Much is being said in the media about Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming visit to Great Britain, but a recent interview prompted a new discourse on abortion.
Rather like a shameful secret, little has been written or discussed about Britain’s poor record on pro-life issues.
Only when Edmund Adamus, an aide to Westminster’s Catholic archbishop, Vincent Nichols, brought up the issue in an interview last week with Zenit, a Catholic news agency, did the mainstream media seize upon it. And they did so in a predictably dismissive and derogatory way.
Offense was taken at Adamus’ description of Britain as the “geopolitical epicentre of the culture of death.” The term “culture of death” was originally coined by John Paul II to denote any philosophy or policy which runs contrary to a “culture of life” (i.e., legalized abortion, euthanasia, or embryonic stem cell research).
Adamus underlined his point by saying that for over 50 years British laws and lawmakers “have been the most permissively anti-life and progressively anti-family and marriage.” He added that as a result, much of Britain had become a “selfish, hedonistic wasteland.” In response, Paul Vallely, a correspondent for the Independent newspaper, described Adamus’ views as “extreme” and “palpably silly.”
But are they? The U.K. has the highest number of abortions than any country in Europe with an average of 600 unborn children killed every day. According to U.N. figures, over 210,000 babies were killed in the womb in 2008, a number far higher than in Germany (just under 115,000) which has a larger population than Britain, and greater than Italy (just under 122,000) whose population is about the same.
The number of abortions in Britain has gone up by an estimated 130 times since abortion was made legal in 1967, and in 2006 the percentage of induced abortions per 1,000 pregnant women was higher than in the U.S. (22.3 percent to 16.6 percent).
In the U.K., unborn babies with disabilities can still be aborted right up to birth: 9 out of 10 fetuses diagnosed with spina bifida are aborted, and the same proportion applies to Down syndrome babies.
Currently the limit for abortions of healthy unborn children is 24 weeks; an attempt to lower it to 20 weeks in 2008 was rejected by lawmakers and today Britain’s new government plans to promote abortion and “sexual rights” to children in the developing world.
On biomedical research, Britain allows the destruction of embryos for stem cell research and is the only country in the world to have legislated in favour of hybrid human/animal embryo research. The legislation, backed by Gordon Brown and Britain’s current prime minister, David Cameron, also allows single women and lesbians to have treatment in fertility clinics. Cardinal Keith O'Brien, archbishop of Edinburgh and St. Andrews, described the legislation as a "monstrous attack on human rights, human dignity and human life."
Many argue that successive Labour governments have weakened marriage and the family. Civil partnerships legislation, passed in 2004, gave same-sex couples rights and responsibilities comparable to civil marriage. Although same-sex marriage is banned in the U.K., civil partnership ceremonies are widely viewed as marriages.
Opponents say the legislation undermines the importance and unique status of traditional marriage which supports individuals, society and children.
Pressure is being put on schools and charities to give information about abortion, and to introduce explicit sex education, but to ignore the value of traditional marriage.
On the basis of the evidence, therefore, the words of Edmund Adamus ring true. And one of the Pope’s wishes when he visits Britain Sept. 16-19 will undoubtedly be to address these concerns. As Robert Moynihan, publisher of the monthly Inside the Vatican, recently wrote: "Benedict wants to be in England because a new paganism has triumphed in Western society, articulately in England.
“In many ways he is motivated by what he said in ‘God and the World’ [an interview published 2002]: ‘Whenever a person or society refuses to take God’s business seriously, some way or the other, the fate of Gomorrah overtakes them again . . . Whenever any society turns away from fellowship with the living God, it cuts the root of its social cohesion. We see such retribution at work even today.”
For many British Catholics and those concerned about protecting the weakest and most vulnerable, the Pope’s trip to Britain can’t come soon enough.
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