on abortion

Words about Abortion
By the late Cardinal Thomas Winning, Archbishop of Glasgow

Over the years, the media have reported the issue of abortion much in
the way they would report a pitched battle. The pro-life lobby ‘taking
on’, ‘challenging’, or otherwise entering into mortal
combat with the pro-choice campaigners.

And for thirty years those tags have been universally accepted as shorthand
summaries of the beliefs of each side.

Yet seldom in history could a group have adopted for themselves a greater
misnomer than that chosen by the so-called advocates of choice.

Choice for them means choice to kill, to terminate, to abort. It seems
to have barely occurred to them that implicit in the notion of choice
is the fact that there is an alternative.

It was as a result of that somewhat shallow and barren level of debate
that I decided in 1997 to tackle the pro-choice lobby head-on.

Choice, after all, must mean precisely that. The choice of life as well
as death, the choice of fertility as well as sterility, the choice of
hope as well as despair.

And so it was that I made an offer to women facing crisis pregnancies.
I asked them to remember something that the ‘pro-choice’ camp
would rather they had forgotten. I asked them to remember that they did
have a choice, and that the Church was there to help them make the right

I said: ‘I issue an open invitation to any women, any family, any
couple who may be facing the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy. I strenuously
urge any person in that situation, of any ethnic background, of any faith,
from anywhere, to come to the Archdiocese of Glasgow for assistance.

  • Whatever worries or cares you may have…we will help you.
  • If you need pregnancy testing or counselling…we will help
  • If you want help to cope with raising the baby on your own…we
    will help you.
  • If you want to discuss adoption of your unborn child…we
    will help you.
  • If you need financial assistance, or help with equipment for your
    baby and feel financial pressures will force you to have an abortion…we
    will help you.
  • If you cannot face your family, or if pressure in your local area
    is making you consider abortion, come to us, we will help find you somewhere
    to have your baby surrounded by support and encouragement. We will
    help you
  • And finally, if you have had an abortion. If you are torn apart with
    guilt, if your relationship has split up because of abortion, if you
    are suffering from post-abortion stress – come to us, we will
    help you
  • Today I urge anyone in that situation…Let us help you to
    avoid making one of the biggest mistakes of your life

The word I have chosen to emphasise throughout this time has been ‘choice’.
It is the key, I think, to moving the abortion debate on to a new level.

For too long the abortion issue has become grid locked in a kind of rhetorical
war of attrition, with both sides using words in an attempt to wear down
the determination or the conscience of opponents.

Yet few people, until now, have analysed the ‘pro-life’ and
‘pro-choice’ tags with courage, thus allowing the pro-choice
myth to continue unchallenged.

The future of the pro-life struggle will involve us in a readiness to
enter into dialogue not only with the proponents of what we might call
the ‘culture of death’ – but with its victims: the young
women who turn to the abortionist’s clinic because they feel they
have no alternative.

We are unlikely to win hearts and minds by hurling insults. Far more
likely are we to have an effect if we open our hearts, our minds and our
pockets to those in genuine need.

And that is what has happened.

In year one spontaneous donations of £200,000 have been sent to
me. I made no appeal for help, no collections have been taken, no request
for funds has been made. That money has been used to provide practical
assistance to young women from near and far – assistance which has
led over 100 of them to change their minds about abortion, and choose
life rather than death for their unborn child.

And so we will continue to offer our help as a Church to those of our
children – and others – who need it. Catholics traditionally
refer to the Church as ‘Holy Mother Church’. And that title
is deeply significant.

It sums up very well one of the Church’s most profound roles –
to be, in the words of Pope John XXIII in Mater et Magistra – mother
and teacher.

But mother first, then teacher.

His successor, Pope Paul VI shrewdly observed that today’s world
is more ready to listen to the language of example than the language of
the sermon. And if the reaction to our Pro-Life Initiative is anything
to go by, Pope Paul was absolutely right.

A chord seems to have been struck. People have responded magnificently
because the Church was prepared to do what the Church does best –
show love and concern for her children.

The advocates of more abortion have had little to say about the essence
of our Initiative. Certainly some have carped about the Church’s
ability to cope; but few have dared say that the offer to help women in
distress should not have been made.

Why not?

Because, quite simply, when you have spent your life on protest marches,
walking beneath banners calling for freedom of choice, it is very difficult
to criticise a scheme which offers just what you have been asking for.

For our opponents, their words have come back to haunt them. For a woman’s
right to choose must also involve the option of choosing life.

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