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Temperatures Rise in British Debate


By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, JUNE 11, 2007 (Zenit) - The abortion debate was rekindled with a vengeance recently in Britain. In a sermon May 31, Edinburgh's archbishop, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, strongly criticized the assurances given when abortion was legalized in Britain.

The cardinal described the claims given when the 1967 Abortion Act was approved as being "lies and misinformation masquerading as compassion and truth." People were told that abortion would be infrequent and only used in extreme cases, he explained.

The sermon was delivered on the occasion of the Day for Life celebration of the Church in Scotland. The date was chosen to coincide with the feast of the Visitation, which Cardinal O'Brien described as "the affirmation of the immense value of life from its very conception."

"With every life conceived God acts directly to create a new and unique human being, a person destined to life everlasting," stated the cardinal.

He added that unfortunately in today's world, pregnancy is not always welcomed. In the almost 40 years since the introduction of legal abortion in Britain around 7 million lives have been ended, Cardinal O'Brien noted.

Just prior to his homily, figures were published that showed an increase in abortions in Scotland. An all-time high of 13,081 pregnancies were terminated in 2006, compared with 12,603 the previous year, the BBC reported May 29. The number of abortions for teenagers under 16 also hit a new high, with 362 in 2006, up from 341 the year before.

"The scale of the killing is beyond our grasp," Cardinal O'Brien declared in his sermon. "In Scotland we kill the equivalent of a classroom full of school children every day."

Cardinal O'Brien also had strong words for politicians. He urged them to have nothing to do with "the evil trade of abortion," and to find means to overturn the legislation allowing it. For those politicians who "claim to be Catholic," the cardinal said, "I ask them to examine their consciences and discern if they are playing any part in sustaining this social evil."

As well, he touched on a theme much debated in the United States when he also adverted that cooperating "in the unspeakable crime of abortion" implicates a barrier to receiving Communion.

Life is sacred

The very same day, the archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, issued a statement on the sacredness of life. His comments were in preparation for the annual Day for Life, which the Catholic Church in England and Wales celebrates July 1.

All life, from the moment of conception to the point of natural death, is sacred, declared Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor in the May 31 press statement.

"I would urge all Catholics, especially those who hold positions of public responsibility, to educate themselves about the teaching of the Church, and to seek pastoral advice so that they can make informed decisions with consistency and integrity," he added.

The cardinal also recalled the teaching of the Church that those who have freely and knowingly committed a serious wrong should not receive the Eucharist before having gone to confession.

These words were backed up shortly afterward by Archbishop Peter Smith of Cardiff, Wales. Politicians who vote in favor of abortion should not receive Communion, he stated, according to a June 2 report by Reuters.

Archbishop Smith said he would not actually bar such politicians from Communion, but he added that he would expect the politician involved not to seek it.

Critical reactions

The issue of Catholic politicians and abortion proved to be a sensitive point, as evidenced by a number of strong reactions by the press and commentators. A June 1 editorial in the Scotsman newspaper acknowledged Cardinal O'Brien's right to express his opposition to abortion.

The newspaper was less approving of his words on politicians, saying he was "on dangerous ground by seeming to interfere in politics."

A June 2 editorial in the Guardian newspaper intoned that on the issue of abortion the efforts of the Catholic Church "must be resisted." In a somewhat patronizing concession, however, the Guardian did add that it approved of the Church's interventions in public life when it comes to the issue of canceling the debt of the developing world.

In a June 3 opinion article for the newspaper Scotland on Sunday, Dani Garavelli, who described herself as a practicing Catholic, dismissed Cardinal O'Briens' words as "emotional blackmail."

Characterizing the cardinal's admonishment to Catholic politicians as "sinister," Garavelli derided Catholic leaders as "ideologues."

A more favorable reaction came from Jemima Lewis, writing in the opinion columns of the Independent newspaper June 2. The freedom to voice one's beliefs is a central feature of any democracy, she said in defending Cardinal O'Brien's right to speak out on abortion.

Describing herself as "a pro-choice lapsed Catholic," Lewis nevertheless acknowledged that "the pro-choice argument is riddled with dishonesty and evasion." She agreed with Cardinal O'Brien's argument that abortion has come to be far too freely available. Lewis also argued that not sufficient attention is paid to its side effects on women.

This issue had, in fact, been raised in an article published in the Scotsman newspaper Feb. 26. It described the feelings of misery and guilt that a woman referred to as "Sarah" felt after she aborted her baby in the 22nd week of pregnancy.

Soul-destroying

The article was published shortly after a baby, Amillia Taylor, was born in the United States at just 22 weeks of pregnancy, and survived. "It was soul-destroying," said Sarah of her abortion experience. Public opinion in Britain was also shocked at the recent announcement that around 1 in 30 aborted babies survive the procedure. The survivors live for an average of 80 minutes, the Daily Mail newspaper reported April 20.

Most of the babies who initially survive the abortion were between 20 and 24 weeks of pregnancy, although some had been in the womb for as little as 17 weeks.

The figures, explained the Daily Mail, came from a study in the West Midlands region, where researchers looked at the outcome of 3,189 abortions performed on seriously handicapped fetuses at 20 hospitals between 1995 and 2004.

The results showed that 102, mainly aborted for reasons such as Down syndrome and heart defects, were born alive. The study was published in the British Journal of Obstetrics.

Abortion has also been a theme of debate in the U.K.'s Parliament, with three bills proposed by backbench members in the last eight months, the Guardian reported June 4. The bills, private initiatives without government support, never really had much chance of success.

In spite of knowing this, pro-life parliamentarians nevertheless attempted to gain approval for their proposals. The bills contemplated measures ranging from the introduction of counseling for women seeking abortion, to obliging a cooling-off period before proceeding with abortion, and reducing the current 24-week period during which abortion is freely permitted.

Attention will remain focused on the abortion issue, added the Guardian, because the British Medical Association's conference, to be held at the end of June, will debate a proposal to vote in favor of liberalizing abortion regulations.

In his May 31 sermon, Cardinal O'Brien called for the building of a society, "which joyfully accepts new life," and to fight against the culture of death promoted by the abortion industry.

"We must remain witnesses to the truth and be unambiguous in defending life in all that we do," he concluded. Challenging words in a battle that continues to divide opinions.

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