Each year, around the Feast of the Visitation of our Lady, the Catholic Church in Scotland celebrates the Day for Life, a day dedicated to raising awareness about the meaning and value of human life at every stage, and in every condition.
Human life is a sacred and precious gift from God and must be treated with the upmost respect. This is true at every moment of life, from its first beginnings to its natural death. In the womb, we grow and develop as full human beings, not as potential human beings. We read in the Old Testament: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I sanctified you.” (Jeremiah 1:5).
The Day for Life 2017 has a particular poignancy and significance. This year marks the Fiftieth Anniversary of the passing of the Abortion Act in the United Kingdom. Since the Act was passed in the UK more than nine million unborn children have been killed and countless mothers and fathers have been hurt by abortion. Indeed, the World Health Organisation, an agency of the UN, has stated that abortion is the leading cause of death worldwide, ending the lives of more than 40 million children each year.
The right to life is the most fundamental of all rights. Without that right all other rights are lost. At present, human life in the womb is not well protected, leaving unborn babies at risk of losing their lives to abortion, and mothers to the damage of abortion. Vulnerable people such as the disabled, elderly and frail are increasingly in danger from pressures to introduce assisted suicide or euthanasia. Campaigners have been relentless in pursuing their aim of introducing such laws. Worryingly, there is a broad coalition and considerable political support for extending the threats to life, including extending abortion to birth for any reason. Even more worryingly, as the culture of death has grown, the right to conscience is also becoming increasingly eroded.
In recent weeks new figures from a report by the Scottish Government’s Information and Statistics Division have shown that the number of women having abortions because their unborn babies have disabilities has increased. The report states that a “possible factor” in the rise could be increased screening for Down’s Syndrome. We only have to look to Iceland to witness the deeply tragic consequences of such developments, where since 2012 100 per cent of Icelandic babies found to have Down’s Syndrome have been aborted. Or Denmark, where, since 2014, 98 per cent of Danish women carrying babies with Down’s Syndrome have had an abortion. In Britain that figure is 90 per cent. At a meeting of the United Nations in Geneva just last month, 21-year-old Charlotte Fien, who has Down’s Syndrome, made an inspiring plea to delegates calling on them to oppose the targeting of infants in the womb who have the condition. She said: “We have an extra chromosome… we are still human beings. Don’t be afraid of us… Please don’t try to kill us all off.” She received a standing ovation.
Closer to home, we have heard repeated calls for increased provision of late-term abortions in Scotland. We must defend the right of medical professionals and health care workers to consciously object to taking part in such procedures as set out in The 1967 Abortion Act. Indeed, only last month an opinion poll showed that most Scots, 60 per cent, would like to see time limits for abortions reduced. Among women the figure is 70 per cent. Moreover, 61 per cent of Scots opposed any moves towards making it mandatory for doctors to have to participate in abortion procedures against their will. These findings are remarkable, yet not surprising. This public support must not be marginalised or cast aside amidst the demands of lobbyists seeking to remove all rights and safeguards from healthcare professionals. This year’s Day for Life is not just an occasion to reflect on the sacredness of human life but an opportunity to renew a commitment to the pro-life movement; to protect the most vulnerable at every stage, and in every condition.
Pope St John Paul II once said that every human life is “unique and unrepeatable”. In this anniversary year, each of us can ask of him or herself a simple question: What unique and significant action can I do to help promote and protect the rights of the unborn child?
Bishop Stephen Robson, Bishop of Dunkeld, Bishop Promoter of the Day for Life