Catholics Call on MPs to Retain Current Time Limit on Abortion
"British Catholics do not agree with the bishops on abortion"
London-In considering how to vote in the debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, Catholics for Choice president Jon O'Brien called on MPs to oppose any attempts to reduce the time limit at which abortions may be performed. Addressing Catholic MPs, who may feel pressured by the Catholic hierarchy to vote to restrict access to abortion, Mr. O'Brien urged them to remember that Catholic teaching about the primacy of conscience holds that an individual must follow his or her conscience-even if it is in conflict with church teaching. In addition, O'Brien noted that Catholic teaching on conscience requires at least tolerance if not respect for other people's decisions.
In a statement, Mr. O'Brien said, "All parliamentarians, Catholic or not, are free to follow their own consciences, and to support policies that allow all people to make informed, conscientious decisions about their lives and their families."
In a letter from Mr. O'Brien to Members of Parliament, he wrote,
"Polls of Catholics around the world show that the bishops represent a minority view among Catholics on reproductive health matters. Last November, a CFC poll by YouGov showed that a plurality of British Catholics do not agree with the bishops on abortion. A third more Catholics agreed than disagreed with the statements: 'It should be legal for a woman to have an abortion when she has an unwanted pregnancy' and 'Catholic bishops concentrate too much of their attention on abortion when there are other issues that also require their attention.' Similarly, recent CFC polls in the United States, Mexico and Bolivia have found that majorities of Catholics support a woman's right to access abortion, as do other polls of Catholics in Canada, France, Germany and Spain."
A weighted, representative poll of UK faith groups taken by YouGov for Catholics for Choice in November 2007 showed definitive support for a woman's right to have an abortion in cases of unwanted pregnancy.
Mr. O'Brien said the results of the poll "demonstrate that British people, of all faiths and none, trust women and families to make their own decisions when it comes to the choice to terminate a pregnancy or bring a child into the world. Despite what the Catholic hierarchy would like the public to believe, a plurality of British Catholics has chosen to ignore their divisive rhetoric, and instead follow their consciences when it comes to supporting access to abortion. They aren't looking for bishops to lecture them, or for politicians to tie people's hands."
He continued, "Catholic theologians have disagreed from the beginning of church history on when in pregnancy the foetus becomes a person. While the church has favoured different opinions on this subject at different times in history, none has ever been declared infallible."
Catholic theologian Sheila Briggs concurred. "The Catholic hierarchy in recent decades has never allowed a free theological debate on abortion and has punished those Catholic theologians who have dissented from the official teaching. The hierarchy's teaching on abortion is theologically unsafe because it rests on coercion and not on a consensus emerging from the use of sound moral reason."
Jon O'Brien cited two reasons to leave the time limit for abortion at 24 weeks:
The potentially deleterious impact on women's health that would result from a reduction in the time limit.
The lack of scientific data to indicate such a reduction is necessary or would be beneficial.
"Neither the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists nor the British Medical Association believes that a case can be made for reducing the time limit for abortion. Parliament should respect those views in considering this important matter," he concluded.
[All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,983 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 14th and 16th November 2007. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults aged 18+.]
Catholics for Choice (CFC) shapes and advances sexual and reproductive ethics that are based on justice, reflect a commitment to women's well being, and respect and affirm the moral capacity of women and men to make decisions about their lives. Through discourse, education, and advocacy, CFC works in the US and internationally to infuse these values into public policy, community life, feminist analysis and Catholic social thinking and teaching.