OTTAWA – A Sept. 7 statement by Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller clarifying whether Catholics can support so called "gestational legislation" has helped calm growing tensions within the pro-life movement.
Over the past year, support in pro-life circles across Canada has grown for a law that would prohibit abortion at later stages of pregnancy or gestation. Campaign Life Coalition, the national political arm of the movement, however, has remained staunchly opposed as have several other groups.
Both positions for or against gestational legislation are morally licit, the archbishop said.
It is "morally licit," Miller said, for Catholics to support "gestational" legislation, that is, legislation that would allow abortion in the early weeks of the unborn child's development, as a step aimed at reducing the number of abortions.
It is also licit to withhold support for such legislation "if, after prudent reflection, one is convince that it is an unwise legislative strategy," he said.
In the debate among pro-lifers, each side has accused the other of not being Christian or Catholic enough.
Those who support a law that would impose at least some restrictions on abortion say those who oppose that approach would allow a greater number of babies to be aborted.
On the other side, those who oppose any law that would reduce, but not eliminate, abortion, say those who favour such a law are not sending a clear enough message about the value of all human life from conception.
Miller's statement was quickly endorsed by Cardinal Thomas Collins on the Archdiocese of Toronto's blog and then posted on the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops' (CCCB) website.
The archbishop urges cooperation in the pro-life movement but stresses: "Cooperation does not always mean unanimity regarding a given strategy; open and civil debate about the wisdom of any specific strategy is healthy."
The Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF), co-sponsored by the CCCB and the supreme council of the Knights of Columbus, welcomed Miller's intervention.
COLF director Michele Boulva said division over the issue has preoccupied the pro-life movement with members of different groups criticizing each other's efforts to protect the unborn.
"All this hinders our chances of obtaining a law that would protect the most vulnerable of Canadians."
Two major pro-life groups on either side of the issue also welcomed Miller's statement.
Campaign Life president Jim Hughes said the archbishop makes it clear we have a de facto law by having no restrictions on abortion.
The most important part of his statement "points out that gestational legislation may or may not be the way to go," Hughes said.
Priests for Life Canada is one of many pro-life groups that would support gestational legislation.
Father John Lemire, chair of the group's board and a parish priest based in New Liskeard, Ont., said he is pleased the archbishop's statement has clarified the issue.
Priests for Life has "supported the idea that a Catholic, a Catholic politician, can in good conscience support gestational legislation," he said.
Lemire said no one who knows his organization's work can say Priests for Life does not stand up for the rights of the unborn.
The archbishop's letter may have helped shore up some of the unity within the pro-life movement that has been fragile since its inception, Lemire said.