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ABORTION by Helen Watt

All booklets are published thanks to the generous support of the members of the Catholic Truth Society

CATHOLIC TRUTH SOCIETY PUBLISHERS TO THE HOLY SEE


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2 CONTENTS The Anscombe Centre ..............................................................3 Introduction ..............................................................................4 Reasons for abortion .............................................................5 Methods of abortion .............................................................6 Effects on women ..................................................................9 The Church and Abortion ....................................................10 The Bible .............................................................................10 Christian tradition ................................................................12 Recent Church statements ...................................................14 Non-religious Arguments .......................................................21 Being a person ....................................................................21 Having an interest ...............................................................22 Stages of development ........................................................23 The start of life ....................................................................26 Identical twinning ................................................................26 Human potential ..................................................................27 Bodily rights ........................................................................28 Responsibility for children ..................................................30 Rape and incest ...................................................................31 Prenatal tests ........................................................................31 Unwanted children ..............................................................33 Ectopic pregnancy ...............................................................34 Responding to Abortion .........................................................37 Backstreet abortion ..............................................................37 ‘Imperfect’ legislation .........................................................38 Doctors and nurses ..............................................................39 Promotion of abortion .........................................................40 Social action ........................................................................41 Further Reading .....................................................................43 Glossary ...................................................................................44


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THE ANSCOMBE BIOETHICS CENTRE The Anscombe Bioethics Centre is the only Catholic institution of its kind specialising in the field of healthcare ethics in Great Britain and Ireland. As such, it provides a unique service to the Catholic community in these islands, and more particularly to Catholics working in the field of healthcare. The Centre also exists to assist the teaching authorities within the Church in addressing bioethical issues, and to communicate and defend the Church’s moral teaching in debates over public policy and legislation in the United Kingdom. Housed at Blackfriars, Oxford, the Centre can be contacted by phone on 01865 610212, or via the website at www.bioethics.org.uk. It has three fulltime research fellows who are able to give time and thought to new and difficult issues in bioethics and it is also able to call upon the help of a range of experts in medicine, law, philosophy, theology and history. It publishes reports, organises conferences and lectures, and does consultancy work for individuals and for other organisations. The cooperation of the Anscombe Centre in publishing the CTS Explanations series of booklets is intended to advance this work of providing clear Catholic teaching on bioethical issues.


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INTRODUCTION Abortion is a disturbing subject, which many of us like to avoid. It is, however, impossible to ignore such a widespread social phenomenon, with such serious consequences for the lives of so many people. Attitudes to abortion are deeply divided, and it is important for our own thoughts on abortion to be guided not by public opinion, but by a real grasp of what is at stake. The Church, in particular, is concerned about abortion precisely because of her concern for the welfare and happiness of women, children and all human beings. The term ‘abortion’ can be understood in different ways. On one definition, abortion is the deliberate killing of an unborn child, by any means. This is how abortion is defined in (for example) the encyclical letter of Pope John Paul II Evangelium Vitae. Alternatively, abortion may be defined as a deliberate, lethal attack on the body of the child - with or without the aim of ending its life - or as the deliberate removal of the child before it is old enough to live outside its mother. Doctors will sometimes refer to miscarriage as ‘spontaneous’ abortion. However, in this booklet the term abortion will be used only of ‘procured’ or deliberate abortion.


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Abortion raises many serious moral questions, including the following: ●

When does a human life begin?

When does a human life which is morally equal to our own - a ‘personal’ human life - begin? ●

Does all human life have value, or are some human lives not worth living (for example, the life of a childwith a serious disability)? ●

Does a woman have a right to withdraw the support of her body from the foetus? ●

What does the ‘right to life’ involve? Reasons for abortion

In most Western countries, and in many other countries, abortion is permitted by law. In Britain abortion may take place before 24 weeks into pregnancy on some grounds, and up to birth on other grounds - for example, if the baby is disabled. In practice, abortion is available virtually on demand in the first 24 weeks, although the law on paper does impose restrictions. Women have abortions for many reasons. Sometimes a woman, or girl, becomes pregnant at a very early age, so that she or others think that she should not have the child. Sometimes a woman feels that having a child will not be compatible with plans for work or study (for example,


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getting a degree). She may be afraid of financial hardship for herself and the child. Often a woman is not married or in a settled relationship with a man, and does not want to have a child without the support of a partner. Sometimes the father of the child wants the woman to have an abortion, and she is afraid the relationship will break up if she goes ahead with the pregnancy. Or a woman or girl may be pregnant due to rape or incest, in which case she may be very reluctant to give birth to the child of the rapist and/or male relative who made her pregnant. Sometimes the child is disabled, and the woman does not feel that she can care for a child with that condition. She may even feel it would be kinder to abort the child, if the condition is very severe. Sometimes she is carrying a multiple pregnancy (triplets or more), and is told she must abort one baby (so-called ‘selective reduction’) to ensure the others will survive. Sometimes, though rarely, the woman’s health is seriously threatened by pregnancy or birth. Methods of abortion More and more, abortion is carried out by ‘medical’ - that is, chemical - means. Some forms of contraception (as they are called) do not, or do not always, work by preventing conception; rather, they work in some cases by preventing the embryo from implanting in the womb. (The unborn child is called an ‘embryo’ from fertilisation until it is 8 weeks old, after which it is called a ‘foetus’.)


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Many women do not realise that the Pill works sometimes as a contraceptive by preventing conception and sometimes as an abortifacient by causing an early miscarriage. The ‘Morning-after Pill’, especially EllaOne, may, again, bring about an abortion if conception has already taken place. There are other kinds of medical abortion; for example, the drug RU486 can be used in the first weeks of pregnancy. In addition, an abortion can be caused by the IUD or ‘coil’: a device placed in the womb which may work sometimes by preventing the embryo from implanting. A ‘surgical’ abortion can be carried out in several ways. In an abortion by vacuum aspiration, a tube is inserted into the womb, and the baby is sucked piecemeal down the tube. Most surgical abortions are performed in this way. Alternatively, an abortion may be performed by Dilatation and Curettage (D&C), where an instrument is used to scrape the baby out of the womb, or by Dilatation and Evacuation (D&E), where forceps are used to crush the body of the baby and remove the parts. Late abortions (that is, those performed later on in pregnancy) are often carried out by means of drugs called prostaglandins which make the woman go into labour. If the child is old enough to be born alive, it is sometimes given a lethal injection beforehand - so called ‘foeticide’ - so that it will die in the womb.


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Fertilisation: the beginning of life.


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Effects on women The physical risks of abortion to the woman include infection, perforation of the uterus, infertility, problems with subsequent pregnancies, and - according to some research - breast cancer later in life. In addition to the physical effects it may have, abortion has emotional effects. Although many women feel relief immediately after an abortion, in the long term they may experience symptoms such as nightmares, flashbacks, relationship problems, and feelings of anger and depression. There is evidence that women are more likely to be emotionally disturbed by abortion the greater their emotional distress at the time they ask for the abortion. If abortion is - as many women feel at some level - the killing of a child, these reactions, even at their most intense, are hardly surprising. It is natural that a woman who has lost a child by abortion will grieve for the child, and feel guilt or remorse for its death. Having said this, it often takes years for a woman to admit and come to terms with these very painful feelings. Those who have lost a child by abortion, and have come to terms with their loss, will sometimes become involved in helping other women who have had abortions. (Telephone numbers of organisations that counsel women after abortion, and women who are pregnant, are printed at the back of this booklet.)


ABORTION