British Catholic leaders call for 'change of attitude' towards abortions

The heads of the Roman Catholic Church in England, Wales and Scotland warned yesterday that abortion robs everyone of their future.

|PIC1|Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor's comments come in a joint open letter with his Scottish counterpart, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, released yesterday as Health Minister Dawn Primarolo claimed there was not enough scientific evidence to justify lowering the legal abortion limit below 24 weeks.

The Church heads pleaded in their letter for a "change in minds and hearts" in British attitudes towards termination of pregnancy, but also acknowledged that abortions would never be abolished altogether from British law.

The approach of the 40th anniversary of the Abortion Act this week has sparked fresh debate over the ethical implications of abortion. The Abortion Act made abortions legal up to 28 weeks when it came into force in 1967.

The Roman Catholic Church leaders are hoping for a change in attitude that will see a shift towards supporting young mothers, along with a greater emphasis on sexual relations within marriage, instead of promoting abortions.

They believe that if this change of focus is properly implemented, it could lead to a decrease in the number of abortions without any change to the existing law.

The Catholic leaders stated in their letter: "The 1967 Act was intended to solve the problem of illegal abortion, on the basis that it was a major cause of death in pregnant women. Yet our countries now perform nearly 200,000 abortions every year.

"Whatever our religious creed or political conviction, abortion on this scale can only be a source of distress and profound anguish for us all...Abortion robs everyone of their future. Individually and as a society we believe we have another choice: to give birth to life."

Anti-abortion campaign groups have made desperate pleas for the upper limit for abortions to be cut to 20 weeks, or even closer to the levels of some European countries which have set the limit as low as 14 weeks.

However, the British Medical Association says the number of babies surviving at 24 weeks is still "extremely small".

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the Royal College of Nursing also maintain that the upper time limit for abortions should remain at 24 weeks.

The British Health Minister, Ms Primarolo was giving evidence this morning to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, which is looking at medical advances since the Abortion Act was passed in 1967 - but it has stated that it would make its assessment without any consideration of ethical or moral issues associated with abortion time limits.

In their letter, the cardinals set out their plans for reducing the number of abortions carried out in the UK every year.

The letter read: "Whilst upholding the principle of the sacredness of human life, it is both licit and important for those in public life who oppose abortion on principle to work and vote for achievable incremental improvement to what is an unjust law."

Speaking on the Today programme on Radio 4 yesterday morning, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said, "I think there is such a thing as a gradual change and there are many politicians and the people who they represent who would be happy for a gradual change in the law."