Help! I need somebody

Today I need some help. The 25th October is the 50th anniversary of the UK’s Abortion Act 1967. And I have undertaken to write on that day a somewhat longer column than usual in the Catholic Herald on the subject. It is important for me to know how thinking people view this issue nowadays. And I do so in the light of the recent British Social Attitudes survey that 61 per cent of Catholics favour legalised abortion.

There are several issues to discuss here, and my suggestions are by no means exhaustive. But here we go.

What are the strongest arguments against the legalisation of abortion?

What are the strongest arguments for the legalisation of abortion?

Does the Act achieve the control of abortion it proclaims or is it in practice a free pass to abortion?

Should Catholics condemn abortion simply out of obedience to the Church’s firm teaching, or should they be deciding as a matter of conscience?

The percentage of Catholics favouring legalised abortion has been increasing and now includes a majority of those who claim to be Catholic. Why is this?

I have an impression that those who oppose legalised abortion are increasingly seen as extremists or, more kindly, as oddballs. But always politically incorrect. The issue now is not focussed on the baby but on the rights of the mother.

The account at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion_in_the_United_Kingdom#England_and_Wales is comprehensive but conveniently it starts with the key reasons which justify abortion.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Bio-ethics, Church and Society, Moral judgment and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Help! I need somebody

  1. Barrie Machin says:

    A tough one Quentin!
    Not being an expert in the law what were the FORs of their Lordships arguments when the bill was passed into law and what AGAINSTS had been raised by learned opposition?
    I am not a catholic but my FORs would be the consideration of the ill health of the mother to be, evidence of genetic problems being present in the foetus or the mothers/ fathers medical records. Evidence medical or otherwise of the inability of the mother being incapable of caring for the child after the child’s birth. Likelihood of the mother the pregnancy causing the mothers death. Is the presence of a larger number of children being born adding more to the woman’s family already a factor?
    Mental health of the mother and/or the father?
    AGAINST seems to hinge more on Spiritual doctrine which always seems to have the back seat in today’s approach. How often does a foetus not expected to live develop into a completely normal , healthy and brilliant adult confounding the medical experts? It appears to me that abortion had become just that bit too easy a way out of a distraught woman’s dilema when things don’t quite work out as she and others were hoping emotionally or in the relationship. How closely is abortion linked to divorce which we are told is increasing or just the collapse of relationships?

    May we be treated to being to see Quentin’s ultimate submission through the medium of his blog please ? That would be really excellent!

  2. Alasdair says:

    The Catholic church is to be praised for its steadfastness and courage in the matter. There is no need though for them to believe that they are isolated in their stand. Its position is pretty much that of all branches of Christianity.
    For example, in Scotland since 1985 “the Kirk reaffirms that in Biblical and historic Christian conviction the foetus is from the beginning an independent human being, and concludes that its inviolability can be threatened only in the case of risk to maternal life, and that after the exhaustion of all alternatives”.

  3. Olive Duddy says:

    Abortion is already legal in this country, if the circumstances fulfil the several requirements, which have never been adhered to, eg the rule that 2 Doctors should have interviewed the woman, has rarely happened. Therefore the person doing that operation is acting illegally.
    What the recent move is asking for is the repeal of the old law, the decriminalisation of abortion. So the person doing the abortion cannot be taken to Law. I am not a Lawyer so I do not know why the old law was not repealed in 1967. Possibly it had been forgotten. By bringing it into the public space now they will push for the regulations be altered too, to the extent that termination can be performed up to term, just before the baby is born.

    There is no moral argument to kill the child, embryo, foetus or child. God creates us to love us and we are commanded to love Him and to love our neighbour.

    The argument to kill babies who would be born with disabilities misuses peoples’ sympathetic instincts. The parents are called to a loving heroism that in justice demands support from family and society.
    The argument to kill babies born from a rape is that the woman should not have to give birth to the child of that man, but it is her own child too.
    Statistics,( sorry I cannot quote the source) say that few babies are conceived from a rape.

    Sexual intercourse is forbidden outside the sacrament of marriage. It ensures that both the man and the woman take responsibility for the child..We do not hear that now, even from the Church. It is a hidden commandment.
    Sexual intercourse outside marriage means that one or both parties can run away from their responsibilities.
    and so it goes on and on and on.

  4. galerimo says:

    2017 is also the fiftieth anniversary of Blessed Paul VI’s “Progressio Populorum”.

    If you are writing on UK’s Abortion Act (1967), then you are dealing with a matter of Jurisprudence. The Government doing its job for all the people.

    Though flawed, it is a highly effective system of maintaining order in British and other societies. It works

    As one participant within that system the Catholic Church has every right to clearly state and promote its belief in the light of God’s revelation and the Church’s tradition.

    It doesn’t have the right to coerce in any way, whether by bullying or misrepresenting the truth that Jesus taught.

    The Church too is flawed but I believe it is worthy of the praise that Alasdair gives to it along with the Scottish Kirk. It is the Body of Christ.

    Conflating abortion with contraception or population control was a flaw in the Church’s argument. That has changed since 1967.

    In fact the whole discussion about the birth rate has moved on since the 1980’s. Couples are recognized more as having a responsibility in dealing with fertility and values of education, women’s liberation and health as well as caring for the planet are more prominent in the discussion.

    I don’t think there can be any argument for abortion – it is always a matter of the greater good or the “unintended” outcome in pursuance of the mother’s safety and wellbeing.

    There is always an argument against governments not dealing with their obligations in jurisprudence to deal with the question.

    I don’t believe the dichotomy in your question about Church teaching and conscience is a real as it sounds. Maturity is no less a function of Christianity than it is of humanity. Autonomy and dissent are features of that sword that Jesus has brought us.

    Well worth exploring is that figure of 61%. Is the teaching authority of the Church so discredited by its current scandals or is it just failure to make good use of our modern mass media as both a teaching and a communication tool?

    The current postal survey here in Australia on the change to the definition of marriage to open the constitution to the possibility of Same Sex Marriage is full on.
    Similar to your experience I have heard Christians here complain that being opposed they are “seen as extremist or, more kindly, as oddballs. But always politically incorrect”. I see it rather as Christians being Christian.

    A quick search of your blog Quentin shows your extensive knowledge on this topic. But you did ask!

    Blessed Paul VI is quoted as saying “Nothing makes one feel so strong as a call for help”.

  5. Iona says:

    The strongest argument against legalising abortion (I haven’t yet looked at the Wikipaedia link) is that a human life begins at conception. From conception right through to birth and beyond, there is no single event which brings about such a dramatic change as conception itself; no other event of which it can be said “before this, there is not an individual human life; after it, there is”.
    An additional argument is that legalising abortion will make it seem to be a routine and “normal” procedure, which will make it still harder for a woman to resist pressure to abort when she does not want to.
    An additional argument is that abortion – in combination with the information now available about the sex of the foetus – will lead (among some groups, which prize sons above daughters) to the selective abortion of girls, with long-term negative demographic results.

    • Quentin says:

      You say that from conception right through to birth and beyond, there is no single event which brings about such a dramatic change as conception itself; no other event of which it can be said “before this, there is not an individual human life; after it, there is.”

      It may not be so. Another contender is the primitive streak which is formed at about 14 days. Before that the conceptus develops a number of cells which have different functions before the process of embryonic structure starts as the primitive streak. In some cases, two embryonic structures are formed (identical twins). It is argued that, although the embryo is genetically derived from the conceptus, its identity as an individual human being only starts at this point.

      • Iona says:

        That case might be argued. But in practical terms, is it of any use? Abortions as such are not carried out within the first 14 days of conception, since at such an early stage the mother can’t know that she’s pregnant.
        (The morning after pill, however, might have the effect of terminating a pregnancy within that first 14 days).

      • Quentin says:

        Similarly, the coil. So, though not the abortions we are discussing, an important moral point?

  6. Iona says:

    Arguments in favour of legalising abortion: if it is not legal, some women may resort to illegal abortions, which are likely to be more dangerous to their health than legal ones which can be controlled and inspected. I am not sure that this argument is borne out by statistics relating to maternal health in countries which restrict abortion severely.
    A further argument, based on values rather than facts/statistics, is that a woman faced with an unplanned and potentially problematic pregnancy should be able to make the choice to terminate it. An assumption underlying this argument, which I have not seen spelled out, is that nature is unfair, having so arranged things that it is relatively easy for a man to walk away from a pregnancy and refuse to take responsibility for it; whereas a pregnant woman’s body becomes a life support system for the baby, and remains so for a time even after the birth. Making abortion readily available “evens things up” for the sexes. Not entirely, of course; the woman still has to go through with the procedure.
    Then there is the question of a foetus known to have a condition which will lead to severe disability post-birth, perhaps to a life-limiting condition. The availability of abortion will spare the woman the trauma of giving birth only to see her baby die within a few hours or days. In the case of severe disability, her life and that of her existing family will be negatively affected by the arrival of a child needing long-term medical attention and life-long care.
    There is also the argument from poverty. The woman (and her family) may not have enough resources to bring up an additional child. This argument assumes that the wider community won’t provide support.

  7. Iona says:

    Quentin asks: Does the Act achieve the control of abortion it proclaims or is it in practice a free pass to abortion?
    In practice: The latter.

  8. Iona says:

    Quentin asks: Should Catholics condemn abortion simply out of obedience to the Church’s firm teaching, or should they be deciding as a matter of conscience?
    We owe obedience to the Church’s teaching. We also owe obedience to our own conscience, but we should inform our conscience. In the case of abortion, the individual Catholic’s conscience may be (should be) informed by scientific evidence about foetal development, evidence for/against the foetus’s ability to feel pain at any specific stage of development, the effect on society in general of making abortion widely available, as well as the teaching of the Church.

  9. Iona says:

    61% of Catholics in favour of legalising abortion? I should very much like to know how the population was sampled for this survey. Is that 61% of Catholics who attend Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, who go to confession at least annually, and who make a real effort to understand and observe the Church’s teaching on moral issues? Or is it 61% of people who identify themselves as Catholic when asked?

    • Vincent says:

      If only Catholics qualified in the way you describe were counted, the number who supported legislation would be zero. A general survey can only ask respondents to record their denomination. It goes without saying that those who favoured abortion reject the Church in a serious matter,

      • Rose Turner says:

        Actually the number would be at least one, as I am such a Catholic who does not wish to see abortion completely outlawed in this country. I would not have one myself, and I would like to see the total number of abortions reduced (wouldn’t everyone?), but I do not think banning it is a constructive approach.

  10. Horace says:

    My own experience in this field is limited to the case of an ANENCEPHALIC baby – when I was a Medical Student in the 1940s. The baby was delivered normally but died within a few minutes.

    Today the anencephaly ( failure of the cerebral hemispheres to develop ) would probably have been diagnosed some time before birth and abortion would have been considered. Abortion would have saved the mother some discomfort from carrying the baby and pain of delivery as well as the shock of discovering that the baby could not have lived at all.

    One argument in favour of abortion might be that an anencephalic infant might not be a human being at all!
    Other arguments mainly concern danger to the mother”s life or health by carrying and/or delivering an abnormal baby = although irrelevant in this case.

    Some people may consider abortion justified in case of rape or other instances when the baby may be unwanted by the mother. Nevertheless while in primitive societies unwanted babies were left on the hillside for the wolves – such a practice, as far as I know, is not now permitted anywhere in the world, but abortion may be rather similar.

  11. Martha says:

    When I was active in Life, over 20 years ago now, we were presented with the worst case scenarios which could occur, to think about. Fortunately, I did not have to deal with any of them, we mostly had girls who needed support and practical help. The one I found most challenging was a married white women with children who becomes pregnant after a fling with a black man, maybe a drunken one night stand, and then finds herself pregnant with no possibility of confessing to her husband and being forgiven.

  12. Iona says:

    Rose: True, going from the present situation to a total ban would not be constructive. In practical terms we could only hope to reduce the number, starting perhaps with a reduction in the upper age limit from 24 weeks.
    But I don’t think that’s what Quentin was asking.

  13. Andrew says:

    Over many years I have discussed abortion with groups of undergraduates. Most, and all the more vocal of them, support abortion. Those few that do not, generally the Christian ones as you may expect, can sometimes get a point in after a little time. I have long hoped that, after an hour or more’s discussion, they will at least have thought about it more deeply and understand what they are endorsing better. If you support abortion, especially up to birth as seems to be suggested at present, I cannot see why you would not support infanticide. Leave them for the wolves…

    As far as I can see, and please correct me if I am wrong, but every piece of legislation concerning children since 1967, including the abortion act and the ideas about adoptions and marriage have been about the interests of the adults involved, and not about the children and their best interests.

    As for Martha’s ‘fling with a black man’ example, we are adults and must take responsibility for our actions. We all do stupid things at times, but we have to live with them. Abortion in that example may allow her to remain in secret from her husband but I do wonder how it is/has affected her in other ways. I have witnessed one person commit suicide largely because of an abortion many years before. Extreme reaction? Possibly, but I am fairly confident not isolated.

    • Martha says:

      I think that unwillingness to take responsibility for her actions has always been the main reason for a woman to seek abortion as the solution to an unwanted pregnancy. Making it legal has encouraged this attitude. Unfortunately it has enabled many more women to think that they can avoid the consequences of their behaviour, and avoid behaving as adults.

  14. Martha says:

    Capital punishment was almost abolished in 1965, completely in 1990, and abortion allowed, albeit in certain circumstances, in 1967. This is a considerable anomaly made more acceptable to many people by a mistaken idea, deliberately fostered, that the baby, though innocent, does not feel any pain. The wonderful photographs of Liennart Nielson and others since, and much well publicised research from inside the womb, have made it more and more clear that the development of an unborn child is very specific, and that pain can certainly be felt from a very early stage. Pro abortionists attempt, very often successfully, to prevent this information being given to mothers attending their clinics, to describe it as harassment, and have managed to arrange legal exclusion areas around their clinics, supposedly to protect their clients, or one half of them.

    The information is factual, banning it is helping mothers to make UNinformed choices, and perhaps we could work on a legal requirement that mothers should be obliged to see and hear the true consequences of the what they think will be the solution to their problem.

    • Alan says:

      ” … and much well publicised research from inside the womb, have made it more and more clear that the development of an unborn child is very specific, and that pain can certainly be felt from a very early stage.”

      Can you point me towards any particular research Martha? If I search for myself it is far from clear that this is the generally accepted view amongst those studying the subject.

  15. Martha says:

    Perhaps I was unwise to say, certainly, and maybe, very early stages, and admittedly most of my information is from pro-life sources, but I find it very compelling and well researched, such as the Family Research Centre which has recently published an article citing 30 sources and including these four points:

    On neurological development: “Pain receptors appear around the mouth 4 to 5 weeks post-fertilization, followed by the development of nerve fibers, which carry stimuli to the brain. Around 6 six weeks post-fertilization, the unborn child first responds to touch. By 18 weeks post-fertilization, pain receptors have appeared throughout the body.” (2003 medical textbook on maternal, fetal, and neonatal physiology)

    On early fetal response to painful stimuli: “The earliest reactions to painful stimuli motor reflexes can be detected at 7.5 weeks of gestations [5.5 weeks post-fertilization].” (2012 medical article)

    On fetal stress responses: “Multiple studies show that ‘the human fetus from 18-20 weeks elaborates pituitary-adrenal, sympatho-adrenal, and circulatory stress responses to physical insults.’” (2013 expert testimony before Congress of Dr. Maureen Condic, Director of Human Embryology instruction for the School of Medicine at the University of Utah)

    On fetal experience of pain being more intense than in adults: “Mechanisms that inhibit or moderate the experience of pain do not begin to develop until 32 to 34 weeks post-fertilization. Any pain the unborn child experiences before these pain inhibitors are in place is likely more intense than the pain an older infant or adult experiences when subjected to similar types of injury.” (2004 expert testimony before Congress of Dr. Kanwaljeet “Sunny” Anand)

    And also, Doctors on Fetal Pain: http://www.doctorsonfetalpain.com/fetal-pain-the-evidence/

    It seems as well that some of the States in the US have legislation requiring anaesthesia for the unborn baby prior to an abortion, which of course some will think is the answer, but it does illustrate that the pain issue is widely accepted.

  16. Martha says:

    http://www.doctorsonfetalpain.com/fetal-pain-the-evidence/
    This website has a section, Answering the Pain Deniers, which I think is very compelling, also based on research. Personally I could not take the risk.
    I do not think the morality of abortion is affected by this aspect of the actual procedure but it does add another dimension and emphasises the enormity of what is done.

  17. tim says:

    As there is no agreement about the moral status of the unborn child (or even on what to call it – embryo/foetus, products of conception?) one line is to concentrate on the harm it does the mother. There is good (even if strongly challenged) evidence that it increases the risk of breast cancer; that it endangers subsequent pregnancies, and that it is damaging to the mother’s mental health.

    If you are undergoing a significant medical procedure (like chemotherapy or radiotherapy) you will be taken carefully through the risks to your health and the possibility of alternative procedures. Does this happen in abortion clinics? I suspect not.

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