“So great is the value of human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother’s womb, that no alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life” (Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia 83)
The current Referendum campaign is causing great hurt and distress to many, many people. It involves an issue that is sensitive in the extreme. In all we say and do let us ever seek to speak and act gently, kindly and sensitively. It is very necessary that we all reflect deeply on “the right to life of an innocent child growing in its mother’s womb”. In this Pastoral Message I speak of two subjects: the fundamental right to life of the unborn child and the intention of our legislators at this time.
From Conception to Birth
Ideally every pregnancy focuses on the gift of the child, the gift of the love given and received, and the gift of parenthood. When a couple realise that they are expecting a baby their hope is that all will go well, that they will soon have a baby in their arms.
In many circumstances however conceiving a child can also be a time of challenge and even crisis for parents. Fear of being unable to cope, of being isolated and in some cases of being overwhelmed, are natural and entirely understandable. All parents are deserving of every support from the state, society and their local community to help them welcome a new family member. Always when the life of the mother is at risk all assistance is given.
Modern science and medicine have revealed so much about ‘the nine month journey’ of pregnancy. By twenty-eight days a tiny heartbeat can be recognised. By ten weeks the baby’s form and shape is clearly recognisable with the vital organs in place. Today we are in a position to see photographic evidence of all of this. From the earliest days, parents and healthcare professionals alike speak of expecting a baby.
As Christians our conviction is that the unborn child has a right to life. Christians are not alone in this. In every country of the world huge numbers of people, people of all faiths and of none, share this conviction regarding the unborn.
It is wrong to terminate life, human life. The unborn child does not just become human at birth. The right to life of the unborn child is a fundamental right. Abortion is wrong.
“Love them both” – mother and child. Standing up for and defending this right to life of the unborn child is the heart of opposition to abortion.
The intention of our Legislators
Before Easter our Dáil and Seanad passed the necessary legislation for the Referendum and set Friday 25 May as the date. The Referendum proposal involves removing all protection for “the right to life of the unborn” from the Constitution and inserting the phrase “Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy”. How could a person not but be sad to see such a phrase inserted in our Constitution?
Looking at the Report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Eight Amendment, and also at the legislation the Government has proposed if the Referendum is passed, leads me to one conclusion: the majority of our TDs and Senators will support a system of abortion similar to Britain. Many of our smaller political parties and many individual TDs and Senators have repeatedly insisted that they will not rest until this is the case.
In Britain, where in 1968 abortion was introduced for ‘extreme cases’ only, each year in the region of 190,000 abortions are carried out, the equivalent of one in five of all pregnancies. The choice now facing the people of Ireland is stark.
The only conclusion that I personally can draw is: if Article 40.3.3 is removed from the Constitution, then within a short few years the position regarding abortion in Ireland will likely be similar to that of Britain.
I urge all citizens to think deeply about this Referendum proposal. I encourage you to vote.
I commend the work of Pro Life groups seeking to protect the right to life of the unborn child. Please give these groups what support you can. They seek to be the voice of the voiceless, a voice for unborn children.
In doing so remember that this is an issue that is sensitive in the extreme. In all that we say and do, let us ever seek to speak and act gently, respectfully and sensitively.
Please pray that the people of our country will choose to speak out in defence of life, the life of every innocent child growing in their mother’s womb.
- Bishop Ray Browne is Bishop of Kerry. The Diocese of Kerry consists of 53 parishes and includes most of Co Kerry and part of Co Cork. This pastoral message will be distributed at all Masses in the Diocese of Kerry over this weekend.