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Do pro-life Australians need a new approach?



Catholic, working-class and Irish: this is an ancestral identity which can be deployed in Australia with great authority. Many Australians trace their roots back to Ireland, the country with a deeply Catholic history, where last weekend a clear majority voted to repeal the constitutional amendment that made it illegal to terminate a pregnancy.

The 'Save the 8th' Rally held on 10 March 2018 in Dublin City Center, which drew around 100,000 protesters. Credit: Life Institute / Save the 8thAssociated with figures like Ned Kelly and Peter Lalor, Irish heritage in Australia tends to connote a kind of radical underdog spirit, marked by oppositional politics and survival of poverty and persecution.

From the Eureka Stockade to the recently re-animated Democratic Labour Party, the history of labour politics in Australia is inextricable from Irish Catholicism. For example, in presenting himself to the public as a Labor man, NSW's pro-life Opposition Leader Luke Foley has cited his 'tough upbringing' in a family of Irish descent.

The decision in Ireland is not the first time the country has voted in favour of policies that are at odds with Catholic ordinances on reproduction and human relationships. In recent years Irish citizens have supported the legalisation of divorce and same-sex marriage.

This kind of change in the Irish population even has the pro-life lobby within the Church reconsidering its advocacy strategies. Writing in Religion News Service, Jesuit priest Thomas J. Reese says that:

'The overwhelming vote in Ireland in favour of allowing access to abortion shows that the pro-life movement needs a new strategy. Trying to preserve anti-abortion laws or trying to reverse the legalisation of an abortion is simply not working.'

Even in America, where pro-life sentiment is strong and strident, Reese notes that 'most Americans think that abortion should be legal even if they think it is immoral'.


"Even in America, where pro-life sentiment is strong and strident, Reese notes that 'most Americans think that abortion should be legal even if they think it is immoral'."


This has a parallel in Australia, where there has been consistent support for the legality of abortion, including among practicing Catholics. A 2003 study showed that most (43 per cent of 4219) participants strongly agreed with the statement 'Abortion should be legal', while 29 per cent 'agreed'. Of these, respectively, 33 and 39 per cent also said they were Catholic.

The effects of criminalisation in Ireland are well-known, with the 2012 case of Savita Halappanavar acting as a lightning-rod for the referendum. A resident of Galway, Halappanavar sought an abortion when she was 17 weeks pregnant. The abortion was refused and she died from cardiac arrest following a septic miscarriage.

In Ireland, the issue runs deep. Abortion was made illegal in 1861 through the Offences Against the Person Act and reiterated in the 2012 Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act. In 1983 the eighth amendment was passed.

Some change appeared to be in order when, in 1992, a court precedent was set where abortion could be performed if there was substantial risk to the mother's life. However, up until last week's referendum result, criminalisation of abortion was the moral, legal, and medical norm.

The significance of this change in Ireland is described by broadcaster Ciara O'Connor Walsh, who observed that 'people have made a major moral decision, a major decision of conscience, without consulting [Catholic church leaders] and going against the Catholic Church's teaching on this particular issue'.

The result in Ireland is a timely reminder to political and church leaders in Australia who like to use Irish Catholic heritage as a way to defend their conservative views. On nearly all issues that have been debated by Australian Catholics against their religious obligations — divorce, same-sex marriage, and now, abortion — the motherland is, clearly, no longer the source of moral legitimacy.



Ann DeslandesAnn Deslandes is a freelance writer and researcher from Sydney. Read her other writing at xterrafirma.net and tweet her @Ann_dLandes.



Main image: The 'Save the 8th' Rally held on 10 March 2018 in Dublin City Center, which drew around 100,000 protesters. Credit: Life Institute / Save the 8th

Topic tags: Ann Deslandes, Ireland, abortion, Catholicism



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Existing comments

The figures quoted for the 2003 study which purport to show consistent support for the legality of abortion, show support amongst Catholics to be 13.8 % approx - hardly resounding support from the Catholic component of the cohort. On a number of occasions working in a major university teaching hospital in a State where abortion is still contrary to the criminal law, I was called to the operating theatres on a number of occasions to save the lives of women threatened by bleeding caused by damage to the womb during abortion. Fortunately they all survived. (The abortionists are not particularly gifted when it comes to saving lives). It should be compulsory for all advocates of the killing of normal babies in their mother's wombs to witness an abortion - it is perhaps the most horrible mode of death of the defenceless that any human being can experience. Perhaps there is more to be taken from the fact that over 20 States in the USA and France have pulled back on liberal abortion law over the last 18 months and that the Trump administration last year withdrew $528 million in abortion funding from United Nations "women's health" agencies providing abortion in the third world. Effective prevention of unwanted pregnancy has been available throughout the world since 1962 - it is called "The Pill" - a far safer and superior method of controlling unwanted pregnancy than abortion, even when offered in allegedly safe hands in the sophisticated teaching hospitals with all their bells and whistles. I am of the Irish heritage, steeped in its history and realise that the Irish have always been tainted by pagan barbarity. It is not surprising that they have chosen the path to barbarism for unwanted healthy babies.

john frawley | 04 June 2018  

This is a very serious matter. But there are other important matters. Unfortunately this has become a central essential issue and, stake in the ground for some religious groups. If there is to be a change in approach maybe a more broad approach to matters of justice like economic matters, like inequality,opposing invasions of other countries or political matters like reform of democratic behaviour would be more efficacious and look less fanatical. Meanwhile each person is entitled to follow their own conscience and say their prayers. Religious colonists seem to want to impost their behaviour on nations. As for other Hibernian parts of the article, a totally unscrupulous retiring minister of the crown was cornered by a journalist. He confronted the ex min with a list of seriously corrupt and illegal misdemeanors, concluding "...and you call yourself a Christian". Response: "I'm not a christian. I'm an Irish Catholic!"

Michael D. Breen | 05 June 2018  

It is hard to know what strategy could be used to oppose any legislative reform that hopes to free citizens from restrictive laws passed generations ago. Freedom and the language of rights and compassion will continue to be brought forward in innovative ways to open any path where current laws might be seen as causing distress. The ANZ College of Obstericians estimated in 2012 there were 80,000-100,000 terminations of pregnancy performed annually in Australia. Is this destructive approach the only possible way Australia can guarantee reproductive freedom? Sex education is compulsory, contraceptives cheap and internet information easily accessible yet terminations abound. Very few of these are due to foetal abnormalities or maternal illness. And are the women who choose this path satisfied with the result? What possible argument or circumstance might induce them to change their minds? - A new Vatican strategy? - surely that would be seen a morality with a modern political spin?- Oppression as ‘moral marketing’?

Paul Burt | 05 June 2018  

A new approach certainly is needed. The 'pro Life' people might stop calling themselves 'pro-life' and use the label 'anti-abortion'. The Church might also disentangle its anti-abortion position from its anti-contraceptive movement. It might also revisit its fixation on the nexus between sex, procreation, and marriage. And then it might stop shouting as it is more likely to be heard if it relies on reason and argument than on pronouncements from the pulpit.

Ginger Meggs | 05 June 2018  

Good morning, Ginger. Two comments on your post above if I may. First, you have been to a different Catholic church from me - I haven't heard any pronouncements on abortion or contraception from the pulpits in this country for 30 years or more!! Or on any other significant moral issues of contention for that matter! (And I am a regular rain, hail or shine attendee at the Catholic church). I agree completely with you that the issue of abortion should be disentangled from that of contraception. Abortion represents the destruction of unwanted, existing human life and contraception the prevention of unwanted, as yet non-existent human life - two very different issues with two different moralities it seems to me. There are also a number of different ethical or moral issues associated with the different means of contraception used - for instance, some means used are abortifacients. The Catholic Church continues to ignore the fact that the so-called "natural means" or rhythm method (Billings method) is of necessity more deliberately contrived to avoid and frustrate God's creative intent than using the pill but is morally acceptable. Kids in kindergarten these days would question the validity of the acceptability of Billings as a moral act compared with using the pill !! And so they should.

john frawley | 05 June 2018  

Publicity about abortion has not been kind to the Catholic Church. It's not just the case of Savita in Ireland but also those of the sacking of a religious Sister for her ruling in the USA on what seemed a clear case of applying the principle of double effect to save the life of a young girl. 'Ginger Meggs' raises some very real issues that I hope will be dealt with by the Catholic Church in Australia in the forthcoming Plenary Council. I think it was Pope John XXIII who once said words to the effect that good moral teaching doesn't need to be imposed because it is embraced since it is seen as clearly right and good. One of the forgotten heroes of the Catholic Church is Pope Paul VI whose encyclical Populorum Progressio is a classic social justice statement. Sadly he is best remembered for another encyclical Humanae Vitae. As "Ginger Meggs" has said, maybe it is now high time for the Catholic Church to once again address the matter of contraception. It seems to me that based on a lesser of two evils approach that prevention is to be preferred to the killing of the unborn and the possible physical and psychological harm to a mother.

Ern Azzopardi | 05 June 2018  

To live in a pluralist democratic society entails living with ambiguity. I remember the sociologist and polemicist Dr Frank Knopfelmacher making that very point during a debate in 1960s on the morality of Conscription for the Vietnam War. He found it an interesting sociological fact that a survey of Melbourne students found that on the whole those in favour of Conscription (no matter how distasteful) were at the same time opposed to contraception and abortion, whereas those in favour of contraception (seen as a wise precaution) and abortion (no matter how distasteful) were opposed to Conscription (an indefensible capitulation to the American Military-Industrial complex). This 'living with ambiguity' permeates Australian society and Australian political parties. A glaring socio-religious ambiguity is an unmarried clergy lecturing their congregations on married life, divorce, contraception and abortion. I write because I have just read the first four comments - all cogent and thoughtful. As Michael Breen wrote: this is a very serious matter. Can I make a plea on behalf of the women who have had abortions? They hear the pro-life slogans as anti-them personally. Try to imagine what life was like for them that steered them towards the abortion clinic.

Uncle Pat | 05 June 2018  

Six men so far. Where are the responses of women?

Ginger Meggs | 05 June 2018  

Ginger, since, appropriately, you seek women's input on this subject, maybe it'd help to become familiar with the nexus between contraception and abortion confirmed in the research of Mary Ebherstadt, senior research fellow of the Faith and Reason Institute. A summary of her findings can be found in "First Things", April 2018.

John | 05 June 2018  

Pro lifers may be on the wrong track. My question.. Can we legislate for morality,??? Can morality be forced, if not believed? Perhaps this is impossible, taking away a person's freedom. Rather proclaim the beauty of life,and offer help in the struggle to cherish all life on earth!

Bernie | 05 June 2018  

For once I find myself in enthusiastic agreement with Dr Frawley. Savita Halappanavar, an Indian Irishwoman of Hindu affiliation, was condemned to a certain death by fellow citizens bound to a constitutional prohibition that neither the Catholic Church, with its endorsement of the principle of double effect, nor vast numbers of her adherents teach or support. It follows that the mischievous and devious constitutional arrangements that the Irish and some senior members of the Church have lavishly and unjustly employed in the past to reinforce a fundamentalist religious agenda should result in the terrible and shocking mess that now confronts both the Irish as well as the Church on the abortion question. As to Ern Azzopardi's hope that Ginger Meggs's helpful suggestions "will be dealt with by the Catholic Church in Australia in the forthcoming Plenary Council" I wouldn't hold my breath. I know of several suggestions made in these columns as well as elsewhere to the ACBC on matters crying out to be addressed by and at the Plenary Council that have yet to be acknowledged. Catholics are good at self-serving action on issues only after the horse has bolted and the case has been well and truly lost.

Dr Michael Furtado | 05 June 2018  

Yes, a new approach is needed, like recognising that a blastocyst is not the same or morally equivalent to a "baby". A "baby" is something you hold in your arms and whom you hear gurgle and coo; the subject of many abortions is nothing near that.

smk | 05 June 2018  

To decide to have an abortion is a dangerous decision and a grim one for any woman. Often a lonely decision. Sometimes a decision forced upon them by parents or partners or sheer desperation. Now imagine a community which is so totally supportive of pregnant mothers that they would feel safe and comfortable knowing they and their children would be cared for now and in the future. Women are not the only ones responsible for the pregnancies. But they are the only ones who are forced to take ultimate responsibility for abortions, bearing the abuse on their bodies and minds all their lives. It is easy to pontificate about the legalities and morality of an abortion when you are not faced with the terrifying fact that you have neither the chronological maturity, financial means nor the family or communal support to give birth to a child and care for that child for the next eighteen years. Easy to point a finger. Not so easy to volunteer to pay for a child's upbringing - and offer the time necessary to nurture one - especially one that is not your own. There would be very few abortions in a community where children were welcomed and supported by that whole community.

Michele Purcell | 06 June 2018  

That's a terrific suggestion, Michele. I've often wondered about the enormous gap between the medico-theological position of the Catholic Church on the abortion question, invariably invoking the Natural Law argument and citing St Thomas Aquinas, on the one hand, and the desperate immediate and longer term need for support of a lonely and uncared for mother-to-be on this question. As Catholics we should give priority to setting up parish-based funds to support women who find themselves in precisely this ethical predicament, rather than address the problem as if it didn't have a human face. From my youth I seem to recall an organisation, called the Majellans, that undertook responsibility for such a thing. In the English & Welsh Catholic province the Crusade of Rescue had a similar mission. No demand for their services these days, I suspect, as pregnant women in dire need are summarily herded, as in Treblinka, to the top of the termination queue!

Dr Michael Furtado | 06 June 2018  

Perhaps the Church needs to stick to its own knitting, which is the transformation of individuals and societies into a reflection of the Kingdom of God. This is a very different thing from changing behaviours without changing hearts - yet so much energy is pored into political action to make abortion illegal. Surely proclaiming, in word and deed, the beauty and dignity of the human person should come first? At present we have many Catholics - individuals, agencies and parishes, that are very supportive of single mothers, pregnant girls etc, but who hold back from openly admitting their religious motivation. I've met many Catholics as well as others who believe the Church does nothing but condemn abortion and the women who consider it, and engage in political action re the abortion laws. I believe the greater part of the Church proclaims the love of God in the work of ordinary people, but the 'official' Church is seen as unloving and unhelpful. They aren't doing their job, which is to convince people that they are beloved by God. In other words - yes, we definitely do need a change of strategy!

Joan Seymour | 06 June 2018  

Thanks for the pointer John. I found the article (a link would help in future!) and read it. Eberstadt is an apologist, she works and writes for an organisation that has a message to spread. That’s fine, but it’s not 'research' in the normally accepted meaning. There is no way that she or the organisation would have been open to publish if the ‘research’ had led to the opposite conclusion. In fact, it’s a good example of what I meant by the (deliberate) entanglement of different issues. Abortion and contraception are not synonymous term and, as my friend John Frawley makes clear, not all ‘contraception’ is the same.

Ginger Meggs | 06 June 2018  

Ginger, I'm not familiar with the specific protocols of the Faith and Reason Institute for whom Mary Eberstadt works, but I'm sufficiently conversant with her writings and the aims of FRI to be confident that they value and pursue objective research. Neither Ebe erstadt nor I suggest that contraception and abortion are synonymous, but rather recognize that contraception, instead of being an alternative that would decrease the demand for abortion, has not had this effect at all. Both are connected in being realities inimical, in varying ways and degrees, to flourishing of human life: contraception by prevention, abortion by destruction. (Sorry for not including the link.)

John | 06 June 2018  

And abstention (the Billings method), malnourishment, poor health care, and war are not 'inimical... to flourishing of human life', John?

Ginger Meggs | 06 June 2018  

I think that the quibble about faith and reason is precisely the kind of example of an anti-abortion strategy that hasn't worked. In many instances it is precisely the hopelessly marred Humane Vitae and its proscription of contraception that not only turned many Catholics away from the Church but also large numbers of others who, properly in my view, and like Dr John Frawley in these columns, draw a clear distinction between contraception and abortion.

Dr Michael Furtado | 07 June 2018  

It seems that you and I also sing from the same sheet when it comes to Humanae Vitae, Dr Furtado. However, there are some qualifiers in that document which do allow contraception couched in terms of parental moral responsibility to and for any human life which they might propagate. That is, of course, ignored by the ultra-conservatives to the detriment of the church (those who constitute the "body of Christ") as you indicate. There are no concessions anywhere in Catholic morality in favour of abortion as I am sure you agree. So too should anyone who purports to be Christian and civilised agree.

john frawley | 07 June 2018  

Ginger, the "Billings Method" was predicated and promoted on the assumption of procreative openness and family planning within marriage - a significantly different matter from today's widespread life-and-responsibility negating practice of contraception.

John | 07 June 2018  

As a consistent feminist I abhor the Irish results. Feminism always defended the vulnerable in its beginnings. We have lost our way. As a Catholic I appreciate the Church sticking up for the unborn when just about no other body of people does. Often abortion happens after contraception failure, so changing Church teachings about that won’t help either. As a woman I have had fun complaining with fellow female Catholics about the Billing’s method but I don’t support contraception. Sex and reproduction belong together and I agree what we need is supportive communities that uphold fidelity and welcome children.

Anne Rampa | 07 June 2018  

John. It is difficult to agree that the Billings method acquires moral acceptance on the basis that it is predicated on "procreative openness and family planning". The method deliberately and assiduously contrives, through the identification of ovulation by repetitive temperature measurement and charting, to close down the gateway to openness to God's creative capability through sexual intercourse. It is a deliberate form of contraception and as such should represent the same morality as other forms of contraception - other than those which rely on abortifacients (drugs causing early abortion). That assumes, of course, that there exists a valid reason for attributing any morality or corresponding immorality to contraception in the first place. I believe that is challengeable - just as the Church's attitude to Galileo's scientific truth and revelation of God's creation was challengeable.

john frawley | 07 June 2018  

‘He who is without sin cast the first stone’… The teachings with HV are beautiful, because they are in harmony with our Creator’s Will …….To participate with His plan is a blessing and it could be said that it makes us ‘person- oriented’ rather than thing-oriented. Christians cannot change the values of the world, but they can influence them by demonstrating our beliefs ‘honestly’ before mankind. HV.20. “The teaching of the Church regarding the proper regulation of birth is a promulgation of the law of God Himself. And yet there is no doubt that to many it will appear not merely difficult but even impossible to observe”… So yes, if we are to be ‘honest’, is not this the reason why so many justify using contraception. But rather than accept our (I speak generally) limitations before God, we have created self-serving consciences and in doing so we hide our nakedness (Shame) before Him. It could be said that our self-serving natures, have facilitated abortion on demand in many countries, as we have colluded through human weakness with the use of contraception, while playing lip service to the ideals of a person oriented society. So rather than hide in the bushes and cover ourselves with leaves (excuses) we have been given the means by our Lord himself via The true Divine Mercy Image, one of Broken Man, to come out into the open and show our nakedness in humility to each other before our Father in heaven, while still bearing witness to true Christian values, teaching others, ( especially the youth of the day) by our example, to serve the Truth and walk in 'humility' before our Creator and in doing so, encourage all to confront that which enslaves mankind, our own sinfulness. So is an act of humility too much to ask? Please consider continuing via the link http://www.catholicethos.net/errors-amoris-laetitia/#comment-167

Kevin Walters | 07 June 2018  

I strongly support legal abortion. Many desperate women in the past have had their health destroyed or their life ended when they resorted to self-aborting or the unsanitary and abusive practices of back-yard abortionists. Legalizing abortion does not make abortion compulsory. I personally am opposed to abortion and would choose not to use this resource. But who am I to tell other women who do not share my beliefs that they should be refused a service which is acceptable to them? And what hypocrisy it is that the Catholic Church opposes abortion while still officially being opposed to the ethical alternative to abortion, contraception.

Anna Summerfield | 07 June 2018  

Over the periodof the Clinton, Bush (Dubya) and Obama Administrations in the U.S., the annual incidence of abortion has dropped by 50%. Quite a significant drop. Why is this so? Likely because of the improved access to healthcare and the improved economic circumstances for women over the period (notwithstanding the blip of the GFC). Now the allegedly pro-life Trump wants to dismantle the gains made over the previous 3 presidents' terms such as dismantling Obamacare and the tax breaks to big corporations and the rich which may well put the brakes on economic growth in the U.S. The lesson here is that the issue of abortion cannot be taken in isolation to the well-being of society as a whole. Has anyone wondered why Australia had such a low birth rate during the Great Depression? Think that there might have been an increase in abortions due to the economic downturn (no records kept for obvious reasons, and no "Pill"). Ern Azzopardi, " issues that I hope will be dealt with by the Catholic Church in Australia in the forthcoming Plenary Council." In our dreams! One hierarch has already signalled that he wants the Plenary Council to be about defending the Church against the Wicked Secularists. In any case, even if the Council came up with some radical suggestions, they would be canned by the Roman Curia. You are right about Paul VI being a forgotten hero: it's thanks to Humanae Vitae that Catholics attained autonomy "in one awful leap", to quote Paul Collins.

Bruce Stafford | 07 June 2018  

John Frawley, the Billings method involves essentially an abstention, distinguishing it, I suggest, from direct elimination of procreative possibility in the exercise of sexual intercourse - contraception, strictly speaking. Does this distinction not require for the Billings method a differentiated moral status, since abstention involves no compromise of the natural integrity of the exercised sexual act, viz, its teleological procreative dimension?

John | 07 June 2018  

I thank Dr Frawley for sharing his medical knowledge on this question and with which I unreservedly concur. The Billings method is or was taught for many years in some Catholic schools without regard to a wider and better contextualised co-curricular treatment by teachers of human relationship questions. I have personally witnessed a number of senior students lampooning a teacher of that method behind her back by simulating the thumb and finger mucosal test that Billings advises. While I have the floor, I should mention that I have also heard that some pro-life supporters in Ireland plan to influence politicians to introduce a bipartisan Bill in the Dáil Éireann that will criminalise abortion other than in the instance of a pregnant mother's life being at stake. I hope and pray that this initiative succeeds, as it offers a considerably superior pro-life strategy for Irish people than the absurd constitutional prohibition that has thankfully now been struck down by referendum, and which prohibited terminations in all instances.

Dr Michael Furtado | 08 June 2018  

Anne Rampa, thank you a very relevant contribution, representative of many Catholic women of my acquaintance.

John | 08 June 2018  

Dr Furtado, a student's negative reaction to what is taught may well be cause for pedagogical reflection on the content being presented and how it is being presented, but it is not necessarily a reason for discounting it.

John | 08 June 2018  

John's two posts highlight a particular problem that confronts some who contribute to ES discourse. Since nearly all ES articles are justice-based and given to contributors 'taking sides', as Albert Nolan famously recommended, there is undoubtedly a tendency in us, especially on issues with a high inflammability ratio, to shred what the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin referred to as the two sides of Christ's Seamless Shroud. By this Bernardin deplored the trend in Catholic opinion for people of good will to be corralled into a stand-off between the works of justice and mercy (or charity) and which tend to attract left-wing sympathisers in the former instance, and others of the right in the latter. Cardinal Bernardin wasn't just trying to unite US Catholicism whose pre-eminent pastor he was, but also explained that what some call structural analysis, as well as the personal virtues, both matter in living a fuller Christian life. I profoundly admire Ann Rampa, whose unique Catholic Worker witness, while richly deserving of emulation, would make many conservative Catholic women blanch and who, while holding her own on any issue, would, like me, be averse to her opinions being hijacked in support of John's unbudgingly conservative theological views.

Dr Michael Furtado | 08 June 2018  

It seems quite simply to hold a view like Anne Summerfield, opposing abortion ethically but then allowing it to be legal for the purposes of freedom of choice for women - and this is the stance I've often landed on clumsily when pushed for an answer (although I'm male so it's really inconsequential for me). But the problem I have is that this position is no different to that of ethicist/philosopher Peter Singer who I suggest quite rightly extends this logic to that of euthanasia in the case of newborn babies with extreme intellectual and/or physical disabilities. His argument is that the foetus is not a person and so does not have rights, and this same logic flows to intellectually disabled newborns with no capacity for awareness/consciousness required for his definition of a "person" with human rights. And this is why I still have a problem with legalising abortion - the argument is flawed. Personhood cannot be defined in the simply terms used by Peter Singer.

AURELIUS | 08 June 2018  

Anna Summerfield, thank you a very relevant contribution, and for telling it 'like it is' for many good and decent people.

Ginger Meggs | 09 June 2018  

John. You pose two questions to me. First, because Billings involves abstention, does this not distinguish it from other forms of contraception. I would answer by saying that the abstention is dictated by a deliberate effort to detect ovulation with no other purpose than to prevent conception and as such represents deliberate contraception no different in intent from other forms of contraception. This answer leads to your second question, namely, does not the distinction you draw between Billings abstention and contraception imply a different moral status for Billings? My answer is "yes" just as using the pill has a different moral status compared with using an oral abortifacient as a contraceptive. I believe contraception, particularly within sacramental marriage, has, if you like, a range of moral transgression on the old fashioned scale of venial to mortal (minor to grave) extending from Billings to an abortifacient. Such a range takes account of the moral responsibility demanded of a parent (Humanae Vitae). By this is meant that if because of circumstances beyond a potential parent's control, the moral wellbeing of any child produced or any existing children cannot be guaranteed or is seriously jeopardised, then contraception may be the better moral obligation. I also believe that outside sacramental marriage the moral considerations are different. It is an interesting question as to whether or not contraception outside sacramental marriage carries the same moral demands. What is the greater good (or evil) outside marriage - to prevent conceiving a child for whom neither parent can take or accept responsibility for the child's moral well being or to produce a child who might be aborted or allowed to live without parental interest in its moral or physical well being? I do not know what Christ's answer to that question might be but suspect that it would not favour the latter scenario.

john frawley | 09 June 2018  

The headline to this article asks ‘Do pro-life Australians need a new approach?’ The first few responses tried to address that question but after that the discussion seems to have diverted, or so it seems to me. May I, with respect, attempt to draw the discussion back to the penultimate paragraph in the article where Ms Deslandes observes that ’people [in Ireland] have made a major moral decision, a major decision of conscience, without consulting [Catholic church leaders] and going against the Catholic Church's teaching on this particular issue'. Perhaps those who would seek to advance the cause should honestly and openly seek to understand why that is so, whilst refraining from assigning blame to or finding fault with those who have made that decision.

Ginger Meggs | 09 June 2018  

Dr Furtado, I can assure you the "conservative Catholic women" (your stereotype) to whom I refer in one of my posts above are not the blanching kind; nor have I known them to engage in "hijacking" anybody's views to advance their own. They would also challenge radically your assumption here that "justice" and "mercy" issues are mainly left-wing concerns, and, as do I, the euphemistic view you present of grave differences in doctrine and practice between Catholics Cardinal Bernardin's "Common Ground Project" attempted, unsuccessfully, to reconcile.

John | 09 June 2018  

GM, the answer to your question is not very hard to find. 87.6% of young Irish voted for abortion. The vast majority of them attended “Catholic” schools. 81% of those schools’ pupils abandon the faith entirely on leaving school. Since Ireland’s “Catholic” schools teach about abortion – and the Catholic faith in general – in the same manner as most of Australia’s “Catholic” schools, the result of the vote is entirely unsurprising. I’m sure the breakdown of Irish home schoolers’ voting on abortion would prove my theory.

HH | 14 June 2018  

HH : If Catholic schools are as ineffective in nourishing faith as the research results suggest, then I'd doubt there's any justification for their continuance as Catholic institutions. The home schooling alternative appears to me to be a refuge strategy but runs the real risk of making Catholicism a marginal and perhaps even ghetto phenomenon in society, Then again, the Benedictine response produced the spiritual resources necessary for the renewal of Europe a time of crisis. Personally, I favour the Ignatian response:"simul in actione contemplativus", though I think the contemplative aspect in recent times has played second fiddle to action.

John | 15 June 2018  

On the contrary, HH, Ireland's Catholic community voted, as any educated Catholic might and should, to change the Irish Constitution, which prohibits foetal termination under any circumstances, especially in the case of a mother's life being at stake. This is entirely within the realm of the Church's prudential advice which advocates the principle of double effect, and in no way endorses the absurd and extreme Catholic fundamentalist view that in no circumstances might a woman seek a termination if proceeding to full term delivery will jeopardise her life. By the same token, John should note that misappropriating Anne Rampa's situation, was his doing and not that of the many similar prolific Catholic mothers whom he chose to co-opt in this debate. While all Catholics revere life and regard new life as a gift, there is no teaching of the Church, as underwritten by recent remarks of Pope Francis, that advocates having as many children as possible. Indeed, the encyclical, Laudato Si, specifically enjoins Catholics and all persons of good will to care for the environment, including those parts of it that are degraded by exploitative practices that include despoliation caused by overpopulation, social injustice, imprudence and an absence of self-restraint.

Dr Michael Furtado | 15 June 2018  

The modern Church simply has to revisit contraception, get up to date with Christ's revelation of his creation through the truths of modern science, leave the Galileo option in the past and rewrite the place of contraception in Catholic moral practice based on the science unknown at the time when the current teaching was ill-conceived.

john frawley | 15 June 2018  

I agree (!) with John that home-schooling is a cop-out, it isolates children from the rest of the community even more than do faith-based schools. And HH, by blaming the ineffectiveness of Catholic schools in selling the message, seems to be suggesting that if you can’t drum the 'message' into kids while they’re kids then you can’t sell it to them as adults. Michael ’s response suggests to me that the real problem is that the 'message’ that both HH and John would promulgate is simplistic and irrational, which is what, I think, John Frawley was saying a fortnight ago. But is that the answer that Ann Deslandes and the right-to-lifers are seeking? I suspect not.

Ginger Meggs | 16 June 2018  

Ginger, I don't know how you arrive at the idea that "faith-based schools" isolate children from the rest of the community. Most of them have a proportion of large non-Catholic families, are connected with students from other schools in co-curricular pursuits, and a number even share resources. As for "irrationality", while an intellectual justification of "Humanae Vitae"'s teaching may be difficult, it is not impossible or absurd, as highly qualified and respected moral theologians such as Germain Grisez, John Finnis and others show in "Humanae Vitae: a Defence" (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988.)

John | 17 June 2018  

John Frawley, I dare say "the modern church" (ie the people/laity) has already largely accepted contraception so I doubt whether unwanted pregnancies that may end with abortion are the consequence of Catholics not using contraception for religious/doctrinal/moral reasons.

AURELIUS | 17 June 2018  

Aurelius. I'm sure you are correct in doubting that unwanted pregnancy resulting in abortion is a result of Catholics not practising contraception. It is highly likely that the majority of aborted, unwanted pregnancies are in the majority population which favours a non-Catholic following by some 5/1 in this country and across the globe. Unwanted pregnancy results from a failure to practice readily available and effective contraception, a lesser moral infringement than abortion in my view (a view which is contrary to current teaching on contraception). My urging that the Catholic Church revisit the teachings on contraception is simply an attempt to repair the damage of trust in the Church which such archaic and uninformed teachings have caused.

john frawley | 18 June 2018  

GM, 1. Dr Furtado's response - probably reflecting that of many of the Irish majority - is woefully wrong, as even the vaguest familiarity with the current Irish legislation would elicit: google "Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act" s7, and you’ll see it explicitly allows for the termination of pregnancy if it is deemed by two doctors necessary to save the mother's life, completely contradicting Dr F’s assertion. But who cares about the facts these days? 2. You're right, though: "Get 'em while they're young" is certainly the go-to these days. Roz Ward is an unabashed aficionado there. And in "Catholic" schools, the general ploy is: don't give any reasonable, philosophical case for the Catholic positions on abortion and contraception. I’ve seen it. Personally I would regard it as a huge advance if schools, Catholic and otherwise, gave a fair-minded case for arguments both for and against abortion. The point is, the level of clear, logical analysis in secondary school teaching is so pathetically deficient these days - especially among the "teachers" - students are bereft of the ability to apply their natural reasoning powers to any important moral, philosophical or political issue. Cheers.

HH | 18 June 2018  

Ok John (that's just John) I take your point with regard to many, perhaps most, Catholic parish schools. But I still hold that the 'elite' (not just the high fee) faith-based Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Islamic schools not only 'isolate children from the rest of the community' but are designed to do just that.

Ginger Meggs | 19 June 2018  

Ginger, I'm trying to think of one Catholic school, primary or secondary, independent or systemic, "designed" to be exclusive or "elitist" - and am not having any success. I won't speak for the other "faith-based" denominations or religions that you mention. If it's social snobbery you're referring to, I know of no school I've been involved with that, regrettably, does not have some element of this among its clientele - but not to the extent that defines the actual ethos. Today's comprehensive curriculum, by definition and in practice, does much to counteract anti-social attitudes and behaviours of the undesirable kind to which you allude.

John | 20 June 2018  

I write again to correct HH's assertion that Irish anti-abortion laws always and universally permitted without reservation terminations for pregnant women whose lives were under threat of carrying their pregnancies to full term. The following case illustrates just how mistaken he is: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Savita_Halappanavar Moreover, since HH accuses me of telling a mistruth, I might point out that the privileged position of the Irish Catholic Church in the Irish Constitution has been the prime reason for the backlash that the Irish electorate now registers on this question, for fear of Irish episcopal diktat making Irish Catholicism the continuing laughing stock of the world. One glaring instance of this was when John Charles McQuaid, while Archbishop of Dublin, issued a ban on Catholic women using tampons. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Charles_McQuaid

Dr Michael Furtado | 21 June 2018  

Dr F: with all due respect, here are your own words: "... the Irish Constitution, which prohibits foetal termination under any circumstances, ESPECIALLY in the case of a mother's life being at stake." (Emph. added.) I replied that the current PLDPA s7 explicitly allows for the termination of pregnancy JUST IN THE CASE THAT the termination would save the mother's life! Surely this fact utterly refutes your statement? And beyond that, how does my assertion here even remotely imply that Irish anti-abortion laws have "always and universally permitted without reservation terminations" (in life threatening cases)? If you say "It rained on Tuesday in Melbourne" and I respond "No it didn't", does that contradiction of mine imply "It has never rained ever, not even for a split second, in Melbourne"?

HH | 21 June 2018  

HH, clearly the allowances to which you refer did not work, as witnessed in the dreadfully bungled Halappanavar case. I am not in favour of abortion on demand, as stated before, but my point is that it is the patent practical unworkability of so-called former safeguards for women, (as witnessed in the Hallapanavar case), and to which you refer that accounts for the current free-for-all. If that saves the life of one woman then so be it, but in general you would have to agree that the heavy cost in terms of aborted foetuses would be tragic as well as unnecessary, given the long and embarrassing constitutional history of Irish ecclesiastical meddling in women's affairs.

Dr Michael Furtado | 22 June 2018  

Dr Furtado. I am sure you would have to agree that abortion has nothing to do with "... ecclesiastical meddling in women's affairs". It is entirely to do with the deliberate killing of a healthy human being in a mother's nurturing womb, God's chosen instrument for the creation of human life. We are dealing with "human meddling in God's affairs" here which neither women, pregnant against their wishes, nor their abortionists, have the right to do. For a Christian, the only possessor of "rights' in this matter surely has to be the Creator God.

john frawley | 25 June 2018  

John, I cannot agree with you more. However, I'm sure you well understand the principle of unintended consequences. So ubiquitous and interfering has been the influence of the Irish hierarchy in the affairs of the Irish people that it is not beyond reasonable judgment that the self-same people are sick of it, especially at a time when child abuse at the hands of nuns, brothers and priests is by now embarrassingly well-documented. Ireland, perhaps more than most countries, was well-served by Catholicism at a time when the Irish people were at the mercy of their English oppressors. However, the special position accorded to the Church in the Irish Constitution has come back with a vengeance to haunt both the Catholic Church as well as those, like you and me, who oppose abortion on demand. The extreme forms of clericalism that I have witnessed in Ireland need to be contrasted with the much healthier position of the Bavarian episcopate who unanimously condemned a recent decision of the Bavarian lander to install crucifixes in all public buildings and schools. In general, Catholicism opposes erastianism (or the notion of an established Church) precisely because it silences the Church when it ought to speak.

Dr Michael Furtado | 26 June 2018  

I agree, Michael, that the hypocrisy of the Church hierarchy in demanding blind adherence to what it dictates while they themselves are involved in all manner of impropriety up to and including the frank criminality of child sexual abuse, has led to the current situation where Church teaching no longer enjoys credibility and adherence amongst Catholics or exercises any influence on public morality or governance. Unintended consequences, no doubt, that should have been foreseen particularly when it was known that the concealed behaviour was indeed immoral, criminal and contrary to God's law.

john frawley | 26 June 2018  

Thank you, John.

Michael Furtado | 27 June 2018  

Thanks, Dr F, but contrary to your assertion, the 3 reports into the Halappanavar tragedy found that H died due to a failure to diagnose septicaemia (on 13 occasions, no less), not a failure of the law at the time. Had H been properly diagnosed, and inducement/acceleration of miscarriage indicated, the procedure would have been permitted under the legislation.

HH | 02 July 2018  

Hah! Only an ostrich would deny that "a failure to diagnose septicaemia (on 13 occasions, no less)" was not in the end, a failure of the law, despite three public inquiries. It is precisely this tragic case that drove the Irish government, parliament and people, most of them Catholic, to change the law!

Michael Furtado | 09 July 2018