Abortion is not healthcare, bishops say ahead of European Parliament vote

The European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. / JLogan via Wikimedia (public domain).

Rome Newsroom, Jun 17, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

A commission of European bishops has responded to a report on abortion, due to be debated and voted on by the European Parliament next week.

The group said that it was “very concerned about a number of the representations and arguments” made in the so-called Matić Report, which seeks the recognition of a “right to abortion” and the redefinition of conscientious objection as a “denial of medical care.”

The position paper of the Secretariat of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), published June 17, said that it was “ethically untenable” to classify abortion as an “essential health service.”

“A medical intervention of such magnitude cannot and must not become a normal practice; its qualification as an essential service degrades the unborn child,” the paper said.

The bishops wrote that “as Church, we are convinced that human life from the beginning, including unborn life, possesses its own dignity and independent right to protection. In the Church’s view, abortion is not a means of family planning or part of ordinary healthcare.”

“The unborn child has a human right to life,” the commission underlined.

COMECE, which consists of bishops delegated by the bishops’ conferences of the 27 member states of the European Union, said that human health is a core concern of the Catholic Church, which recognizes the right to health as “an essential basis for a dignified life.”

“Standing up for human rights is a central component of the Church’s social-ethical proclamation; it sees human rights as the basis for peaceful coexistence between peoples and is convinced that they correspond profoundly to the Christian and biblical understanding of the dignity of the human being,” the paper said.

The commission added that it valued the fundamental concern of the draft resolution, which is the protection of the health and rights of women, but regretted the document’s “one-sided perspective” on abortion.

The Matić Report “does not reflect the tragedy and complexity of the situations in which mothers considering aborting their unborn child find themselves,” it said.

Quoting a 1996 document from the German bishops, it said that “‘all too easily,’ however, ‘the independent right to life of the child is left out of the consideration and it is overlooked that the unborn child is not the property of the parents, but precisely in its defencelessness is only entrusted to them.’”

“There is no question that the life of the unborn cannot be protected against the mother, but only with her,” the bishops said. “Taking care of women who are in distress or in a conflict situation because of their pregnancy is a central part of the diaconal ministry of the Church and should be also a duty of our societies.”

The report, which was presented to the European Parliament, the EU’s law-making body, by Croatian politician Predrag Fred Matić, is due to be debated on June 23. A vote will take place the next day.

COMECE also noted “with concern and regret” the draft resolution’s negation of the fundamental right to conscientious objection, “which is an emanation of freedom of conscience.”

“While other rights such as the right to life can take precedence in specific situations, we are alarmed that the text questions the mere existence of a right of medical institutions and their staff to refuse to provide certain health services, including abortion, on the basis of conscience clauses,” the position paper said.

“This reference entails a blatant disregard for the right of organizations based on religion or belief to follow their ethos and to organize their services in accordance with them. It also neglects the right of individuals to follow their conscience.”

The COMECE statement also said that the report does not do justice to the legislative competence of the member states in the area of “sexual and reproductive health and rights.”

“We recall that a fundamental principle of the European Union is the principle of conferral, whereby the Union shall act only within the limits of the competences conferred upon it by the member states in the treaties to attain the objectives set out therein,” the bishops said.

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the president of COMECE, said in an interview published this week that he believed that “we must make it clear that approving such a report is against subsidiarity, because abortion is a subject of national and non-EU legislation.”

“It would therefore be a grave sin for the European Union not to respect the subsidiarity of which it always speaks,” he said.

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