On Pro-Choice Catholics
Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 67(1) February 2017

Editorial

On Catholics who argue that early abortion should be legal (See Footnote)

Dr Pravin Thevathasan

EditorDr Tina Beattie is Professor of Catholic Studies at Roehampton University. She is also theological advisor to CAFOD. Along with a number of other Catholic academics, she has written an open letter to the Polish bishops with a request that they desist from supporting a pro-life law. Abortion in Poland is currently illegal except in cases of foetal disability, maternal ill-health and rape. Late abortions are legal in cases of foetal disability. The proposed abortion law would ban abortion in these circumstances. This change of law is not without precedent: the tightening of the abortion law in Chile in 1989 led to significant improvements in the care of all pregnant women. There had been a decline in maternal mortality before the law was introduced and in a widely quoted study by Dr Elard Koch, it was concluded that the ban on Abortion did not affect this decline. The education of women was seen to be the most important factor in maintaining maternal health. Chile has the lowest maternal mortality rate in South America. In Europe, nations with the lowest maternal mortality rates include Ireland, Poland and Malta, all with restrictions on abortion.

One other academic who signed the letter is Lesley-Anne Knight, former head of the global Catholic charity confederation Caritas Internationalis. When she was dismissed from this position by Cardinal Robert Sarah, he was heavily criticized. Now it would appear that he was surely right in doing this. Knight now heads the organization The Elders, which advocates population control.

Professor Beattie has been kind enough to respond to my concerns and she has agreed to have her views published. She writes: "Would you adopt a profoundly disabled child who would depend on you for his or her every smallest human need for the rest of your life? I would not. And if I would not, I should not use the law to force a woman to accept that sacrifice." But this is a false dichotomy: if parents are struggling to bring up a disabled child, other means of care need to be offered.

She also writes: "Do you believe that it is better for the common good if a woman is forced to carry a doomed pregnancy to term by the law, than if we accept that there are a set of circumstances when the law must step back and respect the tragic complexity of the human condition?"And again: "Do I believe abortion is wrong? Yes. Do I believe abortion should be illegal? Not in early pregnancy..."

These are extraordinary remarks coming from a Catholic academic. Her views are at clear variance with Catholic teaching. She must surely have come across these powerful words of Saint John Paul, found in his prophetic encyclical Evangelium Vitae: "By the authority conferred on Saint Peter and his Successors.... I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral." Note the authority behind these words. To date, we have had nothing like this in the current pontificate. Pope Francis has deliberately chosen a pastoral path.

Professor Beattie writes: "In situations where abortion is deemed necessary, we believe that access to early, safe and legal abortion is essential." One is reminded here of President Bill Clinton's bid to keep abortion safe, legal and rare. How often have we seen liberal abortion laws being pushed through by a focus on the "hard" cases to start with: abortion for rape, disability and maternal ill health.

Professor Beattie believes that the best way to prevent abortion is to guarantee access to reliable methods of birth control. If she is right, the rate of abortion should have dramatically declined in the UK in the last fifty years. Saint John Paul is surely right to argue that the contraceptive mentality and the abortion mentality are one and the same.

We need to remain obsessed by the issue of abortion. Bishop Mark Davies has said that we currently need the patience of a William Wilberforce to be pro-life. We need to dig in deep and stay on course: humanly speaking, the next few years are going to be tough.

References

  1. Academic urges Polish Bishops to support early safe and legal abortion for disabled babies. www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2016/04/25/academic-urges-polish-bishops-to-support-early-safe-and-legal-abortion-for-disabled-babies/
  2. Koch E et al.(2012) Women's Education Level, Maternal Health Facilities, Abortion Legislation and Maternal Deaths:
    A Natural Experiment in Chile from 1957 to 2007. PLoS ONE 7(5): http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0036613

Footnote

When first published this article was entitled 'On pro-choice Catholics.' We heard from Professor Beattie that the article was subsequently re-published on a blog, which is independent of the CMQ, under the title 'On pro-abort Catholics such as Dr. Tina Beattie, theological advisor to CAFOD'. This was not a title that we ever gave this article and we did not use the term Pro-abort.

However, Professor Beattie has been very clear with us that she does not accept any description of herself as "pro-choice" or "pro-abort"

Professor Beattie has asked that we change it on the grounds that she is neither "pro-choice" nor "pro-abort". In her correspondence with us, she reminds us that she has repeatedly and publically argued that abortion should be legal up until the end of the first trimester,  but protests that it does not mean she is “pro-choice”. It is, of course, also absolutely clear that she has publically, and strongly defended legal abortion in the first  trimester

However, we note that the FPA definition of pro-choice includes the following:

Pro-choice in terms of abortion. Being pro-choice means that someone can be personally opposed to abortion, or feel uncomfortable with it, but would not impose her or his moral, personal or religious views onto women; for example, by trying to get women to change their minds, seeking laws that reduce or restrict women’s access to abortions or judging women for their decisions. (see http://www.fpa.org.uk/sites/default/files/what-we-mean-by-pro-choice-fpa-definition.pdf)

Similarly the US legal definition is :

Pro-choice is a term used for those who support a woman's right to choose abortion if she so wishes. Supporters of the pro-choice agenda do not necessarily support abortion itself, only the position that women are entitled to make the decision themselves. Most pro-choice politicians will usually seek to avoid the emotive issue of abortion itself, following instead the libertarian line that government has no place interfering in what should be a private decision. (see https://definitions.uslegal.com/p/pro-choice/)

We have changed the title of this article to accomodate Professor Beattie's request, but we feel that we must  leave it to  the reader to decide whether or not the words pro-choice were reasonably used.