YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – A newly proposed sexual reproductive health law is causing concerns for the bishops of the Ivory Coast, and a warning against “powerful and wealthy donors” having undue influence in the country.

The bill would decriminalize abortion in the West African country, as well as legalize invitro fertilization and other medically assisted procreation.

“After a careful reading of the draft bill on sexual and reproductive health, we, your archbishops and bishops; your spiritual guides of the Catholic Church in the Ivory Coast, want to … make some observations in the light of the Catholic faith, and of morality,” the bishops said in a July 6 statement.

“The Catholic Church condemns all that is opposed to life,” said Bishop Antoine Koné of Odienné, the president of the Episcopal Commission on Pastoral Affairs, at a press conference announcing the statement.

While noting that science and medicine are critical to the wellbeing of the human person, the bishops warned against any attempt to tamper with human life.

“No biologist or medical doctor has the right to claim to decide on the origin of, and destiny of man in the name of his/her scientific competence. This norm should particularly apply to the domain of sexuality and procreation, where the man and woman put in place the fundamental values of love and life,” the bishops’ statement said.

“Our concerns are all the more justified because today human and social progress is marked by the development of research in the field of genetics, medicine and biotechnologies applied to humans. These are sectors of great importance for the future of humanity, but in which also evident unacceptable abuses are known,” they continued.

The bishops said life begins from the moment of conception, and from that moment, “the life of every human being has to be absolutely respected,” because each person is on earth as the unique creature that God “wanted for himself,” comprising “God’s creative act.”

“No one, in any circumstance, can arrogate to themselves the right to directly destroy an innocent human being,” the statement continued, adding that the voluntary termination of pregnancy is the “deliberate and direct killing of a human being in the initial phase of its development. In this light, abortion can never be a painless solution for the mother and the child.”

The question of contraception

The proposed legislation would not only decriminalize abortion, it would also give universal access to contraception for children 16 and under.

But the bishops said that the use of contraceptives as provided for by the draft law also clashes with Catholic moral teaching.

They said encouraging young people to use contraceptives risks forging a culture “of sexual licentiousness and the flight of procreative responsibilities.”

The bishops also expressed concerns that such a development could put to question “the morality of marital sex and offer justification to the politicization of plans to limit births.”

Some West African parliamentarians, including Ivory Coast, are now taking steps to slow population growth.

In July last year, they met  in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, for a conference on health and family planning and committed to allocating 5 percent of national budgets to family planning programs in order to cut birth rates in the region down to three children per woman by 2030, down from 5.6 children, the current rate.

“If there are millions more people who are dependents than there are people who are actively working, it’s clear that no matter our economic growth, we will not reduce poverty” said the head of the West African parliamentary group on population growth, Dr. Ousseni Tamboura, who is the vice president of Burkina Faso’s parliament.

But the Ivorian Bishops do not agree that laws allowing for abortion and greater access to contraception are the answer.

“What we want to say forcefully, as many pontifical documents have said, is that, never and under no circumstances, shall abortion be used; neither by a family nor by a political authority as a legitimate way of regulating population growth,” they said.

The bishops called on the various stakeholders “to take their responsibilities before history in order to safeguard human life in the face of a veiled but real threat.”

They also warned against the actions “of powerful and wealthy donors, to oblige developing countries to accept secularized practices in human sexuality, life, family and even fundamental anthropology, as a condition of receiving development aid.”