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The Case For Life

A Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Barry J. Hickey

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 disintegrate.

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 Holy Spirit.

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 more.


Hard Cases

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 child.

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 especially traumatic.


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 12:4-27].

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.


The Law

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 destruction.


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


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