By John-Henry Westen
ROME, July 29, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) – In an interview last week, Rocco Butiglione, one of Italy's best-known Christian Democrat politicians, made remarks which sparked concerns from pro-life activists, as he seemed to suggest that promoting laws against abortion is a mistake.
Butiglione had said that he had come to believe that pursuing a “common ground,” abortion reduction approach is the best way to combat abortion. He also spoke of a new network of pro-life parliamentarians who are not against Law 194, which permits abortion. “We do not want the law changed. Less than ever,” he was quoted as saying in an interview with Corriere della Sera, Italy's leading daily newspaper.
However in an exclusive interview with the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), Buttiglione has now clarified his position, saying that he was quoted “out of context” and reaffirming that protection of the right to life in law is the right way to go.
C-FAM interviewer Piero Tozzi persisted in questioning Buttiglione until the Italian politician answered specifically to the question of whether or not it was a “mistake” to say that it is wrong to pursue legal protection for unborn children. Buttiglione stated: “I did not say it was wrong to seek to defend the rights of the child through the use of the penal code. I did not say that. The life of the child should be defended with all possible means. With penal law? Yes, of course, with penal law, where possible.”
However, he continued, in the past “we relied too much in the past on penal sanction. That is only one element in the strategy to defend life, but not the only one element. And I reiterate, if we do not remove the causes that lead so many women to abort, we will not win our battle against abortion. We will not win our battle against abortion relying only on penal sanction.”
In the interview, interviewer Pierro Tozzi demonstrates his own penetrating understanding of the dangers of waffling on the matter of legal protection, with questions probing the heart of the issue. The part of the exchange related specifically to the matter of legal protection follows (for the full interview click here):
Q: As you know, some pro-lifers have expressed worry about the common ground approach, as it can play into the hands of those who seek to divide the pro-life movement.
A: Yes, I have committed blasphemy!
Q: What is your impression of these worries?
A: My impression is “But why not?” I can understand one can be against compromise, where one starts to say some abortions are bad, while others are good. That would be completely unacceptable. But we are not going to do that.
What will happen is that with respect to some abortions – those that are coerced – both sides will be united in condemning them as bad. With respect to the other abortions, we will continue to say that they are bad, while the other side will say that they are acceptable. We were struggling against each other before, and we will continue to struggle against each other.
Ultimately, I think our position in Western countries is strengthened by the initiative to condemn forced abortion, because it makes it more evident that the foetus is not part of the body of the woman, and it makes clear that abortion is a moral evil. It is not publicly prosecuted, but it is a moral evil. In this sense, I think that it strengthens our position, though legally it does not change anything.
Q: Do you believe it was a “mistake” to seek to defend the life of the unborn child, even where the mother seeks an abortion, as the media has reported?
A: There is one point where I was misquoted, or rather, quoted out of context, giving a wrong impression. I have said it is right to defend the life of the child, even against the mother. It is right, but very difficult, perhaps impossible. We have to defend the rights of the child, but also to strengthen the freedom of the mother, giving alternatives to women, in the confidence that the freer the woman is, the less likely that she will accept the death of her child.
Q: But was it a “mistake” to oppose depenalization of abortion?
A: My statement was simplified. I did not say it was wrong to seek to defend the rights of the child through the use of the penal code. I did not say that. The life of the child should be defended with all possible means. With penal law? Yes, of course, with penal law, where possible. But this is not possible in Italy today, so we must rely on other means. We must realize that we do not have a consensus on an abortion ban.
But another point is, we relied too much in the past on penal sanction. That is only one element in the strategy to defend life, but not the only one element. And I reiterate, if we do not remove the causes that lead so many women to abort, we will not win our battle against abortion. We will not win our battle against abortion relying only on penal sanction.
Q: What would you say to political leaders in other countries, particularly in the Americas, where there is tremendous pressure, from United Nations agencies, from non-governmental organizations, to depenalize abortion? We saw just the other day, for example, Amnesty International attacking Nicaragua for its laws protecting unborn life
A: I would say to them, defend your laws against abortion, and complement it right away with good policies in defense of motherhood, and for the support of mothers, because if you don't do that, sooner or later the pressure will be so strong that you will be beaten. But if you complement them with good laws for mothers, you will succeed in keeping your laws. You cannot pit the support of the mother against the penal defense of the life of the child. They are two parts of one strategy to defend life. It is always better to have two legs. Of course if you only have one leg, then you must learn how to walk with just one leg. It is not impossible, but it is not easy.
Q: But even if you do address the needs of the mother, will that cause the other side to stop pressing for abortion legalization? You see Nicaragua, for example, where laws protecting unborn life were strengthened, and according to initial Ministry of Health statistics, rates of maternal mortality decreased. Nevertheless tremendous pressure has been placed on the country's legislators to depenalize abortion.
A: To a certain extent you will always be attacked, because there is a pro-abortion lobby that is not interested in the choice of women, that is really not interested in women. They are fanatically convinced that the world's population has to be reduced by any means. If they could get away with infanticide, they would be for infanticide too. So you must always be prepared to be attacked.
But you must think positively too. Each nation should design a strategy for defense of life, particular to that nation's needs. We do not pretend that Italy is a model, because I know that while such a strategy may be successful in Italy, that is based on prudential judgments that respond to the political situation in our country today. That may change tomorrow, just as there may be differences between countries today. We must understand that the battle for life must be adapted for different cultures and socio-political situations. In Italy, we hope that in 10 or 15 years we might have a pro-life majority that we do not have today – if we do the right thing today.
So if you are in a country where the majority of people are pro-life, you will adopt one strategy. But in countries where you are in the minority, you must make alliances.
The ideal is to have legal protections to defend the life of the child, and good policies for the mother.
Q: Given the differences in each country, is it practical to build a network to work to “reduce abortion,” when that may undercut efforts to defend life in certain countries?
A: Of course we need a network, but what we do within the network is different from what we may do in our own countries. So when I speak of a network, I think of the efforts to form coalitions at Cairo and Beijing, where you had to be interconnected in order to be able to effectively battle together at the global level. So the struggle for life has two levels, one is local, and the other is global. On the one hand you need to have a local strategy, but you must also remember that the question of abortion is one that encompasses the whole of mankind.
Q: The late John Paul II was a closer personal friend of yours. Did you and he ever speak about the tension between pragmatism and principle in trying to build a Culture of Life?
A: Yes, of course. You can never support a position that is intrinsically evil. You cannot vote for a bill that sacrifices the life of one single child. You can support a bill that protects the life of some children, even if protection is not extended to all. You save those you can save and you do not give any assent to the death of those you cannot save. In our Italian situation we have a concrete example. Some pro-choicers were ready to vote our resolution if we had said we want the UN to condemn coercive abortions and to support non-coercive abortions. We said: we cannot. And they did not vote in favor but simply abstained.