On 40th anniversary of abortion, UK cardinals insist it is "always a choice between life and death"

Cardinals Cormac Murphy-O'Connor and Keith O'Brien
Cardinals Cormac Murphy-O'Connor and Keith O'Brien


The presidents of the Catholic Bishops' Conferences of Scotland and England and Wales have issued a letter considering the forty years of legalized abortion in Britain. Their message emphasizes that "abortion is always a choice between life and death" and that political action must be taken to protect the unborn. 

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Scotland, and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, called for social change and gradual political action to effect achievable pro-life reforms.  "It is both licit and important for those in public life who oppose abortion on principle to work and vote for achievable incremental improvement to what is an unjust law," they wrote.

The United Kingdom has one of the most unrestrictive abortion laws in Europe, allowing abortion up to 24 weeks into gestation.  In cases of fetal disability and other exceptional circumstances, abortions are permitted even until birth.

The cardinals also endorsed policies and habits that would lower the abortion rate even without outlawing abortion.  "The law affects attitudes, but it does not itself compel anyone to have an abortion. Even without a change in the law the abortion rate could fall dramatically if enough minds and hearts were changed."

Examining the pro-choice rhetoric which says that having an abortion is about ‘the woman’s right to choose’, the cardinals pointed out that ironically, women who have had abortions have often said they did not have a genuine choice. "Abortion is a moment of choice. Abortion is always a choice between life and death, but we recognize that it is made in complex personal and domestic situations," they wrote.

The UK cardinals proposed improving these situations by encouraging fathers to take responsibility for their child, increasing counseling and health facilities for women in unexpected pregnancies, and dismantling the social "conveyor belt" that encourages women to abort without exploring alternatives.  They stressed the importance of parents and families who would support their daughters and sons in making pro-life decisions.  Further, they called for educational programs that both emphasize placing sexual relations in the context of marital fidelity and help people "understand realistically the joys and sacred responsibility of parenthood."

The two leaders of the Church in the UK closed their letter by holding up the dignity of human life created in the image of God and expressing hope that the next forty years would look much different than the past forty years of legal abortion in Britain.