S African history casts light on issue of abortion

Tue, Oct 30, 2012, 00:00

RITE & REASON:The moral arguments used to demolish white supremacy can defend the rights of the unborn

ON A recent visit to Ireland, I became aware of the intense debate about the legalisation of abortion.

Having been in South Africa as a missionary since 1958, I believe there are lessons to be learned from the apartheid experience which can help in dealing with abortion. Apartheid was a form of legalised racism introduced by the newly elected white minority government in 1948 and vigorously implemented for more than 40 years.

They called it “separate development” and promised it would enable the different African tribes to develop in accordance with their own cultures in their traditional small rural “homelands” comprising less than 15 per cent of the land.

The blacks became the victims of a vast series of discriminatory laws affecting every aspect of their daily lives, purely on the basis of race and colour.

The real aim of the government was to ensure white supremacy for as long as possible and it succeeded for several decades mainly through a brutal security system.

It was also helped by the fear of communism as some countries in the region, having achieved independence, came under strong Marxist influence and experienced political unrest and economic decline.

South Africa wasn’t the first country to discriminate against a section of its population under the cloak of law. Already in 1857, the American Supreme Court ruled that blacks were not persons according to the constitution. People commonly assume that once something is made legal then it must be all right even if it had always been regarded as wrong. Many white people, while benefiting from apartheid, also agonised over the morality of it, seeing it as a necessary evil.

Over many years, resistance built up internally and externally. The world responded with ever-increasing moral indignation against such a gross violation of human dignity and human rights.

Eventually the country threw off the shackles of apartheid and took its place in the world as a democratic nation under the leadership of Nelson Mandela.

Like apartheid, abortion is often defended as a necessary evil as when someone says in all sincerity, “Personally I’m totally against abortion but I can’t impose my views on others. For those who want abortion, we should legalise it to make it safe.”

Nobody would use this kind of reasoning to accept other evils such as racism, rape, trafficking of women, sexual abuse of children and torture just because people are going to engage in these activities anyway. No law can make a bad deed into a good one or a crime into a right.

Apartheid was blatant discrimination against the dignity of a large section of the population but abortion is something much more evil. It is the worst possible form of discrimination because it enables mothers and medical practitioners to legally take away the lives of countless innocent unborn babies – up to 50 million worldwide every year, equal to the population of South Africa.

Eventually the world rejected apartheid as morally repugnant and unworthy of human beings and civilised societies. For the same reasons, more and more people, especially young ones, some of whom have lost brothers and sisters through abortion, are taking a stand against it and are promoting pro-life activities.

A prominent South African spoke of three laws: God’s law, man’s law, and the devil’s law which was apartheid. Abortion is also the devil’s law. Today many look to Ireland as a beacon of hope in ridding the world of abortion which Blessed John Paul II called “a war of the powerful against the weak”, “a conspiracy against life” and “a culture of death”.

Bishop HUGH SLATTERYis a member of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart congregation and bishop emeritus of Tzaneen in South Africa

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