Reply to Fr Frank Brennan (letter)

Reply to Fr Frank Brennan (letter)

Richard Egan

Fr Frank Brennan (April AD2000) holds that, in Catholic teaching, abortion is not the moral equivalent of murder and that in a pluralist democracy, it is wrong to have a law prohibiting all abortions. He is wrong on both points.

Pope John Paul II insists (Evangelium Vitae 58) that we call abortion by its "proper name." He cites Isaiah about "calling evil good", then states: "The moral gravity of procured abortion is apparent in all its truth if we recognise that we are dealing with murder." Furthermore, the "one eliminated" is "innocent, weak, defenceless, even to the point of lacking that minimal form of defence consisting on the poignant power of a newborn baby's cries and tears."

The Pope (EV 68) considers abortion and the civil law: "It is claimed that civil law cannot demand that all citizens should live according to moral standards higher than what all citizens themselves acknowledge and share. Hence the law should ... recognise that they have ... the right even to abortion ... The question is also raised whether supporting a law, which in practice cannot be enforced, would not ultimately undermine the authority of all laws."

The Pope rejects this view: "While public authority can sometimes choose not to put a stop to something which - were it prohibited - would cause more serious harm, it can never presume to legitimise as a right of individuals ... an offence against other persons caused by the disregard of so fundamental a right as the right to life." Consequently, "A civil law authorising abortion ... ceases by that very fact to be a true, morally binding civil law."

Fr Brennan's attempt to enlist Professor Mary Anne Glendon to support his view also fails. Glendon is a signatory to the 1996 declaration, The America We Seek, which says (par 14) "Our goal is simply stated: we seek an America in which every unborn child is protected in law." The declaration (par 23) supports a constitutional amendment to extend the right to life to all unborn children. The quote Fr Brennan uses from Glendon's 1987 work does not support his position that a law proscribing all abortion is wrong. Glendon merely argues that as a step towards such a goal laws which prohibit some abortions can be useful.

Finally, Fr Brennan's rhetoric about gaoling "70,000 women" misfires. When abortion laws in Western Australia were enforced, only abortionists were ever imprisoned. Women were given immunity as Crown witnesses.

Perth, WA

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