"Doctor" (May 13) believes that abortion can be the lesser of two evils and he is conseque n tly troubled at the Churches blanket condemnation. The Church would say that the moral evil of abortion is greater than the non-moral evils arising from a continued pregnancy. Killing is a sin. The threat to life or health is not.
But even if it were granted that abortion is a lesser evil, a morally lesser evil act (the Church could say) may not be done to avoid a greater evil. The end dues not justify the means, We are sometimes bound to refrain from avoiding "greater evil".
"Doctor" states that he cannot regard the foetus as more than a potential human being. Science suggests that the foetus is the Same individual as it will be at birth, with the same life-principle as it will have at birth.
The Church assumes that the foetus is at least probably an actual human being and that it is absolutely wrong to kill an innocent probable human being. But even if the foetus is a merely potential human being, it is still (the Church teaches) absolutely wrong to kill it. "Doctor" believes that no one has a right to insist that a woman continue with a pregnancy at the risk of her own life, But one should do one's best to avert the killing of the innocent, and to decline positive personal assistance in the destruction of life is not the same as "insisting" on a continuance of the pregnancy.
"Doctor" asks whether an abortion in the case of a woman who has become pregnant as a result of rape is really a greater evil than that she spend the next nine months carrying with her a constant reminder of her violation?
The Church's answer is "Yes". But that is not the point. One may not kill an innocent human being to avoid a "greater evil". The end does not justify the means, We are bound to avoid evil acts. But we are not bound to avoid the evil consequences of refraining from evil acts. On the contrary we are bound to permit evil effects which can be avoided only by morally bad conduct, "If the Church believes that the taking of another human life is absolutely wrong, why does she not teach absolute pacifism?" The Church does not teach that the taking of another huMan life is absolutely wrong. What she teaches is that the direct destruction of the human life of one who is neither an unjust aggressor nor a capital criminal is absolutely wrong. Every right is enforceable. It carries with* the further right to enforce it against unjust attack by taking what means may be necessary to ward off the attack. The right to life is self-limited by its own enforceability against unjust aggression. It is not' the case that whenever one deprives a person of that to which he or she has a right one is violating that right. Punishment is the deprivation of something to which a person has a right. It is not punishment to deprive a thief of the stolen goods.
The right to life is not the right to be immune from dc'ensive action against unjust aggression. It is infringed only when the limited, area which it covers is invaded, The limited area is "innocence", the absence of unjust aggression. "Doctor" assumes that the Church "condones" lethal self
defence against unjust aggression because "she believes that this can sometimes be the lesser of two evils when the other is an' adult human being". Adults come into the picture only to the extent to which they are unjustly aggressive.
"Greater and lesser evils" do not enter into the Church's picture at all, and to understand the Church's stance — as opposed to agreeing or disagreeing with it — it is better to forget all about them. "Greater or lesser evils" are relevant only to the evil effects of good or indifferent conduct.
"Doctor" sees the Church's Leaching as incompatible with Christ's commandment to mothers to love their offspring as he loves them. The incompatibility is not self-evident.
(Fr) J. P. Wroe National Chaplain, Guild of Catholic Doctors
Streatham Hill, London, SW2.
My attention has been called to a letter in your issue of May 13 under the title "Lesser of two evils", written by a Bristol doctor. It is an example of woolly and unscientific thinking, fruit of a lack of such knowledge as one would expect of a Christian doctor.
His main contention is that he does not think that a foetus has more than potential human life — he must be alone in this unscientific assumption, for no biological scientist of any note would accept it. He suggests that a female pregnant as a result of rape is faced with the necessity of doing one of two evils and may choose an abortion as the lesser one. This moral principle is neither correctly stated nor evaluated by him. If one is faced with the necessity of acting and only two acts arc possible, and they are both evil, then one must elect the lesser evil. Now, one pregnant as a result of rape is not in this position; true she may kill the developing child within her and that is murder, or she can do nothing and it will develop to full term.
This is not an evil, or a thing she could avoid except by doing a great evil — murder. God has infused a soul into that foetus and the ultimate child should be His through baptism, and may have descendants, also His faithful, doing the work I-le wants done in the world.
The child has done no evil. Why should its mother kill it? It may be inconvenient to retain it alive for a few months, but what is that compared with murder'? Medical experience, probably unknown to your correspondent, shows that serious psychological disturbances are later suffered by women who kill their babies. But if there were none, how would that legitimise the killing of one of Ciod's babies?
Can a mother forget the child of her womb? 1 am sorry for this doctor's muddled mind; !but that is no reason why he should try, with your help, to minimise the teaching of the Catholic Church, which never allows direct abortion.
Peter Flood, OSB, MD Ealing Abbey, London. It has been reported that the Government intends to refuse extra time to finalise the remaining stages of the Abortion Amendment Bill. This will mean that the Bill cannot survive, despite the fact that it passed its second reading by an overwhelming majority in February of this year. The Abortion Amendment Bill embodies the recommendations of the Select Committee set up by the Government, and these should be clearly understood before they are arbitrarily neglected. Urgently needed reforms suggested to end abuses are as follows: 1. The two doctors authorising an abortion should not be in practice together, or share a financial interest in the same private nursing home or agency. At least one should have been registered for five years or Wife.
2. Doctors carrying out abortions should be required by law to notify the woman's GP of the abortion, gpirvoevnided her consent has been
3. All pregnancy advisory bureaux and referral agencies which charge fees should be licensed by the Department of Health. and it should be illegal for them to refer anyone for an abortion to clinics in which they have a financial interest. The department of Health should make statutory regulations governing abortion clinics and advisory bureaux.
4. The upper limit for abortions should be reduced to 20 weeks' gestation, except (a) where the mother's life is endangered or to prevent grave permanent injury to her physical or mental health; or (b) where the child would be born with a major disability.
5. With certain qualifications, women giving evidence in criminal proceedings connected with abortion should not have their identity published, and the police, when investigating offences, should be enabled to apply to a judge for power to inspect records kept by abortion clinics and advisory bureaux.
6. The Abortion Act should be amended to cover uterine evacuations before pregnancy has been diagnosed.
7. The conscience clause in the Abortion Act should be amended to. protect those with ethical, as well as religious, grounds for objection.
To any objective onlooker it must seem obvious that these recommendations were not intended to make justifiable abortions harder to obtain, but to prevent the widespread abuse of the law by the moneymakers and to protect women from unscrupulous treatment. On what grounds, therefore, can there be opposition to such recommendations? Furthermore, is it not an insult to democracy that a minority should be able to compel Parliament to drop a piece of necessary legislation to which it has already given its clear support? Cecil Cameron London, W8,