After two years of study in Rome, in my mid thirties, I was appointed to the student house in Canterbury, Kent, to teach. When I arrived there I was asked to teach Medical Ethics, a subject I was not especially trained in and one that did not appeal to me at all. I knew something of moral theology. I knew next to nothing of medicine. So I had to read a lot.
After some time reading about the subject of abortion, and trying to speak to the subject, I came to the conclusion that the arguments in the public forum on this matter were not really about abortion at all. They were about the lives of women, the burdens that women carry and the way in which women are unfairly treated or abused. I also realised that I looked at things from a male perspective, and in the Catholic Church, that was a characteristic shortcoming.
To my mind human life begins at conception. Medical people tell me that. From that moment, therefore, human life should be reverenced and respected. That is fairly simple. But we are not just dealing with medical definitions. We are dealing with human life stories. Often we are dealing with women or girls left to fend for them selves. There are therefore, many different reasons and different circumstances that lead people to chose to have an abortion. Abortion then is very often the effect of our isolated and fragmented society.
I remember a lovely Irish girl who came to see me in London years ago. She had had an abortion, after an abusive relationship she had ended. I met her a few times. At one point she said to me, ‘Did I do wrong?’ She was so alone and so lost there in London. I supported her as best I could till she would feel better about herself and get on with her life.
Today I read about the sad state of affairs in Shropshire where maternity services have been so poor and where babies and mothers died as a result of poor care. The sorrow we feel for them made me think of how we express no sorrow now for the babies who are aborted every day, or for their mothers.
In his lifetime Jesus met people in situations of sorrow and sadness. He did not set out to scold them or set them straight about morality. He set himself to help them and to comfort them and see them back into the goodness of life.
We all do things that are wrong. We don’t need people to point it out to us. We need people who help us to get well, to do better, and to be better.
31 March 2022