Fifteen years have passed since abortion on demand was legalized in South Africa. Since then it is estimated that over one million unborn children were denied the most fundamental of rights, the right to life. We remember those one million babies. Those aborted fifteen years ago would now be in grade 9 or 10, bringing joy to their families and planning their own futures. Those whose lives were ‘terminated’ ten years ago would now be playing on the streets of our towns and villages in the evenings and singing and praying with us in our churches on Sunday. We regret that those children of God were denied the right to be born into God’s world and to enrich it with their own unique gifts and talents. We will never fully realize what we have missed because the law says “abortion is fine”.
When the legislation was being discussed those in favour of it said it would save some mothers from the dangers of what has become known as “back-street abortions”. We question if this has in fact been the case. On almost every electricity pole along the streets of our cities and towns there are advertisements for ‘safe and painless’ abortions. They are outside the Head Office of the Department of Health in Pretoria and on the boundary walls of our schools. If the advertising is so public and so widespread, then the demand for those” back-street abortions” must be high.
The position of the Catholic Church on abortion is clear and unambiguous. Just because the law says it is legal does not make it morally right. Each unborn child is created by God, “knit together in (its) mother’s womb” (Ps139.13). That unborn child is a human being with a human life that must be protected. He or she has a right to life, a right that must be respected by the mother and protected by the state.
Another right that must be respected by the state and its agents is that of conscientious objection. Those who believe that abortion is morally wrong have a right to refuse to participate in the medical procedures.
All of us, parents, teachers, members of the Church, must understand what a young girl is going through when she realizes she is pregnant. She needs our love, our support, our understanding and sometimes our forgiveness. We in the Church are committed to helping unmarried pregnant girls and couples tempted to take the abortion route in whatever way we can. We will never condemn, just as Jesus refused to condemn (John8.11)
As we remember the many children who have been aborted since February 1997, we also remember the mothers of these children. Just as we do not condemn a pregnant young girl, we do not condemn her if she made the mistake of procuring an abortion. Only she knows how much she has suffered as a result. She needs help and healing. We invite her to come and speak to one of our priests or counselors so that we can be part of reconciling her to God and bringing about healing.
The Very Rev. Buti Tlhagale is the Archbishop of Johannesburg, South Africa.