The Right to Life: A Question of Justice

Wednesday, 09 May 2007
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Message of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family
on the occasion of the National March for Life

The Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) would like to take the opportunity of the 10th National March for Life to call upon Canadians to reconsider the inconceivable juridical void in our country which allows for the free elimination of our future citizens through abortion. We mourn the 3 million children who, over the last 36 years, have been refused the right to life in this country.

Canadians have always been a peaceful people. We have striven to build a just society that would increasingly reflect the dignity of the human person. Yet the silent violence of abortion counters this ideal and constitutes a flagrant injustice.

The first fundamental right

It is an illusion to think that the human rights of each and everyone will be respected if we do not begin by respecting the first of all fundamental rights: the right to life, which is recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 3). It is only by respecting life from its earliest beginnings until its natural end that we may hope to have the rest of our rights respected.

Since the year 2007 marks the 25th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the time has come – and is indeed 25 years overdue – to extend the protections of this document to unborn Canadian citizens. For a quarter of a century, the Charter has proclaimed the "right to life, liberty and security of the person" in accordance with the principles of "fundamental justice" for "everyone". (Section 7) It has also affirmed that "every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination" (Section 15). And yet unborn humans, whether minutes after conception or seconds away from their birth, have continued to be utterly excluded from these basic protections. 

The unborn child: a human person

Today, astonishing and abundant scientific evidence confirms the humanity of the unborn, each of whom is unique and irreplaceable. Only three weeks after conception, its heart is already beating. We have seen, at twelve to sixteen weeks, that the fetus can yawn, swallow, suck its thumb, and hiccup. It can make a fist, kick and do somersaults that are not yet felt by its mother. Modern medicine has enabled fetuses as young as 22 weeks to survive a premature birth. These babies have shown us that they can already feel pain.  Moreover, scientists now affirm with certitude that “it is not possible to accept the idea that [even] early embryos are ‘a featureless clump of cells.’”[1] This affirmation echoes that of the father of modern genetics, who discovered the chromosomal anomaly responsible for Trisomy 21, the French professor of human genetics and medical doctor Jerome Lejeune, who declared: “from the moment of fertilization, that is from the earliest moment of biologic existence, the developing human being is alive, and entirely distinct from the mother who provides nourishment and protection. From fertilization to old age, it is the same living human being who grows, develops, matures and eventually dies. This particular human being, with his or her characteristics, is unique and therefore irreplaceable.”  This wealth of information on the intrauterine development of the human being surely helps to explain the encouraging evolution of Canadian public attitudes and opinion on this subject. Reliable surveys[2] indicate that two-thirds of citizens say they are in favor of a law that would give greater protection to unborn human life, at least from a certain stage of pregnancy.

Recognizing the right to life from conception

As a civilized country, considering the knowledge that we now have about prenatal development, we cannot continue to deny the evidence: to destroy a human fetus or embryo is to prevent the birth of a unique and irreplaceable human being.

Our communities must be more creative in supporting women and couples confronted with an unexpected pregnancy. Moreover, our governments also have a crucial role to play in this area.  We need publicly funded services that offer alternatives to abortion. We need informed consent and parental notification laws. As the U.S. Supreme Court recently stated in Gonzales v. Carhart, where it upheld the federal ban on partial-birth abortion: “The government may use its voice and its regulatory authority to show its profound respect for the life within a woman.”

In fact, the fundamental principles of justice demand that our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and our laws recognize and promote the right to life of the most vulnerable among us, who are also our future: living, unborn human beings. From the first moment of its existence, the human being must be respected as a person. 

COLF is co-sponsored by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Supreme Council of the Knights of Columbus. It promotes respect for human life and dignity and the essential role of the family.

[1] Pontifical Academy for Life, The Human Embryo in its Pre-Implantation Phase (2006), 18, citing Pearson H., “What is clear is that developmental biologists will no longer dismiss early mammalian embryos as featureless bundles of cells,” in Developmental biology: your destiny, from day one, Nature (2002), 418:14-15.

[2] Environics Research Group, for LifeCanada, 2002 to 2006.