Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

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Inducing labor before viability is morally unacceptable: Pro-life ethicists

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
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ROME, October 8, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Inducing labor before a child can survive outside the womb is a form of abortion and can never be accepted as a “compromise” by the pro-life community, two leading British pro-life activists said recently.

Anthony McCarthy, Education and Publications Manager for Britain’s Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, late last month speaking to an international audience of obstetricians in Rome affirmed that the Church has formally declared early inducement, even when it is intended as a life-saving measure for the mother, is never permissible.

Speaking at the MaterCare International Conference in Rome on September 21, McCarthy started by quoting the late Pope John Paul II who, in the encyclical Evangelium Vitae, defined abortion as “the deliberate and direct killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence, extending from conception to birth” and “every act tending directly to destroy human life in the womb ‘whether such destruction is intended as an end or only as a means to an end.’”

With this basic criteria in mind, McCarthy also cited a 2009 decision by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) for Catholic Health Care Services that defined abortion as including “the directly intended termination of pregnancy before viability” as well as “the directly intended destruction of a viable fetus,” and saying that neither is ever “permitted.”

“Every procedure whose sole immediate effect is the termination of pregnancy before viability is an abortion,” the USCCB document said.

On September 15, John Smeaton, SPUC director, spoke to an audience of pro-life activists in Ireland on strategies to overturn the recently passed Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, that allows direct abortion when the mother has threatened suicide. Smeaton warned that the pro-life movement must not approve one form of abortion in order to stop another.

“And this has been done, most unfortunately, by good people in Ireland who wish to save lives and who think abortion can be defeated by carrying out what are in fact abortions in the mistaken belief that they are something else,” Smeaton said.

Smeaton was referring to the practice, that was allowed under the previous law, of pre-viability inducement of labor, which he said is “an assault on the baby, an assault which kills that child.”  Early inducement, he said, is a form of assault that “is very deliberately targeted on the baby.”

Some pro-life advocates have endorsed this procedure, comparing it to the removal of a fallopian tube in the case of an ectopic pregnancy which is a classic application of the principle of double effect. But Smeaton denied the moral equivalence, saying that in the latter case, “the operation is…targeted on the damaged tube of the mother which is removed, affecting the baby as a mere side-effect.”

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Smeaton also quoted Vatican documents upholding the principle, including a statement from 1988, approved by Pope John Paul II, by the Pontifical Council for the Intepretation of Legislative Texts, that said “a person is equally guilty of the crime of abortion” if the person removes the unborn child from his or her mother before viability or if he kills the unborn child “by other means.”

“Deliberate removal of babies, before they can survive outside the womb, is morally wrong,” Smeaton said. “That is the teaching of the Catholic Church and has been stated explicitly for well over a hundred years. And it’s been reaffirmed again and again right up to the present time.”

Joseph Meaney, director of international coordination at Human Life International, explained that ethical medical practice “involves doing the utmost to care for both mother and unborn child.”

“Everything possible must be done to assist both patients in tragic situations, and every effort at scientific progress should be made to make such vital conflicts increasingly rare,” he said.

“One of these is that a preborn child is innocent and cannot be treated as one responsible for causing harm to his/her mother,” Meaney, who is a Ph.D. candidate in bioethics at Rome’s Regina Apostolorum university, told LifeSiteNews.com.

He explained that it is “essential to have basic principles to guide us or almost anything can eventually be justified.”

The basic criterion is the principle that “a medical act may not involve the direct killing of a human being of any age.”

He went on to explain the bioethical principle of double effect that states that “an action, having foreseen harmful effects, may only be morally permissible if certain conditions apply: The act itself must be good, or at least morally neutral, it must intend the good effect and not the bad, and “the good effect should outweigh the bad effect sufficiently to justify causing the bad effect and the agent should do everything possible to minimize the harm”.

“Expelling an unborn child pre-viability is not morally good or neutral,” he said, “and thus fails to meet the criteria for a moral action.”

“Any direct killing of that child, including delivery before the baby can survive outside the womb, is morally wrong, therefore,” he said.  

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