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Do the Swiss Bishops Support Abortion?
Some Thoughts on the Controversy between Them and the Initiative Funding Abortion Is a Private Matter. By Josef Seifert
Liechtenstein (kath.net) The majority of Swiss bishops and the proponents of a pro-life initiative a popular initiative named Abtreibungsfinanzierung ist Privatsache (Funding Abortion Is a Private Matter) are since last month in a clinch over the reaction of the Catholic bishops in Switzerland, who have refused to endorse this initiative. The proponents of the popular initiative charge the Catholic bishops with taking an anti-life stand or even with supporting that the murder of the unborn be financed through obligatory public health insurance, and the bishops give a number of understandable retorts why they cannot support the initiative. To anticipate the outcome of my thoughts: It seems to me to be a pity that the proponents of the initiative and the Catholic Bishops (as well as other Christian, Jewish or further communities and groups in Switzerland) have not held a meeting before this campaign in order to reach a jointly acceptable formulation and a broad full mutual support. The present dispute seems to entail unfortunate mistakes and formulations on both sides. I believe that it is not too late to repair all damage and discuss and prepare a second and clearer text of a new popular initiative that will find the support of the Swiss bishops as well as of the signatories of the initiative.
Now let me explain these thoughts on the tragic dispute:
1. The main goals of the initiative ought of course to be supported by the bishops wholly and wholeheartedly, because they are based on the fact that abortions are not a sanitary measure and cure and pregnancy is not a disease. Therefore, and because many citizens and religious communities recognize abortion to be murder, the authors of the initiative rightly demand that any funding of abortions through obligatory health insurance policies should be stopped, though they make in the legal language text of the popular initiative an exception which the bishops could not support. Clearly this deserves the full support of bishops and the critique that the Swiss bishops have not unambiguously and unanimously declared their agreement with this goal seems justified. I would think the bishops should now come up with an unambiguous and clear position against such funding of abortions. The fact that this is not the main issue, as they rightly point out, does not in any way justify expressing themselves vaguely on this issue: an absolute NO to public funding or funding of abortion through obligatory health insurance plans! should be spoken by everybody, and especially by the Catholic bishops whose obligation to speak an unconditional NO to public funding of abortions is firmly grounded in Vatican II documents and the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae and others.
2. But another matter is more complicated and the reasons why the bishops could not simply support the initiative are quite valid: The name of, and some arguments put into, the popular initiative proposed to the bishops declaration of support rendered a whole-sale support of the popular initiative through Catholic bishops truly impossible. If the bishops condemn, as they do, each abortion as a murder of an innocent human being, it is impossible for them to support the claim Funding abortion is a private affair because this would be like their having supported during the Nazi time the slogan Funding genocide is a private affair, or of their supporting now financing the killing of Swiss women is a private affair, or Financing armed bank robbery is a private affair. Declaring this financing a private matter is quite incompatible with condemning it as crime, let alone as a crime against humanity. It seems a tragic mistake that, instead of simply saying that obligatory health insurance policies MUST NOT finance abortion the initiative reads Funding abortion is a private affair, even though the text of the proposed change of the constitution does not contain this language but does contain the problematic and unclear reference to exceptional cases in which abortion could be financed through obligatory health insurance policies.
3. Moreover, some of the chief (financial) reasons for the popular initiative given by its initiators on the homepage for the initiative, are, as the bishops rightly observed, too far off the main issue and gravely misleading, even implying a kind of secret moral and legal acceptance of abortion. The popular initiative does not only list secondary but quite unworthy reasons as principal advantages of this decision: namely a) that the direct and indirect costs of public health will be reduced; and b) that the autonomous responsibility of those who have a health insurance will be strengthened, by allowing each person who wants an abortion to pay it himself or to switch to a private insurance company that finances abortion. These two arguments even seem to imply a kind of approval for a privately financed crime. Moreover, two overwhelmingly positive reasons for the initiative are mentioned only in the end: that it will secure that obligatory health insurance plans save lives and cure people instead of killing them, and that any financial appeal to have an abortion financed by obligatory health plans will stop, whereby the number of abortions will be reduced.
4. Moreover, the even more primary reasons for opposing public financing of abortion are not even mentioned in the homepage of the popular initiative, namely that the public funding of abortion violates gravely the freedom of conscience and the freedom of religion. Therefore the text should state:
c) No person who pays into public and obligatory insurance health plans ought to be obliged to support abortion, and d) No conscience which tells Swiss inhabitants that abortion is an abominable crime, must be oppressed and forced to cooperate in what is, or what they at least regard as, a crime, by indirectly financing it.
5. Thus the critique of the fathers of the initiative that Catholic bishops by their decision not to support the mix of excellent with most problematic elements of this initiative made themselves collaborators of abortion is an unjustified claim, but:
6. It is true that the bishops should wholeheartedly support the main goal and the last mentioned two and the two additional reasons for the initiative and make it wholly clear that they reject unconditionally, with the legalization of abortion, also (an against the exception clause in the proposed text of the proposed constitutional changes in the new Art. 117 Abs. 3) any financing of any abortion through public health plans (as well as through private financing, wherefore the bishops cannot make the slogan funding abortion is a private matter - that ought to be changed in a better popular initiative - their own).
7. Therefore, the bishops should declare with all possible clarity that they DO NOT, what the signatories of the initiative claim, want to finance with their health plans abortion, that is an abominable crime, as Gaudium et Spes states («Gaudium et spes», 51,3) puts it, nor permit any violation of the freedom of conscience of those who want to refuse (as the Council document «Dignitatis Humanae», 2 demands from all Catholics) to co-finance, even though indirectly, abortion. The bishops should declare themselves on this matter more clearly, and reject any such funding of abortion through public means more energetically, than those behind the initiative.
8. Moreover, in their public declaration (interview with their speaker) that they accept the pro-abortion law as a legal fact decided by the Swiss democracy, the bishops should certainly not fail to distinguish between recognizing and approving a fact. Nor ought they to avoid demanding also a change of law on abortion instead of contenting themselves with a mere change of attitude. Thus they should clearly exclude or revoke any misinterpretation of the statement their speaker Mr. Müller made in their name: Uns geht es in erster Linie um einen Gesinnungswandel, nicht um einen Rechtswandel. (We are primarily interested in a change of attitude, not in a change of law). This sounds very much like the fatal slogan helping instead of punishing, which does not consider that punishment of a crime IS a primary way of helping potential victims as well as perpetrators of any crime, as the brother of the Swiss bishops in their holy office, the Austrian bishop Andreas Laun, has shown in an excellent article available on internet: stjosef.at/dokumente/helfen-strafen-laun.htm., and as Dostoyevsky has admirably described in the chapter milieu of his diary of a writer.
For it is a most fundamental duty of the state to protect each human life also by laws; and the idea of being able to help victims of crimes equally efficiently without the help of the law is a pure illusion.
9. Thus I wish to propose that the bishops unite themselves with those who promoted the initiative, not remaining silent and through their silence co-operators with the crime of abortion, and that they search jointly for a formulation of a new popular vote (since the present one has already been validly proposed to the parliament/Nationalrat), a text both parties can agree on, instead of giving the public impression of letting the good pro-life people down, and, worse than any impression, actually doing it.
10. Since a vote on the popular initiative is expected only for 2014, it is not too late, I believe, that the people behind the initiative should do now what they should have done in advance: namely consult with the bishops and come up with a text of a new popular initiative - that may drop (for the reason of its present political unrealizability) any reference to, or just demand of, a change of law, but - that avoids the above-mentioned mistakes and thus be acceptable to all who fight for the dignity of each human life and against the crime of abortion as well as against the crime of oppressing moral consciences and religious beliefs. The necessary change of the text that is a condition of the bishops support, should minimally not present financing abortion privately as an acceptable thing or make the false statement funding abortion is a private matter, which the bishops of course cannot and should not support.
Professor Dr. Dr. habil. Josef Seifert, Founding Rector and President of the Senate of the IAP: International Academy of Philosophy in the Principality of Liechtenstein (and at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, and presently in Granada, Spain IAP-Instituto de Filosofía Edith Stein) and ordinary member for life of the Pontifical Academy for Life.
2. The Text of the popular initiative as submitted to the parliament reads:
Foto Professor Seifert: (c) kath.net
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