These are extracts from a statement issued last week by the Bishops of England and Wales and of Scotland to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act:

‘Over the last fifty years, the bishops of our countries, along with many other people, have spoken consistently in favour of the intrinsic value of human life and both the good of the child in the womb and the good of the mother. This anniversary provides an opportunity to lament the loss of life due to abortion and seek a change of minds and hearts about the good of the child in the womb and the care of mothers who are pregnant. Fifty years ago, few envisaged the possibility that there would be almost 200,000 abortions in Great Britain in 2015. Every abortion is a tragedy and few consider that abortion is the desirable or best solution to a pregnancy, which may be challenging on account of many different factors. The complex set of conditions in which a woman finds herself pregnant and may consider having an abortion may limit the exercise of freedom and diminish moral culpability. When abortion is the choice made by a woman, the unfailing mercy of God and the promise of forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation are always available.

There is always a way home to a deeper relationship with God and the Church, as recent Popes have emphasised, which can heal and bring peace. Today the language of ‘choice’ dominates discourse about marriage, gender, family and abortion. This needs further exploration. Choice has come to mean doing whatever I feel to be right for me – a very subjective view of the good – rather than taking into account a wider set of fundamental values. This is a very inadequate understanding of free choice, which requires an education in important truths about what is truly good and the possibility of other options. In this case, these must include the good of the unborn child, care and support for pregnant mothers, and the responsibility of the father….

…Over these last fifty years, we, the Catholic Bishops of Scotland, England and Wales, have spoken consistently in favour of the intrinsic value of human life and of the good of the child in the womb and the good of the mother. The lives of both are precious, valued and to be protected. This position differs considerably from that of those who hold that the freedom to choose in the question of abortion must focus on the good of one of these lives alone.

During these fifty years, the appeal to freedom of choice in our society has become increasingly centred on the resolution of dilemmas and difficulties according to their emotional impact and our immediate desires. This is a very narrow understanding of choice which ignores any reference to more fundamental values. In this, a subjective desire is often claimed to be a rightful choice. This inadequate interpretation has become a dominant factor which shapes our society’s conversation about marriage, gender, family and indeed abortion. Following slogans is never a firm basis for good decisions. Rather, we hold that such decisions require a grounding in good formation and sound perspectives which both adhere and aspire to important truths about what is genuinely good.

In making choices, we should always seek to do that which upholds human dignity in the service of human life. Our choices should be the fruit of mature consideration, fully informed of the consequences and implications of our action. We have the gift of free will and also the capacity and responsibility to exercise it well, unless something inhibits our freedom. Good decisions and choices are difficult to make if we are under pressure, frightened, alone, and deeply unsure about what to do. Each individual’s choice must take into account the wider ramifications of their decisions which, inevitably, have a profound effect beyond the person making them. In the case of abortion, decisions and choices need to acknowledge the duty to cherish human life and to foster its flourishing beyond the circumstances of any one person, however challenging these may be…….Deciding to have an abortion is a grave decision.

The process of decision making occurs in diverse circumstances and is influenced by different considerations: a perceived threat to mental or physical health; not knowing how to cope with the situation of being pregnant; being alone or pressurised; not knowing where your support will come from; the diagnosis of disability for the child in the womb; knowing that a child will bring extra financial burden on already stretched means.

The issue of abortion not only has consequences for mothers, but also affects fathers, both in terms of taking responsibility to protect and care for the children they have conceived and in coping with the impact of abortion. In such situations, the capacity to exercise choice can be compromised with a consequent limitation on a person’s mortal culpability ……’

The full statement can be downloaded here. It is also on the noticeboard in the porch.