Abortion is barbaric whether carried out legally or not

Because terminations are barbaric, those who countenance them have recourse to euphemisms

Certain elements in the current abortion debate are reminiscent of a famous clash of ideas between the two Greek thinkers Heraclitus and Parmenides. The former held that only change is real; the latter that change is an illusion.

Heraclitus argued that everything is in flux; for that reason you cannot step twice into the same river. In other words, nothing retains its identity.

Fascinated that all the things of our experience exist, Parmenides argued: being is; non-being is not; change is an illusion. Between them they had created an apparently insoluble problem which blocked philosophical progress.

However, another Greek thinker, Aristotle, resolved the dilemma by his doctrine of act and potency: things are both actual – they exist – and potential – they have some unrealised capability which can come into being given adequate cause.


Though a passive and not an active power, this unrealised capability is not mere nothingness; it is a middle state between actual existence – what already exists – and nothingness.

All of this is implicit in our everyday thinking: we realise that different things do not merely exist but have different capabilities or potentialities. We know, for example, that wood is capable of being carved into a statue.

Science informs us that the zygote or fertilised ovum already has the entire genetic code of a human being. For that reason it is an actual, not a potential, human being. Although tiny, weak, vulnerable and sometimes unwanted, it is already a member of the human family. That is its identity.

Like every other human being it has rights, the first of which is the right to life.

Real aggressor

The horrendous crime of rape may result in pregnancy. When it does, some argue the foetus should be regarded as an aggressor and be expelled by abortion.

The real aggressor, however, is the rapist, not the unborn human offspring, which should not be made to pay the penalty of death for the crime of rape.

In the true Republic of Equals things are even worse: the foetus (unborn child) does not feature in the equality stakes at all!

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone told us she believes "the foetus holds the potential for human life that develops over time". This to put the cart before the horse: the actual precedes the potential, not vice versa. The foetus, the unborn child, is an actual human being with countless potentialities.

If she did not hold the views she does about abortion, her concern for "the safeguards and protection of our children" would be just what we would expect a person holding such an office to harbour. But when she speaks of such concerns with no sense of irony one cannot help thinking of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

In what has been called her keynote speech in Wexford, Zappone warned that Ireland can only become a true Republic of Equals when the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution was repealed and the State stopped treating an unborn foetus [an unborn child] as equal to a woman.

In Orwell's Animal Farm the pigs proclaim: all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. In the true Republic of Equals things are even worse than that: the foetus (unborn child) does not feature in the equality stakes at all!


Unlike material nature, which follows the laws inscribed in it without knowledge or choice, the human being enjoys autonomy: he or she has the capacity to make free moral decisions and to act on them.

We frequently read of terminating a pregnancy. We also hear that this action is merely giving women rights over their own bodies. It is reproductive justice!

Autonomy has boundaries which ought not to be transgressed; for example, thou shalt not kill. Autonomy is no myth when those boundaries are respected, as Zappone implies. Autonomy does not mean the human being is entitled to do anything he or she likes.

Euphemism is part of civilised living, but it is sometimes employed to hide wickedness or ugliness which does not bear looking at. The Nazis spoke of the final solution when they meant wiping out the Jewish people. Military personnel speak of collateral damage when referring to the people they kill and property they destroy without intending to.

Abortion is a barbaric act, whether done illegally in a back street or legally in a major thoroughfare. Because it is barbaric those who countenance it have recourse to euphemisms of various kinds.


For example, we frequently read of terminating a pregnancy. We also hear that this action is merely giving women rights over their own bodies. It is reproductive justice! Without any awareness that they are employing an oxymoron, some even speak of safe abortion!

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines a foetus as an unborn human more than eight weeks after conception. Is Ireland going to redefine it in order to be progressive and liberal?

John T Noonan, law professor at Berkeley in the US, has compared the legal dehumanisation of the unborn child in the 20th century to the dehumanisation of slaves in the 19th century.

“Can a woman forget her nursing child, or lack compassion for the child of her womb?” This was once a rhetorical question but it is no longer rhetorical, sad to say. What was once unthinkable is now common.

Fr John Joyce is a member of St Patrick's Missionary Society who has worked in Nigeria and South Africa. He now lives in Ireland