Of all the issues facing our nation and our church today, abortion is one of the most intractable. On the one hand, various positions on abortion are held on a continuum going from an absolute ban with no possible exceptions, to a completely laissez-faire attitude in which no moral restrictions have any place. On the other hand, abortion is often a very painful issue, not least because of an experience that caused much personal suffering.
Aware of all that this issue entails, the Celtic Christian Church offers in this statement an approach to abortion, rooted in the teaching of Our Lord Jesus Christ, that it hopes will be helpful to its members and to others who might consider it in responding to this issue, potential or actual, in their own lives or in the lives of family or friends.
This statement will first describe the context within which abortion will be treated, under the title of a consistent ethic of life. It will then treat of abortion itself, looking at several aspects of it that will be important in stating the Celtic Christian Church's position on it. Lastly, it will present the pastoral attitude or outlook with which problems in this area are to be approached.
A CONSISTENT ETHIC OF LIFE
All life is sacred. It is a gift of the divine creator. That is a basic tenet of Christianity, and it forms the foundation on which all of the following is based. This policy statement, by choice, limits itself to human life.
This human life, from the cradle to the grave, is attacked or harmed in many different ways. Abortion, with which we are concerned here, is an important one, but only one of them. The plight of young unwed mothers trying to care for their children, is another. That of children dying from lack of food or medicine, of the elderly,of the terminally ill, of the homeless, of the poor who cannot afford medical care, are others. War and genocide, the death penalty and torture, are still others.
All of those issues are linked. In all of them, the sacredness of human life is threatened. All of them are complex issues, requiring solutions proper to each one. However, what is required in all of them, and for all such similar issues, is a common ethical approach. This can best be called a consistent ethic of life. The expression is that of the former Roman Catholic Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who developed that approach and worked consistently for its implementation.
Essentially, that outlook recognizes that one must be consistent in the way one approaches all the issues that threaten the sacredness of human life. Perhaps a very simple example can make the point. One cannot try to convince a young pregnant girl not to have an abortion--and then, if she does have her baby, leave her to her own devices, or worse, shun her because she has disgraced herself and her family. More broadly, one cannot be against abortion but in favor of a war of aggression, no matter what rationale is given for it.
The sacredness of human life is the Christian conviction that must be at the foundation of all our decisions and attempts to resolve any of the basic issues mentioned above. A consistent ethical approach is necessary. This is the approach of the Celtic Christian Church, and it is within that consistent ethic of life that it offers the following position on abortion.
For many persons, the moral quality of abortion depends on the presence or absence of a human soul in the fetus. As in the broader question noted above, convictions on this matter lie along a very wide spectrum. For very many, a human soul is created by God at the moment of conception. From that moment onwards, the fetus is considered to be a human person, with all the rights that attach to that dignity. But for many equally sincere persons, a properly human soul, as opposed to a life spirit, is not created until the fetus is capable of sustaining it. This moment is considered to have been reached by the end of the second trimester, by which time the baby's brain and nervous system are judged to have developed enough to sustain a soul having the potential for all the activities of which a fully developed person gives evidence.
Those two positions represent the two extremes of the continuum, and one can hold a position at various points on the spectrum. For the first group described above, abortion, which is seen as the deliberate taking of an innocent human life, is always morally evil. For the second group, abortion is morally evil only once a human soul is present in the fetus.
A further issue is important in this matter. It is a fact that a large number of pregnancies end spontaneously at a very early stage. The best medical opinion is that, of those pregnancies that are not yet recognized, approximately one third end in that way. Since nature itself acts in this way, the judgment can be made in conscience that a human soul is not present in the fetus until at least some time has passed after conception, with important consequences for the moral nature of an abortion in those early stages of pregnancy.
However, once all of those considerations have been made, one essential fact remains, and this is that what a human pregnancy produces is always, very obviously, a human being and never a being of another species. Because of that essential fact, it is the position of the Celtic Christian Church that abortion, which is the deliberate taking of an innocent human life, no matter what stage of development that life has attained, is morally evil.
Hence the Celtic Christian Church, in all of its ministries, protects and defends unborn human life. Here, however, the reality of concrete life can make very complex what is essentially a simple conviction. It is therefore necessary to adopt what can best be called a pastoral approach in ministering to those caught in this complex issue.
A PASTORAL APPROACH
In any situation involving abortion, intended or performed, the Celtic Christian Church ministers to all involved, attempting to prevent the abortion if at all possible, and fostering Christian moral growth and healing in all concerned.
This general pastoral concern is generally what is correct, but there are circumstances in which a much more difficult approach is necessary. Here again, perhaps a concrete example will be helpful. In this case, the example is taken from real life.
In late 2009 a young woman, mother of three children and some eleven weeks pregnant with her fourth child, was taken to the hospital (a Catholic hospital) with a rare and often fatal illness in which pregnancy can make the situation much worse. As her condition worsened it became clear that she could not be saved without surgery that would also cause an abortion. The hospital ethics committee recommended the surgery, which was carried out. The mother's life was saved, but her unborn child died.
One of the members of the ethics committee was a Roman Catholic sister, a member of the order that had originally founded the hospital, and a woman with years of experience in hospital work. She voted in favor of the surgery, in order to save at least one life. The bishop of the diocese excommunicated her--or rather said that she had excommunicated herself--because, in his view, she had agreed to the direct killing of an unborn child, which is never permitted, not even to save the life of the mother.
This heart-rending real-life case illustrates well the very complex situations that can develop in matters of abortion. In such cases it often happens that doing what is good in one area also does what is harmful in another. In cases of that nature, the position of the Celtic Christian Church is that one should do what will do the most good, or put negatively, what will do the least harm. In the case described above, the hospital staff, after doing all it could to save both the mother and her unborn child, acted correctly in doing what was necessary to save at least one of the two lives.
In this complex area of human life, where often there is no obvious path to follow and in which there can be and often are differing opinions that are held equally sincerely, the Celtic Christian Church ministers from a pastoral approach and not from a legal approach, with a servant heart and not from authority.
+Joseph A. Grenier, PhD
Presiding Bishop of the Celtic Christian Church