Abortion: another way

All I know of the Bishop of Palencia in northern Spain, Jose Ignacio Munilla, is what I've raked from Google, which isn't much. But he's mentioned because I was struck by an answer he gives in an interview to a question about the Spanish Church's failure to prevent the Spanish government's further liberalisation of the country's abortion laws. He says:

"The Church's aim [meta] is not to stop laws from being passed, but to awaken and enlighten consciences".


And he adds:

"I think the Church is writing one of the most beautiful pages of its history in expending its reputation and its energy in defending the weakest and most innocent of all human lives -- those who have been conceived but not yet born."

The response to Bishop Munilla -- who is, incidentally, very active in pro-life endeavours in his diocese  -- is obvious: surely one of the most important and effective means of awakening consciences is public opposition to anti-life legislation? 

But his point must still be considered. The aim -- meta is more than "aim": "purpose", or "raison d'etre" might translate better --  of the Church's pro-life stance is to awaken consciences. If the bishop is right, and I think he is, then this must be the criterion of the success of a pro-life stance, not whether it succeeds in changing this or that law.

Here in the UK, I've watched -- and been part of -- many attempts to reform laws on abortion and embryo experimentation; seen the phenomenal energy and money and time spent by campaigners on the issue, without success; and wondered what would happen if those same resources were put into a campaign for changing minds and hearts.

It has been done before.

William Wilberforce, the great Christian anti-slave trade campaigner, eventually realised that there were too many vested interests and closed minds in Parliament to effect change there. In 1771, following yet another failure of his slave trade abolition bill, he told his followers: “It is on the general impression and feeling of the nation that we must now rely, rather than on the political conscience of the House of Commons”.

From then on, it was a campaign to shake consciences -- through stories, town-hall meetings, petitions, boycotts, testimonies (above all, the testimonies).  Gradually, over the next decades, people awoke to the humanity of the slaves; and as the value of that humanity rose in people's eyes, what was once considered a regrettable but acceptable sacrifice for the sake of other benefits – prosperity, trade, and so on – became an insuperable moral obstacle.

The change in the law followed the awakening of consciences.

It can happen again.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
9 years 4 months ago
great point;; now how do we turn the 60% who oppose abortion on demand on to a path to change hearts and minds.?? who shall lead us? and where will the rally venue be? and how will the anti-abortionists who villify [ 'you're a liar'] be kept from sabotaging such an initiative?
9 years 4 months ago
It seems to me that, while certainly more could be done to change hearts and minds, in the United States at least we have had a dramatic shift of people who used to describe themselves as pro-choice now saying they are pro-life. Pro-lifers are now the majority in the United States with the arrow continuing to point up.  (Though what this means precisely is open to question.)  Of those people, however, few are apparently willing to go to the mat to change laws...otherwise we'd have far more restrictions on abortion in the U.S. which has some of the most liberal abortion laws in the developed world.  While we absolutely need to change more minds and hearts to being 'pro-life,' we also need a commitment from such persons to work to change public policy.  And I don't think we need to choose between these goals.
9 years 4 months ago
To shake consciences, the bishops need to enforce Church canons e.g. 915 and excommunicate the legislators who promulgate anti life legislation.  The approach of educating these pols have been ineffectual in the past 30 years resulting in the greatest mass murder in the history of mankind.
If the bishops will not expel them, then a novel approach would be for the Church body, the lay people to do the dirty work of fraternal correction.  Better to have a swift kick in the pants than to cuddle these pols into everlasting fire. 
9 years 4 months ago
Ricky, abortion is not legal because of any "anti-life" legislation, but because state regulation of abortion was found to be constitutionally defective (and for good reason, it was).  There is a right way and a wrong way to go about doing this.  As long as the pro-life movement supports proceeding in the wrong direction, they are as much responsible for the continuation of abortion as those who would oppose them.  Luckily, we now have a President who understands what the right way is.  It is our job as Catholics to work with him on doing that (by strengthening the middle class by increasing the child tax credit to living wage levels, taking away Republican restrictions on welfare that lead to abortions and banning late term abortions - either from natural viability or assisted viability).  Simply denouncing people on election day for their opinion on settled constitutional law does not constitute protecting the unborn - it is rank opportunism.
9 years 4 months ago
If we measure the last 35+ years on the basis of laws that were changed, it is hard to argue that those of us who want a society that values, protects and defends all life- including in a special way those not yet born -have utterly failed in the US.
I prefer to measure our success in terms of a culture that increasingly rejects abortion. At one time abortion was considered an honorable and social good. It was treated as a good and heroic choice in our movies and television and among the youth. This has slowly but surely changed, thanks be to God. Polls - especially polls of younger men and women bear this out. Those who favor abortion rights also see this change and in fact are publicly fearful of an important shift in public opinion.
I fret over the slow pace of public opinion changing. I fear that those who oppose this change will continue to paint our cause with the broad-brush of those small few who have morphed a respect for all life into actions of hate.
But year in and year out the tide is turning because of changing hearts and minds.
No meaningful and sustainable law will be done without first a shift in hearts.
The Bishop is on the right path, perhaps the only path, to make this happen in a pluralistic society.
9 years 4 months ago
Once the day comes when the pro life movement ceases to approve of war  and stops condemning their fellow human beings and sitting as judges and setting themselves up as perfect and sinless the heart and the mind of that organization itself will have been won over to gospel values .  The " jihad " isn't out there it's within .  Pro life will continue to fail until then .
9 years 4 months ago
Re:  "opinion on settled constitutional law"  Which article or amendment in the constitution provided for the murder of the unborn child?
If such a law exists, then it is worse than the settled slavery laws in the past, do you agree?  And as reasonable human persons, it is a moral imperative for us to ensure that such a travesy of justice do not persist.

9 years 4 months ago
Ricky, have you ever read Roe v. Wade and tried to understand what it says?  The 14th Amendment provides the constitutional justification for both the jurisdictional issues (i.e., states can't do equal protection) and the legal recognition of persons (born or naturalized).  It also provides a way out, since Congress has the power to enforce the amendment.  The amendment itself was promulgated precisely because many southern states were using Black Codes to convict freedmen of non-sense crimes and thereby reenslave them as convicts.  During reconstruction, this stopped, but it started again after the withdrawl of federal troops and continued until someone told FDR in 1942 that it was still occurring, often with corporate participation - when the government shut down some of the most blatant examples (of course, for undocumented aliens, it still exists, often with the cooperation of local sherrifs and state officials).  This is why your use of slavery in association with abortion is so thick with irony.  The states rights solution your movement clings to would severely restrict any federal efforts to police slavelike conditions, where were admittedly anemic under your pro-life Mr. Bush.  However, I agree that slavery is a life issue.  It's one of the reasons I voted for Obama.


The latest from america

Psychedelics can blur the line between science and spirituality—but Christian mysticism cannot be studied.
Terrance KleinJanuary 17, 2019
The extensive New York Times series in support of legal abortion unfolds as if the last 46 years of the abortion debate following Roe v. Wade never happened and did not need to.
​Helen AlvaréJanuary 17, 2019
In 1983, Sri Lanka descended into a bitter and prolonged ethnic conflict. Harry Miller, S.J., then almost 60, was thrust into a new role as witness, advocate, intermediary and protector not only for his students but for anyone in Batticaloa who sought his help.
Jeannine GuthrieJanuary 17, 2019
I have found that praying 15 minutes every day is an important form of self-care.
Michael R. Lovell January 16, 2019