Exaggeration does us no favours in the abortion debate

Edward Adamus, director of pastoral affairs for the Diocese of Westminster, was right when he said in an interview with the Zenit news agency this week that British society was a selfish and hedonistic wasteland in which women often became mere objects of sexual gratification.

But was he right when he said this:

“Whether we like it or not, as British citizens and residents of this country – and whether we are even prepared as Catholics to accept this reality and all it implies – the fact is that historically, and continuing right now, Britain, and in particular London, has been and is the geopolitical epicentre of the culture of death.”

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Mr Adamus’s boss, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, did not think he was right. A Westminster flak said the views expressed by Mr Adamus “did not reflect the Archbishop’s opinions”.

Nor do they reflect the opinions of all Catholic laymen. Some Catholic laymen, after all, will believe that in a world that includes North Korea, China and the United States (where abortion is a constitutional right) it is unwise to single out Britain for special blame as the “geopolitical epicentre of the culture of death”.

What Mr Adamus said was inspired by love of truth and fidelity to the Church’s magisterium, but strikes me as being at the same time aggressive, angry and over-emotional. He played into the hands of left-wing commentators in the Independent and the Guardian. There was also in his words a hint of the paranoia that has sprouted in some Catholic circles during the run-up to the Pope’s visit.

Perhaps I am being unjust, so let me give way to John Smeaton, director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. Mr Smeaton knows infinitely more about these things than I can ever hope to know, and, furthermore, has been uniquivocal in his support for Mr Adamus’s latest statement. But does he agree with Mr Adamus that Britain is the geopolitical epicentre of the culture of death? My impression is that he takes a rather more measured view of these things.

A couple of months ago, for example, he rebuked Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark for suggesting, in an interview with Anna Arco, that our abortion laws were about as liberal as they could be.

“This is simply wrong,” wrote Mr Smeaton. “There are many ways in which the Abortion Act 1967 continues to restrict abortion, both in law and in practice. Abortion remains in general a criminal offence in English law, under the Offences Against The Person Act 1861. There is thus no right to abortion in English law – a crucial bulwark against the international pro-abortion lobby’s incessant attempts to have abortion declared a fundamental human right in international law. Abortion is not, both in English law and in practice, treated as any other medical procedure. Two doctors must attest that at least one of the several grounds for abortion in the Abortion Act 1967 [which applies everywhere in the UK except Northern Ireland] have been satisfied before authorising an abortion. Doctors can – and sometimes do – decline to authorise an abortion. In addition, the Act’s conscience clause helps keep pro-life doctors within the medical profession. These safeguards, whilst flawed and often abused, both save lives and send negative messages about abortion. “

In the end, though, what matters here is not opinion. What matters here is the fact of abortion. As Catholics we believe that (in the words of the Catechism) “abortion is gravely contrary to the moral law”. That means we are opposed to the prevailing orthodoxies, and must be brave enough to defend the Church’s teaching in public. To win the abortion debate it is necessary to convince intelligent liberals that they are wrong. That means be firm and courteous about what we believe. Nothing is gained, however, no lives saved, by anger and exaggeration.

Over to the combox now. The first person to observe that “intelligent liberal” is an oxymoron wins a tin of sardines.

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