BY MICHAEL SHACKLETON
Sixteen years ago, the Choice of Termination of Pregnancy Act was passed by the South African parliament, legitimising the practice of direct abortion under certain conditions. Legal challenges against the Act were dismissed by the Pretoria High Court in the following year.
In spite of continued protests by the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference and challenges in the courts, the Act was finally amended in 2008 to facilitate access to abortion to an even broader extent, and this promptly came into force.
Around the country Catholics especially, and also others, gathered earlier this month to keep the anniversary of the passing of the Act, praying for a change of heart on the part of those who see no reason to accept an unborn embryo or foetus as possessing the dignity of human personhood.
In the United States last month, the annual pro-life movement’s March for Life took place in Washington, marking the 40th anniversary of the day in 1973 when the Supreme Court, in deciding the Roe v Wade case, ruled in favour of the right to have an abortion.
This decision became federal law but each of the nation’s individual states still possessed its own jurisdiction to determine who may undergo abortions and under what circumstances.
A report in the January 14, 2013 issue of Time indicates that the number of states that permit abortion is less than before, and some states are restricting admission to abortion clinics.
A survey last year established that 75% of Americans believe abortion should be legal yet only 41% identified themselves as pro-choice in the matter. In addition, there is a smaller number of doctors now willing to perform abortions, and this could have impacted on the drop in the abortion rate.
This could be a reflection of how people cannot but be aware of the moral value of terminating a pregnancy.
Some may have no misgivings about getting rid of the fruit of the womb for selfish reasons, but one may suppose that many others are dubious or ambivalent about it, even beyond the United States.
The Church’s stance in this matter hardly needs explanation. It proscribes abortion because it regards it as a grave sin under God and against every individual’s right to life from the moment of conception until natural death.
Theologians in the past may have argued about at what point in time God infuses an immortal soul into the embryo, but the Church has with firmness maintained that life in the womb is ever sacred and no one has the right to end it.
The common view among pro-choice apologists in South Africa is that a decision to proceed with an abortion emphasises the woman’s right to the control of her own body.
Such a right is not in question. What concerns the Church is that the fruit of her womb is not her own body but that of an independent human person who, in order to develop naturally and become viable, instinctively clings to the mother’s body for nurturance and protection.
Without scruple even Catholics may agree with a shrug that if the law permits abortion, let the law take its course without hindrance or protest. This response scorns the Church’s strong and categorical teaching that what is legally passed into civil law is not inevitably passed into morally acceptable conduct.