Catholic intervention in politics seeks to deny right to abortion for women

Posted by on 4 April, 2016 | 0 comments

In the Scotsman today was a piece about a letter written by the Catholic Church, which is being distributed to all 500 Catholic parishes under the instructions that it be read to the congregations at Mass.

In it, the Catholic Church urges its followers to “exercise your democratic right and responsibility to vote in the forthcoming Scottish Parliamentary elections.”This innocuous phrase is followed by some brief detailing of the powers and responsibilities of Holyrood, ending with the topic of abortion. It reminds followers that Catholic doctrine is that human life begins at conception and that they have a duty as Christians to stand up for the weakest and most vulnerable, and suggests they do this by scrutinising which candidates share their views, and by writing to their MSPs and making their views known.

Taken alone, this reads as a simple reminder to Catholics of their civic duty, a duty shared with all in Scotland and which they can freely exercise however they choose. However, taken in concert with other developments in the political eld, and a rather more worrying picture emerges. In January this year, a new political lobby group emerged, calling itself “Don’t Stop a Beating Heart.” This group’s express purpose is to oppose changes to the law when abortion law devolves to Holyrood control later this year. Run by the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, and fronted by exCatholic Media spokesman John Deighan, their primary tool is to stoke outrage using emotive language and imagery. These are the tools with which they build opposition to a proposed change liberalising Scots abortion law. There’s only one problem. There is NO PROPOSAL TO CHANGE OR LIBERALISE SCOTTISH ABORTION LAW.

Given that there is no proposal to change to abortion law, one has to wonder then what the real motivation behind this campaign group and their urry of media activity is. Any proposal on changing abortion law would be subject to normal political process and scrutiny, which the Catholic Church would certainly be invited to participate in. Knowing this, that they are automatically given privileged access to and included in consultations on law changes, their case that they need to act to safeguard unborn fetuses from liberalisation of the law falls apart. Historically, the Catholic Church has a long and unpleasant record of opposition to womens’ reproductive rights. In Northern Ireland, where the Church holds greater sway than here, a woman has just been sentenced to three months in prison, suspended for two years, for using pills bought on the internet to induce an abortion at 10 weeks. She is now burdened with a criminal record for accessing medical supplies privately, supplies which the church blocks her from having through normal medical routes.

Indeed, the Northern Ireland government recently reviewed and updated guidelines on abortion in Northern Ireland.There has been a groundswell of public support for access to safe abortion measures in light of repeated failures to provide adequate healthcare for women in need.This is further bolstered by the recognition that abortion pills are available in Northern Ireland, but if something goes wrong a woman can be jailed for seeking medical help. Hopes were high that the new guidelines would see a relaxing of the rules. However, following continued pressure from the Catholic Church to prevent abortions even in the case of fetal abnormality, rape and incest, no actual changes were made.

Across the waters in America, the picture for women is even more bleak. Private healthcare and hospitals run by religious institutions combine to ensure that access for many women in America to contraception and abortion is dicult, if not impossible. A climate of vitriolic anti-choice media smearing, including the laughable campaign against Planned Parenthood which used faked footage, has led to ever increasing opposition from the religious right wing, with devious politicians trying to piggy-back abortion restrictions un-noticed onto unrelated laws and regulations. For example, in 2013, Republicans in North Carolina added anti-abortion measures restricting access to abortions to a Bill on motorcycle safety. Such nefarious and underhand tactics are common place in America. Bills are regularly submitted which attempt to add onerous measures like hospital admitting privileges solely to abortion clinics, in full knowledge that these measures would result in the closure of said clinics. Employers such as Hobby Lobby have raised and won high prole court cases designed to exclude their female employees from accessing contraception on employer provided healthcare insurance. These draconian measures, imposed on others without their consent and against their personal right to choose what happens to their own bodies, are justified under the tenuous idea of religious freedom.

Sadly, it is not uncommon to hear of women in desperate need, women carrying non-viable fetuses with severe abnormalities, or women with immediate and life threatening complications of pregnancy, being refused abortions. In 2012 in Ireland, Savita Halappanavar died after being repeatedly refused a termination despite doctors acknowledging she was miscarrying. In 2013 in El Salvador, another country strongly influenced by Catholicism, a baby made headlines when it died after an emergency C-section, mother having been refused a termination because she was seriously ill. Virulent protectors of the rights of the unborn child, it seems that the sanctity of life which so drives the Catholic Church in their efforts on abortion does not extend to include the life of the mother or those within her family, including other children, who depend on her.

As secularists, we at the Scottish Secular Society recognise the right of the Church to hold a stance on abortion, and to instruct their followers to comply with that stance in their own, personal choices over medical and abortion needs. That right does not extend to trying to use their might, emotional appeals and agrant abuses of power and inuence to force that view onto the rest of society. The extensive record of the Catholic Church across the world, denying essential healthcare to women and disregarding the suering they leave in their wake, gives the lie to their apparent concern for the vulnerable who cannot protect themselves. The United Nations recently ruled that abortion is a human right, and so the greedy clasp of the church on reproductive medical access seeks to deny the human rights of women, to reduce us to nothing more than incubators for the next generation of Catholics. We are acceptable losses along the path of Church maintenance. The Catholic drive against contraception and abortion is about one thing only; breeding more Catholics. To return to the battleground of the Scottish media, the emotive tactics now in play are a cynical eort to create a controversy which doesn’t exist here, manufacturing the opportunity to regress women’s healthcare in Scotland at religion’s behest. The Scottish Secular Society stands with women, with freedom of choice, and with the privacy to make your own informed decisions, whatever they may be.

By Caroline Lynch

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