Letter to Members of the UK Parliament on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill

Dear Member of Parliament,

I am writing to you on behalf of Catholics for Choice (CFC) to ask you to oppose any attempts to reduce the time limit at which abortions may be performed during parliament’s consideration of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

CFC is an international nongovernmental organization accredited with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.  For 35 years CFC has served as a voice for Catholics who believe that the Catholic tradition supports sexual and reproductive ethics that are based on justice, reflect a commitment to women’s well being, and respect and affirm the moral capacity of women and men to make sound decisions about their lives.  Through discourse, education and advocacy, CFC works in the US, Europe and Latin America to infuse these values into public policy, community life, feminist analysis and Catholic social thinking and teaching.

There are many facets to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.  This letter addresses only one:  the proposal to reduce the legal time limit at which abortions may be carried out.

Our concern with this proposal is two-fold:

  • The potentially deleterious impact on women’s health that would result from a reduction in the time limit.
  • The lack of scientific data to indicate such a reduction is necessary or would be beneficial.

Furthermore, we are troubled by the sustained efforts by some Catholic bishops to influence this vote, claiming that only they represent the Catholic church.  We caution that the bishops do not speak on behalf of all Catholics nor do they truly represent the totality of Catholic teaching.

Polls of Catholics around the world show that the bishops represent a minority view among Catholics on reproductive health matters. Last November, a CFC poll by YouGov showed that a plurality of British Catholics do not agree with the bishops on abortion. A third more Catholics agreed than disagreed with the statements: “It should be legal for a woman to have an abortion when she has an unwanted pregnancy” and “Catholic bishops concentrate too much of their attention on abortion when there are other issues that also require their attention.” Similarly, recent CFC polls in the United States, Mexico and Bolivia have found that majorities of Catholics support a woman’s right to access abortion, as do other polls of Catholics in Canada, France, Germany and Spain.

There is a long tradition of dissent within the church, and many Catholics—including theologians, nuns, priests and lay people—disagree with the hierarchy’s positions on a range of issues including the use of condoms, contraception and abortion. As recently as 1974, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith issued a paper on abortion.  While it condemned abortion as immoral, it admitted that church teaching is neither definitive nor unchanging on this subject.  Theologians have disagreed from the beginning of church history up to our time on when in pregnancy the fetus becomes a person.  While the church has favoured different opinions on this subject at different times in history, none has ever been declared infallible.

There is no unanimity within the Catholic church or among faith groups as to when a fetus becomes a person, but there is unanimity of belief that a woman is a person.  Both the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the British Medical Association have said they do not believe that a case based on impartial medical research can be made for reducing the time limit for abortion.  No scientific authority has successfully challenged their view.

As people of faith, we want our voices to be heard, and we want everyone else’s voices to be heard as well.  We look to our governments to act in accordance with objective, fact-based findings and not to privilege one set of religious or moral beliefs over other, equally valid religious or moral beliefs.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need any further information on this matter.



Jon O’Brien

Catholics for Choice