Cormac Murphy O'Connor has called for UK politics to become more like US politics, and have a religious tinge. Just what we need, it leads to such rational decisions. (Update: This website comments on the contrast between the US and Uk on the abortion issue, scroll down). Michael Howard seems to have jumped on this particular bandwagon (in a half hearted way) by saying he'd reduce the threshold for abortion by 4 weeks (I am told he first raised this issue in a woman's magazine). The Cardinal has supported this stance (presumably as a thin end of the wedge as the church has a well-known position on this issue and it was one of many issues the Cardinal mentioned and therefore it should be seen in that context.).
Seen from the US, it might look a big issue - but ultimately I doubt it will be, the UK on the whole is pretty secular.
I can thoroughly understand the 'right to life' case. It's a self consistent argument - from the point of view that the new individual is unique and at some point gains personhood. The position that this happens at conception is a more difficult one and that is where the issue lies. However I can also understand the pro-choice case... does a bunch of cells have the same rights as a fully grown human? The trouble with the pro-choice case is drawing the line... is it at birth, at conception, or somewhere in between? At the moment it is 24 weeks, but advances in medicine means that a foetus could almost survive if born at this stage. Is that the criterion?
One must also balance the needs of the baby (including whether it will be cared for) against those of the mother - should abortion be banned in all cases, even if the mother's life is at risk?
However, the fact of history is that when abortion was not legal, young women who found themselves pregnant and desperate would go to back street clinics and this gave rise to infections, sterility and deaths. There is a big problem with this consequence that needs to be addressed by the anti-choice people.
In addition, there is the position against contraception and especially condoms. The Catholic Church wishes to prevent people practicing safe sex, and at the same time prevent people from mitigating (one of) the consequences of unsafe sex.
With HIV in epidemic proportions in much of Africa this is a position I cannot comprehend - right to a chance of life of an as yet unviable spermatazoa versus the possibility of HIV for the in existence human being? It simply doesn't make sense as a logical position.
They say: 'abstinence' - but that simply is not working. Yes, in an ideal world, abstinence would solve the issues of unwanted pregnancy and HIV, but life simply isn't like that. People make mistakes, people are people...... and it doesn't seem very forgiving to condemn someone for use of a condom - does it? Should someone die for want of one? Indeed, in the US funding is with-held from clinics which offer abortions in the third world. This article has the killer quote: 'There is nothing magical about the way to stop a sexually transmitted killer. If a population is not going to abstain from sex - and even many Catholic priests can't seem to accomplish that feat - then protection against transmission is the best defense' (Note that 'Many' was in the linked article, perhaps 'some' would have been better. Still, it makes the point nicely).
Ultimately, from a public health standpoint I would rather people abstained than were promiscuous - however in the real world this isn't going to happen. Not until George Orwell's vision is fully realised - the Home Office may well be working on it now.
I've seen a logical suggestion: 'Let's ban abortions altogether. He makes the point that we'd have to ensure we had a database containing all the contact details for the men and women who oppose abortion. That way, every time a severely handicapped or unwanted child - or any child a mother simply could not afford to look after - was born, we could all rest easy knowing that the children always go to good, most likely Christian homes'. Somehow I don't see the anti-choice folks as being appreciative of that one.
Ultimately, I don't know the answers - I really don't. Personally, I don't think I approve of abortion. This is in the sense that I cannot imagine forgiving a woman who took this step with my child. Nevertheless I can see that abortion may be the only answer for others, and also in many cases (e.g. rape victims - and others). I would not dream of trying to prevent someone from taking this step. I don't give great store to the rights of the small bunch of cells, my personal objection is not rational in this regard - and so have no problem with contraception or morning after pills (though I do have concern if the mother uses this as contraception)!
The issue for me is a personal one - but legally the problem is where to stop calling the bunch of cells a foetus and start calling it a baby.
I don't know - but for me the answer is not 'at conception', despite not knowing what the answer is. In the same way I may not know to the penny how much money is in my bank account, but I am sure it is not zero - or a million pounds. Knowing an answer to be incorrect doesn't imply that one knows the correct answer!
Where to draw the line is not a question I can answer - but I'd be very happy if the Catholic Church would have some compassion for people who find themselves in the position of an unwanted pregnancy....
I really don't want more religion in my politics. ThankYouVeryMuch.