The Case For Life
A Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Barry J.
Archbishop of Perth, Western Australia
March 25, 1998
Today we are engaged in one of the most decisive
struggles for a civilised society, the protection of human life. Pope John Paul
II has referred to this as a struggle between the culture of life and the
culture of death. [The Gospel of Life 1995 No. 28]
Recently, we have witnessed here in Western Australia attempts to legalise
the deliberate taking of innocent life.
Moves to legitimise euthanasia, assisted suicide, abortion on
demand and the withdrawal of treatment from newborns with disabilities are all
efforts to usurp what properly belongs to God, the power over life and death.
We must stand firm in defending innocent life or our civilisation will
The present public controversy on abortion has brought to the
forefront the critical issues of life and death.
It is no wonder that the current debates are so highly
emotionally charged. The acceptance of abortion in our community has suddenly
been challenged and practices that have been allowed to go on unhindered have
now been exposed.
The Holy Father has stated clearly why procured abortion is
always wrong: "It is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being". [The
Gospel of Life No. 58]
This is the key issue in the debate. This is the unshakeable
moral principle, on which the Church must stand like a rock: we are never
justified in taking the life of an innocent human being.
A New Human Being
THERE are those who claim that newly-conceived life in the
womb is not human life but a collection of cells or only a 'potential human
being'. How wrong they are. Biological science has dispelled any false notions
that we are dealing with anything but a new human life developing in the womb.
The Scriptures teach that the child in the womb is fully human.
In the Book of Jeremiah we are reminded of God's love for us
from all eternity: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before
you were born I consecrated you" Jer.1:5
The Solemnity of the Annunciation this month reminds us that
Jesus himself took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary through the power of the
When Mary met Elizabeth, "the child leaped in her womb"
[Luke 1:41] Elizabeth's child, John the Baptist, joined in the joy of his mother
in welcoming Mary who was carrying the Child Jesus in her womb.
Society cannot continue to deny the full humanity of unborn children.
We can excuse ignorance, but it is hard to excuse those who
know the truth about unborn life yet still regard life as expendable. It is
almost beyond belief that certain doctors can continue to perform abortions when
they see before their own eyes the undeniable evidence that they have destroyed
the life of a tiny child.
We often praise doctors and nurses for their love and care
for their patients, showing that they value human life and will do everything
they can to save it. Why then, do certain doctors have different attitudes to
the child in the womb?
Pray for those doctors that their eyes will be opened. Pray
that they will realise what they are doing and refuse to perform abortions any
While difficult cases are often put forward as justification
for abortion, the tragic fact is that most abortions in Australia are performed
for reasons of convenience. Most, in fact, are requested when other forms of
birth control have failed. This mentality translates into 'abortion on demand'
or 'the right to choose'.
No-one has any right to choose to take innocent life. The
choice over life and death is one that we do not have. It belongs to God.
The difficult cases that are put forward as reasons for
abortion pose very serious questions and demand an equally serious response.
Because God is the author of life, every conception is an
expression of the nature of God, the Creator. The miracle of conception means
that every new person is made in the image of God.
Rape, incest, and the discovery of genetic diseases cause
deep anguish and strong emotional distress, but do not negate that it is God who
creates and who does so with purpose. Let us be clear that in all of these cases
abortion is not and cannot be the answer. Every woman and every family that is
facing such a situation has a right to the closest support and affirmation from
medical personnel, social workers, counsellors, family and friends, and other
members of the community. All of us must be sensitive to the needs of women
faced with such a grave challenge and be at their side to help them through
their crisis and be committed to walking the future journey with them.
Mother and Child
Let it not be thought that our concern is only for the unborn
child. We are concerned for both the mother and the baby she is carrying.
Our position must be this - to remain unshakeable in protecting the unborn child
while caring for the mother through her crisis and beyond.
I repeat the offer already made, the offer of financial help to any woman
who is contemplating abortion because of financial pressures. Parishes have
already helped considerably in setting up a Fund for Life, and requests
for help have already been honoured. Requests for money are being dealt with
through Our Catholic agency, Pregnancy Assistance.
Our help must go beyond finance. Friendship, understanding
and compassion are a necessary part of our response to the mother and her unborn
It is grossly misdirected compassion if, in its name,
abortion is suggested. Not only is the life of an unborn innocent taken, but we
have enough information on the long-term effects of abortion on the mother to
know that such advice is anything but compassionate. This is so even for 'hard
case' abortions, where the psychological impact of an abortion on a woman can be
People with disabilities have at long last achieved dignity
in our community as their rights to education, work, accommodation, and other
social supports are acknowledged. The rights of the unborn are tragically denied
if they are aborted because disabilities are detected. Allow these
children the chance of life. Children with disabilities are made in the image
and likeness of God. They are needed as members of the Body of Christ" [cf I Cor
After these children are born, we must also follow through
and include them fully into our community. It would be grossly
inconsistent of us to urge parents to bring their children into the world if
they then find that our parishes and our schools are closed to them. The full
inclusion of children with disabilities in our parishes and our schools is an
urgent issue facing us now.
If our moral position on abortion is clear, does it matter
what the law says? It matters a great deal. The law is a powerful educative
tool. If it allows abortion for any reason whatever, then the lives of unborn
children are no longer sacrosanct and the law can be amended or widely
interpreted to include more and more exceptions.
In fact, our law here in Western Australia, although very
restrictive, has been interpreted so widely that, until the recent charging of
two doctors, abortion was available virtually on demand.
We cannot permit the liberalisation of our laws forbidding
abortion, even less their repeal. The law must protect life, not allow for its
Catholic people of Western Australia and all fellow
Christians, let us be united in the defence of life. Let us resist the values of
the secular society that promote individualism and oppose those who assume the
power over life that belongs to God alone.
Do not be self-righteous in defending unborn life. None of us
is beyond reproach. Nevertheless, affirming that unborn human life is inviolable
and cannot be destroyed has nothing to do with being self-righteous. It is a
truth entrusted to us by God. We must therefore be courageous yet never turn to
violence; declare our position publicly and be ready to suffer for the truth yet
never be abusive. We are to "love our enemies, be good to those who hate us,
bless those who persecute and calumniate us". [Lk 6:27-28].
We will stand firm on the sacredness of life. God changes
hearts - our aim is to witness to the truth.
Have no doubt that the matter of abortion is a dividing line
for civilisation. Cross it and human life is no longer sacred.
Most Rev B J Hickey
Archbishop of Perth
25th March 1998
Statements of Bishops