Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 67(1) February 2017
On Pro-Choice Catholics
Dr Pravin Thevathasan
Dr 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.
- 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/
- 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