In Dublin’s fair city, the decision has been made : abortion is now legal in the Green Isle. Catholic Ireland, as of yesterday, has finally joined the rest of the world (practically) in approving the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy. Irish women who abort no longer face fourteen years in prison.
Three years before I definitively returned to France, the sole woman in the French Parliament succeeded in getting her abortion bill approved (1975). The late Simone Veil, a survivor of the Shoah, the modern “valiant woman”, remains the quintessential feminist. France had been slow in giving women the right to vote (1945). But for over forty years French women have had the right to terminate their unwanted pregnancy. Australia was the second nation in the world, after its cousin across the Tasman Sea, to let the other half of its population vote (1902). First approved in Victoria in 1969, abortion is legal in Australia, though laws vary from State to State.
Few of us realize how far we have come in recognizing women’s rights over their own bodies. When I was a kid Down Under (some seventy years ago) – “in my time”, as my fellow ole fogies would say – the sale and use of the contraceptive pill, legalized in France in 1967, were condemned by the Catholic Church as a mortal sin. Australian Catholic chemists – our word for pharmacists – had serious conscience problems, as did countless Australian Catholic women. In the late sixties even confessors, “sub rosa”, opted for a broad-minded acceptance of a practice that quickly became quasi-universal. But abortion – the ultimate extreme in contraception – is still a stumbling block for some Catholics, both men and women. However the Pro-Life movement is fighting a losing battle, and before too long abortion will be no more a hang-up, even for Catholics, than “artificial” contraception.
The Church has always been dead-wrong about sex. It used to teach that spermatozoa were “homunculi” (“little men”) – which goes a long way towards explaining why it taught that not only abortion from the moment of conception, but even masturbation and coitus interruptus, are equivalent to … murder ! Its imposition of clerical celibacy in the 12th century finds its roots in a millennium of teaching that sexual pleasure was, if not a sin, a distasteful, disgusting dimension of intercourse that could at best be tolerated only as a “secondary” end of marriage – and only in marriage – the procreation of children being its principal, God-given purpose. This is what I was taught in the seminary and what is still the official doctrine of the Church, which, however, has lost whatever credibility it might have had in decreeing do’s and don’t’s in sexual morality, thanks to the revelations, notably in Ireland, of priests’ pedophilia.
The Church has egg on its face and sperm on the pants of its pedophile priests. Holy Mother Church should stick to promoting the recitation of the Rosary and the blessing of Miraculous Medals.