meaningless diversion.

    • Rahner says:

      “Finally I do think that talk of ‘secular society’ is a meaningless diversion.” Rubbish.
      If you want to change legislation in the UK you will have to make a case for that change in a secular forum. You will not make such a case by relying on pious platitudes.

  17. Rahner says:

    “It is one thing to be abused, but I can assure you I would prefer that to being aborted!” But surely you believe the victims of abortion go straight to heaven??

    • Quentin says:

      Rahner, I believe you to be quite right in saying that the chances of repealing the current Abortion Act are nil for the foreseeable future — if ever. However I was triggered into writing my last post by the way that abortions were seemingly being regarded as a normal, prudent everyday measure. I think what we can do more profitably at the moment is to help people see that abortion is a very serious matter and should be treated as such. Maybe we should look at these questions.

      Why is abortion regarded increasingly as a basic human right for women, while protection from abortion is not regarded as a basic human right for the unborn baby?

      If we are obliged to continue to accept late-stage abortions where disability is detected, we should have clear legal guidance as to what kind or degree of disability must be present. It should be truly severe and not correctable.

      Proper, non directive, counselling should be mandatory prior to an abortion. Perhaps this should include a mandatory review of in utero scans.

      • Rahner says:

        Quentin, Many abortions do occur far to late and are undertaken in a casual manner. And I accept that time limits should be kept under review – I think I indicated that in an earlier post.But do you really believe that there is a compelling (non-theological) case for claiming that a ten day old embryo has the same moral/legal status as a ten year old child?

      • Quentin says:

        First. It is right to mention that a 10 day old embryo is not, in English law, regarded as abortion.
        Second. There are certainly some Catholic moral theologians who argue that the possibility of twinning (the one organism developing into two) means that the embryo cannot be regarded as having the identity of a human being until Day 14, when twinning is no longer possible. As far as I know, this is a minority opinion.
        Third. For the sake of brevity I record my view on the subject as being the same as para 60 of Evangelium Vitae. q.v. I find this argument compelling but I am happy to discuss.

    • st.joseph says:

      Rahner of course I do.
      But every soul is created for a purpose.
      Yours ,as you believe I think,is to do our will, not Gods!.
      Every created soul is a human being ,and our brothers and sisters ,1 day ,10 days or hereafter.

  18. Nektarios says:


    Whom does your mind serve? Whom does your thoughts serve? Whom does your body
    serve? You don’t give out your answer to those questions, but the answer you give yourself
    will show you whom you actually serve.
    The realms of theology, philosophy, ideologies are only collections of ideas or thoughts,
    depending whom they serve determines the outcome of those thoughts be they secular or religious.
    God is Judge, not us, and it is not for us to enter into.Such things are hidden from us. it behooves us to be slower to draw conclusions, for we know nothing as we ought.

  19. John Candido says:

    I could be jumping the gun, but I very much hope that John Nolan is not on holiday and has been reading ‘Foetal reduction’, with a view to offering us all his own posts. If he were not to reply in a timely manner and ‘strike while the iron is hot’ because he is on holiday, that would be quite disappointing. Can someone contact him by email or by some other means and get his attention? Thank you.

  20. st.joseph says:

    Vatican 11 states unequivocally that, ‘ God the Lord of Life. has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry out in a manner worthy ofthemselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception:abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes, Thus it was that Christianity gradually brought about a civilizing process, virtually stamping out abortion. Such a task awaits it once again with the proclamation of the absolute inviolability and sanctity of every human life from conception to the grave playing a key role in the process of the re-evangelization of the modern world.

    Although there have been disputes about the moment when animation occurs, notibly in theMiddle Ages, in practice Christianity has always acted on the basis that life is there from conception and thus opposed abortion from earliest times.
    In the Didache,composed before AD 80 we read the well known phrase; ‘ You will not procure abortion. You will not destroy a new born child.’ The Epistle of Barnabas AD says ;’Do not murder a child by abortion, or commit infanticide.’ Or again the Epistle to Diognetus; speaking of the similarities and differences of the early Christians in the Roman Empire to the fact that while they married and had children like them they did not ‘throw away the foetus.
    Later writers and Fathers continued to condemn abortion unreservedly as the taking of innocent human life , making no distinction between the formed and the unformed foetus, Tertullian writes;’Prevention of birth is precipitation of murder ; nor doth it matter wh ether one take away a life when formed or drive it away while forming . He is also a man who is about to be one. ‘And St Basis the Great says’ A woman who destroys a foetus intentionally shall undergo the punishment of murder.We shall not go into nice distincations about a formed and an unformed foetus . later on we know about the Penitential Books.
    This article article taken from The Moral Dignity of Man By Fr Peter Bristow.

  21. mike Horsnall says:

    I wonder what terms like ‘secular forum’ or ‘secular society’ mean. Pluralism I understand well. Certainly we could say the house of Commons for example is a pluralist forum with many competing ideologies…but secular…? I get the impression the term is being used in like manner to the wizaed of Oz with his mask.

    • Rahner says:

      A secular forum would be something the UK Parliament when it debates approving, say, a new form of IVF treatment – it would not, I suggest, typically rely on an appeal to a religious tradition to resolve any moral disagreements about the treatment. A non-secular forum would be something like the Vatican’s CDF which would rely on a religious tradition in dealing with moral questions about the treatment.
      A secular society would be one which was more likely to have it laws and policies made by a secular forum than a non-secular forum.

  22. Nektarios says:


    I am not trying to make a point, just responding to your contributions this morning 11:13 and 11:27. Piety has led to atrocities by religous when Goodness is forgotten, but Goodness is not taught, it is a virtue.
    There is as much sillyness in Pietistic thinking as there is in Secularism but secularism from political point of view is always a reaction to events and is always wrong and leads to emotional pain and sorrow.
    Reaction to events is not action.
    The Abortion Bill was such a reaction, and it has led to untold miseries, but man still wants his pleasures. By man of course, I do mean men and women.

    When Cain killed Abel, God put a mark on him, so others finding him would not touch him or kill him. Inwardly, Cain died inside when he killed his brother.
    So it is with those who are would be mothers, who along with those of the medical profession
    and the legislature who participate together in Abortion, they are all already dead inside.

    • Rahner says:

      “So it is with those who are would be mothers, who along with those of the medical profession and the legislature who participate together in Abortion, they are all already dead inside.”
      This kind of hyperbolic rhetoric is is unlikely to change the hearts and minds of those who support abortion…..

  23. Nektarios says:


    I don’t want to change anybody other than myself, for I am the least among you -really.
    Argument will by itself change nothing, it is but ideas in a furtive mind.
    When one sees for oneself, inwardly, the whole field of killing, including abortion, then the heart is changed and one is truly liviing Gods law, Thou shalt not kill.
    I cannot do your looking for you, or seeing for you. I can but encourage you to look and see
    for yourself.
    To that, it may be necessary to lay down for the monent all your own pet ideas and beliefs,
    all your own conditioning by others, be still and look for yourself without distortions. Yes?

  24. mike Horsnall says:

    Re Secular Society…Yes it is the case that the UK is governed by a system which sees the competing groups within it and tries to be ring master while carrying out the responsibilities of the State. This does not mean that secular society is atheist or that the moral arguments brought forward regarding the sanctity of life are neccessarily out of court. I wholeheartedly agree that a secular forum will not be convinced by bald religious declarations of any group-in fact it is more liable to oppose them if it percieves them as hard line. But this does not mean that arguments based on the dignity of life go unheard or have extra ground to make up particularly in a system whose
    system is based on religious mores.

    • Rahner says:

      Mike, I don’t think we are in disagreement. Of course anyone should be free to present, say,a theologically based argument about the sanctity of life in a forum like the UK Parliament. The question is whether such arguments are likely to be effective.

      • mike Horsnall says:

        I think you are right on this and the manner of their putting is very important. There is no chance that the law will be repealed but I think there is a change coming regarding the emphasis on the rights of the individual-in this case womens right to choose. I think the steady patient rational lobbying approach is best for catholics and help with providing alternatives where we can. I think my main thought on all this is that the term ‘secular’ conjures perhaps an implacably rationalist atheist rule making body- the UK is not that.
        There is an interesting offshoot in this which is how much should the church resist laws made in a democratic society by that democratically elected government-that is more a problem for evangelicals I guess.

  25. st.joseph says:

    When Jesus said Follow Me, He meant for us to follow Him through thick and thin,richer or poorer.
    He didnt mean until you hear something better, some other half truth that catch’s our fancy, some other false prophet some new story in the 20th or 21st Century or so on and on and on.
    He will be with His Church until the end of time.
    We may swerve from right to left rough or smooth wide or narrow,but it is the road that leads us to Him in the end, to where He was going and is.

  26. st.joseph says:

    If married couples were seriously not able to become pregnant due to sad consequences,
    I am surprised that the use of the infertile period was not considered to be an advantage.
    Maybe to some it is!
    But abortion is not the answer-we have the answer with knowledge now,
    I would be interested to hear the opinion of others on this subject.
    Too much sympathy is shown sometimes for the wrong reason, and the answer is an abortion.
    One would not drive a car if the brakes were dodgy.
    I am not camparing conception with dodgy brakes but the health risks are the same. We are meant to be responsible! No need today for ignorance.
    Responsible family planning is the answer in some cases.

  27. Iona says:

    Rahner mentions that some theologians accepted a theory of delayed hominisation. But wasn’t that some centuries ago, before we knew as much as we now do about embryonic development? What we now know indicates that from conception the embryo (or blastocyst, or fertilised egg, if you prefer) is genetically identical to the individual which will be born (all being well) 9 months later, and that all changes which occur during those 9 months are a matter of development. I’m not aware of any hard-and-fast dividing line throughout the period of development which could be taken as indicating a point before which the embryo is not human but after which it is human. Nothing as dramatic as the line between not-yet-conceived and conceived.

    • Rahner says:

      One modern discussion /defence of delayed hominization can be found in:
      Joseph F Donceel SJ, “Immediate Animation and Delayed Hominization”, Theological Studies, 1970.
      The embryo is always “human” in terms of its biological constitution and causal antecedents, the question is whether is always a human person. And although there are empirical considerations relevant to this question it is, in my view, essentially a philosophical question.

      • Quentin says:

        Rahner, if you haven’t yet had the chance to look up the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy re “person”, you may find it interesting. And I would be interested in what you can make of it. I am left feeling that since there is no final definition of person, everyone can define it as they wish. And there is no reason why “person” is in itself an apt status to be credited with rights. So it’s not helpful, as far as I can see. We are always brought back to asking the basis of human rights. Are these inherent or are they simply what the law (national or international) grants? If the former, then one can argue that the human organism has such rights emanating from its receipt of human nature (that is, at the zygote stage); if the latter then the point of development at which rights vest is an arbitrary decision. As far as I know, in this country we grant a right of “respect” at 14 days and a right of protection at assumed viability (24 weeks) — but this right may be suspended until birth in certain cases, e.g. disability. It is only post-birth that a baby has an unquestioned right (although even this may be unofficially breached).

        A small refinement needed here. re-reading the Warnock report on embryos I find that respect is required for the embryo under 14 days from conception, but it is still available for experimentation. At 14 days experimentation is no longer permitted. In effect this is an extra layer of conditional respect.

  28. Iona says:

    Quentin asks:

    Why is abortion regarded increasingly as a basic human right for women, while protection from abortion is not regarded as a basic human right for the unborn baby?

    Why, indeed?

    I quote from the “Right to Life” newsletter of October 2011:
    The San Jose articles on the status of the unborn child in international treaties and law are the work of leading international human rights lawyers, experts in international law, public health, philosophy, science/medicine, and other fields who make it clear that there is no such thing as a human right to abortion in international law. Pro-abortion campaigners – including UN Agencies and officials who make any such claims – are misquoting exiting law and treaties. … The laws of two-thirds of all UN member states clearly recognise that unborn children deserve protection and that there is no human right to abortion. In comparison only 56 countries permit abortion for any reason, and only 22 of these are without restriction such as gestational period.
    End of quote.

    Googling “San Jose articles” will bring you the full document. There is also an Early Day Motion (EDM 2220) welcoming the San Jose articles. If anyone wants to see if their MP has signed it, that too can be done via Google (or maybe yougov – or either) and if your MP hasn’t signed it, you might perhaps consider asking him or her to do so?

    And for good measure, the Right to Life website is at

  29. st.joseph says:

    Thank you Iona for those two comments.
    I firmly believe that if people were 100% certain about the right to life for the unborn child from the moment of conception-including abortifacents they would in all conscience strive for a change in the law. What you say is very interesting..
    Belief that we wont be able to turn the law around is negative thinking and we must all strive for this.

  30. mike Horsnall says:

    Iona and St Joseph,
    Those are good points and good sources. Food for thought and maybe a bit more action.

  31. Nektarios says:


    I don’t know if I can provide your own particular pet ideas or criteria regarding your own conditioning. However, You are every person and every person is you! So there is conditioning with all of us and in each of us there are small modififations, such as climate, food, health &c.

    In a more general sense for all of us there is the conditioning of parents and extended family, culture, education, work, and peer pressure. There is also political and religious conditioning.

    To bring this home to us concerning Abortion, we have the image of it, the thoughts about it, the emotions about it and allthe arguments for or against; We also have our moral or immoral image of Abortion, our religious image of Abortion, political image of it all conditioning ones mind and thoughts.So you see our very thoughts are conditioned too.

    If one is to get beyond the image of, the words about, the rhetoric and the conditioned thoughts about Abortion then one sees the actual truth about it. When one sees that, all these arguments cease to exist in one for it has come to an end.
    Now, if one wants to bring abortion to an end, let it first end in us. Will it go on elsewhere?
    Probably it will, but in one who sees it in its entirety, for such in comes to an end.
    Remember, it is not me telling you anything or pontificating on anything, but looking and investigating it together to see if in us KILLING of which Abortion is but a part, can come to an end?

  32. John Nolan says:

    Thanks, John Candido, for eliciting my opinion, and a happy New Year to you! Abortion is not, of course, murder, which is a Common Law offence usually defined as “the unlawful killing of someone who is in being and under the Queen’s peace, with malice aforethought”. Therefore capital punishment if lawful is not murder, nor is self-defence, nor is the killing of an enemy in wartime. The expression ‘in being’ is normally interpreted as meaning completely extruded from the mother, wich is why ‘partial birth abortions’, however repulsive, are allowed in the USA . Abortion is still a criminal offence unless carried out under the terms of the 1967 Act, as is child destruction; an assault on a pregnant woman which results in the death of her unborn child would be so construed. Therefore the unborn are recognized as entities and are protected by law. This goes back to the time of Alfred the Great.

    The Hungarian Constitution which came into effect on 1 January not only explicitly recognizes the Christian underpinning of the State, but states clearly that human life begins at conception. This not surprisingly has elicited criticism from the EU and from Hillary Clinton. Amnesty International has also denounced what they call ‘foetal protection’. I was under the impression that this organization existed to campaign on behalf of prisoners of conscience. Needless to say they will not be getting any contributions from me.

    • Vincent says:

      I am glad that you mentioned the Amnesty question. It is a real tragedy that an organisation with such a fine objective as advocacy for prisoners of conscience should defeat its own credentials by claiming that the human right of the mother must trump the human right of her child. Whatever the personal views of those who made this decision may be they have created a confused nonsense. In fact, it is a backhanded insult to prisoners of conscience.

      The supreme irony is that Amnesty was started by Peter Benenson, who was a Jew, and later converted to Catholicism..

      • st.joseph says:

        I gave up donating to Amnesty International years ago.
        How many know about their anti life for the unborn.
        My brother didn’t until recently and then withdrew his subscriptions.

  33. st.joseph says:

    Yes Jesus did say ‘Give unto God what is Gods and unto Ceasur what is Ceasur’s.
    But the human soul does not belong to Ceasur but belongs to God.
    God created the human soul in His image.
    Rightly so the two exceptions where it can be taken away,namely in war and capital punishment the State can wage war or exercise capital punishment under very stringent conditions and it has authority to do this delegated from God..
    The unique individuality of each human person is clear from the fact that God has knowledge and a plan for each of us before we enter the womb. ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,and before you were born I consecrated you. The fact that God knows us by name points to the individuality and sacredness of the life of each one of us,’I have called you by your name you are mine.
    It is clear from what St Paul says to the Ephesians; ‘He has chosen us before the foundation of the world.. and presdestined us to adoption as his children through Jesus Christ according to the kind intention of his will .

    Do we still swear an Oath on the Bible in Court now.Does the Bible mean nothing anymore in our society -or excuse the expression ‘Is the Law an Ass’ . Well man made it must be.!

  34. Horace says:

    There is no mention of abortion in Scripture.

    Presumably this is because in the culture of the times abortion did not figure in the public consciousness at all. Girls were married very young and closely supervised before marriage. To be barren, rather than having babies, was a cause for shame.

    At the time of Christ abortion was not even considered in Judea although known to Roman society (The Hippocratic Oath half a century before had specified “I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion.”).

    When I was at Stanford University in the fall of 1979 we were treated, at the end of Mass, to an address by a lay person putting the Catholic position against abortion – but as far as I could see the speaker was concerned almost exclusively with the fact that Catholics would have to pay (via taxation) for abortions to be carried out!
    I have never heard any discussion of the morality of abortion from the altar, during or after Mass, in England.

    Humanae Vitae has been much criticised, including for statements such as “We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. “.

    Nevertheless when we consider the explosive use of abortion, documented in earlier comments, we can only see that this stance is unequivocally justified “Sub specie aeternitatis” i.e. from an objective point of view.

  35. Rahner says:

    I agree that arguments about personhood are likely to be inconclusive and some philosophers eg Warnock and Dworkin will argue that the real question is not whether the embryo is a person but rather what is the moral status/worth of the embryo.
    But as regards human rights, I imagine that there may be analogous disputes about the kind of entity that can be the bearer of human rights; exactly what rights a certain entity can have and how these interact with rights of others etc. Some might argue that only an entity that has a capacity for sentience can be a candidate for HRs.
    In the end perhaps philosophical arguments about the embryo are best seen to be like the philosophical arguments for the existence of God ie they are a way of showing that the acceptance of Catholic teaching is not irrational or arbitrary rather than as an argument likely to convince those who hold a radically different viewpoint.

  36. st.joseph says:

    Am I right in saying that British Law recognises the rights of the unborn in some areas such as the law on the inherintace of legacies, but not in the case of the most fundamental right of all, namely life itself.

  37. Quentin says:

    I have made a small refinement to my contribution of Jan 8 — just for the sake of accuracy. And on January 7 I said that a 10 day old foetus was not an abortion. But on doing more homework I am reminded that the position is: “The medical and legal view is that a pregnancy begins at implantation in the endometrium, not when the egg is fertilised.” (letter, Department of Health, 5 June 1995). Implantation takes place about a week after fertilisation. However, when expert medical evidence to support this view was requested it was not forthcoming.

    • tim says:

      No. In the absence of such evidence it may be reasonable to assume that the view is adopted for policy reasons. Compare “A Matter of Life”, Edwards & Steptoe (Sphere Books, 1981) at page 83 “We were also aware that our work would enable us to examine a microscopic human being – one in its very earliest stages of development -…” .

  38. Quentin says:

    There is a good discussion on the medical and legal aspects of planting multiple embryos in the womb at

  39. tim says:

    Rahner, I’d like to come back on your earlier comment: “So what punishment should be imposed on, say, a middle class woman who has an abortion because a child would interfere with her career in investment banking? A life sentence for homicide?” This (and your mention of a ‘police state’) gives me the feeling that you’re trying to set up a straw man. I did not suggest (and I doubt the need for) any punishment for women who have abortions. It is sufficient to punish doctors (or others) who carry them out. That also disposes of your problem about women going abroad. I take your point that my proposal is not likely to be adopted any time soon, at least in UK. I don’t see that that prevents me from advancing it.

    • Rahner says:

      The idea that you would only punish doctors etc does not seem to be a reasonable. Why shouldn’t the woman be punished if abortion is homicide?
      “That also disposes of your problem about women going abroad.” Disposes? How?

  40. st.joseph says:

    If a person kills a swan or puts a cat in a dustbin they are prosecuted? If someone drowns kittens their not- if someone kills a baby under 24 weeks their not, even though a baby feels pain. It can be seen to move away from the instruments that are taking its life.
    How can anyone not call it ‘killing a child.’When is a human being not a human being.?
    It is only done because it is allowed.
    If it was made illegal from conception, people would act responsible with education, or face the consequences.
    It is not as if they dont have a choice now. One doesn’t have to be pregnant.

  41. tim says:

    Why isn’t it reasonable? We punish drug pushers more severely than their customers. The women involved typically suffer – why add to this?

    Abortion may be homicide, but it is not recognised universally as such. It is more important to prevent abortions than to punish those involved, surely?

    I thought you were worried about the penalties to be imposed on women, and whether they would also suffer those penalties if they went abroad. If there are no penalties, that problem falls away. Of course, abortions will still happen – but less frequently. It is less convenient to go abroad (compare assistance with suicide). And it may suggest to some people at least (if they have to go abroad) that they are doing something shady. And eventually (we may hope) other countries will change their laws in the same way.

    • Rahner says:

      “Abortion may be homicide, but it is not recognised universally as such”
      Exactly, that’s why it won’t be criminalised.

      • tim says:

        Rahner, we seem to be talking about different things. You are talking about what is likely to happen. I am talking about what should happen. To change the law (in UK at least) will be difficult, but to say it is impossible is a counsel of despair.

        I agree that ‘pious platitudes’ will not change minds in the House of Commons. Probably the best approach is to concentrate on the damage abortion does to women. This may strike some as almost like arguing against slavery because of the harm it does to slave-owners (parenthetically – taking a point from up-thread – some slave-owners were very nice people – Jefferson, for example). But we need arguments to which people’s minds are not closed, which I think is one of the points you are making.

  42. st.joseph says:

    It ought to be more important to prevent pregnancy.
    It is not as if we dont know how too.
    We are not living in the dark ages now.
    Man can get to the Moon.

  43. Iona says:

    Rahner: you say “Some might argue that only an entity that has a capacity for sentience can be a candidate for HRs”. Doesn’t even the earliest of early embryos have a capacity for sentience, in the sense that it will develop sentience in the course of its normal intra-uterine development?

    • Rahner says:

      I imagine that those who use this type of argument would claim that there is a relevant difference between an entity that actually possesses a capacity for sentience at a given time and one which will develop and have that capacity at a later time.

  44. st.joseph says:

    What is HRs” I am not sure what it is. Forgive my ignorance.

  45. st.joseph says:

    Ref; Your comment Jan 7th 12.01am.
    You say ‘diffirent / social cultural context that existed in 1960. If anyone thinks that 300+MPs would vote for the criminalisation of abortion is simply deluded’.

    That is a very negative way to think. All sorts of laws have been introduced, especially with health and safety.
    We could start by voting for a pro-life MP.
    People defend their rights when dogs fowl the pavements, or in other peoples gardens, or people uninating in doorways or stealing birds eggs from nests.
    We do need to be more positive and speak out more in defense of the unborn from conception and not hide our light under a bushle.
    I am not deluded! Even if you are!

  46. Iona says:

    St. Joseph – HRs = human rights.

  47. Iona says:

    David Steel, who introduced the original Abortion Act in 1967 (it became law in ’68) has said that he had not anticipated its being used in the way it currently is used, – i.e., in effect, very often for reasons of social convenience. The “reason” given, in most cases, is that continuing the pregnancy would pose a greater risk to the woman’s mental health than terminating it. There are also abortions for really trivial handicaps / disabilities, which can be easily corrected surgically after birth, such as cleft palate. These things shouldn’t happen under existing law, but they do.

    • Quentin says:

      And thereby Iona hangs a tale. Go to

      and download, and perhaps save, the pdf file. On page 50 you will find the story of how this odd but fateful legal situation came about. Then shiver.

      • Iona says:

        Quentin – read it, saved it, and shivered.

        Right to Life claims that the two countries with the best record of maternal health are also the two countries with the most restrictive abortion laws (they are Ireland and Chile). Which indirectly suggests that maternal health suffers more when abortion is freely available than when the majority of pregnancies are carried to term.

  48. claret says:

    I have arrived late to this discussion and in trying to catch up I may have missed the relevant comment but I have not seen anything which recognises that in this country (UK) and most other countries abortion is a criminal act.
    There is a general recognition that the child in the womb deserves and needs the protection of the law. What has been allowed to happen is that by replacing the words ‘unborn child’ with ’embryo’ and the like, the (inter)national consience has been eased to such an extent that not only is it a permissible criminal act in the early stages but is actually to be lauded in some way as progress, and opponents of such criminality are portrayed as inhuman. (The corruption of language again.)
    As for the future we need to concentrate on the constant reminder that abortion is a crime and has been regarded as such for generations, and no amount of tinkering with weeks gestation alters that fact.
    Someone mentioned abortion is not in scripture. Many crimes are not specific to scripture but all can be found in the 10 commandments. Thou shall not kill is a good starting point.
    The early Christian writing of the Didache, written about 100AD, specifically records it and condemns it.

  49. John Candido says:

    I will always support an unfettered and non-judgemental access by any woman or girl that seeks a medical abortion, providing that both pre and post abortion counselling was available to them. Although my many sincere antagonists, both on and off this blog, have both a right to their cherished view and the right to see abortion recriminalised through social and political activity, I remain resolute in my personal belief as outlined previously in ‘Foetal reduction’.

    I will always be opposed to the recriminalisation of medical abortions, providing such abortions are scrupulously conducted according to all existing legal and medical regulations. All legal and medical regulations in the administration of medical abortions must be subject to change via the agency of the latest medical, social, and legal research. I most definitely view medical abortions as a woman’s right first and foremost, providing the former qualifications have been thoroughly met. I think that this is a clear case of modernity clashing with the understandable strictures of the Catholic Church. I believe that medical abortions will never be recriminalised because of the secular, liberal, and democratic nature of modern democracies. As a consequence, the Catholic Church will tweak their teachings to cater for modernity in future. When will these reforms happen in future, you might ask? Who knows? Not anytime soon to be sure!

    I don’t see any set of human rights as absolutes, and neither do I see any religious rule or dogma as an absolute. All rights and religious rules need to be balanced with the competing rights of others. To my way of thinking, the context of humans as well as the teaching of the Catholic Church has to be in balance of one another. Neither human rights nor religious rulings are to triumph over real human contexts. However, both religious strictures and human rights have to be respected as guidelines to the complexity of human and communal existence.

    Most people who read this blog are resolutely against abortion. As a heads up to your side, it is important to know the mind of your opponents. If you are going to be successful in recriminalising abortion in future, get to know your opponents arguments thoroughly. To wit,

    • st.joseph says:

      John, just to make a comment on a point you make,that being ‘Although many antagonists both on and off this blog have a right to their cherished view and the right to see abortion recriminalised through social and political activity.

      First of all it is not a view of those who work for the pro-life movement-it is a belief.
      It is a view of the pro-abortion movement.
      Those working for the pro life movement see it as a destruction of a humam being, hence the pictures they show as it is said in the ‘abortion rights’ campaign.
      The pro-abortion movement see it as a ‘view’ and a right to abort an unborn child.

      Why do we see all the anger from those who oppose the pictures shown of a baby being aborted.
      If they really didn’t believe that it was a baby why are they so angry.
      Conscience maybe!!!

      • John Candido says:

        I suppose they don’t like gory pictures designed to provoke an emotional response from them put in front of their faces. They have made up their minds on the issue. It’s inflammatory, upsetting, and unnecessary. Making your point should not involve unnecessary confrontations with your antagonists in public. Women seeking a medical abortion are potentially in a very vulnerable and delicate position and this is the last thing that they want to see. Ethical and professional pre-abortion counsellors, doctors, social workers, nurses, and all other hospital workers, do not behave in such a manner to their patients/clients. It would be unthinkable! Respectful debate is what is required; not harassment.

  50. Rahner says:

    “I don’t see any set of human rights as absolutes, and neither do I see any religious rule or dogma as an absolute. All rights and religious rules need to be balanced with the competing rights of others.”
    This seems to me to rather confused. Presumably the claim that all rights and rules need to be balanced with competing rights of others is in some sense absolute?

  51. John Candido says:

    Granted! To say that there are absolutes or aren’t any absolutes; is an absolute in itself. I suppose there are several things that can be called absolutes, in human experience. Namely, life, death, matter, gravity, light, time, God, finiteness, infiniteness, space in all of its dimensions, logic, and pure mathematics, are my most likely candidates for absolutes.

    Some of them cannot be defined as in ‘life’, ‘death’, or ‘God’. I am sure there are others that could be added to this list. What about the human will, evil, or love? They are indefinable, but are they absolutes? These are philosophical questions. Are there any Philosophers in the house?

    • Rahner says:

      “What about the human will, evil, or love? They are indefinable, but are they absolutes?”
      I imagine most philosophers would be unclear as to exactly what you are asking,

  52. st.joseph says:

    John, take a look in http://www.Rachels Vineyard.UK.You may then show a little more sympathy towards the mothers who have aborted their babies in the past .Read the 100s of testimonies of those women who have suffered when they realised the full truth of what they did with, the help of people who have a vocation to save life.
    I dont believe you really have any idea of what you are talking about. To me it seems as though you are allowing your ignorance to overcome your intelligence! Especially in a matter which I believe you know nothing about.Like so many others who need to wake up to the destruction of a baby.
    Speak to some nurses who have witnessed this, not just looking at posters. This is reality we are speaking about here-not just photos.
    Remember the horror of the young children throwing things over the motorway bridge, and the police asked them what they were doing. They said’ We are throwing little people away.
    They were taking them out of a bin outside an abortion clinic.
    Thats horror stories John -more than pictures.
    Why must we hide the truth.Sometime these things need exposing. We are supposedly living in a civilised society today!

  53. John Candido says:

    I believe the links are: for the UK, and for Australia. I do have a lot of empathy for anybody in distress; regardless of whatever they have done or have happened to them.

    What you have to accede to is the latest scientific research on the question of the post-operative psychological effects of medical abortions on women. Just such research has most recently been released in December 2011 by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges in conjunction with National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, London, and authorised by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

    Its title is ‘Induced Abortion and Mental Health, a Systemic Review of the Mental Health Outcomes of Induced Abortion, including their Prevalence and Associated Factors.’

    If you are academically trained or you love to wade through a quite lengthy document, go to . The entire document consists of approximately 250 pages. If you would prefer a more civilised summary, as I would, go to .

    If I may quote from the summary located on the preceding link,

    ‘The largest and most comprehensive review of evidence around mental health outcomes and abortion has found that having an abortion does not increase the risk of mental health problems (09.12.11). The findings have led to calls for anti-choice groups to stop misleading women about the potential dangers of the procedure. The review, commissioned by the Academy of Medical Colleges and carried out by the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (NCCMH) at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, concluded that it makes no difference to a woman’s mental health whether she chooses to have an abortion or to continue with the pregnancy.’

    ‘Researchers looked at 180 potentially relevant studies and included 44 papers published between 1990 and 2011, using only the best quality evidence. The studies included information from hundreds of thousands of women at least 90 days after an abortion. Professor Tim Kendall, Director of the NCCMH, told the BBC, “We believe this is the most comprehensive and detailed review of the mental health outcomes of abortion to date worldwide.”

    ‘The study found that having an unwanted pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of mental health problems, but that rates are the same whether women had an abortion or gave birth. About a third of women who have an unwanted pregnancy suffer depression and anxiety compared to 11-12% of the general population.’

    ‘The review found that having a history of mental health problems was the best predictor of whether women would suffer after having had an abortion. It also found that having a negative attitude towards abortion or being under pressure from a partner to have an abortion are associated with increased rates of post-abortion mental health problems.’

    ‘Dr Roch Cantwell, a consultant perinatal psychiatrist and Chair of the review’s Steering Group, said:

    “Our review shows that abortion is not associated with an increase in mental health problems. Women who are carrying an unwanted pregnancy should be reassured that current evidence shows they are no more likely to experience mental health problems if they decide to have an abortion than if they decide to give birth.”

    ‘Anne Milton, the public health minister responsible for abortion, said the review’s findings would be considered when the Department of Health updates its sexual health strategy next year, adding, “What is clear is that having an unwanted pregnancy has implications for people’s health and wellbeing.”

    ‘The review’s findings were welcomed by pro-choice and sexual health groups. Tracey McNeill, vice-president of abortion provider Marie Stopes told the Guardian,’

    “In our experience, for every extra week a woman carries an unwanted pregnancy, it can represent an extra week of distress. This is reinforced by the review’s finding that while abortion does not have a disproportionate impact on mental health, having an unwanted pregnancy does.”

    ‘Abortion Rights campaign co-ordinator Darinka Aleksic said,

    “Women will be reassured by the review’s findings that having an abortion does not increase their risk of mental health problems. We hope this will put an end to the campaign of misinformation and scaremongering by anti-abortion activists on this issue.”

    “If they truly care for women’s mental health, they will focus their attention on reducing rates of unwanted pregnancy through better access to contraception and comprehensive sex and relationships education for all young people.” ( , accessed on the16th January 2012).

    Barring any future revisions through future scientific studies of a similar quality, this study cannot be ignored, downplayed, or maligned by opponents of medical abortions. The study’s authority is impeccable, as it has emanated from the highest medical circles in Britain.

    • Quentin says:

      John, the evidence here is impressive. But do you think that it goes the other way too, i.e. that a claim that the mental distress of a pregnant woman can be relieved by abortion has no merit.

      • John Candido says:

        Is this a claim of the above study?

      • tim says:

        John, we agree that we respect each other’s right to our own opinions – and, I think, those of the Church, on this blog. But we are entitled to criticise all such opinions, in particular if they are incoherent or do not take account of all the facts.

        You say “I will always be opposed to the recriminalisation of medical abortions, providing such abortions are scrupulously conducted according to all existing legal and medical regulations.” I have three points on this.

        1. Abortion remains a criminal offence in UK (as previously noted), unless done in conformity with the exceptions provided under the 1967 Act (and its subsequent amending Acts). So ‘recriminalisation’ may not be in question.

        2. Do you think that, currently, in the UK, abortions are scrupulously conducted according to the law? I suggest to you that the law is widely ignored. This is because of the widespread view (which you appear to share) that women are entitled to an abortion if they ask for one. “The opinion of two doctors in good faith” is frequently ignored (two doctors may sign the forms – they don’t necessarily read them). This is sometimes justified (‘scrupulously’?) on the basis that, overall, abortions have a lower death rate (for the mother) than live births. Your wish that the current law be respected is no more realistic than mine that it should be changed.

        3. In any case, law needs a moral justification. Capital punishment is legal in several US states – that is the law, but it isn’t necessarily right. It is not enough to support strict observance of the existing law – you need to explain why it is just. You accept the possibility of changing the regulations “via the agency of the latest medical, social, and legal research” but I don’t understand by what criteria you would judge the relevance of such research, or how it should influence changes. From what you have said so far, I would infer (perhaps unfairly) that you may even think the law should be further liberalised, at least in some respects, to conform with current practice.

        I think you overlook that to profit from abortions you do not have to operate in the back streets. There is money to be made from providing such services openly, indeed to the National Health Service.

        It may not be impossible to ‘recriminalise’ abortion. Poland has – do you accept that as a democratic country? (so has Hungary – though not so democratic, perhaps).

        I agree with you that it is important to understand the arguments used by pro-abortionists. But to understand is not necessarily to sympathise. If you feel that there are such arguments that are not getting enough attention on this blog, let us know what they are.

      • tim says:

        That it is not a claim of the study is perhaps an indication that the people who conducted the study were blind to the inference (why?). Personally, I’m not sure that the evidence is impressive. It has been criticised – reference to follow when I can recover it.

      • John Candido says:

        1. What I mean by recriminalisation is for the legal exceptions to be recriminalised.

        2. Where is your evidence that medical abortions in the UK are done without regard to the regulations in question? Point me to proper observational studies that support your view. I don’t want anecdotal evidence. Even if you could provide me with these studies, what has that got to do with me? It is the job of the public service within the UK’s Department of Health to look after these issues.

        3. It is not for me to judge the relevance or otherwise of new research impacting on the regulatory framework of medical abortions.

    • tim says:

      I promised some time ago to provide some academic criticism of this study. I refer you to , where you will find comments by Professor Priscilla Coleman (you’ll have to scroll down a bit, as the comments are in the middle of a discussion of Professor Coleman’s own article). I am not in a position to judge what is said (on either side) but it seems there are at least reasonable grounds for contesting the study.

  54. st.joseph says:

    John, your comment above, No I am not academically trained,and have read into the web site you gave above yesterday. I am not ‘impressed’.
    Of course Marie Stopes would make her point ‘clear’
    Would you think that adoption would be better than killing them?? Or not.

  55. John Candido says:

    Bringing a foetus to birth to offer it up for adoption by a woman who does not want her child is not realistic and neither is it empathetic to her concerns. In an ideal world, this would happen. Unfortunately, we don’t live in such a world. And it is not for me to make a decision for another woman who is pregnant. I might also add that it is none of my business what a woman wants to do with her foetus.

  56. st.joseph says:

    I looked after a young catholic boy many years ago,a catholic, while he was waiting to be assesed.
    Just for a week. He sat one day by the telephone in the Guest Hall slicing his wrists with a razor blade.
    Should I have said to him carry on- do as you like it is none of my business what you do with your body!.I suppose you would go away and let them get on with it- would you?
    But you see John it is Gods business, which makes it ours as human beings not just catholics or other religions.
    I know a young married women who had her baby adopted at 15, he found her this Christmas,and what a joy for her,he is 18 a lay Methodist preacher and she knows she made the right decision although didn’t know at the time- only with proper counselling she did the right thing.
    Dont live in the dark John!

  57. John Candido says:

    I would never abandon anybody whom I see is in trouble. I would try my best to help them. Sometimes it is not possible to help them on the spot, and you have to call others to assist, for example, the police, an ambulance, the fire brigade, strangers, or the neighbours. However the context of a woman who does not want her child is off limits and none of my business. It is very unlikely that any woman will ask me for my point of view simply because I am not related to her or even if I am known or not known by her. It is her decision and hers only to make; ideally in consultation with a host of other professionals, family, and her friends, if consultation is what she wants to do.

    • st.joseph says:

      Yes John, but not always are the Counsellors on the side of pro-life.
      This is the emotional time when a woman needs the support of a pro-life person, who will show them the way towards an adoption or any financial help before they decide to take the life of their son or daughter.
      I know this from experience having being involved with young girls who were advised to abort their baby-even their parents wanted it.
      They never regretted it and stayed with me until their baby was a few months old, then moved on to accomodation. It was not very acceptable with some people who thought that I should not house them, the pro-abortion lobby welcomed abortion very strongly.
      I did not consider it to be none of my business .
      Would you feel alright if it were your grandchild, without helping them
      We are all children of God regardless of who else they are!
      Back to what you say about their families helping them . Most girls do not tell their

      • John Candido says:

        I don’t mean any disrespect, but you probably do not have a good understanding of the role of a pre-abortion counsellor. I don’t claim to be one either, by the way. However, a pre-abortion counsellor is not there as a propagandist, that would impose their personal view on others, regardless if their view is either religious or secular.

        The first tasks are to listen, understand, and empathise, i.e. to develop a good professional and empathetic relationship with one’s client. Other tasks are related to coordinating services and options for the client, informing them accurately where appropriate, regarding any ethical and/or legal issues. Enlightening them with future processes or pathways, should a client decide to go one way rather than another path.

        Where the counsellor is out of their depth; a referral to other professionals who can assist their client is very important. A counsellor is there to provide a safe place where all sorts of personal issues can be canvassed, from the trivial to the more important. It is all about empowering the individual to see more clearly, act and think more rationally, to become more confident and mature in their demeanour and outlook. Personal development, maturity, rational and ethical behaviour, are some of the hoped for goals of a good counsellor for their client.

        They are not there to judge people, impose their own philosophical or religious point of view, or subtly steer them to ‘desired moral outcomes’ that are consistent with a counsellor’s religious or secular position for that matter. Counsellors must be professional, ethical, objective, and impartial. They must be continually informed by the latest scientific, medical, psychological, and sociological studies that relate to their area of competence, in order for them to remain contemporary and effective.

        To be a highly qualified and competent counsellor is a difficult thing to do, precisely because they have to suspend or at least not utter their personal views and judgements of the client in order to achieve broader, long-term therapeutic ends, or to be of practical, more short-term assistance to people from all walks of life. In order to do this well you have to be very switched on as a person yourself, i.e. very mature, very rational, and most importantly, very ethical and professional in one’s outlook.

        I know that there must be a lot of social workers, psychologists, and welfare/community workers who are reading this who will probably roll their eyes at my desultory description. Counselling as a subject follows schools of thought and what I have probably described is what is known as a client-centred Rogerian approach, which is named after its developer in an American Psychotherapist called Carl Rogers. To say that pre-abortion counsellors must be prolife or pro-abortion, is a travesty of their very important, but not well understood, professional role in our society.

    • tim says:

      “It is her decision and hers only to make”. A possible (I suggest not unusual) situation is of a cohabiting couple. The woman becomes pregnant. The man makes it clear that if he is to stay in the relationship she must have an abortion. She has it. He leaves anyway (understandable – she isn’t any fun any more). That is a situation which would be notably less common if abortion were not an accepted option.

  58. st.joseph says:

    John for someone who says you dont know that much about women who are pregnant, you seem to know what happens during their pre-abortion counselling.
    I think you are a little naive on the subject.!

  59. Iona says:

    From John Candido’s lengthy quotation above, I have selected the following short paragraph:

    Tracey McNeill, vice-president of abortion provider Marie Stopes told the Guardian,’

    “In our experience, for every extra week a woman carries an unwanted pregnancy, it can represent an extra week of distress. This is reinforced by the review’s finding that while abortion does not have a disproportionate impact on mental health, having an unwanted pregnancy does.”

    Tracey McNeill has missed the point. She says that “having an unwanted pregnancy” has “a disproportionate impact on mental health”. That is not what the study demonstrated. It demonstrated that women with existing mental health problems were more likely (than other women) to have an unwanted pregnancy; and that they were more likely to have subsequent mental health problems whether they aborted or carried the baby to term.

    I think perhaps that is what Quentin was getting at with his post which followed John Candido’s?

    • John Candido says:

      1. ‘Tracey McNeill has missed the point. She says that “having an unwanted pregnancy” has “a disproportionate impact on mental health”. That is not what the study demonstrated.’

      I am afraid that you are in error. Having an unwanted pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of mental health. This is one of the principle findings of the review. On page 8 of the study under the heading ‘Findings’, you have this statement. ‘An unwanted pregnancy was associated with an increased risk of mental health problems.’

      2. You go on to say that the study,

      ‘…demonstrated that women with existing mental health problems were more likely (than other women) to have an unwanted pregnancy…’

      I am afraid that you have got two parts of this statement the wrong way around. The study states that having an unwanted pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of mental health problems, not that women with mental health problems were more likely to have an unwanted pregnancy. The study does not say this at all.
      In addition, having a negative attitude to abortion or being placed under pressure to have an abortion from a partner or a husband, are associated with increased rates of post-abortion mental health problems.

      3. You go on to state that women with mental health problems,

      ‘…were more likely to have subsequent mental health problems whether they aborted or carried the baby to term.’

      I am in agreement with you here. The study states that having mental health problems was the best predictor of mental health problems after an abortion.
      What the study also says is that when a woman has an unwanted pregnancy, and she either goes on to have an abortion or a birth; rates of mental health problems will be largely unaffected. (Induced Abortion and Mental Health, …Page 125).

      It also states that,

      ‘The factors associated with increased rates of mental health problems for women in the general population following birth and following abortion are similar.’ (Induced Abortion and Mental Health, …Page 8).

  60. Iona says:

    Further on that report about abortion and women’s mental health: I have heard it suggested that the studies were not sufficiently long-term, and that post-abortion trauma can arise months or years after the abortion has taken place.

    • st.joseph says:

      Am a bit confused here. Were we not commenting on the right of the child here not the mother, and where does the mental health of the mother become a reason for the destruction of tearing apart a child piece by piece from he or her mothers womb.
      John you are mudding the waters here to cover up for the evil crime of killing a baby.
      We can make all sorts of reasons why this is allowed, but why the one reason why ‘not’!
      The reality is it is a child in the process of growing-just like when it is 1 or 2 0r 12 or more.
      Get real John. Because that is what the baby is doing just getting older from conception.
      Like we all are.

      • John Candido says:

        A medical abortion is not the ‘killing of a baby’ as you so emotively and inaccurately put it. A medical abortion is the legal ending of the life of a human foetus. The former is a murder, while the latter is a medical procedure undertaken under strict regulatory conditions and is therefore most definitely not a murder. All correctly conducted medical abortions are undertaken on the assumption that the mother is voluntarily doing so of her own free will. She does this when she signs the consent form, in order to terminate the life of her foetus. It is a very serious matter, but one that should be legal on balance of all the social, psychological, and ethical factors involved. I can also assure everybody that I am also very serious and very sincere in all of my comments in this topic. Nobody is acting here.

  61. John Candido says:

    Following on from my previous post.

    It is worth summarising the findings in my previous post on ‘Induced Abortion and Mental Health’ for clarity’s sake.

    1. Having an abortion does not increase the risk of mental health problems.

    2. The studies in review include data from hundreds of thousands of women from at least 90 days after an abortion.

    3. Having an unwanted pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of mental health problems.

    4. Mental health rates are the same whether women have an abortion or gave birth.

    5. Having a history of mental health problems was the best predictor or mental health problems after an abortion.

    6. Having a negative attitude to abortion or being placed under pressure to have an abortion from a partner or husband, are associated with increased rates of post-abortion mental health problems.

    7. Abortion is not associated with an increase in mental health problems.

    8. Women who have an unwanted pregnancy should be informed that having an abortion or giving birth, does not lead to an increased risk of having mental health issues.

    It is also worth summarising the findings and recommendations of the review, which is found on page 8. I have cut and pasted it for everybody’s convenience below.


    ‘Taking into account the broad range of studies and their limitations, the steering group concluded that, on the best evidence available’:

    • ‘The rates of mental health problems for women with an unwanted pregnancy were the same whether they had an abortion or gave birth.’

    • ‘An unwanted pregnancy was associated with an increased risk of mental health problems.’

    • ‘The most reliable predictor of post-abortion mental health problems was having a history of mental health problems before the abortion.’

    • ‘The factors associated with increased rates of mental health problems for women in the general population following birth and following abortion were similar.’

    • ‘There were some additional factors associated with an increased risk of mental health problems specifically related to abortion, such as pressure from a partner to have an abortion and negative attitudes towards abortions in general and towards a woman’s personal experience of the abortion.’

    ‘The steering group also noted that’:

    • ‘The rates of mental health problems after an abortion were higher when studies included women with previous mental health problems than in studies that excluded women with a history of mental health problems.’

    • ‘A negative emotional reaction immediately following an abortion may be an indicator of poorer mental health outcomes.’

    • ‘Meta-analyses in this area were of low quality, at significant risk of bias and offered no advantage over a rigorous systematic narrative review.’

    • ‘Future practice and research should focus on the mental health needs associated with an unwanted pregnancy, rather than on the resolution of the pregnancy.’


    ‘In the light of these findings, it is important to consider the need for support and care for all women who have an unwanted pregnancy because the risk of mental health problems increases whatever the pregnancy outcome. If a woman has a negative attitude towards abortion, shows a negative emotional reaction to the abortion or is experiencing stressful life events, health and social care professionals should consider offering support, and where necessary treatment, because they are more likely than other women who have an abortion to develop mental health problems.’

    ‘There is a need for good quality prospective longitudinal research to explore the relationship between previous mental health problems and unwanted pregnancy, especially in a UK context, to gain a better understanding of which women may be at risk of mental health problems and to identify those in need of support.’

    It is important to note that like all high quality studies, it does not claim the final word on the issues discussed and it is also upfront with the review’s inbuilt limitations. As the preceding paragraph states, there is a need to undertake a more definitive study that is not hamstrung by reviews of past research, however relevant, but is a prospective longitudinal study that is situated in the UK itself.

    • st.joseph says:

      If I go outside and knock a pheasant on the head with a hammer until it dies (and there are loads in my garden ) Have I not killed it? If I knock it on the head to eat it- have I not killed it?People are shooting rabbits around me-are they not killed?
      Whether legal or not,something or someone has died by the act of someone else.
      Are you more concerned with it being legal here with a baby?
      Some one has died from being killed!
      If the law is changed,and it will be, with Gods help, how would you feel then?
      Would you then say it was wrong? Is it just a matter of legality with you,the law allows it so it must be OK.
      Where is God speaking in all this?

  62. John Nolan says:

    I have seen every surgical procedure known to man (including sex-change operations), shown in great and gory detail on television, not to mention autopsies; the sole exception is abortion, which has never been televised. The reason for this is that it would be “too distressing” which begs the question:- Why are those who have no qualms about advocating abortion (even late terminations involving what the medical profession refers to as feticide) so squeamish about the procedures involved? I think I know the answer, but would like to know what others think.

    • John Candido says:

      There are a lot of unpleasant things in life that can make one question the rightness or wrongness of an act. Many come to mind. Killing somebody intent on killing you, as in a war or during peaceful times, for a policeman/woman to make an arrest of someone they might personally know or like, or for them to use lethal force against somebody else, for a doctor to inform the parents of a terminally ill child that they have done everything for him/her, but that they should brace themselves for their child’s death, for a judge to pass sentence on somebody whom they have some sympathy for, etc. etc. However, the rightness of their act is inescapable and duty calls.

      Much the same applies to a medical abortion or any other operation for that matter. It can be distressing, gory, bloody, etc. but after consideration of all of the factors involved, it is a duty to perform. Being a member of the SAS is a calling like any other calling. They have to do things at times that you or I would never dream of doing in our lives. Surgery is also a calling, and not many people are called to be surgeons. This does not make legal and ethical medical operations wrong however.

      • tim says:

        John, I note your frequent use of the term ‘foetus’ – also (I think) that no other contributor have used it. No doubt it is a correct scientific term – it is also dehumanising, and has vaguely unpleasant echoes (‘foetid’). Maybe you could avoid it, as a mark of respect to other hypersensitive contributors?

      • st.joseph says:

        John Candido.
        I asked you if the law was changed and abortion became illegal, would you still see it as morally right to take away a life at conception. Or even partial birth.
        Can you not answer that question?

      • John Candido says:

        No, not really. I have not used this word to offend anybody. The purpose of the word is understood to mean human life that is in gestation.

        You say that you think that no other contributor has used it except me. I used the ‘Find’ tool in Internet Explorer, which is located under the ‘Edit’ function at the top left hand side of your screen, in order to find out how many times and who else has been using the word ‘foetus’, if anybody, and also the adjective ‘foetal’.

        The word ‘foetus’ has been used 17 times. 4 times by Quentin, 7 times by myself, once by Iona, and 5 times by st.joseph. The adjective ‘foetal’ has been used 7 times. Once by John Nolan, twice by myself, once by Quentin, and it appeared 3 times in a heading or subheading in this topic. So it has been used by a number of people in their posts not just me.

        It is interesting that you would allege that nobody else has used ‘foetus’ but me, and I am wondering why that would be? Could it be that you and others have excessively humanised the foetus, to the extent that you see no difference between a foetus and people walking in a street?

      • John Candido says:

        Firstly, you are asking me a hypothetical question. However, I will answer it. Just because something is illegal, does not mean that an act, while legally proscribed, is immoral. Think about the former apartheid regime in South Africa. The racist, white minority who jailed, tortured, and killed hundreds of thousands of black South Africans before the ascension of Mandela, in order to maintain their privileges. They passed many laws that were immoral in themselves. I don’t know if I would have been brave enough to break their so called laws if I were a citizen. But if I could have mustered up the courage, I would have done so in solidarity with the oppressed.

        If an abortion was illegal, and I was a fully qualified surgeon and a woman came to me and asked if I could assist her by terminating her foetus; again it would be a question having the courage to do something that could potentially put me in jail and ruin my career. However, I would not view granting her an abortion as immoral.

  63. John Candido says:

    I might also add that God speaks in and through the secular world as much as s/he speaks in a religious one.

    • tim says:

      “To me, a human foetus is not a fully sentient post-partum human being, and I am reasonably confident that this is a medical and legal fact.”

      I don’t think that what things are ‘to you’ are facts at all. Facts do not depend on who is considering them. A ‘human foetus’ is a human being (agreed fact); it is not fully sentient (at least according to reasonable definitions, but how important is ‘full sentience’? – personally, I fear, I may be beginning to lose it); it is not ‘post-partum’ (I suggest) or it would not be a foetus. So I feel your confidence is unreasonable. As I think Quentin has already pointed out, we are all complex collections of living cells in a transient state of development (or in some cases, decay): this is not to the point, it is just more dehumanising language.

    • tim says:

      “God speaks in and through the secular world as much as …”
      What is your basis for thinking that? Can you give examples?

      • tim says:

        JC, thank you for taking the trouble to check my hypothesis about the use of ‘foetus’, and for correcting my assumption that you were the only person to use the word. I note you still come out top of the table, but you may reasonably reply that you rank correspondingly high on the list of contributors. I accept that you are not using the term deliberately to dehumanise the subject of our discussions. Nevertheless it has that effect. It begs the question. When we are considering the unborn child in most contexts other than getting rid of it, that is not what we call it. When we meet a happy expectant mother, we do not ask after her ‘foetus’. I say that what how we talk about something has a profound effect on what how we feel about it. I think if we were having a discussion about race, and you asked me not to use the word ‘Negro’, on the ground that some people found it offensive, that, even if I found this unreasonable, you would probably expect me to comply. Also, strictly (if Wikipedia is correct) a ‘foetus’ refers to the developing human from the 11th week from conception until birth: before that, the term is ’embryo’. Given that part of the case that we should not be too concerned about abortions is that the majority of them take place before 12 weeks from conception, it appears that ‘foetus’ is quite often not even scientifically accurate.

        May I also say how much I admire the diligence with which you defend your position in a matter where (in this particular corner of the Web) it is so unpopular. I only wish it was expended in a better cause.

  64. John Candido says:

    There is an online article about the top ten myths about abortion that I would like to share with you. It is located at: and it is authored by Tom Head, an American student with an MA degree in humanities, and is currently doing a PhD.

    1. ‘You can’t be pro-choice and be anti-death penalty/anti-war at the same time.’

    ‘False. The pro-choice position is predicated on the idea that women have the right to decide whether to carry their pregnancies to term. The victims of the death penalty and war are fully conscious persons rather than pre-sentient entities in a woman’s womb, so the moral questions involved are entirely different.’

    2. ‘Abortion causes breast cancer.’

    ‘Mostly false. In 1997, the New England Journal of Medicine published the largest-scale study ever on this subject–with 1.5 million participants–which concluded that there is no independent link between abortion and breast cancer. Clearly if abortion does increase the risk of breast cancer, it does so by an undetectably small margin. Becoming pregnant and carrying a pregnancy to term may, however, reduce the risk of breast cancer.’

    3. ‘This is what an abortion looks like.’

    ‘Almost always false. Many abortion protest photographs are artist’s renderings or the result of image manipulation, and the bulk of the rest are of very late-term fetuses aborted for emergency medical reasons. The most well-known graphic abortion poster is of a 30-week-old fetus, aborted six full weeks into the third trimester. The vast majority of abortions are performed during the first trimester, and Roe v. Wade only protects first and second trimester abortions.’

    4. ‘Even first-trimester fetuses can feel pain.’

    ‘False. Fetal nerve cells can react to trauma, but pain reception requires a neocortex — which is not formed until early in the third trimester.’

    5. ‘Fetuses become conscious at 8 weeks.’

    ‘False. Fetuses begin to develop a minimal brain stem at 7 weeks, but are not capable of consciousness until the third trimester and most likely remain unconscious until birth. As one brain scientist puts it: “the fetus and neonate appears incapable of … experiencing or generating ‘true’ emotion or any semblance of higher order, forebrain mediated cognitive activity.’

    6. ‘Emergency contraception causes abortions.’

    ‘False. Emergency contraception prevents pregnancy from occurring in the first place by blocking fertilization of the egg and subsequent implantation in the uterus; it does not, and cannot, induce abortions. If your objective is to reduce the number of abortions, then the single most effective thing you can do to achieve that goal is to help make emergency contraception universally available over the counter.’

    7. ‘Banning abortion will get rid of it, once and for all.’

    ‘False. In El Salvador, abortion is illegal with a possible 30-year prison sentence attached–and women can still easily obtain cheap black market abortifacients to induce abortion. The only drawback? No medical supervision. Banning abortion won’t put an end to abortion, but it will put women’s lives at risk.’

    8. ‘Pro-choice activists want to increase the number of abortions.’

    ‘False. Pro-choice activists lead the charge in advocating comprehensive sex education, increased access to birth control, condom use, and emergency contraception, all of which reduce the incidence of abortion. Strangely, anti-abortion activists work equally hard to make these options more difficult to access–creating the impression that the anti-abortion movement is more concerned with sexual purity than abortion.’

    9. ‘Pro-choice activists want abortion on demand until the moment of birth.’

    ‘False. Pro-choice activists work to protect the Roe v. Wade standard, which allows states to ban elective third-trimester abortions. The debate over late-term and partial-birth abortions has to do with abortions performed for emergency medical reasons, not elective abortions.’

    10. ‘Human life begins at conception.’

    ‘False. Human life actually begins prior to conception, because each sperm and egg cell is a living thing. It is more relevant to discuss when sentience, or self-awareness, begins. In 2000, the British House of Lords established a Commission of Inquiry into Fetal Sentience, which estimated that higher-level brain development begins to commence at about 23 weeks.’

    I cannot verify the truth or otherwise of any scientific or medical claims in this article as I am not a scientist or medically qualified. Nonetheless, I am assuming that he has done his homework.

    • tim says:

      What a splendid collection of straw men!

      Let’s start with the last one (it’s on the same screen as I’m typing on). If by ‘human life’ you mean living human cells, then what you say is both true and irrelevant. ‘Human life’ in this context means a human being. I’ve quoted Steptoe et al earlier in this correspondence, I think. ‘Sentience’ is a separate, and not generally recognised as essential, attribute of humanity, but I suppose you’re free to adopt it if you wish. It will come in handy when society wants to put down people with advanced Alzheimer’s.

      More to follow… (eventually).

      • tim says:

        Actually, it’s not the ‘top ten myths about abortion’ but ‘the top ten myths that abortionists like to believe prolifers believe about abortion’.

  65. st.joseph says:

    The first point I would like to make to you and that is.
    1st. when making your points-it would be a good thing if you made reference to the person concerned.
    2nd point. I used the word foetus in its proper context- twice when quoting ‘The Moral Dignity of Man’ and once in referring to this post.I can not find 5, only now you can quote me this comment as another.
    3rd. A foetus is ahuman from conception. All the baby does in it its mothers womb is grow.
    4th. When my father R.I.P. was elderley, practically-blind. deaf. practically unable to walk without aid-to communicate we wrote and he could just about read what we wrote.
    We took him to Mass daily- Bookies daily-Pub daily-as well as running a business,athough he was in
    residential care,and thank God for homes like that who care for the elderly.
    The point I am making is, no he didn’t much resemble a baby in looks , but as a human-like a baby needed the same respect assistance and care.
    From conception till death he remained our father-and without him I cannot think how all the family around me would not have existed
    Yes we are humanising the foetus because that is just what we all are from conception . Including you.

    • John Candido says:

      Writing as a non-lawyer, the human foetus is an interesting thing. A human foetus has been represented in courts of law as a specific entity that has legal rights, even before it has been born as a baby. I cannot discuss cases to anybody as it is beyond my competence. However, as a regular consumer of newspapers and magazines, it has been brought to the public’s attention that the foetus is a legal entity with legal rights. Whether it was a civil matter as in negligence, or criminal matter; there is no question in my mind about this general fact. A foetus cannot be considered an inanimate object without rights until it has been born, much like a bath tub or a kitchen table.

      This is interesting because as a legal entity with legal rights in a contemporary society, it also can be subject to the desire of its mother to freely and legally abort it in a medical abortion. It is important to note that because of a mother’s legal right to abort its foetus, it is quite clear that a foetus has not got the same rights as anybody who has already been born.

      Because a foetus is in a transient state of development in its mother’s womb, it cannot be said that it is a post-partum (born) human being, equal in every way to people who have already been born. A foetus cannot think for itself, and it also has to pass through a host of other intermittent, gestational stages.

      Of course we are going to differ in our understanding of this issue. To me, a human foetus is not a fully sentient post-partum human being, and I am reasonably confident that this is a medical and legal fact. A human foetus is a complex collection of living cells in a transient state of development. And that is all it is until it is born and immediately has the full set of human rights as everyone else. An abortion cannot be conducted on a living baby; that would clearly be a murder.

      • st.joseph says:

        British law recognises the rights of the unborn such as the law on the inheritance of legacies. (Moral Dignity of Man)
        Also Britain permits unborn babies to be aborted up to birth if they have even a very minor disability. There was a case of Joanna Jepson who was born of a cleft palate and challenged (unsuccesfully) the law in the English courts.
        As you say in your comment that ‘it is not true’! Unfortunately it is and that is barbaric along with all babies who are under the knife, and under the pill,whether it be for contraceptive use or morning after pill.,which destroys the lining of the womb-the safest place for a baby in his or hers first 9 months.So you would say that a premature baby of 7 months was not a baby then as the statement you make above
        In that case the neither was son-who was premature.He is 47 now 2 beautiful girls, my grand daughters.

      • Quentin says:

        Just a couple of points John which you can help me with.

        I was attempting to explain that any human being is, to use your phrase, “a complex collection of living cells in a transient state of development”. I suppose that “collection” is OK, but it hardly matches up to the extremely complex organisation dictated by the genome in the initial cell (zygote). But it was sufficiently effective to enable me to become an adult, and it is still operating in me. It is one of the wonders of the Universe.

        You tell me that a baby acquires full human rights only when it is born. I take it that your criterion applies to a baby at, say, a day before birth at the end of full term. And also a baby born, let us say, a month early. I use those times because premature babies are often at great risk because they have not finished their in-womb development, while the term baby will have done, and so is further developed. Thus I understand that birth is your key and only criterion. But it will not satisfy my original question unless you can show the moral relevance of birth. So I look forward to hearing about that.

      • John Candido says:

        Birth is one key, but not ‘the key’ to assuming full human rights as a post-partum baby would ordinarily. According to the regulatory framework surrounding medical abortions, there is a pre post-partum stage where a surgeon cannot undertake an abortion. In other words, a medical abortion is out of the question, as the foetus is at such an advanced stage of development that conducting one would be legally and medically out of bounds.

        Without claiming to know what the specific regulation might be; it is most likely the third trimester of pregnancy or a very late state of gestation. When this has been reached, and a medical abortion cannot be legally undertaken, the foetus would have in a sense entered a de facto context, of having assumed human rights like the rest of us who have been born. So birth is certainly a significant marker of the full establishment of human rights, but not the only one.

      • Quentin says:

        John, I am not quibbling about times. I am sure you are not deliberatey dodgingthe question, but this is the third time I have asked you for morally relevant reasons as to why the baby at one moment is morally destroyable, and at another it is a potential murder victim. If you have no answer, that’s fine.

      • John Candido says:

        I have answered your question on when a foetus can or can’t be terminated. You have simply not read some of my replies carefully enough, and I am not responsible for that.

      • John Candido says:

        In case I might have been misunderstood and a little short with people; let me have another turn. I believe that I have answered your question of not only when a foetus may be terminated, but also why it may be terminated. A foetus may be terminated in a medical abortion when its period of gestation has conformed to the legal and medical regulatory framework surrounding the matter. That is, when the human foetus conforms to a legal and medical window of opportunity for termination. Beyond this widow; it cannot be terminated.

        If a human foetus is within a legal window of allowing its mother and doctors to terminate it according to law, it is legitimate to ask why can a human foetus be terminated at all? Answer: because contemporary secular society says it can. Contemporary society has deemed that an early stage human foetus may be terminated because it does not have the same level of sentiency as both late term foetuses, post-partum babies, and we have. Of course levels of sentiency will differ between the three examples that I have just used, but contemporary society has deemed them to be present within them.

        ‘Sentiency’ and ‘sentience’ are nouns, and the word ‘sentient’ is its adjective. According to ‘The Concise Oxford Dictionary’, Tenth Edition Revised, the adjective ‘sentient’ means, ‘able to perceive or feel things’.

        According to ‘The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary’, Fifth Edition, the adjective ‘sentient’ means, ‘having the power of perception by the senses’.

        According to ‘The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language’, Fifth Edition, the noun ‘sentience’ means,

        1. ‘The quality or state of being sentient; consciousness.’
        2. ‘Feeling as distinguished from perception or thought.’

        The same dictionary states that the adjective ‘sentient’ means,
        1. ‘Having sense perception; conscious: ‘The Living knew themselves just sentient puppets on God’s stage.’ (T. E. Lawrence).
        2. ‘Experiencing sensation or feeling.’

        The other thing that could be helpful to anyone who is interested is that this subject matter is to consult the no doubt many reports of parliamentary select committees and judicial reviews, who have examine these questions exhaustively. So if anyone wants to further understand why contemporary secular society has legally allowed medical abortions to occur, or why is a human foetus allowed to be terminated, assuming that this is done according to the regulatory framework, they should studiously consult these reports. A good place to start would be to enter the word ‘Parliament’ in the search area of or to use Google as a helpful research aid.

      • Quentin says:

        Thank you, John, you have helped me by your clarity. You are talking here about a legal issue — “because contemporary secular society says it can.” And of course on those terms you are right. My enquiry was about the moral question, related to the idea of inherent human rights. Another issue altogther.

      • John Candido says:

        In our society, a human foetus can be legally terminated through a medical abortion, provided the operation rigorously complies with all the regulations that govern it by law. For the purpose of our discussion, let’s place the law to one side. Let’s discuss why and how a human foetus can be terminated in moral terms, for both a Catholic and a secular individual.

        Firstly, I believe that the moral window for a Catholic to obtain a termination must be much smaller than the moral window for a secular individual. Secondly, the moral rightfulness or wrongfulness of abortion would depend on the intention of each individual involved, and the context that they are in.

        The conditions that would allow a Catholic to morally obtain a termination are in cases where the woman or girl has been subjected to rape or incest. Where a woman or girl may lose her life or be seriously incapacitated if the birth of the child were allowed to proceed, or where a woman’s life in a de facto relationship or a marriage, would be threatened if the husband or partner found out that they were not the biological father. It should also be morally acceptable to allow an abortion where a family or a community cannot financially support another child. These are a collection of the most serious reasons that should allow a Catholic woman or girl to obtain a moral medical abortion.

        For a Catholic woman or girl, with the foregoing reasons being present, providing that all relevant regulations governing a medical abortion have been rigorously met, and that the overriding intention of all people involved is to do as little harm as possible, where an abortion can only be allowed where sentiency is not present; such abortions are moral.

        Contemporary society would entirely depend on the knowledge and research of medical specialists in embryology, to help it determine when sentiency occurs in a human foetus. A moral abortion attempts to terminate a human foetus without knowingly causing the foetus any pain or distress. This is why sentiency is a vitally important consideration in any moral abortion. In conclusion, the morality of a termination is based on empathy for the woman or girl in a very difficult position, rigorously follows all legal and medical regulations, and terminating a foetus that does not have any sentiency.

        The moral window for secular individuals is a lot larger, and they would accommodate other less serious reasons as acceptable to them for medical terminations to be considered ethical.

        For contemporary conservative Catholics who are loyal to Rome, their position on abortion is a lot easier in some ways. There is only one answer to abortions and that is to criminalise them. Of course none of my reasons make any sense at all if you are a member of a church that forbids any abortions under any circumstances. When you have been told repeatedly that a human being and his or her soul is formed at the moment of conception, and any attempt at any sort of abortion is akin to killing a child, then that is the end of the matter. If you are in this category, nothing I or anybody else can write will be acceptable or appropriate to you.

        You might have noticed that I have repeated most of my points in my second post concerning serious reasons to allow abortions. The very fact that I and Rahner have had to repeat ourselves on a number of occasions is telling. Controversial positions are hard to accommodate and even harder to digest. This is another religious topic where agreement is impossible.

        Let me repeat what I said in one previous post. If you are going to successfully recriminalise abortion in future, get to know your opponent’s arguments intimately. Read their publications, books, pamphlets, and websites. Pore over parliamentary and judicial reports and find out why they think medical abortions should remain legal, and why they see abortions as either ethical or moral, and in what circumstances are they ethical or moral. I can assure you that prochoice groups do the very same thing to help maintain medical terminations legal.

  66. Quentin says:

    Quentin says:
    January 18, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    I have been reading this exchange with the greatest interest. As far as I can see it may go on forever. So much the better. I do not stick my head in because I think that st.joseph needs help. On the contrary she seems to know more about abortion at the coalface than most of us do. My only direct experience concerns someone very dear to me who had a miscarriage at 12 weeks while she was on her own. Despite her weakness and her loss of blood, her only thought was to baptise her baby. I can tell you that she still looks forward to meeting her baby in Heaven. I only contribute because I am intrigued. I would like to go back to John Candido’s remark of 16th January: “I might also add that it is none of my business what a woman wants to do with her foetus.”

    I would suggest that if JC saw a mother about to strangle her six month’s old baby he would wish to intervene. He would feel that it was his business. So I am left with the question: what is the difference with a baby in the womb? It might be useful here to assume a) that the mother is pregnant through her own choice or through carelessness and b) that the baby is somewhere between three and four months from conception. These conditions enable us to get to the principles involved without being distracted by irrelevant issues.

    That the baby in the womb is a separate human life is hard to dispute. Clearly it is alive and clearly it is human. It is separate because it is neither the mother nor the father but related to both of them through genes, just as I am related to my own parents. And that separation is emphasised by the fact that the baby has survived the mother’s body’s attempts to reject the baby as a foreign object – and even now they are to some degree in a contest for resources. Most often nature ensures that it is the baby who wins. Nature is on the side of babies.

    It is true that the baby is utterly dependent on its mother for protection and nourishment. And so it will be after it has been born. Indeed our early years of development are largely characterised by a process of enabling the young to become independent of this early care. Can the mother volunteer to refuse such care by evacuating the baby? Since she is its only source she is in the same position as a mother on a desert island who refuses to feed her 6 month old child. We would, would we not?, regard that as deliberate starvation.

    Perhaps the baby is owned by the mother. She will speak of “my baby” of course, but what she means is “the baby who is my responsibility”. In fact the baby is owned by itself just like any other human being. And, under ordinary circumstances, the greater the dependence of the child the greater the burden of defending its best interests against the immediate interests of others. Who relieved us of this burden to care for the most dependent of our fellows?

    Of course the baby is only in the process of becoming; its abilities, its capacities even its organs are in the process of becoming. But that is true of all of us – a human being is a “in the process of becoming” sort of being – just as today I learn some new facts, connect some more neurones, and lose some more hair. It is only the pace of becoming which varies – very fast in a baby, fast again at puberty, slow in senility.

    While I can see that there may be practical reasons for not interfering in abortions, and that such action might indeed be counterproductive, I can see no morally relevant reason why I should not be as concerned with the fate of a baby in the womb who is about to be killed as I am concerned with a baby outside the womb who faces the same prospect. Can you?

    • Rahner says:

      “I can see no morally relevant reason..”
      In relation to early abortions, eg 10days, the lack of a capacity for a degree of sentience and the lack of a capacity for a degree of independent viability could be relevant. Are you really claiming that a 10 day old embryo has the same moral value as a 10 year old child?

      • Quentin says:

        Rahner, I have been trying to think this out rigorously so please help me here.

        First, I carefully set the age of my example at three or four months. Perhaps we could sort that out first before looking at 10 days. That’s a question for another time.

        Second, while you can claim that moral value is based on development you might have to cope with questions like dealing with people with low IQ, or indeed whole races who may be claimed to be inferior. However you need to answer the question: does a human being have rights only because it is fully developed or does it have rights because it is a human being?

        The former view is respectable in that it is held by Professor Singer of Princeton University, who said to me a couple of years back, “… it isn’t easy to see what can justify us in granting a more serious right to life to a severely intellectually disabled human than we give to a nonhuman animal at a similar, or even superior, mental level.” He also argued that parents should have the option to kill disabled or unhealthy newborn babies for a certain period after birth. According to Professor Singer, and I quote, ”A period of 28 days after birth might be allowed before an infant is accepted as having the same right to live as others.”

        Which view should one take? Both have logical and potentially practical consequences.

      • st.joseph says:

        My first miscarriage after my son was born, was also 12 weeks.
        At home, the same experience . I saw my child then. He or she was formed.
        I was thinking about the comment here about the name of an early abortion ,so I ;looked in the dictionary for the decription of ‘child’ it says .
        ‘Young human being, boy or girl I, me, unborn, pregnant. son or daughter,descendant,.
        Its an old dictionary, but neverthless we can legitimenley call an embryo ‘our child’.
        Consequently when Jesus said ‘Whatever you do to these my liitle one you do unto me!
        When speaking about the children.
        Tim, in his comment Jan 17 at .10.46, made a valid point to John Candido.

      • Quentin says:

        st.joseph, round about the time of the abortion act, I wrote a letter to the Telegraph pointing that Our Lady, having conceived out of wedlock, poor, on foot, and a long way from home, was immediately entitled to an abortion on social grounds. Several people remembered the letter, and valued it.

  67. John Nolan says:

    John Candido

    Point 1 of your top ten myths about abortion reminds me of a remark made by the American satirist PJ O’Rourke. Observing that liberals are generally pro-abortion and anti-capital punishment, he said (and I quote from memory): “A conscientious Christian would be opposed to both. A hard-nosed utilitarian would be in favour of both. But it takes years of therapy to arrive at the liberal position”.

    Abortion has always been around, and has almost always been thought of as wrong. The Hippocratic Oath forbade physicians from administering anything to a woman which might induce an abortion. Can you please, please explain what precisely has changed in the human psyche in the last thirty years to turn accepted morality on its head? The same applies, mutatis mutandis, to sodomy, of which you are also a tireless advocate (on behalf of others, of course). Believe me, there is no precedent in the entire history of the human race for so sudden a tergiversation.

    • John Candido says:

      Evolution and change are a natural part of all life on earth, as the genius of Charles Darwin expounded during the nineteenth century in his ‘Origin of the Species’. I say this simply as a metaphor about human or social history. The effect of science and technology on human history, as well as its effect on the human psyche, cannot probably be exaggerated.

      Let us not discount by any measure the huge impact of writing on human culture, Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press, philosophy, logic, and mathematics. What about the effect on human beings of important historical epochs such as the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, or the political revolutions of the late 18th centuries? I feel that all of these significant epochs have had a gradual but significant impact on the self-perception of human beings.

      The effects that I have in mind are a slow but emerging sense of self-importance, human dignity, self-worth, personal independence, and a growing realisation of everybody’s entitlement to human rights. The passage from feudalism to modern democratic governance is a staggering transformation of power relationships, with their slowly emerging, concomitant understanding of personal dignity, for the ordinary man in the street.

      I would suggest that the key to answering your question of what exactly has changed in the human psyche in the last thirty years is modernity, and all of its gradual but inescapable effects on human society. Because of these historical developments, I don’t see that morality has been turned on its head so much as it has slowly evolved to a newer and more contemporary understanding of what is moral and ethical.

      • John Nolan says:

        Slowly evolved over 30 years? Come on. As for modernity, however you define it, do you really think our technology makes us wiser than the ancients? I agree with you on self-importance, but when did this become a virtue? Doesn’t the glorification of ‘self’ have a downside? Can we perhaps learn something from the Middle Ages or the ancient world about the ordering of society? You might also consider that the Church, with the wisdom of centuries, might be a better moral guide than some white-coated geneticist beavering away in his state-funded laboratory.

    • John Candido says:

      1. ‘Slowly evolved over 30 years? Come on.’

      That was taken out of context. I mean the whole of human history as it would relate to the last 30 or 40 years.

      2. ‘As for modernity, however you define it, do you really think our technology makes us wiser than the ancients?’

      No I don’t. I am referring to its impact or effect on human consciousness.

      3. ‘I agree with you on self-importance, but when did this become a virtue? Doesn’t the glorification of ‘self’ have a downside?’

      Yes it does. In advocating legal medical abortions I am not seeking personal glory.

      4. ‘Can we perhaps learn something from the Middle Ages or the ancient world about the ordering of society?’

      Of course we can. Providing that the church contemporises its theology and ecclesiology, I don’t have a problem with that.

      5. ‘You might also consider that the Church, with the wisdom of centuries, might be a better moral guide than some white-coated geneticist beavering away in his state-funded laboratory.’

      I don’t think so. Its failure to responsibly grasp contemporaneous and serious thought in Christian theology, philosophy, and ecclesiology has been why it is in its present crisis.

      6. Contemporary society places a lot of store in a ‘white-coated geneticist beavering away in his state-funded laboratory,’ as it does in contemporary discussions by those knowledgeable in bioethics, the law, philosophy, and theology.

      • John Nolan says:

        Thanks for the replies. If I might comment on your six points in order:
        1. I am suggesting a disjunct in the last thirty or forty years. In (say) 1960 the law did not usually conflict with Judaeo-Christian morality, a situation that had existed for well over a thousand years. The new secular ‘morality’ clearly does, and the state is using the law to impose it .
        2. Technology enables us to travel more quickly, access information more easily, and prolong life. It also enables us to kill thousands of people thousands of miles away at the push of a button, and can decrease human consciousness by providing non-stop low-grade ‘culture’ for the masses. Panis et circenses?
        3. I never suggested you were!
        4. Non sequitur. I deliberately left the Church out of it.
        5. I thought you might say that! Unless the Church goes along with the latest modernist/liberal fad she will fail in her mission. That’s where the wisdom of centuries comes in. Your argument is little more than “I have convinced myself that I am right on issue x. The Church does not agree. Ergo, the Church must be wrong.”
        6. Oh dear. I am minded of Churchill’s comment about “a new Dark Age, rendered even more terrible by the lights of perverted science”.

      • John Candido says:

        Perhaps you can answer Rahner’s question on my fourth point. That is, can you provide us examples of ancient lessons that apply to the ordering of contemporary society? Thanks.

  68. st.joseph says:

    Tell me why did you say a 10 year old child?
    How did you reach the conclusion to the age?

    • st.joseph says:

      Maybe I can help you a little here.

      The abortion of a 10 day old baby- the moral would be ‘ He or she wouldn’t reach the age of 10 years if aborted. Therefore a 10 day old conceived baby is morally essential!
      Listen-those who have ears!

  69. Quentin says:

    This an extract from an article in the Irish Times today, 19 January. The whole article may be read at

    “But in truth the debate is really about values – not just about personal autonomy and privacy but about the dignity and equal worth of every human being. It is not easy to justify the intentional termination of the life of another human being, however small, powerless or undeveloped she or he may be. The insight of human rights philosophy is that, regardless of the estimation of others, every human being has inherent dignity and worth.

    An unborn child is a distinct human being, with a unique identity different from that of his or her parents. He or she is no more or no less “a lump of cells” than a mature person.”

    Of course many (though not all) mature people lead lives of impressive intellectual and interpersonal fulfilment that bear no comparison with the experience or capacity of an infant in its mother’s womb or in the care of its parents in the years after birth. To build a lethal distinction on these differences in capacity and experience is not consistent with respect for the core values of human dignity and equal worth.

    • Rahner says:

      “Which view should one take? Both have logical and potentially practical consequences”

      A human being is an entity that satisfies a certain description that identifies the properties and capacities, eg. sentience, that it has. These properties and capacities typically occur over a range. Of course, in an entity like a late embryo, baby, child or adult the operation or realisation of these capacities can be impaired by age, illness, injury or genetic make up. But it is still reasonable to classify and treat the entity as a human being. But in the case of a very early embryo which does not, at a certain time, have a capacity for sentience then there are grounds for denying, at that time, that it is to be treated as a human being.

      • st.joseph says:

        To-day, faced with the increasing evidence of genetics and molecular biology many of those who support abortion and embryo experimentation accept that the foetus is human, but stop short of allowing that it is a human person with rights. Christians on the other hand,strongly contend that human life is a continuum from conception, or fertilization, and that the dignity and sacredness of the life so conceived confers on it the inalienable right which is common to every human creature.
        From the point of view of dignity and rights, therefore, the really important moment for Christians, is and always has been, conception rather than birth. It must be said that the progress in science furnishes increasing evidence, and one might say virtually conclusive proof, not that just human life is present in the embryo but that indeed it is a human person. In the well known phrase, it is not a potential human being being, but a human being with potential.There is a real break with the past from conception after which a completely new reality becomes present. From that moment onwards not only does the embryo have an independant life and growth of its own, albeit dependant on the environment of its mothers womb,but there is a continuity lasting not only to the birth of the child but also throughout its natural life until the grave. So, onall the available evidence if the embryo were not human at the time of conception there is no obvious moment later on when it would begin to be so.Hence it makes little sense to accord rights to it from birth but not from the beginning of its genetic life.

      • John Candido says:

        st.joseph, is this your writing? It doesn’t or sound like it is yours. If it isn’t, can you please acknowledge whose it is for eveybody’s benefit? Thank you.

      • Rahner says:

        What grounds?
        Because the very early embryo does not have a capacity for sentience.
        As I asked previously, would you really want to claim that a 10 day old embryo has the same moral value as a 10 year old child?

      • Quentin says:

        Nor indeed does it have an immediate capacity for speech — another ability which is central to human experience. But the potential which will cause it to develop both is built into the human being at conception — along with many other capacities such as the ability to reproduce or to distinguish right from wrong. Because a human being is always in the process of development we can never pin its identity down down at one moment. As Heraclitus said “You cannot step into the same stream twice.”

  70. Iona says:

    Does “sentience” (or, a capacity for sentience) mark the line between what we may or may not treat as a human being?

    If it does, what are we to say about someone in a coma, or under an anaesthetic?

  71. Iona says:

    A question for anyone (John Candido? Rahner?) who maintains that a pregnant woman should have the freedom to choose whether or not to abort:

    legally, there would need to be a line drawn somewhere, to distinguish between the embryo/foetus/baby which can be disposed of at its mother’s choice, and the embryo/foetus/baby/child which cannot because it is recognised as having full human rights.
    where would you draw that line, and why there rather than somewhere else?

  72. Rahner says:

    “Can we perhaps learn something from the Middle Ages or the ancient world about the ordering of society?”
    Can you provide an example!!

    • John Nolan says:

      Our political vocabulary and many of our ideas have their origin in ancient Greece. The men of the Renaissance tended to idolize classical antiquity and disparage the more recent past (which we call the Middle Ages). In contrast many in the 19th century tended to romanticize the medieval era (think Walter Scott and AWN Pugin). Medieval society was hierarchical (as is our own) but power was very much devolved to local level and was based on a complex structure of personal and corporate ties, obligations, rights and duties. Especially towards the end of the Middle Ages there was considerable social mobility and the Church provided men of humble origins the opportunity to rise. Thomas Wolsey was the son of a butcher yet became the most powerful man in England after the king.

      Although we are all to some extent children of the Enlightenment (a rather presumptuous and misleading term of German origin, but it will do for now) it was our medieval ancestors who made us what we are.

      • Rahner says:

        I am still unclear as to what practical proposals, if any, you have in mind. But no doubt my own mind is clouded by Enlightenment scepticism, arrogance and….wait for it…..relativism.

  73. st.joseph says:

    John Candido.
    Tell me why you do you not believe it to be my writing, then I will tell you!!

    • John Candido says:

      I have asked you a prefectly legitimate question about the authorship or source of your post. I don’t have to give my reasons. If you don’t want to explain the inconsistency between your latest post and your usual written work, say so. Or simply ignor me. Plagiarism is not acknowledgeing the source of your ideas. It is a form of intellectual theft that all university students are warned about regularily.

      • st.joseph says:

        Thank you John.
        I have said in past posts that I have taken references from The Moral Dignity of Man.
        Father Peter Bristow . 1993.
        I didn’t think it necessary to keep on saying it.
        Obviousley you find no connection with his writings in my other posts.
        How much interest do you take notice of.
        The Moral Dignity of Man is a book that I practically know off by heart, I only use it when I feel it necessary to get the right words of Father Bristow.
        Peter my late husband and I in 1993, distributed his book from Ireland to hundreds all over. I know it practically word for word.
        We all get our knowledge from somewhere. Like yourself.
        I have posted his book many time I thought you may have looked it up and have been interested to look up some Pro-life information. Obviously you would benefit a great deal from it.,myself I like to see both sides of a discussion and judge from there.

      • John Candido says:

        Thank you st.joseph.

      • tim says:

        JC, off-topic, but I disagree. Plagiarism is not ‘not acknowledging the source of your ideas’. Many of us would be hard put to it to work out the source of most of our ideas. And the more common view, as advocated by many IP lawyers, is that there is no ownership in published ideas. Even a student in an exam may reproduce the ideas of others without acknowledgement (though he or she may get more credit by citing the source). What is wrong are claims (express or implied) to ownership of work that you did not originate. It does not seem to me that St Joseph was doing this, and to imply she was committing intellectual theft seems rather harsh.

  74. Rahner says:

    “Because a human being is always in the process of development we can never pin its identity down down at one moment.”
    As I have already indicated, theologians have discussed the issue of delayed hominisation. We may think that no firm conclusions follow from these discussions and where we “draw the line” will no doubt involve empirical research to determine the capacities and viability of the embryo. I also indicated that it is unlikely that disputes about the status of the early embryo can be resolved. No one, so far, seems to have made an absolutely compelling argument either way. But my guess is that most people in our culture would judge that it was not reasonable to claim that the abortion of the very early embryo (eg 10 days) was homicide.

    • tim says:

      Rahner, I’m sure your last sentence is right. But I don’t think we can rely on the judgement of most people in our culture. Our (modern) culture is only a subset of what people think around the world, what they have thought in the past and what they will come to think in the future. How reliable this is can be judged by how views on such things vary over time and space.

      Who is entitled to human rights? Many quite advanced civilisations have denied full rights to women (some still do, though we can’t today call these ‘advanced’). Only a century or so back, black people were not regarded as fully human. We find it difficult to credit today how that opinion could reasonably have been held in good faith. The Australian settlers in the 19th century who were hanged for shooting aborigines who strayed onto ‘their’ land were both astonished and aggrieved at what happened to them. In World War II the Japanese military regarded soldiers who surrendered as having given up all claim to be considered as human. These examples suggest that we should be a little careful in restricting claims to human status, or constructing special theories to justify ignoring them. “No miracle occurs in passing down the birth canal” as a prominent bioethicist has said, and we may agree with that, even though he was arguing for an extension of non-human status to the born, rather than the reverse. I have no sympathy with the view that the status of the human embryo (at any age) may be clarified by further research into its capacities.

      Abortion is not ‘homicide’ in the legal sense. In the sense of ending the life of a human being, it is. Of course, not all homicides are equally culpable. But I am not sure why deliberately ending the life of a healthy adult is necessarily intrinsically more culpable than ending the life of an unborn child. Admittedly, it does sound different if you refer to the child as an ’embryo’ or ‘foetus’.

      • tim says:

        Further to ‘passing down the birth canal’, two Italian bioethicists have now suggested that there is no moral ground for distinguishing between late terminations and killing neonates (new-born babies, to use different terminology). It’s not clear whether they’re being ironic.

  75. st.joseph says:

    Are you saying that this very early embryo of 10 days does not have a soul.
    Since when did you know the Mind of God?
    A little presumptious I must say.Or are you not too much concerned about a soul?
    I would expect these kind of remarks from an atheist, but certainley not from a Christian.
    And you being an Extra Ordinary Minister of the Catholic Church, who professes all its teachings to be Truth!

    • Quentin says:

      st.joseph, Rahner hardly needs me to defend him. But your last sentence seems to imply that he is hypocritical — which is not warranted. There are Catholic theologians in good standing who hold that the identity of a human being cannot be demonstrated before 14 days of gestation. There are technical reasons of twin cloning to be considered here. Now I most definitely disagree with these theologians, but Rahner is entitled to his opinion. Even the Church does not declare that acceptance of the human identity of an embryo right at the beginning is of faith, though this is what she believes.

      • st.joseph says:

        I think he does!
        Seems to imply, sounds to me choice of words-like ‘what’ is an embryo or ‘who ‘is an embryo.
        Either it is or it isn’t..
        You say ‘Even the Church does not declare that acceptance of the human identity of an embryo right at the beginning is of faith, though that is what she believes.’.
        Maybe you could tell me what the Church means when she teaches and I will quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Which I always believed it is what the Church believes and ask us to believe too.
        2270. Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognised as having the rights of a person- among which is the inviolable right of every inocent being to life.
        I suppose the argument here would be when is conception.?
        If we want to speak about biology , – when the sperm meets the ova.
        At this point a women will not know she is pregnant, unless she conceives through IVF and
        I suppose we can at that point, if it is IVF we can save one and destroy the rest, it has no identity.
        A women will only be aware she is pregnant when she misses her menstrual cycle and if her womb is not agressive to implantation , are you saying then that life begins?

        CCC.2319. Every human life, from the moment of conceptio until death, is sacred because the human person has been willed for its own sake in the image and likeness of the living and holy God.
        CCC.2322 From its conception, the child has a right to life.Direct abortion,that is aboortion willed as an end or as a means, is a criminal practice. Gravely contrary to the moral law.
        CCC.2323. Because it should be treated as a person from conception, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for and healed like every other human being.
        Back to CCC 2322 again (3). The Church impose the canononical penalty of excommunication for this crime against human life.

        WoW. What a imposition for the Church to impose on me ,a member of the Body of Christ,
        when I am not obliged to believe what she teaches, just because ‘she ‘believes it.
        Quentin you speak about twinning, well all I say about that, and I will move now from the CCCC and move on to The Moral Dignity Of Man page 100
        A stronger argument than viability is implantation because monozygotic twinning, that is, the generation of identicl twins, from one fertilized ovum , may occur up to that time.
        Little or nothing however is known about how the latter comes about.
        It may be that it is genetially determined from fertilization with the identicl twin zygote possessing a genetic quality that ordinary zygotes lack.In this case their would be two individuals present from the start with their own life span-destiny and uniqueness.

        If identical twinning is not genetically detremined, then two hypotheses are put forward to explain this. One sees it occuring it in the same way as a sexual reproduction where one amoeba gives rise to a second one which splits off from it. In this case one twin would be older than the other though both would be individual beings from the moment their respective lives begin.

        The other hypotheses is that the embryo splits into two equal halves at implantation.
        This would mean that the original embryo ceases to exist and two new ones are formed.In tthis case,the life span of the original foetus is very short, but it would still be an individual human being. The lives of the twins would start later than fertilization at the time of the division. Hence on all these hypotheses their need be no problem about when human human life begins.or the necessity for presupposing something less than human prior to it.
        Many pro-abortionists would allow that the life of the early embryo is human (after all the genes and chromosomes are human) but deny that a human person with rights is present at this stage.etc.End
        I will now make one point to the remark that you say I maybe imply that Rahner is hypocritical.
        A embryo may not look like a human being just like the Wine in the Chalice.However it is Who it is! We all have an identity .

        I take from that ,that you mean ,’that the Church does mean what it preache’

      • Rahner says:

        Thank you Quentin. As far you remark the Church “doesn’t pretend that the existence of a soul can be proved at a very early stage, although it should be treated as certainly so.”
        And I think it is most unlikely that the Church will ever give a definitive teaching as to when ensoulment occurs.

  76. st.joseph says:

    Something else you may like to dwell on.
    Do you not believe ,as a Christian ,that Jesus was God ,at the early age of a 10 day old embryo?

  77. st.joseph says:

    For those who believe, no explanation is necessary.
    For those who do not believe no explanation is possible.

    I dont remember where this quotation came from. I think it was related to Lourdes.

  78. Iona says:

    Rahner – the reason I asked you (or John Candido or anyone else in favour of permitting early abortions) where you would draw a line between the entity which can be considered as disposable (if the pregnant woman carrying it so chooses) and the entity which cannot (no matter what the woman’s choice) is because the law deals in lines. A shop can’t legally sell alcohol to someone the day before his/her 18th birthday, but the very next day it’s ok. In some ways this is nonsense, but the law has got to say something about the matter. Where do you think the law should draw the line in the case of the embryo/foetus/baby?

    Never mind “my guess is that most people in our culture would judge that it was not reasonable to claim that the abortion of the very early embryo (eg 10 days) was homicide.” That is my guess too. Please, I should like to know your personal judgement, not your guess as to what most people would judge. And your justification for your judgement. Please.

    • John Candido says:

      Iona, please go to my posts between January 18, 2012 at 12:41pm & January 20, 2012 at 12:50pm. There are five of my posts that could answer your questions.

    • Rahner says:

      I think we all agree that any substantial change to UK abortion law is most unlikely so the question of legal limits is largely academic. But such limits would be set and justified in the same way as any limit ie through the collective discernment of the totality of relevant evidence, including evidence about the sentience and viability of the embryo. I am not an embryologist or lawyer. In the context of embryo research I understand there is a limit of 14 days. This could be a starting point for this process of discernment.

      • tim says:

        “In the context of embryo research I understand there is a limit of 14 days. This could be a starting point for this process of discernment.”
        Only if you have confidence that the limit was properly set. This was a consequence of the Warnock Commission’s report. Not everyone was convinced by this fudge – including Baroness Warnock herself, who has since expressed regret that the report made what she now regards as unjustified references to the ‘dignity’ of the embryo.

      • Quentin says:

        You mention the Warnock Report. Those who are interested may like to have a fuller picture. It provides us with a summary of views about the status of the embryo by different parties given to Warnock, and the reasons for the recommendation. It is at

  79. st.joseph says:

    Myreply to you above this morning, will be my final discussion on the subject of abortion!

    • Quentin says:

      That’s fine, st.Joseph. You have put up a splendid defence of the Church’s teaching here. It has been very inspiring.
      On the much narrower question of when an embryo has a soul you may be interested to read para 60 of Evangelium Vitae. Too long to copy here. You will see what the Church believes and the reasons for it. However it doesn’t pretend that the existence of a soul can be proved at a very early stage, although it should be treated as certainly so.

      • Rahner says:

        I’m afraid I have to say that I don’t think many people of a secular outlook would have found St Joseph’s arguments convincing.

  80. John Candido says:

    I have been thinking about the issue of abortion . On reflection, I want to ask Quentin’s question again. Why is a medical abortion moral? In truth, I don’t have a good answer to this question, and I don’t think that anyone in the entire world has one. All that I do have is an understanding that the answer to this question would ultimately depend entirely on a person’s values. One person will say it is immoral and another will say it is perfectly ethical and moral.

    Depending on their point of view, a number of parliamentarians, judges, moral theologians and philosophers who have examined this question deeply, would ultimately have to concede that one’s set of values are crucial in determining the rightness or wrongness of a medical abortion. Despite advocating legal medical abortions, I think that any abortion is a sad event; who wouldn’t think so? Depending on the woman or girl in question and their set of circumstances; it can be a sad realisation that an abortion must be accomplished at some point in time. This is not a time for merriment.

    A lot of people who are prochoice don’t lose their humanity for advocating legal terminations either. Any person who is prochoice and who finds themselves in the circumstances described above can be emotionally affected by terminations, despite their decision to proceed with them. Of course a potential human being is being terminated. When one slows down and thinks about this fact; it can be quite sobering and at times quite melancholic.

    Given all that we have said about a regulatory framework, sentiency’s absence, making a free choice, and preexisting dire contexts for women and girls; all of these troubling emotional realisations do not diminish the appropriateness of having legal abortions for those who do not see all human foetuses, regardless of their gestation, as innocent babies or human beings with an immortal soul, who are to be slaughtered. Terminated yes; slaughtered no; aborted yes; killed no. The outcome is the same, but the language is nuanced. An antiabortionist would answer yes to all statements, as is their right.

    Parliamentary committees and judicial reviews from several western nation-states, who have examined this question exhaustively, have come down in favour of legal terminations, with regulations placing definite limits on them. I believe that through their deliberations they have been guided by the overriding principle of always seeking to do the least possible harm to anybody. Like a judge or jury in a court of law has to weigh up the two cases in front of them, a similar dynamic has been in play in the investigations of both politicians and judges examining abortion.

    Assuming that you do not agree with the Vatican view of human embryos, you acknowledge the difficult contexts that some women and girls can inhabit regarding unwanted pregnancies, value legal limits that oversee the administration of medical abortions, and acknowledge the overriding importance of the absence of sentiency in the proposed abortion. Given all of these factors, politicians in committee and judges employed to review the issue, come to their position via the principle of doing the least possible harm.

    This is done through a comparison between the non-sentient foetus, which is subject to a planned termination, and the serious contexts that women find themselves in with an unwanted pregnancy. A weighing or comparison is made between the non-sentient foetus and the context of a woman or girl. Shall the non-sentient foetus be allowed to gestate and eventually born, or will it be determined that its termination is moral, given the serious circumstances of its mother?

    For example, a comparison is made between a woman or girl that has been subjected to rape or incest, and a non-sentient foetus. Or a comparison is made between a woman or girl that may die or be seriously harmed, if the foetus is allowed to go to term. Or a comparison is made between the safety of a wife or girlfriend, if her husband or boyfriend discovered that he may not be the biological father, and the non-sentient foetus. Or a comparison is made between the non-sentient foetus and a woman, family, or community who cannot afford another child.

    When these comparisons have been made with the principle of doing the least possible harm to others, secular parliamentarians and judges accede to the right of the woman or girl to a legal termination. In the end, the deliberations of secularists point to commonsense outcomes, which in turn respect the principle of harm minimisation. Of course believers in the sanctity of all life, regardless of its occurrence, will not have a bar of this.

  81. John Nolan says:

    Rahner, I have no idea what clouds your mind. I can only argue from an historical point of view in terms of fact and from a Catholic point of view in terms of belief (although the two are not mutually exclusive). Since you are obviously neither an historian nor a Catholic we can have little point of contact within the constraints of a forum such as this.

    • Rahner says:

      John,You originally said: “Can we perhaps learn something from the Middle Ages or the ancient world about the ordering of society?”
      It would seem reasonable to interpret this remark as suggesting that there are present day beliefs, practices and institutions that could be improved with reference to earlier cultures. I asked for some practical examples. You did not provide any. But I leave it to Quentin to decide if my question was unreasonable or inappropriate. If it was I will withdraw it.
      “Since you are obviously neither an historian nor a Catholic”
      As regards not being a Catholic, I assume you can demonstrate that you are a competent Ecclesiastical authority to make such a judgement?

      • John Nolan says:

        There’s no such thing as an inappropriate question, although the answer might well be inadequate, and you are quite at liberty to regard mine as such. The point I was trying to make is that you cannot see present-day society, based on an all-embracing bureaucratic super-state, as a rational entity existing of itself and divorced from history. The LibDems (I am not one, I hasten to add) are continually harping on about ‘community politics’ which reflects a more medieval approach to the ordering of society. GM Hopkins’s fine poem ‘Tom’s Garland’ makes the same point. As for being a Catholic, you can call yourself what you like and I doubt that the ‘ecclesiastical authorities’ will be much concerned, unless they employ you. I can only go on what you write, and draw my own conclusions.

      • Quentin says:

        The question is quite appropriate but of course John is free not to answer it. To my mind the answers might be very interesting. The first candidate which springs to my mind is the general acceptance of the possibility of holiness, closeness to God — or whatever you may like to call it. I am not claiming that people were necessarily holy themselves, but that they recognised and admired holiness.The prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales gives a vivid picture of the different elements which made up a Christian medieval society.

  82. Iona says:

    John Candido, – having read back over your earlier posts on this subject, I think that your own personal, considered view is that the status of the embryo / foetus is and should be what “contemporary and secular society says it is”.

    Am I right?

    • John Candido says:

      Well yes Iona! But that would be to simplify and distort my thinking. If you were to only look at one sentence to the exclusion of other paragraphs, it would ultimately take what I have said out of context. If you could, you should also read my latest post and combine it with all of my past comments, if you could be so kind. This was on the 21st January 2012 at 10:38 am.

  83. John Nolan says:

    Quentin, you have touched on a theme here which has profound implications and perhaps deserves a separate thread. The most cursory study of history is enough to dispel the myth, which one or two contributors to this blog seem to have swallowed, that because something is ‘modern’ and ‘acceptable to most people’ makes it right.

  84. Rahner says:

    The idea that what is morally correct is whatever moral beliefs happen to prevail or predominate or be enshrined legally in a culture or society is obviously absurd.
    It would mean, for example, that anti-Semitism in Germany in the 1930’s was morally correct. At the same time it is clear that any contemporary dispute about a moral claim cannot be resolved simply be reference to past moral beliefs and the rationale associated with those beliefs. Moral disputes have to be considered on a case by case basis and their resolution (if there is one) will require a rationale that is judged to be compelling by those involved in the dispute.

    • John Candido says:

      This is a very good summary and a more precise rendition of what my most recent post on the 21st January 2012, 10:38 am was attempting to do. I get the feeling that Rahner has done some reading in this area before.

      • John Nolan says:

        I hate to admit it, but Rahner’s first sentence in his 6:46 post is spot on, although I have to take issue with what he follows it up with. My main bone of contention with you, JC, is your somewhat ingenuous notion that because something is ‘modern’ and endorsed by ‘scientists’ (the latter term is of 19th century provenance, since ‘scientia ‘ in Latin simply means ‘knowledge’) it must therefore be morally and ethically correct.

        The late Auberon Waugh, writing in the ‘Spectator’ about St Thomas Aquinas said “[his] mighty intellect thunders down the centuries, making the pronouncements of modern theologians look like squeaks on the margin”. I get the impression that you tend to despise the past. Please tell me I’m wrong.

  85. John Candido says:

    Thank you for your question John Nolan. I don’t dislike or hate the past any more than anyone else does. We have all are indebted to the vast majority of those men and women who inhabited our world, and struggled through past times as good people who were focussed on their work, their family, and their community. We have inherited all of their efforts, dreams, and hopes. Think of all of the beautiful works of art, architecture, homes, roads, bridges, music, knowledge, skills, crafts, philosophy, libraries, literature, etc. etc. Priceless treasures! We have them because they produced them through their efforts. We also must never forget those who have fought and died for our liberty in war. Lest we forget!

    ‘…because something is ‘modern’ and endorsed by ‘scientists’ (the latter term is of 19th century provenance, since ‘scientia’ in Latin simply means ‘knowledge’) it must therefore be morally and ethically correct.’

    Scientists and technologists don’t normally have a central focus on ethics, although this can be disputed, but they are as human as anybody else. In any case, if any scientist thinks that he/she can do as they please; they will have the rest of their own peers and society to contend with for that matter. In general, a modern world will look to the past, apply their intelligence to the present, and is inspired by what may come their way in future. Of course peoples’ perspective is king. Given this, I endorse Rahner’s point below,

    ‘At the same time it is clear that any contemporary dispute about a moral claim cannot be resolved simply be reference to past moral beliefs and the rationale associated with those beliefs. Moral disputes have to be considered on a case by case basis and their resolution (if there is one) will require a rationale that is judged to be compelling by those involved in the dispute.’

    • John Nolan says:

      Isn’t this what is called situation ethics (an oxymoron if ever there was one)? Hardly surprising that I don’t regard the eponymous Rahner as a Catholic, going on what he writes, and I have nothing else to go on.

      • John Candido says:

        I am not a philosopher or a moral theologian, but a search in Google has given me these notions about situation ethics,

        ‘A system of ethics that evaluates acts in light of their situational context rather than by the application of moral absolutes.’ ( accessed: 24th January 2012).

        In the Merriam-Webster dictionary we have this definition,

        ‘A system of ethics by which acts are judged within their contexts instead of by categorical principles —called also situational ethics.’ ( accessed on the 24th January 2012).

        Wikipedia has offered these thoughts,

        ‘There are four presuppositions that Fletcher makes before setting out the situational ethics theory:

        ‘1. Pragmatism – This is that the course of action must be practical and work.’

        ‘2. Relativism – All situations are always relative; situational ethicists try to avoid such words as “never” and “always”.’

        ‘3. Positivism – The whole of situational ethics relies upon the fact that the person freely chooses to believe in agape love as described by Christianity.’

        ‘4. Personalism – Whereas the legalist thinks people should work to laws, the situational ethicist believes that laws are for the benefit of the people.’

        These four points were taken from ‘Situational Ethics’ ( accessed on the 24th January 2012).

        Makes perfect sense to me!

      • Rahner says:

        “At the same time it is clear that any contemporary dispute about a moral claim cannot be resolved simply be reference to past moral beliefs and the rationale associated with those beliefs…”

        This does not mean that no reference to the past is required or even be essential. It is difficult to see how you could have a full discussion in philosophy or moral theology of a complex moral issue and not make some reference to earlier considerations including Church teaching. The method I have suggested is compatible with a Natural Law approach. It is not “situation ethics”.

  86. John Nolan says:

    But not to me! I am an historian and my incursions into philosophy get me slapped down and rightly so! But I still believe that Catholic moral teaching is based on Natural Law, which is of God and cannot be withstood.

    • tim says:

      @ JC
      “‘2. Relativism – All situations are always relative; situational ethicists try to avoid such words as “never” and “always”.’”
      Unsuccessfully, in this instance?

  87. Iona says:

    John Candido, I have looked back at your 21st January post and have concluded that as regards identifying a line on one side of which an embryo/foetus should have the protection of law as regards its right to life, and on the other side of which it shouldn’t, you are not entirely decided, but you consider that sentience may be an important factor.

    Am I right?

    • John Candido says:

      …you are not entirely decided…’

      My broad principles and rationale are decided, but as for specific cases, they have to be decided by the people involved. And yes, sentiency is a vitally important factor, one of many, as outlined in my posts.

    • John Candido says:

      In addition, it can also be said that Catholics who have been presented with scenarios similar to those outlined in this topic, and who have considered the options before them, and consulted both secular and religious consultants, are capable of making decisions for themselves that may go either way.

      What may guide them in their deliberations is the teaching of the Catholic Church itself regarding the human conscience. This can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (or CCC). As a non-practising Catholic, I am always comforted by the section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (or CCC) called ‘Part Three: Life in Christ’, Chapter One: The Dignity of the Human Person, Article Six: Moral Conscience, Paragraphs 1776 to 1802.

      It states unequivocally that every person has a human conscience that can and must be exercised in freedom. Are sincere in their desire to do no harm to anyone or to limit harms as much as possible, and have consulted with any person they consider to be a good guide or counsellor, secular or otherwise. The CCC teaches that they have a right and a duty to make a free choice in a complex moral matter according to the dictates of their conscience.

  88. Iona says:

    (Quoting Rahner)

    Moral disputes have to be considered on a case by case basis and their resolution (if there is one) will require a rationale that is judged to be compelling by those involved in the dispute.

    But in order to consider individual cases, you must have some principles as a starting-point.

    • tim says:

      I have to disagree with Rahner (as quoted by Iona). ‘Case by case’ is well and good. But judgement should be independent of the parties. They are interested. This sounds to me like relativism (so I immediately judge it to be wrong, but that is prejudice).

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