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Editorial: There he goes again PDF Print E-mail
Apr 01, 2010 at 06:22 PM
I apologize to my Roman Catholic friends and readers who may be offended, but once again Pope Benedict XVI is back to his old trick of behaving "subversively". Today, at ceremonies celebrating Easter Thursday, he urged Catholics everywhere to refuse to obey laws that turn what the Church considers to be an injustice into "a legal right". The pontiff went on the make an explicit reference to abortion, to laws that allow the killing of innocemt, as yet unborn children".

But the principle goes further than that and to my mind is a dangerous one. The Church is not just telling Roman Catholics not to have abortions, use birth control, allow living wills etc, perhaps theaening them with excommunication if they do, but telling them it is legitimate to block the implementation of laws permitting practices that have been adopted, legitimately, by a sovereign, democratic state.

I can well understand that religious leaders of any persuasion would like to see the state they live in adopt principles they believe in and share. But this is not always possible and this is an question that makes it hard for us to understand those Moslem countries which differ from us precisely because their culture has never experienced Enlightenment and consequently have no concept of the separation of Church and State. In our political culture, the state, which is made up of voters of many religious beliefs (and of those without any religious beliefs at all) is sovereign and calling for obstruction (basically, isn't that what conscientious objection really is?) of a law is to my mind unacceptable, and subversive, behaviour. (This is what happened last year when Catholics in the Italian government and out made repeated attempts to block Beppe Englaro from finding someone who would agree to implement a court order allowing him to take his brain-dead daughter off life support after 17 years in a persistent vegetative state. He finally succeeded but his life and that of his family was made miserable because of Church pressure).

And just last week in Italy, we had the Italian Conference of Bishops once again trying to interfere in Italy's recent regional and local elections by publically asking voters not to vote for those favouring abortion and other principles opposed by the Church. In a way, this electioneering was bizarre since abortion has been legal here in Italy since way back in 1978 when an overwhelming majority of Italian citizens disregarded Church warnings and approved a law which gives women the right to have a health service abortion up to the end of the third month of pregnancy. The law does not permit private doctors to perform abortions, the idea being - I think - to make sure that abortions were done in sanitary conditions and without possible price gouging, this in a country where there were hundreds of thousands of illegal abortions per year (most sought after by women who were born and baptised Roman Catholics).

The fact that many Italian doctors, especially in the Italian south, refuse to perform abortions, claiming to be conscientious objectors means that women in the Italian south will either have to borrow money to travel to cities where having an abortion is easier, resort to illegal and unsafe abortions just like their pre-1978 predecessors, o have childen they don't want. A real gift from the conscientious objectors.

In any event, the reason why the abortion issue has come up again in Italy these days is because the Church and Italy's church-conscious conservative politicians, are trying to bloc the use here of RU 486, the pill that allows an abortion by pharmacological (i.e. medical) rather than surgical means. The pill is now legal here but ruling conservatives have managed to keep it from being purchased directly by women who want to use it. The health system has ruled, under government pressure, that an abortion of this sort can be done only with a thee-day stay in a state hospital, which means that here, too, conscientious objectors can interfere refusing to participate or making the process so cumbersome that women will avoid it. The newly elected president of the Piedmont region, said yesterday he will do his best to make sure RU 486 remains in dispensaries and never gets used at all, a position which is bound to generate numerous court cases.

Readers who think I am prejudiced should know that mifepristone, or RU 486 (sounds like a Star Wars robot, doesn't it?) has been in use in France for 20 (sic!) years where almost half of abortions are now done in this fashion and in the UK since 1990, where in 2007, 43% of abortions were medical rather than surgical. In Spain it has been in use since 1994 and in Germany since 1999. It is also legal in Albania, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Croazia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Moldava, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Sweden, and the Ukraine as well as in Canada and the United States.

I believe that the only countries in Europe where it has not been approved are Ireland, Malta. Lithuania and Poland. I also believe that Italy is the only country, or one of a very, very few countries, where hospitalization for three days is required. Most countries ask you do take both sets of medication in a clinical structure but many others allow women to do the entire process in the privacy of their own home.

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