LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A new pro-life office in the Archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, the first such office in a Scottish diocese, aims to promote a pro-life consensus in the country.
Archbishop Leo Cushley launched the new office May 29 as part of an overall reform of his diocesan curia in order to make it more fit for the purpose of the “New Evangelization” in traditionally Christian – but increasingly secularized – countries.
“The Catholic Church would propose that every human life has an innate dignity, worth and beauty that should be upheld, protected and cherished and also that abortion is never the best outcome for either that unborn life, its mother or for the wider common good of us all – over the past half century there are countless families who can testify to that – it’s not an ethical standpoint that is dependent on Christian injunction but can, and often is, shared with people of all faiths and none,” Cushley told Crux.
In general, abortion legislation is Europe is not as permissive as in the United States. Abortion is legal until the 24th week of pregnancy in Scotland, although several exceptions exist which allow the procedure after that date.
Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland, and home to the Scottish Parliament, which has power to make laws in all areas that are not reserved to the UK national parliament in London.
In 2016, legislative authority for abortion law within Scotland was transferred from London to Edinburgh.
In 2017, the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, agreed to use government funds to meet the costs of any woman from Northern Ireland – where abortion is for the most part illegal – who wished to travel to Scotland to procure an abortion.
The same year, the Scottish government announced it would permit women to take the so-called ‘abortion pill’ at home – the only jurisdiction in the UK to allow this – although this is currently being challenged in the courts.
Cushley said the new pro-life office would aim to build a “democratic consensus” around “legislative change” in Scotland.
However, political advocacy is not at the heart of the office; it is essentially a network of volunteers operating at the local level across the archdiocese’s 103 parishes. The head of the office, Paul Atkin, is himself a volunteer.
The archdiocese is also currently talking to the Glasgow-based Sisters of the Gospel of Life with a view to providing greater practical support to mothers in crisis-pregnancy situations.
“The Pro-Life Office will be a coordinating hub within the archdiocese for pro-life issues and a vital link with our parishes, disseminating information, ideas and encouragement,” said Father Jeremy Milne, the archdiocese’s Vicar Episcopal for Marriage and Families.
Coincidentally, the official launch of the Pro-Life Office took place in the wake of the May 25 abortion referendum in the Republic of Ireland, which had been followed closely by many Scottish Catholics, the majority of whom have family ties or roots in Ireland.
Over 66 percent of the Irish voters endorsed ending the country’s constitutional protections for the unborn child, which was seen as a crushing blow for the pro-life movement in Europe.
“One of the many lessons of the recent referendum in Ireland is that those of us who seek to promote a ‘culture of life’ have a distance to go in terms of winning over hearts and minds to the pro-life cause and that, really, is one of the key tasks of our new Pro-Life Office: To articulate the case for life in a way that is compassionate, coherent and, hopefully, compelling while also providing practical, pastoral care to families and mothers who find themselves in very vulnerable situations,” Cushley told Crux.
“Whether it be in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland or Scotland, legislative change will only follow the building of a democratic consensus around a culture of life, and that will only come if those of us who are pro-life can articulate our case with an intellectual coherence that is coupled to a deep compassion for mothers, children, families and the common good of wider society,” the archbishop said.
Last year, the United Kingdom marked the 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act 1967, which legalized the procedure in England, Scotland, and Wales. In that time, it is estimated that 9 million abortions have been performed in the United Kingdom, with 1 in 5 pregnancies ending in termination.