My Dear People,
Human life is sacred and precious. Every human being must be treated with the greatest respect. This is true at every moment of life, from its first beginnings to its natural death. In the womb we grow and develop as full human beings, not as potential human beings. We read in the Old Testament: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I sanctified you” (Jeremiah 1:5).
The child in the womb must enjoy the same rights as all other people, among which is the unassailable right of an innocent person to life. This includes our responsibility as a society to defend and promote the equal right to life of a pregnant mother and the innocent and defenceless child in her womb when the life of either of these persons is at risk. They have an equal right to life. The Catholic Church has never taught that the life of a child in the womb should be preferred to that of the mother. In situations where a seriously ill pregnant woman needs medical treatment which may put the life of her baby at risk, such treatments are morally permissible, provided that every effort has been made to save the life of both the mother and her baby.
Abortion is the deliberate medical intervention to end the life of an unborn child and is gravely wrong in all circumstances. This is different from medical treatments, such as those to save the mother, which do not directly and intentionally seek to end the life of the unborn baby.
Current law and medical guidelines in Ireland allow nurses and doctors in Irish hospitals to apply this vital distinction in practice. International statistics confirm that Ireland, without abortion, remains one of the safest countries in the world in which to be pregnant and to give birth.
Contrary to what has been widely said, the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights does not oblige the Irish government to legislate for abortion. The Lisbon Treaty was passed at the second attempt following assurances that Ireland had the right to determine its own policies on abortion.
The recent report of the government-appointed Expert Group has put forward four options. Three of those options involve abortion i.e. the direct and intentional killing of the unborn child. This can never be morally justified. In no other situation in life do we suggest ending the life of a person as a solution to a problem. The fourth option i.e. guidelines which can help ensure consistency in the delivery of medical treatment, could be a way forward provided the direct and intentional killing of either person continues to be excluded. The Expert Group failed to consider the moral dimensions, even though it is was included in the terms of reference.
We must always extend our help to women who find themselves in crisis pregnancies, offering love and compassion. The Church understands the anguish and distress of women in difficult situations who might wrongly feel that abortion is the only option open to them. The Church has its agencies that are ready to assist those who find themselves in such a situation. CURA Crisis Pregnancy Support Service offers support and counselling. CURA itself, with its own confidential counselling service, can be contacted at its Cork centre (Tel: 021-4277544).
The pro-life commitment of the Church is also reflected in its compassion for those who often regret having an abortion. Many women who had abortions would have been willing to carry their children to term if they had received support from the important people in their lives. Addressing women who had abortions, Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote: “The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision and she does not doubt that in many cases, it was a painful decision. Do not give in to discouragement. Believe in the mercy of the Lord. The Lord is close to the broken-hearted”.
Finally, respect for life is deeply embedded in Irish society. Respect for the unborn is widely acknowledged also and, hopefully, we will continue with this commendable tradition. I am appealing for prayers at this particular time. Take time to pray, it is the greatest power on earth. May the Virgin Mary, who gave birth to Jesus, protect all mothers, all unborn babies, all medical and nursing hands and all who make the laws of our land.
Praying God’s blessing on you at this time,
Bishop of Cork and Ross