THE Bishop of Limerick & Killaloe, the Rt Revd Kenneth Kearon, has shown his support of an Irish referendum on the repeal a Constitutional ban on abortion, which would allow the government to enact legislation relaxing the strict prohibitions currently in place.
The government favours legalising unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks, which caused the Bishop concern: but, although the Church opposed abortion in principle, there were exceptions to be made if the life of the mother was threatened, the baby would not live, or the question of rape and incest arose.
The current position, known as the 8th Amendment, which was voted into the Constitution by referendum in 1983, prohibits abortion in all circumstances except when the life of the mother is endangered. The life of the unborn child and that of the mother are regarded equally.
In a pastoral letter to his diocese, Bishop Kearon, a former secretary-general of the Anglican Communion, said that today’s biology was in harmony with the Early Church Fathers on the matter of when human life began. St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas both contended that life did not begin at conception, he wrote. “We find speculation about the beginning of life, often equating it with ensoulment or with the time when the mother first ‘feels life’, or movement, all of which are stages long after conception has taken place.”
Criticising the 12-week proposal by the government, he said that it was designed to deal with the problem of women’s obtaining the abortion pill over the internet, and, if abortion were legalised for a short time, this would allow for proper medical supervision and proper services. “That is hardly an ethical argument,” Bishop Kearon said.
Noting that the Church of Ireland rarely adopted an official stance on such issues, he said: “The Church offers guidance and help to those making decisions while respecting the rights of all to differ from that advice and to decide freely according to their own conscience.”
The Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke, and the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, have said, in an earlier statement, that they favoured modification of the current position to allow the government to take legislative responsibility on the termination of pregnancy (News, 6 April).
In Co. Donegal, 26 leaders and lay members of Evangelical churches have stated their opposition to a change in the status quo. “As a nation, our history shows that we have failed mothers and babies. We have created stigma and shame instead of creating an environment of grace and love,” a statement said.
“We need to do better — better at compassion, better at support from conception, better at alternatives like adoption. But our past failings do not give us the right to determine who should be born and who should not.”