Monday, October 20, 2008

On a curious reference to abortion

Mr. Paul Durkin, of the Sydney Catholic Education Office’s R.E. and Evangelisation team, wrote something rather startling as part of his contribution to the Sydney Catholic Weekly’s H.S.C. Studies of Religion study guide series yesterday. Now to put it in context, the definition that he uses for abortion is as follows:

Abortion is the deliberate, intentional expulsion of the human foetus at any stage after conception. (The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II, n58) [sic]
Yet such a definition does not appear in the on-line text of n. 58 of the encyclical. Rather, His late Holiness writes that

procured abortion is the deliberate and direct killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence, extending from conception to birth.
Nonetheless, even if, for the sake of argument, we take Mr. Durkin’s definition, it is still jarring to read the following portion of Mr. Durkin’s article:

The Catholic Church teaches that abortion is always wrong and immoral as human life begins at conception. Therefore, abortion is not acceptable under any circumstance except in the rare and unusual instance where the life of the mother is at real risk. Only then should an abortion be considered.
Now I want to give Mr. Durkin the full benefit of the doubt. The word ‘abortion’, strictly speaking, refers to the process of pregnancy, not to the baby’s life. Now a pregnancy can end in one of four ways: the death of the child, whether by miscarriage or by external interference, or by the child’s exit from the womb, whether naturally or induced. So one can, strictly speaking, end (or abort, or terminate) a pregnancy without ending the child’s life. Perhaps it would have been better if, following Fr. Brennan’s recent reminder of the much-neglected fact that the ending of a pregnancy need not mean the ending of the child’s life, Mr. Durkin had spoken of the possibility of removing the child when the mother’s life is in danger.

The problem, of course, is that in public discourse, abortion is used as a euphemism for the willed destruction of the child’s life. Accordingly, I expect this to generate some controversy in the Weekly’s letters page. One may never do evil in order to bring about good, so one may never kill an unborn baby in order to save the mother’s life.

(And I might add that ‘pro-choice but not pro-abortion’ nominal Catholics can hardly use my line of argument in support of, say, the recent Victorian Abortion Law Reform Bill, since that Bill makes perfectly clear that as far as it is concerned ‘abortion’ means the willed destruction of a human life, not merely the ending of the pregnancy; this is evident from the fact that it eliminates ‘child destruction’ from the criminal statutes as well.)

Reginaldvs Cantvar
Feast of St. John Cantius, Confessor, 2008 A.D.


Louise said...

Good article by Fr Brennan.

I am a bit perplexed about situations in which a woman's life is in danger. E.g. do you know what the process for treating an ectopic pregnancy is?

Cardinal Pole said...

"do you know what the process for treating an ectopic pregnancy is?"

I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the clinical details of such a procedure, but I understand (and someone please correct me if I'm wrong) that removal of the portion of the fallopian tube is indeed morally licit, by virtue, if I'm not mistaken, of the principle of double effect. In any case, sadly the baby has usually perished already in such cases while still in the mother's body, and so there is no question of it being an abortion anyway. Mr. Muehlenberg dealt with this in one of his 'debunking abortion myths' posts. The bottom line is always that child removal does not have to mean child destruction, yet the latter is exactly what we see Western jurisdictions legislating explicitly for.

Louise said...

That was my understanding also.

Apparently there is one possible treatment for ectopic pregnancy, which is chemical. It harms the placenta (I googled this earlier) I think. It is possible that the child is alive at this point so that such a treatment at such a point would be a procured abortion.

At any rate, if it ever happened to me, I would go by the procedure you outlined.