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The Catholic Church, Excommunication and Abortion for Child Rape

March 10th, 2009 by Madeleine

The Catholic Church has excommunicated the mother, who arranged an abortion for her 9 year old daughter, who was pregnant with twins as a result of rape by her stepfather.

There is a heap of controversy over this in the blogosphere, the most insane of which is the Hand Mirror claiming this is evidence the Catholic Church hates girl children I note they claim this despite the Irish Times reporting:

The archbishop made clear that the excommunication did not extend to the young girl at the centre of the case.

I don’t get the controversy. I honestly do not get it at all.

Do people not know that the Catholic Church views abortion as homicide? Is this a fact that people are not aware of – is this not common knowledge?

I am not Catholic but even I was aware of their stance on abortion and in case you missed it, they are opposed to it on the grounds it is a form of homicide. Given this, the Catholic Church has acted consistently with their beliefs in excommunicating the mother in this case. Their position is that:

Homicide can only be justified in a narrow set of circumstances.
Abortion is homicide.
Therefore: Abortion can only be justified in narrow set of circumstances.

The narrow set of circumstances that exist in law as defences to homicide do not include consideration for who the father of the victim is, what crimes he has committed against you and how traumatised you feel. This may be harsh, but it is the law. As a law student I can assure you that if you find yourself in a court of law and you say to the court “but your honour, I hired a hitman to stab them to death because their father raped my daughter” you will not get off a homicide charge. The court will sympathise with your plight, they may view it as a form of provocation, which may mitigate your sentence, but it is not a defence that will excuse homicide.

Self-defence where a threat to life is imminent and for which there is no other alternative is a defence that will fly, however, it is not clear that this was the case here (despite the reported commentst to the contrary). As NZ Conservative pointed out, there pregnancies can be being successfully managed in children of this age, modern medicine can achieve this.

Given all of this, please point to where the Catholic Church erred in or acted inconsistently with their reasoning. [Pointing to the step-father’s alleged lack of excommunication is a red herring as being wrong on another matter does not make you wrong on all.]

Now, before the Hand Mirror et al can accuse me of supporting child rape or conduct some other bogus psycho-analysis as feminists of their ilk are wont to do when other women disagree with them, let me be clear.

Rape, particularly rape of a child, especially when it is done by those whose relationship with the child is supposed to meet the threshold of ‘parent,’ warrants the death penalty.

However, I must argue stridently that the death penalty should be carried out on the offender and not a third party.

It is not a justification to take someone’s life because their father committed a heinous crime and another person is suffering because of it or because of how you might feel if they go on living.

On other blogs where I have commented on this issue, I have been accused of being indifferent to the plight the mother and her child faced and of lacking emotion. The first thing I want to say to this charge is that I would hope that when dealing with an ethical issue I would lack emotion. Clear, rational thinking is vital when confronted with highly emotional issues.

If I am honest, the minute I heard this story my reaction was of emotion. I have an almost 9 year old daughter and I would happily kill to protect her and am certain that I would struggle to limit myself to ‘proportional force’ against anyone who harmed her in that manner. Most parents reading this will be able to relate to the instinct I am speaking from.

However, if we contemplate harming the born children of such an attacker we should immediately know that it would be wrong to direct our instinctive parental-protection-violence towards them. Why so, then, do we not have this instinct when we contemplate killing the unborn children of such an attacker? What assumptions are inherent in the different response?

Inherent in this response is an assumption that the unborn lack some feature that the born possess. What is that feature and can it rationally justify the different responses?

Maybe it is the fact that we are horrified that the child, not only raped, now has to deal with pregnancy and birth.

Does abortion un-rape her? Think about the method of abortion; is it any less traumatic to have instruments inserted into her vagina, people looking and touching, pain, medical risk from the procedure?

More importantly, though, is the trauma of having to go through pregnancy and birth and deal with all that entails, justification for homicide of people we are not making assumptions about? Could I justify killing you for that reason? No? Then, why can I kill a fetus for that reason?

Is it the fact that these are rapists children so somehow they are less human. Just think about that one. Is it fair or just to treat a born person whose father is a rapist this way? No? Once again, the unstated assumption that a fetus is not on par with a born person is evident.

Cases like this one, when you strip away the emotion and rationally assess them come back to the same position:

If abortion is not homicide, then any and all abortion is morally benign.

On the other hand:

If abortion is homicide, then abortion must be treated the same way we treat other homicide.

You cannot solve this dilemma by getting hysterical, accusing those on one side of hating people, pointing to other things they may be doing wrong or turning your brains off because you are justifiably horrified at child rape. Set your emotions aside and think the issues through consistently; start here.

RELATED POSTS:
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Is Abortion Liberal? Part 2
Sentience Part 1
Sentience Part 2
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Abortion and Brain Death: A Response to Farrar
Abortion and Capital Punishment: No Contradiction
Imposing You Beliefs Onto Others: A Defence
Published: Boonin’s Defense of the Sentience Criteria – A Critique
Published: Abortion and Capital Punishment – No Contradiction

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53 responses so far ↓

  • Madeleine wrote:
    Self-defence where a threat to life is imminent and for which there is no other alternative is a defence that will fly, however, it is not clear that this was the case here (despite the reported commentst to the contrary).

    Carl:
    Hi Madeleine,

    It may not be ‘clear’ to you that an under-developed and pregnant 9-year-old faces a significant risk to her life if she gives birth – especially to twins. But for most people it is common sense. What’s more, it is also current medical opinion.

    And according to the article in the Irish Times which you linked to, the doctor himself noted the risk:

    “If the pregnancy had continued, the damage would have been worse, being a high risk pregnancy. The risk would have been of death or at the very least that she would never have been able to become pregnant again
    – Dr Olímpio Moraes

    So Dr Moraes believed there was a “high risk” of death (and he noted other risks to her health). As I understand it, he is a qualified gynaecologist.

    If a law student, it seems that in focusing on the non-defence of ‘provocation’, you have overlooked the actual defence of necessity (the saving of the mother’s life). And that’s just not good legal advice (rationally speaking, all emotion aside)!

    Madeleine wrote:
    the Catholic Church has acted consistently with their beliefs in excommunicating the mother in this case.

    Carl:
    The Catholic Church does not ‘act’ to excommunicate somebody who procures an abortion. Such a person is simply deemed excommunicated without trial. So the opinion offered by a Catholic priest about the matter was not an act of excommunication that could be considered ‘consistent’ with ‘their beliefs’.

    Madeleine wrote:
    Their position is that:
    Homicide can only be justified in a narrow set of circumstances.
    Abortion is homicide.
    Therefore: Abortion can only be justified in narrow set of circumstances.

    Carl:
    Where in Canon law is this the position of the Catholic Church? What ‘narrow set of circumstances’ does the Catholic Church offer in order to ‘justify’ abortion? What exceptions exist for a person of imputable mind and age who procures an abortion under Catholic Canon law?

    Perhaps you should read the Catholic Church’s Canon law before making incorrect comments on it. A law student who comments on the law without having read it has failed to understand one or two basic points about the operation of the law.

    In fact, there is no exception which justifies the saving of the life of the 9-year-old mother in Catholic Canon law. There are no ‘narrow set of circumstances’ for justifying abortion in Catholic Canon law.

  • It is not clear that this was a case of threat to the life of the mother justifying self-defence for several reasons.

    Firstly, pregnancies of this nature can be successfully managed so the risk would come down to the specific risk factors in this case being outside the norm.

    As you point out, the doctor in this case did point to such risks. I will note that I did not say there was no risk or that if there was a serious risk abortion was not justified on the grounds of self-defence.

    What I said was, that it was not clear that this was the case. I had reasons for saying this based off over 10 years work in this field.

    In Brazil abortion is illegal but for rape and danger to maternal health. As in New Zealand, these grounds get stretched to back-door abortion on demand so that the legitimate cases get blurred with those that are not. Thus, in such a country, when a doctor says abortion is necessary on the grounds of rape and saving the life of the mother I think we all need to hear more, especially if we are talking about taking another’s life over it. Yet instead of backing up this claim with specific medical details establishing this he is simply quoted as saying that the pregnancy would be high risk.

    Every pregnancy carries some risk, all multiple fetus pregnancies are deemed high risk and automatically invoke specialist care as do pregnancies in the young and the near menopausal. So while I agree that such a pregnancy would be significantly higher risk than say me being pregnant with a single fetus, I did not find that the doctors statement gave sufficient evidence as to the degree of risk.

    So, without specifics, given the background knowledge of what doctors will say to justify abortion where the law restricts it, I stated it was not clear whether this was the case; it might be the case, it might not be the case. The snippet in the paper does not establish it clearly enough.

    I did not write a post on the procedure and process of Catholic excommunication so I am not going there.

    Further, I did not claim I was citing Catholic Cannon Law. I restated the Catholic Church’s position on abortion in my own words. If you sincerely beleive the Catholic Church does not permit abortion under any circumstances it is you who has not read their teachings.

    If the girl’s life had genuinely been in danger and the mother had acted to save her life by permitting the abortion the Catholic Church would not have excommunicated her. If it was the case and they did then the decision will be overturned.

  • No Madeline, here’s the real cause for controversy. The Catholic church excommunicated the mother, but did not excommunicate the piece of nameless filth, the girl’s father in law, who raped her.

    You know that we both agree that the abortion should not have taken place. As it happens, we both also agree on the death penalty as punishment for such a crime.

    But heck, the Catholic church isn’t doing themselves any favours by treating the situation this way. They should take this opportunity and use it to show that “yes, we are opposed to abortion, but we are also just as strongly opposed to the raping of children”. If they could back up on harping on about extra-biblical “heinous crimes” and “deadly sins” and the difference between them, I think they would gain credibility and some more respect from their critics.

  • Can we at least agree it is absolutely and categorically impossible for a 5 year old girl to become pregnant and to give birth?

    Miracle Birth

  • I have heard this claim elsewhere and I alluded to it in what I wrote but I have seen no evidence that this is the case.

    Not being Catholic and not claiming to be an expert in the procedural issues around excommunication and how it works within the Catholic Church I will say this:

    The Bible makes it clear that excommunication is to happen in cases of persistent, unrepentance for any sin it is to be applied to those who refuse to deal with their sin, who justify it. It is not a tool used to show the Church’s contempt for a particular action.

  • Andy, it’s only a cause for controversy because most non-Catholics are upset rape is not on “the list”.

    However, rape is a mortal sin and that is pretty serious. Also, until one properly repents, confesses, and atones for such an offense, it is an ADDITIONAL mortal sin to take communion. Thus, adding to ones woes.

    Also, most non-Catholics believe you just have to say “sorry” and all is forgiven.

    Not so. It has to be genuine repentance. The priest does not have to give absolution if they believe it not to be genuine.

    Furthermore, the penance they demand for a serious sin might be equally serious, in terms of the effort and duration. Not simply a “Hail Mary” and see you in the morning…

    One Roman Emperor was sent to a monastery until his repentance for a mortal sin was deemed sincere (he ordered the slaughter of a small town of dissidents).

    It took many months before that point was reached.

  • The bible teaches that all sin is wrong, it does not say that all are equally as wrong as each other.

    Now, I don’t want to get into whether the church should or should not have a list and category system for sins and what should or should not be in which category. However, it seems pretty clear to me that being killed is worse than being raped; you can conceivably come to terms with being raped, there is at least hope of life getting better in the future, whereas death is permanent. [context is this life]

    That is not to say that there is much difference between the two or that the penalty for raping Children should be any different to the penalty for murder – both warrant death.

  • The bible teaches that all sin is wrong, it does not say that all are equally as wrong as each other.

    Agree.

    Although I don’t see any issue with some general categorization of sins to help people understand the impact of sin.

  • I don’t see any issue with some general categorization of sins to help people understand the impact of sin.

    Can be an issue though when you stick to these man-made guidelines like they’re the Bible.

  • “If you sincerely beleive the Catholic Church does not permit abortion under any circumstances it is you who has not read their teachings.”

    Actually, Catholic moral teaching does not allow direct abortion under any circumstances.

    What Catholic moral teaching does allow is for a mother to invoke Double Effect and embark on a course of life-saving medical treatment (say for cancer), even if there was a high probablity that this would result in the secondary effect of ending her unborn child’s life.

    Catholic moral law also allows for the removal of a section of the fallopian tube when an ectopic pregnancy occurs, even though this will result in the secondary effect of ending the life of the unborn person.

    But it is never licit under Catholic moral law for an unborn child to be directly targeted by an abortion, even if it was being proposed for life-saving purposes.

    The basic principal being employed here is that of the end never justifing the means.

    Yes, saving the life of a mother is a good end, but killing another person (even an unborn person) to achieve that end is never a morally good thing.

    It’s actually a bit of a red herring, because, because medical experts from the first hospital that this girl’s parents went to (the one which refused to carry out the abortion), have stated that there was no real risk to the life of the 9 year old girl.

    The only argument that I have heard advanced to support the claim of risk to the 9 year old mother was that her “hips were too narrow, and there would have been complications”, but as the Catholic Church has rightly pointed out – a C Section delivery makes this argument null and void.

    Kind regards,

    Brendan Malone
    Family Life International NZ

  • “If they could back up on harping on about extra-biblical “heinous crimes” and “deadly sins” and the difference between them, I think they would gain credibility and some more respect from their critics.”

    Hi Andy!

    The reality is that the secular media is making a lot of mischief out of this case, and they are doing so because they don’t understand what the Church stands for, or in many cases they have open hatred for what the Church stands for.

    There has been serious misreporting of the facts surrounding this case, and no serious attempt has been made to report the important philosophical and moral truths that underpin the Church’s response to this case – and there has certainly been no reporting of the far more serious risks that this 9 year old girl has been exposed to becasue of the abortion she has been subjected to.

    This is a hard case, and like what happens in most difficult moral cases, many in the secular media use these situations to attack the Church and her teachings.

    No matter what the Church says or does in cases like this, she is always on a hiding to nothing, but ultimately, that doesn’t really mean much because being a follower of Christ is not a PR exercise – Christ doesn’t call us to be successful, instead he calls us to be faithful, no matter the cost.

  • Hi Brendan!

    Yeah mate, I could see the skewdness of the reporting surrounding the danger posed by the pregnancy to the girl. Got no time for that at all!

    My only issue is with the Church’s position on the lowlife who raped the girl – surely they will excommunicate him?

    You know, you said “many in the secular media use these situations to attack the Church and her teachings.”

    – and I just reckon, the Church could make it a whole lot easier for itself (and I presume, not be compromising) by making it crystal clear that they were taking the actions of the man just as (or almost as) seriously as the abortion itself, and dealing with the man appropriately (i.e. punishing him to the extent that the mother is being punished)

  • Andy, I read that they were not excommunicating the man, Y`see his sin is not as bad as abortion – its only rape. But if he doesnt repent and is not excommunicated he can still take communion – which, I understand, would be a “worse” sin than the rape itself – akin to the sin of the abortion.

  • yep, same here Dave. They’re not doing themselves any favours with their position (if this part of the story is to be believed, Brendan) – that’s what I was getting at.

  • btw Dave, check out your Blogger prolfile mate – your proper blog isn’t listed there.

  • Brendon thanks for both shedding some light on the facts and explaining the Catholic Position more clearly – that is precisely what I was alluding to but with Matt away I didn’t want to attempt spelling out the doctrine of double effect and the subtleties – my point was (though I expressed it poorly) that in certain strict circumstances when a mother’s life is in danger from continuing the pregnancy the Catholic Church does permit methods for which the end is the mother’s life saved and the fetus’s lost.

    A similar argument exists within Protestant ethics.

    Andy and Dave you both know how Christianity works; in the face of genuine repentance forgiveness and restoration to fellowship is what we must do.

    Excommunication does not happen often in Protestant Churches (it should happen more than it does) so us Protestants are not as familiar with how it works and what it is. It is basically the last step in dealing with a persistent, unrepentant sinner.

    Now if the mother repented and got thrown out and the stepfather didn’t and got allowed to stay in I too would be calling foul play but the explanation could be as simple as the stepfather repented, the mother did not.

  • Yus, finally updated your link on my blog – sorry for the delay – blogrolling.com was down for months.

    thanks btw for my cool position on your list!

  • the stepfather repented did he?
    oh, well that makes it all good.

    while I’m not saying there’s no way he could ever truly repent, or be truly forgiven – have a squiz at the piece of scum’s history and you’ll see a history of sexual-child abuse.

    now it’s not impossible, but it is highly suspicious that the man has truly repented – and coincidently just after he was found out.

  • Whether he repented or not and how genuine it is is a pastoral call and not one we can make from here.

    As I said, if in fact the guy has not repented and the church turfed the mother and not him then I would have an issue with that but I have not seen evidence of that.

    Thanks so much for the link update it will help out Technorati score. Any chance your other blogs could be updated… s59, don’t vote Green/Labour, NZ Debate… I know they are defunct but they are still online and Technorati doesn’t know the difference and they are pointing at our old URL.

    BTW thank your parents for your blog position on our list – it is alphabetical.

  • Don’t Vote Greens and Don’t Vote Labour are down – domains ran out.

    S59 is lookin’ to get a major overhaul… so not sure.

    Heh, I wasn’t suggesting you were favouring my blog above others – but you could have named it “Star Studded Super Step” (please don’t!)

    You’ve said you believe the death sentence is appropriate for the man. I agree. Now, presuming that the State does not carry this out, wouldn’t you tend to say that the Church could be principled and say – he’s dead to us – something along those lines.

  • No, church punishments should not mirror the appropriate civil/criminal punishments. The Church has a different jurisdiction, scope of power, and purpose than the civil/criminal authorities of the world. To say “he’s dead to us” would not only go outside of the scope of Church authority, but would also go against the primary purpose of church discipline(including excommunication), which is reconciliation. Obviously, not everyone will be reconciled, but it is not w/in the Church’s authority to cut off that possibility or to refuse reconciliation in the face of genuine repentance.

    It’s also already been agreed that murder is a weightier crime than rape, so if they would not cut off a repentant murderer from reconciliation to the Church — remember, just because they excommunicated the mother and doctors does not mean they cannot be reconciled if they repent — they should not cut off a rapist either, no matter what kind of emotional gut reaction his sin/crime elicits from us.

    So no, Andy, ultimately your suggestion would send an altogether worse message than the one people fear is already being sent — that for some sins there is no hope of forgiveness and reconciliation.

  • Well put Little Shepherd.

    It is very difficult to deal with reconciling someone to the church when they have committed heinous acts and done so recently. It is one of the toughest tests of our ability to walk our talk.

    Nevertheless if we truly believe that no sin is so great that it cannot be redeemed (not the same as excused as the death penalty is warranted for some) then we have to find a way to do this.

  • Dave said:

    Andy, I read that they were not excommunicating the man, Y`see his sin is not as bad as abortion – its only rape. But if he doesnt repent and is not excommunicated he can still take communion – which, I understand, would be a “worse” sin than the rape itself – akin to the sin of the abortion.

    It’s not that this is a worse sin than rape. Think of it as compounding the gravity of the existing sin.

    As for excommunication for abortion, not a bad idea. Think of it this way. We all know rape is bad, and that it is a mortal sin and also a crime.

    However, the Catholic Doctors who committed abortion see nothing wrong with what they have done. The excommunication brings them up on the seriousness of their actions, for which there is a way back – repent and seek forgiveness.

    At least one Doctor has declared that they will do no such thing, and is defiant.

    As people argue that the mother should have a right to decide if she can kill their unborn baby, then so the Church must have a right to decide on Catholic issues.

    There is a way back for the Doctor. There is no way back for the twins.

  • Perhaps to truly put it in perspective you would have to experience what it was like to have this happen to your own daughter…

  • With regards to the father, as far as I can tell, he is in jail, and therefore may NOT have consented to the abortion which occurred after his incarceration. If so, it is hard to hang him on that. He still has a lot of penance and work to do though.

    The main reason why this has gathered so much media steam is because although Brazil is a Catholic country, it has been a breeding ground for silly ideas such as liberation theology, pantheistic notions of liturgy and lax social norms. Now a group of people have been called to task, it represents a change in the norm: hence the doc, his colleagues and the media is jumping up and down. Boo hoo.

  • Cripes its times like this I’m proud to yell “I’m an atheist!”

    Some scum-bag rapes his nine-year old step-daughter and she becomes pregnant (with twins)

    It turns-out said scum-bag had also been touching-up her intellectually handicapped sister as well, and has a record of child molestation.

    The scum-bag says “sorry God” and he is forgiven by The Catholic Church.

    The nine-year old (remember this is a friggin’ nine year old here, peoples) and her mother are advised by doctors proceeding with the pregnancy would endanger both her own and the children’s lives, and possibly render her sterile. [Note: I took this off the BBC site] Not to mention the ignominy of carrying her abusers child.

    The Catholic Church excommunicates the victim, her mum and those associated with the abortion process.

    What a sad twisted system of morals you guys follow, by siding with the Church.

    Shame on you all, colluding with child rapists to appease some ancient doctrine, that would see a nine-year old likely die for you beliefs.

    Is there no one here who has any humanity?

    Paul.

  • Shame on you all, colluding with child rapists to appease some ancient doctrine

    …ever wondered why nobody takes you seriously much of the time CA?

  • Paul, if the 9 year old was in fact likely to die from continuing the pregnancy, not one of us would expect her to die. You are misrepresenting our position if you are suggesting that.

    I spoke of the use of self-defence to justify abortion in such a circumstance, Brendan spoke of the Catholic Church’s doctrine of double effect and how it works in such cases.

    As for colluding with the rapist, did I not state I support the death penalty for child rapists? On what planet is calling for someone to be executed for their actions colluding with their crime?

    You are conflating our view of the hideousness of the rapists actions with our belief that it might be possible for him to come to a place of redemption. Coming to this place is NOT achieved by simply saying “sorry.”

    Anyone who has studied theology, which anyone calling himself Canterbury Atheist ought to have some knowledge of, should know that forgiveness only comes after repentance and repentance is far more than words.

    We live in a society that does not lock people up and throw away the key and does not practice the death penalty so even atheists have to find a way to deal with such people being part of society at some point in the future. The church has a method that statistically produces better results than the state’s. What is your problem with it precisely?

  • In this debate I notice two themes that consistently run through the anti-abortionists arguments.

    The focus on the welfare of the fetus and scant regard being given to the welfare of the pregnant girl. In this case her plight is dismissed with the claim that she will survive given medical intervention with no thought being given to what would have had to endure carrying a pregnancy to term for nine months, a difficult enough task for an adult woman let alone a 9 year old girl, followed by the very invasive C’ section birth. The focus all the while being on the terrible tragedy of the death of two fetuses.

    The second is the inability to distinguish between a fetus and a born baby, the killing of one is considered to be the same as the killing of the other. While a fetus may have rights it is obvious that a fetus does not have the same rights as a child or an adult.

  • “The Catholic Church excommunicates the victim, her mum and those associated with the abortion process.”

    CA,

    You have your facts wrong – the 9 year old girl has NOT been excomunicated at all, only the doctors who performed the abortion, and the parents who procured the abortion.

    “…that would see a nine-year old likely die for you beliefs.”

    This isn’t correct either.

    The parents of this girl took her to a major hospital in Brazil, and the specialists there stated that there was no risk to the life of the girl, and therefore an abortion was not justified.

    At this point the parents, who wanted the abortion, sought out another hospital that was willing to perform the abortion.

    Firstly, there is no medical agreement on the ground in Brazil that this girl was in any real danger, and secondly, there is certainly no suggestion that she would have died if the pregnancy had been allowed to progress.

  • “The focus on the welfare of the fetus and scant regard being given to the welfare of the pregnant girl.”

    Mark,

    I think that you are making an unfair assertion here.

    I certainly have great concern for the welfare of the 9 year old girl, and I feel great anger and sadness at the suffering that she is enforced to endure because of the immoral actions of her step-father.

    I am also well aware that this young girl has now been exposed to terrible harm by the abortion she has been subjected to – in fact, the research indicates that she has been exposed to greater risk through the abortion than what she would have been by allowing this pregnancy to go full term.

    The key issue here though is that this situation is about more than just the young victim of a terrible crime – it is also about the two unborn persons who have been brought into existence as a result of this crime.

    Any examination of this situation must recognise that those two unborn babies are also human persons, subject to rights and freedoms as well.

  • “The second is the inability to distinguish between a fetus and a born baby, the killing of one is considered to be the same as the killing of the other. While a fetus may have rights it is obvious that a fetus does not have the same rights as a child or an adult.”

    I’d be interested to hear how you try and justify this position, as I can’t see any sound philosophical or scientific grounds on which you can make such a claim.

    Yes, an unborn child is different to a born child at the level of its accidents, but the two are the same at the level of their substance – both are individual human beings, both are alive and growing, and both are self-directed and independent in their existence.

    The only reason that a fetus in NZ doesn’t enjoy the same rights as a born child does is because we have imposed an artifical and arbitrary legal (and cultural) distinction upon the fetus (we call it a non-person) that is inconsistent with its true nature and substance – and this imposed distinction is certainly not supported by science or sound human reason.

  • well said Brendan, and I was going to add,

    it is obvious that a fetus does not have the same rights as a child or an adult.

    …ok, but it is only as obvious as the claim that a 1yr old baby does not have the same rights as an adult.

    It comes down to size and degree of dependency doesn’t it Mark V. A 1yr old baby is smaller than an adult. A 1yr old baby cannot look after itself. Therefore it doesn’t have the same rights as an adult.

  • Hi Carl Marks
    you write.
    “In fact, there is no exception which justifies the saving of the life of the 9-year-old mother in Catholic Canon law. There are no ‘narrow set of circumstances’ for justifying abortion in Catholic Canon law… Perhaps you should read the Catholic Church’s Canon law before making incorrect comments on it.”

    Actually, I have studied the history of canon law on abortion ( the first 71 pages of my PhD thesis discusses the history of Catholic Casuistry on abortion) and you are mistaken here. You don’t seem to understand Catholic causitry. While it’s true that the Catholic Church teaching prohibits abortion in all circumstances, Catholic casuistry makes it clear that this refers only to direct abortions, according to the doctrine of double effect (first formulated by Thomas Aquinas,) one can procure an abortion indirectly J P Gury formulates the doctrine of double effect as follows:

    “It is lawful to actuate a morally good or indifferent cause from which will follow two effects, one good and the other evil, if there is a proportionately serious reason, and the ultimate end of the agent is good, and the evil effect is not the means to the end.”

    As this doctrine is interpreted by orthodox Catholic theologians (including the Pope) therapeutic abortions can be justified providing the death of the fetus is an indirect side effect of the procedure and not directly intended.

    The problem is that commentators who don’t understand Catholic casuistry assume that when the word abortion is used in Catholic documents it means both direct and indirect abortions. But that’s not what the RC Church means.

    *The Catholic Church does not ‘act’ to excommunicate somebody who procures an abortion. Such a person is simply deemed excommunicated without trial. So the opinion offered by a Catholic priest about the matter was not an act of excommunication that could be considered ‘consistent’ with ‘their beliefs’.*

    Correct, except even if one is automatically excommunicated the priest still needs to act on this, the person for example must be excluded from communion etc. others need to know that the person is not a communicate member etc and this cannot just happen automatically, the priest has to do something.

    You write
    “If the pregnancy had continued, the damage would have been worse, being a high risk pregnancy. The risk would have been of death or at the very least that she would never have been able to become pregnant again”

    Except that as Brendan points out “medical experts from the first hospital that this girl’s parents went to (the one which refused to carry out the abortion), have stated that there was no real risk to the life of the 9 year old girl.” So the facts of the case are a matter of dispute. Hence, Madeleine’s claim that “it is not clear that this was the case here”. Unlike the media when there is a dispute I don’t automatically assume that in a dispute the Catholic Church must be mistaken.

  • Hi Mark
    You raise some important points let me respond in turn
    The focus on the welfare of the fetus and scant regard being given to the welfare of the pregnant girl. In this case her plight is dismissed with the claim that she will survive given medical intervention with no thought being given to what would have had to endure carrying a pregnancy to term for nine months, a difficult enough task for an adult woman let alone a 9 year old girl, followed by the very invasive C’ section birth. The focus all the while being on the terrible tragedy of the death of two fetuses.

    I disagree here, I don’t think anyone is “dismissing” the plight of the girl or denying that she faces the trauma you refer to. The issue however is not wether these things exist, its wether the prevention of their existence justifies killing another human being. One can think about these facts, emotionally sympathise with them and still conclude that they don’t justify killing. I sympathise greatly with the emotional, physical and financial difficulties of caring for newborns, that does not mean that I support infanticide. Nor would it be justified in saying that those who oppose infanticide give “scant regard” for the welfare of parents.

    The second is the inability to distinguish between a fetus and a born baby, the killing of one is considered to be the same as the killing of the other. While a fetus may have rights it is obvious that a fetus does not have the same rights as a child or an adult.
    In one sense you are correct here, opponents of feticide believe that killing a fetus does not differ morally from killing an infant that is precisely their position. This does not mean that a fetus has the same rights as an adult ( a fetus doesn’t have a right to vote or have sex for example). It means a fetus, infant, and adult have the same right not to be killed.
    Contrary to your claim however this cannot be dismissed as “obviously false” if it were then the whole abortion debate would not occur. In fact many people on both sides of the debate take this claim with real seriousness, a significant number of defenders of abortion support infanticide in principle precisely because the denial of this claim is not obvious.
    A substantive argument to the effect that an fetus lacked some property that an infant posses, and that the property in question plausibly grounds a right to not be killed, would provide a rebuttal, mere assertion does not.

  • For centuries The Catholic Church maintained the earth was the centre of the universe and blind followers (i.e. the Brendan’s of the world) believed what the Church had to say, detractors were in some cases executed for blasphemy.

    One day mankind will have throw away the yoke of religious dogma completely, and have compassion for the victim here, a poor 9 year old GIRL.

    A time of enlightenment will dawn and religion won’t have any say, hold arbitrary ‘black and white’ judgement over who is right and who is wrong.

    It’s cases like this one from Brazil that are the best advert for Atheism, one can produce.

    Talk amongst yourselves and justify 9 year olds dying in labour for your pathetic nameless god and backward church. [Note: I took my medical info off The BBC, not some Vatican press release]

    Talk amongst yourselves and justify the total abdication of responsibility for the perpetrator, a child molestering rapist who is in your eyes is some how ‘forgiven’.

    This isn’t about ‘the two unborn babies’ – it’s about maintaining ‘geocentric sun revolves around the earth’ mentality.

    I don’t think I’ll be back here for a while [hears the clapping from his Christchurch study]

    As a father of an 11 year old girl – you guys make me physically sick with your theological mutual masturbation.

    See ya about.

    Paul.

    PS: If it’s a fair while till we meet again and I get there first, I’ll save you a nice cosy spot close to the pit of fire. Great for cooking steaks I’m informed. Pity the beers always warm.

  • “For centuries The Catholic Church maintained the earth was the centre of the universe and blind followers (i.e. the Brendan’s of the world) believed what the Church had to say, detractors were in some cases executed for blasphemy.”

    That sort of throw-away comment might go down well at the Atheists Anonymous meetings, but in the real world it lacks any basis in true history or reality.

    In fact it was the very Catholic Church that you rally against which gave us the scientific method.

    If you are interested, I would be happy to recomend some excellent scholarship which may help you to deepen your understanding about the Catholic Church and the great debt that modern Western thought owes to her.

    In all charity and sincerity, I would be open to discussing these issues in person if you are interested – I presume from your user name that you live in Christchurch?

    If nothing else, it’s make for a great conversation!

    “Talk amongst yourselves and justify 9 year olds dying in labour for your pathetic nameless god and backward church.”

    As stated above, it was never suggested that this girl would have died had childbirth occured.

    “Talk amongst yourselves and justify the total abdication of responsibility for the perpetrator, a child molestering rapist who is in your eyes is some how ‘forgiven’.”

    Hmmm, I don’t remember anyone here excusing the rapist for his abhorent and evil acts – in fact everyone has been clear about their disdain for his actions.

  • Canterbury Atheist

    You made categorical false claims in your first post.

    First you stated that we believed merely saying sorry exonerated the rapist, Madeleine pointed out that this was false.

    Second you also stated the Church excommunicated the girl, even though it had already been pointed out that this was false.

    Third, you said that the girls life was in danger despite the fact that Brendan pointed out that this was contestable. Your only response is to say it must be true because a media outlet said so.

    Then you say we lack compassion, despite the fact that this claim was addressed by both Brendan and myself and Madeliene.

    It has been was pointed out that this was all false. However instead of retracting or refining your position what do we get. The following

    For centuries The Catholic Church maintained the earth was the centre of the universe and blind followers (i.e. the Brendan’s of the world) believed what the Church had to say, detractors were in some cases executed for blasphemy.

    Unfortunately for you making another false claims does not make the previous ones true. But for the record just so people can see again how misinformed your opinions are.

    Geocentricism (which had been defended by Aristotle 300 years before Christianity came into existence) was believed by the majority of scientists in the middle ages not because they were blindly following Vatican orders over the facts but because the scientific evidence of the time supported it. heloicentrism: the view that the earth revolves around the sun originates with fourteenth century theologians Burdian and Nicolas d’Oresme; their theories were based in part on Theological condemnations of Aristotelian Philosophy that had occurred in the previous century by the Church. There theories were openly developed taught in medieval universities for over two-centuries before Copernicus. No one was ever executed for Blasphemy merely for holding to geocentricism.

    You might think that denigrating other people, based on misinformed opinions about history and things you believe because the media says so makes you bases for an argument. It doesn’t. For the record I don’t agree with everything the Catholic Church says on abortion, but I do strongly oppose anyone who denigrates Catholics based on ignorance and media caricatures.

  • Hi

    I agree that unless the child molester has admitted his behaviour is wrong, has shown credible evidence that he attempting to change and is getting help to deal with his problem ( and various protective measures are put in place such as ensuring he is never around children alone) he should be excommunicated and *if* the Catholic Church has not done this it is wrong for not doing so.

    The problem I have with this line of argument however,

    First,even if the Church has not excommunicated him when they should have, that actually tells us nothing about wether they should or should not have executed the mother. Its possible both should have been executed. This line of argument is actually a fallicous tu quoque it’s a bit like saying that because the government did not prosecute a rapist it follows that murderers should not be prosecuted either. Hence regarding the specific issue of abortion issue its actually irrelevant.

    Third, I don’t know what the facts are viz a viz the Churches reaction to the childmolestor are. I also know there has been an unjustified image perpetuated in the media that Catholic priests are typically paedophiles. I find this kind of think disgusting, the fact is a very small percentage of catholic priests have been accused of child molestation and many of these found guilty, that is terrible, but it does not justify making claims about all Catholics any more than the fact that a small number of homosexuals have molested children means one can say all homosexuals are child-molestors or that because some Maoris commit violent crime all Maoris are criminals. This kind of anti catholic bigotry lurks behind these kind of claims. In the absence of a clearer picture of the situation I think one should reserve judgement.

  • I thought the following article may be helpful…

    Bishops repudiate abuse of girl who underwent abortion in Brazil

    Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 10, 2009 / 03:26 pm (CNA).- The leadership of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil has strongly condemned the abuse suffered by a 9 year-old girl who was raped by her stepfather, became pregnant with twins and was submitted to an abortion several days ago.

    The bishops expressed their bewilderment at what had happened to the girl. “We vehemently repudiate this insane act and we defend [the need for] a rigorous investigation into the facts, and we call for those responsible to be duly punished in accord with justice,” they said in a statement.

    The bishops expressed regret that the case was not isolated. “We are concerned about the growing number of attacks on the lives of children who are victims of sexual abuse. In this context, the Church is united with her and with all the children who are victims of this type of brutality and their families,” the bishops said.

    They also recalled that “in fidelity to the Gospel,” the Church “always speaks out in support of life and unequivocally condemns all acts of violence that offend human dignity.”

    The bishops in the northeastern region of Brazil, where the girl lives, said the defense of life is “a principle that guides the practice of the Church in Brazil,” as was the case “during the military regime of 1964, when the Church spoke out in defense of life and the dignity of persons, the defense of the human rights of the political refugees that were persecuted and tortured.”

    According to the bishops, an awareness of human rights “leaves no room for any kind of violence, especially against children and women. In this concrete case, we reject the rape and sexual abuse suffered by the girl.”

    However, they noted, “what is protected by law does not always coincide with what is in accord with ethical principles and moral values. For us, the Lord’s commandment, Thou shalt not kill, will always take priority.”

    Given the complexity of the case, we regret that it has not been faced with the serenity, tranquility and time that the situation demanded. In addition, we are not in agreement with the final result of eliminating the lives of defenseless human beings.” “It falls to us to externalize our beliefs publicly in defense of life, which is always a gift from God.”

  • “For the record I don’t agree with everything the Catholic Church says on abortion”

    You now have me intrigued Matt!

    I have spent the last 10 minutes wondering which aspects of the Catholic moral teaching regarding abortion that you don’t agree with!

  • He is now writing a blog on it so you will soon see.

    If he goes where I think he will go he will cross into an area where I part company with him on and in which some fans of blog may find controversial. I too do not agree with every aspect of Catholic teaching on abortion but where I disagree and agree differs to Matt.

    If he argues what I think he is going to I have told him I will publicly go toe to toe with him on the matter – which always seems to create blog traffic; what is with the prospect of both of us publicly debating each other that draws people? Some kind of spectacle factor I am sure.

    I guess I am being a total tease but all will be revealed.

  • Matt you said:
    “A substantive argument to the effect that an fetus lacked some property that an infant posses, and that the property in question plausibly grounds a right to not be killed, would provide a rebuttal, mere assertion does not.”

    A fetus lacks the property of being self aware, or in the early stages of pregnancy when abortions are generally permitted, it lacks the ability to feel pain. Would that do for you?

    These chacteristics of a fetus make it clear there is a fundamental difference between a fetus and a born baby.

  • Well, though an atheist, I actually agree with you that the Catholic Church has the right to excommunicate anyone that it deams to have broken its rules. Any club should have the right to expel wayward members.

    Andrew W

  • Mark V:

    What about those properties makes them essential to personhood? You really need to do more than merely assert your position to give it plausibility.

    What about people who lack one or both of these properties after birth due to various medical conditions, such as some comas? Do they lack personhood for the duration of the coma, even if they later wake up? I don’t think you could successfully defend such a claim.

  • “A fetus lacks the property of being self aware, or in the early stages of pregnancy when abortions are generally permitted, it lacks the ability to feel pain. Would that do for you?

    These chacteristics of a fetus make it clear there is a fundamental difference between a fetus and a born baby.”

    Actually they don’t at all.

    Yes, a fetus is not self-aware, but neither are you when you go to sleep every night, and you wouldn’t be if you were knocked unconscious on a sporting field, or you drank to the point of blind inebriation.

    But I doubt you’d be happy with me suggesting that you are not a person because of any of those, and therefore no longer subject to the right to life because of them!

    Besides, sentience isn’t actually the highest stage one can reach – sapience is, so therefore it seems natural to me that it should follow, that if you believe that being sentient grants you special rights that are not granted to those who are not yet conscious, then surely those who are sapient have reached an even higher stage, and are therefore entitled to even greater rights than those who are merely sentient?

    Yes, a young fetus can’t feel pain, but neither would you if I anesthetised you, but giving you a large dose of morphine wouldn’t then mean that you had lost your personhood, and your right to life.

    Ultimately, this pain/no pain argument is irrelevant – you see the morality of abortion does not hinge on whether or not the baby in the womb feels pain, instead it hinges on whether or not the baby in the womb is a human person, with an inalienable right to life that no one else has the right to take from it.

    The characteristics you mention are only accidental, they do not affect the fetus at the level of its substance – which always remains human, whether or not it is conscious or able to feel pain at any given time.

  • Oops – you beat me to the punch Little Shepherd!

  • Now you’ve got me even more intriqued Madeleine!

    I am looking forward to the unfolding of this discussion!

  • The stem cell article took all afternoon and now we have to attend to dinner, kids to bed, etc.. so working on it..

  • Brendan Malone said:

    “Yes, a fetus is not self-aware, but neither are you when you go to sleep every night, and you wouldn’t be if you were knocked unconscious on a sporting field, or you drank to the point of blind inebriation.”

    The point is that my normal state is that of a sentient self aware being, while the normal state of a fetus is that it is not sentient and self aware.

    If I were to cease being sentient and self aware, i.e. enter into a persistant vegetative state as a consequence of severe brain damage then medical personell would have the right to remove me from a life support system and allow me to die.

    What underpins the anti abortion case is the belief that a fetus has the same right to life as a child or adult. It may have a right to life but if a choice has to be made between the rights of a child and the rights of a fetus, the fetus looses and the child wins. In short the welfare of a child cannot be sacrificed to that of a fetus.

  • whoops, typo

    Mark, whether your state of sentience is normal or not is not irrelevant.

    Which medical personnel? No-one has the “right” to end anyone else’s life although, arguably a person has the right to end their own life.

    You’ve just said that there is a possibility that a foetus does have the right to life. In which case, your claim that a child or an adult has even more of a right to life – is purely subjective. Who’s to say that one human’s right to life is less important than another human’s right to life?

  • Hi Mark

    First, you are correct that a fetus is not self aware but then neither is an infant self awareness does not occur until some quite time until *after* birth. Hence this cannot be a sensible ground for distinguishing between fetuses and infants.

    Second you cite the case of a persistent vegetative state You state “ If I were to to cease being sentient and self aware, i.e. enter into a persistant vegetative state as a consequence of severe brain damage then medical personell would have the right to remove me from a life support system and allow me to die.”

    This argument is I think unsuccessful, what matters with a PVS case is that the loss of sentience is irreversible, if a person falls into a temporary coma then it would not be permissible to turn of life support. It’s the lack of any realistic prospect of recovery which motivates the decision to turn life support of. This is obviously disanalogous with the case of a fetus which temporarily lacks consciousness but will inevitably gain it in the future. The fetus is more like a person in a temporary reversible coma and doctors would not normally turn of life support in this case.

  • Paul wrote:

    “Cripes its [sic] times like this I’m proud to yell ‘I’m an atheist!'”

    So tell us Paul. Under atheism, why is rape wrong? I mean, we are just animals in your system, right? And animals ‘rape’ all the time, right?

    I would suggest that you are really outside of your jurisdiction making these sorts of comments Paul. I would suggest that real morality is a concept that actually makes no sense under atheism. That’s not to say you are not a moral person to some degree, and I am certainly an immoral person compared to God’s standard. But the concept of right and wrong makes no sense under atheism. Tell me why I am wrong…

    Regards,

    Rob