“The right to life is such an inviolable right that no individual and no State may ever modify or destroy it … Legislators are being asked to pass a law prescribing the death of innocent human beings in Ireland. I ask that legislators would reflect on the seriousness of the situation before voting” – Archbishop Neary
The Sacredness of Life
I extend a very warm welcome to you all. As Christians today we are faced with an urgent and formidable challenge. The moral and spiritual heritage of our people is under attack in a rather sinister way. Many of the values which for so long proved to be the foundation of Irish society are now presented as old-fashioned and outmoded. The sacredness of unborn life is one of them.
The Gift of Life from God
We believe that each individual is specially created by God. Anyone who has held a new-born baby in his or her arms cannot but be amazed at the sheer miracle of God’s creation. The creation of every human life is at the same time an invitation into a relationship with the God who tells us that we already bear the image of God himself.
Pro-Life issue not a question of politics
Some, presumably in an attempt to confuse would like to present our Pro-Life concerns about the proposed legislation in a simplistic and superficial way as Church versus State. The current debate is not about the proper relationship between faith and politics. It is about our shared commitment as citizens and as human beings to a fundamental and universal human value: that the direct and intentional killing of an innocent person can never be justified. The right to life is such an inviolable right that no individual and no State may ever modify or destroy it.
Right and Duty of the Church to speak on this important issue
The Church feels duty-bound to speak out with courage on behalf of those who have no voice. Every human being has a responsibility to respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life, to defend and promote life, to show reverence and love for it. We are encouraged to promote a culture of life which will oppose what has been described in a chilling phrase as “a culture of death”. While science and medicine are increasingly able to safeguard health and life, threats against innocent life are becoming more insidious.
Clear Position and Teaching of the Church
The right to life is the most fundamental of all rights because it is the foundation of all other rights. The Catholic Church, in common with many Christians in other Churches and many of the great religious and moral traditions of humanity teaches that the direct and intentional killing of innocent human life at any stage from conception to natural death is gravely wrong. Human life is at its most defenceless in the womb and has a right to receive every protection. Abortion violates not only the life of the unborn child but also the life of the mother.
Valuing the life of the Mother
The mother is the child’s first home. Thankfully the miracles of modern science have given us a new window into the life of the baby in the womb. We can now see just how rapid and beautiful is the development of the baby in the womb. Many women attest that pregnancy, while involving rejoicing and gratitude, also involves suffering and sacrifice. Crises can arise that involve both the mother and the baby. In this regard it is important to clarify an aspect of Catholic teaching which has often been misrepresented. The Catholic Church has never said that the life of the child must be preferred to the life of the mother. The medical treatment of mothers whose lives are in danger is permissible even if this results in the unintended death of the child in the womb. So where there is a real and substantial threat to a mother’s life during pregnancy, and where every effort is also made to save the life of her unborn child, medical interventions which have saving the life of the mother as their direct purpose are permitted.
Change being brought about with the current legislation
Abortion is something very different. It involves the direct and intentional ending of the life of the unborn child. If the proposed legislation is enacted this will involve for the first time overturning in law the fundamental principles of the inviolability of innocent human life. We must ask ourselves if there is any other situation in life where the taking of an innocent life is seen as the solution to a problem?
Misguided reassurances in relation to this issue
It is clear that a particular effort is being made to convince people that there is no change to the law on abortion in Ireland and that the effect of the current legislation will be to enhance the safety of mothers and their unborn babies during pregnancy. The current Heads of Bill provide no additional clarity for doctors about the medical conditions in which they can intervene to save the life of a mother. Instead, they envisage new laws that will permit the deliberate and intentional destruction of the life of the unborn baby, potentially up to and including the moment of birth. It is clear, therefore that what is proposed is in fact a dramatic and fundamental change to Irish law that will not change the treatment already available to expectant mothers in a medical emergency and will have fatal consequences for untold numbers of unborn children.
Medical Guidelines preferable to Legislation
There is a great need to expose the half-truths, fallacies, and misrepresentations about what we believe with regard to this central issue. The Government is under no obligation to legislate for the X Case judgement, which includes suicidal ideation as a basis for the direct and intentional killing of the unborn. The European Court of Human Rights judgement in A B and C versus Ireland does not oblige the Irish Government to legislate for the direct and intentional killing of the unborn. This judgement sought a legislative or ‘regulatory’ regime to clarify when a mother can receive termination of pregnancy under current Irish law. This can be adequately provided for by enhanced medical guidelines.
With others, I believe that this would be a more effective and flexible way to provide any additional clarity that doctors require rather than legislation which is relatively inflexible and involves a potential complication of including the test of the X case judgement.
Concerns over the inclusion of ‘Suicidal Ideation’
Assurances that the Heads of Bill will provide very “limited” access to abortion in response to suicidal ideation are unreliable. The Heads of Bill, in keeping with the X case judgement, are clear that the risk of suicide need not be “immediate” or “inevitable” to satisfy a judgement, “in good faith”, that there is a risk to the life of a mother. The Heads of Bill fail to adequately balance the right to life of the mother with that of the baby, something which current law and medical practice does and which has contributed to Ireland continuing to be one of the safest countries to carry an unborn baby through to birth. On the basis of testimony from medical professionals abortion is not an appropriate treatment for suicidal ideation.
We have to ask the question again: in what other area would a ‘treatment’ that is not appropriate, that brings clear risks to the health of a mother – and which results in the death of another totally innocent person – be legislated for by our public representatives?
Clear Catholic Position
The Catholic bishops of Ireland point out that “the Bill as outlined represents a dramatic and morally unacceptable change to Irish law and is unnecessary to ensure that women receive the life-saving treatment they need during pregnancy”. The Pro-life commitment of the Church is reflected in her compassion for those who so often regret having had an abortion, her understanding for those who are facing difficult decisions, and her assistance for those who choose life.
In this regard the work of the crisis pregnancy agency CURA is a clear expression of the compassion, understanding and care with which the Church wishes to respond to every woman who faces difficulties or crisis in pregnancy.
Appeal to legislators!
Legislators are being asked to pass a law prescribing the death of innocent human beings in Ireland. I ask that legislators would reflect on the seriousness of the situation before voting. Is it really necessary to provide for abortion in circumstances where evidence overwhelmingly indicates it is unnecessary and unjustified? Are we not crossing a moral Rubicon here?
As we consider something as fundamental as this we ought not to behave as if our faith could be divorced from our decision and left ‘outside the room’. Our faith confirms the fundamental truth upon which every human right and the very future of humanity depends: that every human life is beautiful, every human life is precious and every human life is sacred. I conclude therefore by making this simple and urgent appeal to all our public representatives: Choose life!
- Archbishop Michael Neary is the Archbishop of Tuam and custodian of Ireland’s national Marian Shrine in Knock, Co Mayo. This homily was delivered on 1 June 2013.
For media contact: Diocesan Office of the Archdiocese of Tuam 00 353 (0) 93 24166 and/or Catholic Communications Office, Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678