Compassion with both eyes open: A Pastoral message to the People and Priests of the Diocese of Clogher

In less than two weeks’ time we will be asked to vote on whether to remove from our Constitution the last remaining protection for children who are growing towards birth. It is a profound responsibility, for each of us will hold in our hands the power of life and death over unborn human beings.

That the child in the womb is a human being is beyond doubt. The evidence of medical science and technology is clear. Within 22 days of being conceived the baby has a beating heart. By 12 weeks his or her limbs and organs are fully formed. All of this can be clearly seen and heard.

But we do not need to rely on science to know in our hearts what is true. Among the most heart-breaking experiences I have had as a priest have been moments spent with couples grieving over the loss of a child who died before birth. The sense of loss and devastation for parents when they lose a child is just as profound whether their daughter or son has been born, or is still growing in the womb. Medical science and modern technology simply show us what our own experience tells us – that a child in the womb is as real and living and unique a human being as any one of us.

How then can we be contemplating the deliberate ending of the life of an unborn child? Can allowing this to happen really be considered the compassionate thing to do?

True Compassion

We know that conceiving and having a baby is not always a happy event. Sometimes a pregnancy is unexpected, unwelcome, or even hugely distressing. Sometimes the child may be diagnosed with a serious disability. It is very understandable that at times of pain and distress, even panic, the immediate ending of the pregnancy may seem to be the best, even the only solution. In these circumstances, our hearts go out to parents, and women in particular, who face huge and sometimes frightening challenges.

The truly compassionate response is always to give to both mother and child the greatest possible care and support in both medical and human terms. We should never forget that before our eyes are two human beings in need of our compassion; two bodies that demand respect. If we see differently, it is because we have one eye closed.

Basic Human Rights

This referendum is about women’s rights, and men’s rights and children’s rights; because it is about the right of every human being to exist. This is a fundamental issue of human rights and equality. It is most important to read the Eighth Amendment carefully and understand exactly what it means. The Eighth Amendment recognises the equal right to life of a mother and her baby – it does not prefer one over the other. It also does not prevent a mother receiving all necessary medical treatment to preserve her life and health, even if this may involve unavoidable risks to her child. What the Amendment does do is to provide protection to human beings in this country while they are growing in the womb and waiting to be born. The Government has made it clear that if this protection is removed, then abortion on demand will be allowed up to 12 weeks of pregnancy and up to six months in some circumstances. If the Eighth Amendment is repealed, children in the womb will no longer be recognised in law as human at all.

Our Duty as Catholics and as Human Beings

As human beings, we should stand up for the rights of other human beings, especially those who have no voice and no vote. As Catholics, we cannot in conscience vote for something which is directly contrary to the fundamental teaching of Jesus Christ to respect and defend the lives of all, especially the weak and the vulnerable.

It is a solemn duty for each one of us to vote in this referendum. We should do so with both eyes open.

Choose Life: Prayer for the Child in the Womb

Lord Jesus, you are the source and lover of life.

Reawaken in us respect for every human life.

Help us to see in each child the marvellous work of our Creator.

Open our hearts to welcome every child as a

unique and wonderful gift.

Guide the work of doctors, nurses and midwives.

May the life of a mother and her baby in the

womb be equally cherished and respected.

Help those who make our laws to uphold the

uniqueness and sacredness of every human life,

from the first moment of conception to natural death.

Give us wisdom and generosity to build a society that cares for all.

Together with Mary, your Mother,

in whose womb you took on our human nature,

Help us to choose life in every decision we take.

We ask this in the joyful hope of eternal life

with you, and in the communion of the

Blessed Trinity. Amen.