Sir, - In his article on abortion (December 15th), Fr. Seán Fagan SM assumes that there are cases where a pregnant mother's life can be saved only by an abortion, and claims that in such cases the unborn child is a "harmful" aggressor who may rightly be killed in self-defence. Neither claim holds water.
Even assuming that there are cases where the woman might die, it is outlandish and false to compare an unborn child to a homicidal manic. Outlandish - because it implies that a foetal kick is a form of aggression. It is false because, while the homicidal manic is not responsible for his action, he (unlike the foetus) is performing an action. And underlying his lashing out is some intention of causing hurt, even though he has no understanding of the lethal consequences of what he is doing. Such action is lawless and wrong, regardless of the degree of personal culpability, since killing people is (generally) wrong. But the unborn child is not trying to hurt anybody, since it can neither intend nor act.
A better analogy would be a lorry-driver accidentally reversing over a pedestrian. Unlike the maniac, his action is not intended to hurt. No sane person would think it moral to shoot the driver in order to save the pedestrian.
In any case, the assumption that abortion is necessary to save women's lives does not hold in today's world, nor does Fr. Ryan cite any medical sources to back it. As non-medics, what has carried weight with us is the repeated testimony of the Irish medical profession that there are no circumstances in which an abortion is medically necessary. In consequence, his assumption has to be seen as confusingly emotive, since it conjures up a mirage of women in danger of death for want of an abortion. - Yours, etc. Seamus Murphy SJ, (Lecturer in philosophy, Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy) Edmond Grace SJ, Bernard J. McGuckian SJ, St Francis Xavier Church, Gardiner Street, Dublin 1.