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Last Friday was the Feast of the Visitation of Our Lady. It commemorated her trip to the Hill Country in Judaea to greet her cousin Elizabeth who, though getting on in years, was expecting a child, who was to become John the Baptist. It is interesting how many of the Church feasts relate to matters concerning conception and birth. Obviously the best known of these is the birth of Christ on 25th December and His conception nine months earlier on 25th March, the Feast of the Annunciation. The angel told Mary that Elizabeth was “in her sixth month” so we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist three months later on 24th June. Thus, the celebration of Mary’s visit at the end of May fits in nicely with the birth a few weeks later. We also have celebrations of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady on 8th December and her birth nine months later on 8th September.
According to the gospel, “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb’ (Lk 1:41-42)”. What started out as a simple gesture of friendship and family support has become one of the big moments of Christian faith, giving us a portion of one of the most popular prayers of Catholicism, the Hail Mary.
This year these celebrations are particularly appropriate, as legislation is being planned for the introduction of abortion in certain circumstances in the coming weeks. Politicians tell us that all of this is necessary. They say that the situation arises from the decisions of the Supreme Court in the X-Case twenty-one years ago and more recently from the European Court of Human Rights in 2010. However many legal and medical experts contest this statement vigorously and say that legislation is not necessary. Clarification of guidelines would be quite appropriate.
The permission to have an abortion following a threat of suicide is particularly worrying. While all acknowledge that this is very rare, the politicians tell us that it has to be included in the legislation. This creates a very dangerous precedent. A hospital may be obliged to arrange the killing of a healthy baby in an otherwise healthy woman simply because the woman feels suicidal.
A group of more than 50 Irish obstetricians, gynaecologists and GP’s recently stated in a letter of The Irish Times: “We would like to make a clear statement to the members of the Oireachtas that there is no evidence that termination is the treatment for threatened suicide in pregnancy and that if they vote for the proposed legislation, they will be voting for the legalisation of abortion in this country.”
I know that abortion is a very emotive subject and I am reluctant to add to anyone’s pain in what might be a very frightening situation. Many people have had to face terribly difficult problems and I do not want to be insensitive or judgemental.. The role of Cura is to support women who are in a crisis pregnancy situation. Compassion should be our guiding sentiment in such circumstances and in this context I abhor the intemperate language that has previously been associated with this debate. It is my intention to present the clear pro-life teaching of the Catholic Church in a manner that is courteous and respectful of difference.
However, I am speaking not just as a bishop and a presenter of the Catholic teaching, but also as a human person. From the moment of conception, every human life is sacred and precious. Everyone who recognises the wonder of human life appreciates this. In a sense, every mother-to-be becomes ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ like Elizabeth in last Friday’s gospel. Equally, it is important to note that the matter goes away beyond matters of religion. Indeed, in some countries, many who no longer believe in God at all support the pro-life movement.
I am not separated from reality; I am aware of some of the difficulties. A cousin of mine overseas who had a daughter with special needs a few years ago was advised, during her next pregnancy, to have a special test on that baby. She refused to have the test because she intended to give birth no matter what the test showed. Her next baby was a healthy daughter who is now coming up to her second birthday. We thank God for the gift of life.
I sum up with a quotation from a pro-life legal adviser: “Those who are lawyers know that [this legislation] is not legally required. Those who are doctors know that it is not medically necessary. And those who are psychiatrists know that it is actually damaging for the welfare of some of their patients.”
The proposed legislation will not involve a referendum so I encourage you to make contact with your local TDs and Senators. In doing so, it is vitally important to show absolute respect and courtesy to all our public representatives in the difficult decisions that they have to make.
Another way of conveying our concerns in this matter is support for the various public rallies and in particular for the National Vigil For Life on Saturday next 8 June, which will take place between 3:00 and 4:00pm in Dublin’s Merrion Square. Buses are being organised from a number of centres in the Diocese of Clonfert.