Updated Aug. 23, 2012 at 9:45 EST to correct the name of Lord David Alton.

LONDON, July 26, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – One of the world’s leading pro-life advocates has issued a warning about what is commonly known as the “gestational” approach to pro-life legislation at a time when Canadian pro-lifers are debating ways to tackle Canada’s legal vacuum on abortion.

John Smeaton is the director of the longest-standing pro-life group in the world — the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC).  A pro-life activist since 1978, Smeaton is regarded as one of the most influential voices in the pro-life movement.  The Oxford graduate is also a vice-president of International Right to Life Federation, representing pro-life groups in 170 nations around the world.

Late-term abortion bans, also known as “upper limit” or gestational laws, have been supported by many pro-life activists in the hope that such laws will reduce the total number of abortions: but Smeaton has a different story to tell.

In the 1980s, SPUC backed an upper limit bill. Smeaton told LifeSiteNews that he now believes they had been “wrong” to support the law – that backing the late-term abortion ban was not only morally problematic, but ended up damaging the pro-life cause politically.

SPUC had initially opposed the idea of a late-term abortion ban, but a Member of Parliament, Lord David Alton, pushed to introduce a gestational bill during the ‘80s, and after a lot of pressure, SPUC got behind the bill, and it was passed in 1990.

“It was quite wrong, but we did so, and then exactly what we predicted would happen happened,” Smeaton stated. He described how, after the upper limit of 24 weeks was instated, the number of late abortions actually increased, because the majority of politicians had voted to introduce new and broad exceptions to the abortion law.

Smeaton said he is certain that in the current political climate politicians will always vote for exceptions to any abortion limit because of the “overwhelming view” that disabled babies have no right to life.

“It doesn’t work,” he says, about gestational legislation. “It hasn’t worked in Britain: we now have abortion up to birth not only for disabled babies but for other reasons too, and the number of late abortions has increased enormously.”

Smeaton said he has had to “face up” to the fact that he was the deputy chief executive of SPUC at the time. “I played my role in it and argued for it, and I was completely wrong,” he declared. But not just because of what it led to, he says, “but because you cannot vote for intrinsically unjust legislation, and you cannot campaign for it.”

Smeaton argues that “contrary to an opinion widely held by members of the pro-life movement,” legislation that aims to prevent some abortions but authorizes others, is intrinsically unjust because it still endorses the murder of the unborn. 

As a Catholic Smeaton looks to the teachings of his Church for guidance on the issue. He says that Catholic teaching is spelled out in in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae (73), where the pope wrote:

In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to “take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it”.98

In the next paragraph of Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II goes on to explain that, in situations where it is impossible to completely overturn a permissive abortion law, “a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions” can be supported. An elected official, whose opposition to abortion is well known, can licitly support a proposal that aims to “lessen the negative consequences” of the permissive abortion law. “This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law,” the pope declared, “but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.”

But Smeaton argues that this does not apply to bills which explicitly allow abortion in certain circumstances, which gestational bills do, since the pope had already condemned such legislation. “Because Pope John Paul II used the word ‘never’ in the first paragraph it is irrational to suggest that the second paragraph contradicts the first,” he says.

“Such qualification in the second paragraph would amount to a preposterous contradiction,” Smeaton stated. “Whatever the legislation, limiting the harm of an existing pro-abortion law, that Pope John Paul II may have in mind in the second paragraph, it is grotesque to suggest that such legislation would include laws…which themselves legitimize or tolerate abortion.”

An example of such a law, that could licitly restrict the number of abortions, was suggested by Geoffrey Cauchi, President of Alliance for Life Ontario. Under his proposal, 24 hours before procuring an abortion, a woman must be informed of all the procedure’s risks to her, its effect upon the unborn child, and the physiological characteristics of the child at the time of the abortion. Cauchi says such a law would probably significantly limit the number of abortions, but unlike a late-term abortion ban, it would not endorse abortion at any point.

“Well-meaning pro-lifers argue that a law permitting abortion up to, for example, 16 weeks, is ‘better’ than a law permitting abortion up to 20 weeks,” Smeaton says, “and that voting for such a law would save lives.”

Nevertheless, he declared, “campaigning for, or voting for such legislation, on the basis of the argument that one is seeking to limit the harm of an existing worse pro-abortion law, or to replace a situation where there is no existing law on abortion, represents a preposterous misinterpretation of Evangelium Vitae 73.”

“Also, voting for ‘better’ intrinsically unjust legislation in order to save lives runs completely contrary to the moral principle: One may not do evil so that good may come of it.”

Smeaton concluded, “For those who find it hard to resist the temptation to support restrictive, intrinsically evil, legislation, I can tell you that from our experience in Britain and Ireland, that SPUC and the pro-life movement have made far more progress since the Society has sought to adopt an ethically correct approach to legislation.”