The Archbishop of Freetown has spoken out against a recently passed Bill in Sierra Leone’s parliament that will legalizes abortion if it becomes law.
In his address at an interfaith summit held on 21 January in Freetown, His Grace Edward Tamba Charles gave a detailed overview of the Christian perspective on the question of abortion and reiterated the Church’s teaching that life must be protected from conception to natural death.
He said, “Contrary to its deceptive title, the Safe Abortion bill under discussion neither demonstrates respect for the life of the child and its mother nor does it guarantee their safety.”
He called for more investment in the health care delivery services especially for the pre-natal and post-natal care of women in the country.
Improvements in this area within the national primary health care programme “will guarantee a rapid decline in maternal deaths and infant mortality, whereas abortion will further increase it,” Archbishop Charles said.
The Safe Abortion Bill 2015 was passed by Sierra Leone’s parliament on 8 December, five years after campaigners began lobbying for a review of the current law in existence since 1861 which criminalises abortion.
Shortly after it was passed, Christian and Muslim leaders under the umbrella of the Inter Religious Council of Sierra Leone (IRCSL) paid a visit to President Ernest Bai Koroma to register their disapproval. On that occasion, the president who had until 6 January to sign it into law promised to send the piece of legislation back to parliament for review.
If it becomes law, the act will allow women to have an abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. After the 12 weeks, it is only allowed in the cases of rape, incest or risk to the health of fetus or mother. Girls under 18 can have an abortion only with the permission of a parent or guardian.
Archbishop Charles said at the interfaith summit that “the Christian mandate to preach Jesus Christ as the fullness of the manifestation of God as God of life impels us to oppose the bill and to demand that it be withdrawn from the files of our Parliament.”
Below is the full text of his intervention.
OPPOSITION TO THE SAFE ABORTION BILL OF 8TH DECEMBER 2015
THE CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
Opening Courtesies and Introduction
Mr Chairman; Members of the High Table and fellow Speakers; Delegates to this Interfaith Summit; Members of the Press; My Dear Brothers and Sisters!
The lot has fallen on me to present the Christian perspective on the religious leaders’ opposition to the bill with a misleading title “Safe Abortion Act, 2015” which, in my view, was passed with questionable haste on 8th December 2015. Barely a month after the World Health Organization declared Sierra Leone free of the terrible Ebola epidemic that caused the death of nearly 4,000 of our fellow compatriots – among them some of our best doctors, nurses and other health workers – and adversely affected all facets of life in this country. While this country and its people were still recovering from the effect of the Ebola epidemic, our lawmakers passed a bill that, in my view, amounts to a clear choice of the culture of death, contrary to our much treasured culture of life. It is against this background that we the religious leaders, both Christians and Muslims, in accordance with our mandate to provide a the prophetic voice for our people, are taking this initiative to register our opposition to the Safe Abortion Bill because it is represents a philosophy, a worldview and an ideology that is alien to the cultures of the people of this country and it proposes actions that are contrary to our religious beliefs and cultural values. We also do so because of our Christian missionary imperative, according to which every person, precisely by reason of the mystery of the Word of God who was made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14), is entrusted to the maternal care of the Church, the Body of Christ, which has been given the mission to preach the Gospel of Christ to all nations, indeed to the ends of the earth (cf. Mt 28:19; Mk 16:15). Therefore, every threat to life and human dignity must necessarily be felt in the Church's very heart; it cannot but affect her at the core of her faith in the Redemptive Incarnation of the Son of God, and engage her in her task of proclaiming the Gospel of life in the whole world and to every creature. (cf. Evangelium Vitae 3).
I am very much aware that there is a diversity of currents in Christianity, with equally diverse views and positions on ethical questions; therefore, one must be avoid facile or sweeping generalizations. Be that as it may, I am also aware that all Christians, whether they consider themselves or are considered by others to be liberal or conservative, we all have a common point of reference, which is the Sacred Scripture: the Bible. Therefore, the Christian perspective which I shall present in this input is very much informed by what the Bible teaches. I am therefore confident that, though this input is being presented by Catholic clergyman and with reliance of Catholic Church teachings, the representatives of the various Christian Churches, confessions and ministries at this summit would agree with is presented, because it is as biblical, as evangelical as, the position of any other “Bible-believing” Christian.
After these preliminary remarks, I shall now proceed to present the Christian perspective on the religious leaders’ opposition to the Safe Abortion Bill of 2015.
What the Sacred Scriptures Say: Life is Sacred from Conception to Natural Death
From the first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, to the last book known as the Book of Revelation or Apocalypse, God comes out clearly as a God of life, not of death; and if God causes the death of someone or some people, it is because they threatened the lives of others or even caused their death.
The Old Testament: God as God of Life and the Source of Life
The Bible begins with the accounts of creation, by which God established order in the primeval chaos. Then, as the very climax of his work of creation, God decided to make man and woman in his own image and likeness. “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness… So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them,” the Book of Genesis tells us (Gen. 1:26a-27; NRSV Catholic Edition). To highlight the importance of human beings and the special place they will hold in relation to God himself and the other creatures, God does not merely give a command, as he did when he created the lower creatures. Before creating man and women, God withdrew, as it were, into himself in order to seek the pattern and inspiration in the very mystery of his own Being, and then decided on the creation of human beings. God decided to share his very life with man and woman, so much so that they are created “in his image and likeness.” Then God blessed human beings and entrusted to us the noble task of collaborating with him to bring his creation fulfillment: “God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it…’” (Gen. 1:28). In the command to be “fruitful and multiply” we can easily see the ability to procreate, which is no small responsibility given to human beings. They are to have responsibility for life, from conception to its natural end at death (cf. Evangelium vitae [EV], 42)
The Bible leaves us with no doubt that with the fashioning of man and woman, God’s working of creation reaches its climax in terms of beauty and goodness: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). Human beings, man and woman, constitute God’s masterpiece in his art of creation.
The second creation story paints another very beautiful picture of the fashioning of woman as man’s suitable partner and helper in relation to the task of bringing God’s creation to fulfillment by way of stewardship towards to the rest of creation (Gen. 2:4b-25).
Unfortunately, the primordial peace and harmony that God desired to exist on earth among his creatures was disrupted by human rebellion against God and their desire to be gods in relation to God. On account of human rebellion against God their Creator and the conflict and disorder it engendered led to the first murder recorded in the Bible: Cain clubbed his brother Abel to death out of jealousy and the desire to dominate him. God asked Cain to give account of his brother, because Abel’s blood cried to the heavens for redress. When God asked Cain for his brother, he responded, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9). This attitude of indifference to others has been repeated in different ways down through human history, up to our time; and in my view, the laws legalizing abortion by choice around the world are expressions of this violence against life, now couched in the expression, ‘the right to choose’. Killing one’s fellow human being in its tender and defenceless stage in development has now become an expression of a right to choose!
In a primitive language referred to in literature as myth, the first chapters of chapters of the Book of Genesis make very fundamental statements about God, about human beings and their relationship with the rest of God’s creation. First of all, they tell us that God is the source of all life; therefore life is sacred to God and must be treated as such. Secondly, they tell us that human beings find fulfillment in relationship to God their Creator and within the framework of God’s plan for his creation. Thirdly, they teach us that the human being is, by nature, a social being and therefore finds fulfillment in relation to other human beings and to the rest of God’s creation. Fourthly, they affirm the dignity of woman as God’s direct creation and her sacred role to collaborate with man to bring God’s creation to ultimate fulfillment. Consequently, the right of the woman must be promoted in tandem with those of her male counterpart, especially in the management of human procreative abilities. Furthermore, it is totally unacceptable to use the misery of women in terms of high rate of infant mortality and maternal death as an opportunity to promote a culture of death that would only add to her misery.
In spite of human rebellion, God has always being engaged in human history and committed to the well-being of humans. And so he chose to associate with the people of Israel, not so much because they were the most righteous people or nation, but because, as the prophet Isaiah says, he wanted them to be “a light to the nations”, so that his “salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Is. 49:6). And so, as Scripture tells, God, by an unprecedented act of power, freed the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, led and fed them in the fierce desert, and offered them a land of their own. Through Moses, he gave them laws to govern their relationships with each other and with foreigners. Among them is the law not to kill: “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13). The law not to kill is restated alongside other laws in the Book of Deuteronomy (cf. Dt. 5:17).
The law not to kill is not directly about abortion, but it is informed by the fundamental principle stated earlier that life is sacred to God and therefore must not be destroyed at one’s will or choice. It is in this regard that demands justice in Exodus 21:22-25 when a woman miscarries as a result of a fight between two men. The guilty party has to pay compensation determined by the husband whose wife suffered miscarriage; and if the woman dies as a result of the miscarriage, the guilty shall also be put to death for destroying life.
Additional OT Text reflecting the Israelites’ appreciation of God’s work in the fashioned of each new life in the womb: Gen. 4:1, Job 31:15; Isa. 44:24; 49:1, 5; Jer. 1:5. In the call of the prophet Jeremiah God says that he knew him and consecrated him even before he or she is formed in the womb: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you...” (Jer. 1:5). God, in his divine wisdom, knows each person and consecrates him or her for his own purpose, irrespective of the circumstances of their conception or birth. Why should we thwart God’s purpose for the unborn child by aborting their pregnancy merely by the choice of the woman?
Against the background of the immense value God puts in human beings and their lives, the Old Testament prophets – especially Isaiah, Amos and Micah, referred to as prophets of social justice – condemned anyone and any situation where human beings were not treated properly. For instance, the prophet Isaiah condemned as worshipping falsely those who fast and pray but treat others unjustly (cf. Is. 58:1-18).
New Testament: Jesus Christ as the Incarnation of the God of Life
In Jesus Christ the invisible God of life assumes a human form and makes himself visible known as a God of life (cf. Col. 1:15). The Word which was with God and was God “became flesh and lived among us”, in order to empower those who believe in him “to become children of God” (Jn. 1:1, 12, 14). And so, St John concludes the Prologue to his Gospel by saying, “No one has seen God. It is the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (Jn 1:18). The New Testament teaches us that, by assuming our human nature and becoming like us in all things but sin (cf. Heb. 4:15), Jesus Christ, the Son of God raised the dignity of human beings beyond mere creatures of God to a much higher and a more noble level of children of God “by adoption” with the possibility of inheriting from God as from a father (Gal. 4:4-7).
At the dawn of salvation, it is the birth of a child – that is, the child Jesus whose birth we celebrated few weeks ago – which is proclaimed as joyful news: "I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:10-11). The source of this "great joy" is the birth of the Saviour. However, Christmas also reveals the full meaning of every human birth, and the joy which accompanies the birth of the Messiah is thus seen to be the foundation and fulfillment of joy at every child born into the world (cf. Jn 16:21; EV 1)
That is why “the Gospel of life is at the heart of Jesus' message” (EV 1). When Jesus presented the very centre of his saving mission, he said, as recorded in the Gospel of St John, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10). In truth, he is referring to that "new" and "eternal" life which consists of communion with the Father, to which every person is freely called in the Son by the power of the Sanctifying Spirit. It is precisely in this "life" that all the aspects and stages of human life achieve their full significance (cf. EV 1).
In this light, the kingdom of God which Jesus lived and preached is a kingdom of life, not of death. Therefore to enter the kingdom of God is enter into life. The miracles Jesus worked manifested of his will to life. And so his miracles take the form of restoring physical health and, as a consequence, social health as well. In a particular way, Jesus’ table-fellowship with sinners and those pushed to the margins of society restored life to those who were socially dead. Thus, connected with Jesus’ restoration is liberation from sin, from everything that prevents human beings from fully accepting the gift of divine love, along with its demands.
In his sermon on the mount, Jesus restated the commandment not to kill, expanding it to include even being angry with one’s brother or sister and even calling them fool (cf. Mt 5:21-22)
To crown it all, Jesus died on the Cross for the salvation of mankind and rose from the dead for our justification. Through Christ, death, the last enemy of humanity was defeated (cf. 1 Cor. 15:26), so that God’s gift of life may flourish both in this life and beyond the grave.
It is against this background that Christians proclaim a Gospel of life and defend the life of every individual; especially the life of the unborn child, created in the image and likeness of God and raised to the dignity of the child of God in Jesus Christ, with the offer of grace to inherit eternal. For God every human being is precious and therefore cannot be destroyed on the basis of choice.
Christian Tradition: Abortion Condemned
In continuity with the unequivocal teaching of Sacred Scripture regarding human life as sacred to God, Christian tradition has always condemned abortion. From ancient times to our contemporary age the Church’s position has not changed even in the midst of rejection and opposition. To support this point, I wish to refer to two first century documents which clearly condemned abortion. The Didache or The Teachings of the Apostles and the Epistle of Pseudo-Barnabas. The Didache states, “You shall not kill the fetus by abortion or destroy the infant already born.” In view of the existing cultural context of the gentile world where abortion was apparently common as a way to hide the fruits of promiscuity, this command unveils an already developed and operative ethical stance against abortion and infanticide by early Christians. In fact, the Christian teaching opposing the killing of the unborn child ran counter to a culture marked by general indifference to fetal and infant life. Is this the kind of situation into which our beloved nation, Sierra Leone, wants to degenerate?
In the Epistle of pseudo-Barnabas, the condemnation of abortion was based on the command of neighbourly love. The fetus was considered to be a neighbour, and therefore any direct attack on its life was considered a direct attack on one whom God has made and loved. And so the author says, “You shall love your neighbour more than your own life. You shall not slay the child by abortion. You shall not kill what is generated” (Pseudo-Barnabas 19:5). An early Church father called Tertullian spoke of the potential human person: “He who is man-to-be is man, as all fruit is now in the seed.” In later centuries Jerome and Augustine condemned abortion and wrestled with the question of ensoulment; that is, when the soul actually unites with the human body. By 450 the position of the Christian world, both in the East and West, was one clearly opposed to abortion.
In the Middle Ages, the famous theologian and philosopher, St Thomas Aquinas, taught that it was a “grave sin against the natural law” to kill the fetus at any stage, and a much graver sin of homicide to do so after ensoulment. St Thomas Aquinas even believed that intercourse during pregnancy was mortally sinful as it posed a risk of causing an abortion. In the centuries that followed the discussion on abortion did not go away, but we cannot present all here at this gathering.
Recent Church Pronouncements: Abortion as an Abominable Crime
Official Church teaching over the centuries has been unambiguous in its condemnation of abortion. For instance, in 1869 Pope Pius condemned abortion from the moment of conception as homicide and attached to the crime an excommunication (Acta Apostolicae Sedis). Terminating foetal life would be justifiable only in situations when the loss of foetal life is a secondary effect of some therapeutic procedure done to save life of the mother, e.g. the removal of a cancerous but pregnant uterus or the excision of a fallopian tube containing an ectopic pregnancy. It should be noted that the overriding motive is to save life. The question is: which life can be saved? The loss of one life is not directly willed or intended but an indirect by-product of the agent’s action to save life.
Protestant theologians too have not been silent on the question of abortion. Their voices have echoed loud and clear from the Reformation up to the twentieth century. Like their Catholic counterparts, Protestant theologians have condemned abortion, quite often putting it under the category of sins of sexual immorality.
To move a little further into the 20th Century, I wish to refer to the teaching of the famous Second Vatican Council (Vatican II, for short) held from 1962-1965. This Council marked the beginning of the Catholic Church’s renewal process in terms of openness to the modern world and being responsive to the questions of men and women of the 20th Century. Taking advantage of advances in biblical studies and greater appreciation of the writings of the early Church (known in French as Ressourcement, meaning return to the sources), Vatican II’s teachings are biblically founded and enriched by the theologies of the early Church Fathers. And so, in its reflection on the significance of the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God for human dignity, Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World stated that “only in the mystery of the incarnation of the Word does the mystery of man take on light…For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man” (Gaudium et Spes [GS] 22). Against this background the Pastoral Constitution held that “from the moment of its conception life must be safeguarded with the greatest care, while abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes” (GS 51).
Almost three years after Vatican II, on 25 July 1968, Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical letter Humanae vitae on the relation of birth. In reaction to some attempts to control population growth by different forms of birth control, Paul VI affirmed “responsible parenthood” whereby couples determine the number of children they wish to have, using the ethically appropriate means, in conformity with their biblical faith and the Church’s teaching (HV 10). In the regard, he condemned as illicit “the direct interruption of the generative process already, and, above all, directly willed and procured abortion, even if for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as licit means of regulating birth” (HV 14).
In line with the biblical teaching on the incomparable value of human life as sacred unto God, successive popes – from John Paul II through Benedict XVI to Pope Francis – have consistently condemned abortion. For instance, John Pau II in his encyclical letter Evangelium vitae (The Gospel of Life) restated human responsibility for life, arising from the divine mandate to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28) and condemned abortion as a violation of the divine commandment "You shall not kill" (cf. EV 13). Consequently, he declared further on the encyclical letter that “direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being” (EV. 62).
Permit me to conclude the review of some recent Church pronouncements on the crime of abortion by referring to the statement of present pope. In his apostolic exhortation Evangelium Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), published on 24 November 2013, Pope Francis presented anew the Church’s mandate to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in the world today as good news of salvation. In the discussion of the social dimensions of evangelization, he highlights the need to identify with the little ones and the vulnerable, especially the unborn.
Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this. Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church’s efforts to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative. Yet this defence of unborn is closely linked to the defence of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems. Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defence of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be. Reason alone is sufficient to recognize the inviolable value of each single human life, but … also … from the standpoint of faith, “every violation of the personal dignity of the human being cries out in vengeance to God and is an offence against the creator of the individual (EV 213)
Conclusion: The Christian Imperative to Proclaim the Gospel of Life and Defend the Incomparable Worth of the Human Person
In this input I have attempted to present an overview of the Christian perspective on the question of abortion. In this regard I have highlighted the biblical foundation of the Christian view of the human person, male and female, as created in the image and likeness and entrusted the task of bringing God’s creation to fulfillment. In relation to Jesus Christ, and especially in relation to the mystery of the Incarnation by which the Son of God assumed human nature, the dignity of the human person has been raised to a higher and lofty plane. Therefore, human life, from conception to natural death, is sacred to God and must be cared in a manner befitting its incomparable worth.
Contrary to its deceptive title, the Safe Abortion bill under discussion neither demonstrates respect for the life of the child and its mother nor does it guarantee their safety. Its passing will further aggravate the already desperate situation of our country’s health services. Therefore, our Christian mandate to preach Jesus Christ as the fullness of the manifestation of God as God of life impels us to oppose the bill and to demand that it be withdrawn from the files of our Parliament. Instead of a bill on safe abortion that will add on to the misery of the women of this country, I suggest that we recommend more investment in our health care delivery services; especially the pre-natal and post-natal care of our women in our national primary health care programme. Improvements in this area will guaranty a rapid decline in maternal deaths and infant mortality, whereas abortion will further increase it.
May God bless us!
Most Rev. Edward Tamba Charles
Archbishop of Freetown
21st January 2016