RITE & REASON: The opportunities for self-indulgence and pure malice are ample in this debate.
Many people will be disheartened at the prospect of another bruising debate on abortion in this country.
is a delicate and deeply felt topic that can cause bitter conflicts,
and even violence, in society.
I have no intention here of going into
its morality or of joining in the dispute between those who are
“pro-life” and those who are “pro-choice”.
Least of all am I trying to
situate myself between two extremes.
I am against abortion; though
I am aware of the medical, legal and moral intricacies involved in
certain complications that can arise in the everyday practice of
The two terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are thoroughly
unsatisfactory because they are slipshod and lazy slogans for
belligerent attempts to stake out a territory that has to be defended at
In this situation
each combatant sees his or her opponents as enemies to be defeated at
all costs. And they act as if righteousness is to be found in one camp
only. That is never the case in any debate, least of all in this one.
is possible to disagree radically and fervently with a position, while
at the same time respecting the sincerity of those who hold it.
is a text in the New Testament that could be profitably taken to heart
by any Christian, Protestant or Catholic, and even perhaps by
The First Letter of Peter reads: “Always be ready to
make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope
that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet.3: 15)
of abortion should be ready to say clearly and courageously where they
stand on the matter; but they should do it “with gentleness and
Conviction about the rightness of a cause is never a licence
for a policy of reckless hostility.
The opportunities for
self-indulgence, self-righteousness and pure malice are abundant in this
In the matter of abortion there appear to be few attempts
to listen with respect to the other side.
Religious people can easily
overlook the fact that their opponents have consciences too.
respectfully to the other side, needless to say, does not mean agreeing
with it; but willingness to listen is more likely to win attention than
true of the debate over abortion.
It is all too easy to allow revulsion
at what the other side is arguing to blind us to the fact that others
have their own reasons for sponsoring a view that is unacceptable to us.
seems to be an idea that gentleness and toleration in the defence of a
good cause show weakness, and that we display greater moral assurance by
stating our convictions in a peremptory and even bellicose fashion.
ultimate outcome of such an attitude may be recourse to threatening and
even violent behaviour, both of which are outrageous and do nothing for
the cause except to discredit it.
recent intervention of the four Catholic archbishops left no one in any
doubt about where authorities in the Catholic Church stand on abortion.
Their words were framed in the uncompromising language that we have
come to expect of them.
One could agree with the general drift of
the statement while regretting its combative tone.
By failing to speak
in a measured and compassionate way it missed a golden opportunity to
set a badly needed example of temperate and restrained firmness.
position of the Catholic Church on abortion is crystal clear; however,
if the bishops had pointed out that there was a right and a wrong way to
support a cause, they would be listened to, if only because it would be
The main contribution of Christians, leaders and
people, should be to show tolerance.
Is it too much to hope that the
present debate on abortion will show that we are capable of having
strong convictions, on either side, while expressing them “with
gentleness and respect”?
* Fr Gabriel Daly is a theologian and an Augustinian priest