Ethics Letters Politics The Church in Scotland

Abortion and the Catholic Midwives – Letter in Scotsman

The following letter was printed in todays Scotsman (20th December 2014)

I find it interesting that Neil Barber of the Edinburgh Secular Society insists that medical professionals should “leave their religions in the changing room” and Alistair McBay of the National Secular Society wants to ensure that “public services in Scotland will not be organised around the religious dogma of one or two individuals” (Letters, 19 December).

Apart from the fact that “religion” is not something we put on or off like clothing, and the fact that there are far more than “one or two” Catholics in Scotland, both these secularists are missing the real elephant in the room.

Why should their religious or philosophical view be the only one allowed in public life in Scotland?

The secularists are a tiny group in comparison with the Catholic Church and yet they insist that the whole of society must be governed according to their views. In this area at least there are many of us in the Protestant churches who stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our Catholic sisters and brothers in supporting their right to religious freedom and not to participate in what we see as state-sanctioned killing of human life.

The arrogance and intolerance of the secularists is becoming more and more evident in Scottish society. It’s time for those of use who value freedom, diversity and human life to stand up for what remains of our Christian value system.

David Robertson

You can read the original here (and see the comments afterwards) –


    1. David Robertson asked, “Why should their religious or philosophical view be the only one allowed in public life in Scotland?”

      MGordon42 purported to answer, “Society ought to be governed by people using things like evidence rather than religious faith. That’s why.”

      The “answer” offered doesn’t strike me as an actual answer to the actual question posed.

  1. I would be unable to participate in the delivery of abortion services because of my conscience. However, it merely my belief in the equality of all humans that informs my belief that abortion is wrong, without the need for any belief in God on my part. The victim of abortion is the equal of the perpetrator. That is all I need to keep in mind. Equality is s gold-standard secular principle that runs through the jurisprudence of modern, post-Christian, liberal democracies like the lettering in a stick of rock. It is a *simple* idea, and the wrongness of abortion flows naturally from it. I do not need to believe in God to understand that I should not participate in the abortion industry, and nor does any secularist.

    The spokesmen for the National Secular Society are clearly confused, and speaking ultra vires. They do not speak for secularists in general. They specifically alienate pro-life secularists, and they alienate secularists of faith, by attacking faith, accusing faith of demanding privileges that faith is not demanding.

    I would not have supported the midwives if they had asked for special privileges because they were Roman Catholics. But that is not what they asked for. What they asked for was merely a right that I supposed them already to have by express statutory provision in the Abortion Act 1967, the right to conscientious objection, without having to say a single word about what role if any any religious beliefs they might have had played in informing their consciences, exempting them from participating in the abortion industry, exactly as a pacifist is exempted from participating in the waging of war.

    Belief in God is completely unnecessary for the rational mind to work out that abortion is a great wrong. The only difference that belief in God can make to the individual, is conferring added incentive for doing good and eschewing wrong-doing, and (a believer would claim, controversially) added *ability*, through the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

    1. This is an unusual attitude. While belief in God only undermines the primacy of equality, to embrace the simplistic anti-abortion stance it is necessary to accept that full humanity is conferred at the moment of conception. This may be instinctively appealing to males (it’s no coincidence that the most vociferous anti-abortionists are all men) but it can’t be justified rationally. It’s pretty clear development is a continuous process – the issue of identical twins shows that the determination of an individual human being occurs well after conception. The religious patriarchy’s attempt to elevate conception to divine status (impregnating virgins is standard behaviour for gods!) shows them to be in the image of their simian ancestors, driven by the same evolutionary instinct to control reproduction through control of females.

      Given the ambiguity of the situation, on what grounds can you overrule the judgement of the woman involved – who is far closer to the actual circumstances and consequences than you or David Robertson could ever be? Whatever the traumas of abortion, around 95% of women who choose one are satisfied that they made the right choice in the long term. Robertson cares nothing about them because of his certainty in his position – can you really get that sort of certainty without religious faith?

      Can you clarify how the NSS have betrayed any principle of secularism here? It is obvious that in general employees cannot be allowed to dictate the terms of their employment. What the midwives were demanding here went beyond the concession negotiated – just as a CO cannot refuse to pay taxes on the grounds that they may be used to buy weapons. The NSS campaign dispassionately for fairness in society, not privilege for their membership, which is why they invariably speak for the majority position among the non-aligned – and I don’t see any evidence of confusion here.

      1. David Hitchcock – what an interesting post – a few comments:

        1) Full humanity conferred? When do you think that is? And what do you mean by it?
        2) Is it solely the womans choice? Is there not another body involved? Another person? And why limit the choice? Why not have ‘post birth’ abortion as some are now arguing?
        3) You seem very certain of your own position – so much so that you can judge the motives and desires of others – “Robertson cares nothing about them’ – since when were you omniscient?!
        4) Employees cannot dictate the terms of their employment? Wonderful mantra of the slave holding capitalist classes! You do realise that these women had been midwives for over 20 years before their job was changed? They have every right to stand up for their rights and for the rights of the unborn child. Or in your black and white world does employment law (obviously made by employers as workers don’t have the right to dictate the terms of their employment) trumps everything? ‘I was only doing my job’ is an old and useless moral defence!

        5) I love your faith. The NSS ‘campaign dispassionately for fairness in society’! Nope. What they do is campaign passionately for the removal of religion from society (this is what they call ‘fairness’). They want everyone to be governed and educated according to their beliefs, and their beliefs alone. Its a strange definition of ‘fairness’ but I guess when you enter the world of post-modern atheism words mean whatever you want them to mean!

      2. David Hitchcok, there is nothing in the least “unusual” about my “attitude”. Mine is the rational argument against abortion, from the legal doctrine of the equality of all individuals, that every pro-lifer advances. You may not have understood the argument before, but you have almost certainly come across it many times in your life by now.

        David Hitchcock, the flaw in your argument, if one can all it an argument, is your concept that there is such a thing as humanity that isn’t (as you put it) “full humanity”.

        At one level, it is fact of basic biology that, physically speaking, humans are *individuals*. The Occam’s Razor default position – the rationalist or materialist position that metaphysics tells us nothing that physics could not tells us – must surely be that, metaphysically too, we humans are therefore just as much individuals “metaphysically” as we are (beyond question) individuals physically speaking.

        On this view, no human is ever a fraction of a human. Humanity is always “full humanity”. Humanity simply isn’t divisible in the way that you would like it to be. That indivisibility of humanity is what lies at the root of the whole concept of individuality.

        Admittedly there are various weird and wonderful metaphysical views out in the world (and you have expressed one of them, David) that contradict the Occam’s Razor-simple metaphysical theory of the human as a every bit as much a metaphysical individual, as biology proves that he or she is an individual physically, throughout his or her entire life. But the midwives consider these alternative metaphysical views all to be religious or quasi-religious mumbo-jumbo that the science of biology has more-or-less refuted, to their minds. Their belief is that what biology has proven at the physical level (that the human is an individual, whose humanity is indivisible, not a cluster of cells, or a blob of tissue), is also what is true at the metaphysical level to which you make your appeal, where the “facts” are the opposite of what the physical facts are to a biologist, or a health professional, wearing his or her scientist’s hat so-to-speak.

        There is certainly no observable event or process of ensoulment. None of the ensoulment superstitions held by various people (even your own) are falsifiable. They are purely metaphysical beliefs, akin to religious beliefs, requiring blind faith of their believers, like your own faith in what you believe, which is has traditionally been called the doctrine of “ensoulment”.

        What you are doing, therefore, is merely arguing for is the supremacy of one particular metaphysical belief (and a complicated one at that) over the view that says that the scientific view of humanity is correct metaphysically too (a far simpler believe than yours, requiring less courageous faith than yours). You believe in ensoulment subsequent to conception, for which there is no scientific evidence. There is, and never could be, a scientific experiment that could settle the metaphysical question one way or another, as to whether ensoulment was a real event or process (as you consider it to be), or a mere superstition invented to justify killing one’s “enemies” (though why anybody should perceive innocent little foetuses as their *enemies* is quite baffling to me).

        Secular society ought not to be organised preferentially towards metaphysical beliefs of minorities, especially beliefs as weird and out-dated as ensoulment, and especially minorities that say, “Whereas science teaches this, we believe that what is ‘really’ true, at a deeper, metaphysical level, is the exact opposite of what science teaches is true at the physical level.”

        The midwives who do not wish to participate in the delivery of abortion services, do not believe in ensoulment, as you do. A disbelief in ensoulment is the core belief of an anti-abortionist. The midwives therefore have a rational conscientious objection to participating in the delivery of services that involve killing those whom they perceive (as do biologists) as just as much individual humans as they themselves are.

        We who are anti-abortion would like our shared core belief that humanity is indivisible, because there is no ensoulment, to gain supremacy, so that those who wanted to kill foetuses were no longer allowed to by law. Those who are pro-abortion would like their core belief that humanity is divisible, because they believe in ensoulment, would like their belief (which I personally find less rational than that of the midwives and myself) to gain supremacy, to such an extent that those who refused to participate in killing foetuses were no longer allowed to refuse, by law. Let us not pretend that either side is content to tolerate the other. One side loses sleep at the thought of abortionists getting away with murder, out of empathy for their victims rather than resentment of the pleasure that killing brings to abortionists. The other lot loses sleep at the thought of certain midwives getting away with refusing to become accomplices to that murder, shirking their responsibility doing their bit for the national war effort, in a war in which the enemy, foetuses, is portrayed as sub-human, or not “fully human” as you put it. Both sides are intolerant of dissidence.

        Your enthusiasm for abortion (f only that it should remain a lawful choice) is based upon your belief in ensoulment. Our opposition to abortion, and conscientious objection to participation in the abortion industry, is based upon our disbelief in ensoulment.


        If the argument for abortion was not based upon the superstition of the ensoulment myth that you favour, but on another superstition, that sacrificing children made the crops grow because it pleased the gods, so that the utilitarian calculus favoured legalising this form of child sacrifice, what sort of argument would you accept against abortion? I suspect you would accept the argument that there was no scientific evidence that these abortions were making the crops grow better. You ought therefore to accept the argument that there is no scientific evidence for ensoulment. But I doubt you will, having pinned your colours to the ensoulment theory mast so publicly.

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