Abortion

Published in Issue 5 (September/October 2013), Letters, Volume 21

Sir,—Gerard P. Montague rightly asserts (HI, May/June 2013, letters) that historical facts should form the basis for current discussion. Still, the facts must be correct. The ‘pro-life’ position of the Catholic Church is not that it is always evil to take a human life but rather that it is intrinsically evil to take an innocent human life. What we translate as ‘Thou shalt not kill’ in fact corresponds to ‘Thou shalt not murder’, as the subsequent commands of God to the chosen people and reason itself show. Thus, the taking of guilty life by legitimate authority as in capital punishment, just war and legitimate self-defence are types of killing that can be just. That the Church may discourage capital punishment at times does not mean that it considers it as necessarily sinful.

That ‘History shows that the notion of inalienable human rights is traceable to the Enlightenment’ is true in part. To found ‘inalienable’ rights on the will of the majority of human beings living at a given time could hardly be the position of a body claiming to be reasonable. Rather the Church’s unchanging condemnation of abortion (e.g. Tertullian, AD 150–240: ‘To prevent birth is anticipated murder; it makes little difference whether one destroys a life already born or does away with it in its nascent stage. The one who will be a man is already one’) as well as that of contraception (cf. Genesis 38: ‘Onan spilled his seed lest children should be born, and the Lord slew him because he did a detestable thing’) are founded on the Law of Nature rather than on the question of when the foetus gets a rational soul. The natural fruits that the architect of nature has made the goal of actions are not to be deliberately and directly frustrated by man. In other words, the maker of the thing gets to write the user manual and not the thing itself. It would, after all, seem logical that the designer knows better how the thing works than the thing does.

It is true that theologians have come up with varying explanations of why particularly abortion is evil, but no theologian who believes that theology is ‘faith seeking understanding’ has ever tried to justify it. That would be like a constitutional scholar trying to change the constitution. Only the Sovereign can do that. And the shocking news for the democratic world is that the Sovereign is neither us nor the Church, it’s God; the Church is merely the supreme court.—Yours etc.,

Fr DAVID SHERRY
Athlone

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