The normal human response to a pregnancy is joy mingled with awe.
Of course, along with this, there are often other reactions as well. In the first pregnancy, as they approach the unknowns of childbirth and parenthood, there may be concern, even fear, for both the expectant mother and for the father.
During later pregnancies there might be strong misgivings at the prospect of more work, additional expense, new responsibility. But, in the normal human response, these are far outweighed by wonder and excitement, at the marvel of participating in the creation of new human life.
This is not only a marvel of biology. A man and a woman conceiving a child are co-operating directly with God the Creator.
This is why the most precious thing in the world is a human being. There are other precious things which must also be valued, protected and fostered: great works of art; fine houses; beautiful scenery; the animals on which we depend for survival; as well as the blessings we receive through the natural gifts of earth, fire and water. But completely above the value of all these in the eyes of God and in the eyes of all is the value of every human life.
To Christians, the source of this value is the fact that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God; not mass-produced like so many thousand photographs mechanically run from a single negative. Each human is a unique masterpiece, yet each is a likeness of God individually and separately hand-drawn by the Creator and destined, through union with Christ, to live forever.
Today, our country is greatly influenced by the view that a pregnancy need be nothing more than an easily disposable nuisance and that parenthood is primarily a burden. This sour negative reasoning is supported by the attitude that married couples may be "child-free" - not childless, which is often a most unhappy condition for loving people - but "child-free", which is a selfish concept indeed.
In the long run, that philosophy will fail. It tries to wipe out some of the richest certainties of adult experience and fulfillment for both father and mother. In the short term, however, this negative philosophy is exerting powerful, persuasive and well-financed efforts to create an anti-life mentality in New Zealand society. It brings strong social pressure to bear on women, telling them that if they go on with an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy they are simple-minded and gullible. This denies the child's right to live and diminishes the nobility of women and of motherhood.
We accept as a duty - because we are Christians - a more vigorous concern for human rights and justice. As Bishops, we make no apology for being known to champion the weak, the unwanted and the defenceless.
So we speak out once more in defence of the unborn child's right to life. This is the greatest human rights issue confronting New Zealand in our day.
NO HUMAN BEING IS AS DEFENCELESS AS AN UNBORN CHILD, YET THERE IS NONE AT GREATER RISK IN NEW ZEALAND TODAY.
New Zealanders readily condemn as unnecessary and irresponsible the high annual death rate on our roads.
But surely there is a greater tragedy in moral and social terms in the toll of nearly 10,000 abortions for the year 1987-88.
For the 1988 calendar year the number of people killed on our roads was 727.
These deaths were accidental. But, death by induced abortion is always planned and deliberate. STATISTICALLY, THE MOST DANGEROUS PLACE FOR A NEW ZEALANDER IS A MOTHER'S WOMB.
Every human being has an inviolable right to life. Rich or poor, strong or weak, young or old, born or unborn, every human life is sacred.
The directly intended killing of any innocent human being is always wrong. Nothing can ever justify it. It is urgent to proclaim this truth in season and out of season, welcome or unwelcome.
But words are not enough.
This human right to life, under threat as it is, needs to be fully recognised and more strongly protected by the law.
We applaud those groups who are using their rights as citizens in a democracy to organise political support for this great cause.
We congratulate those Parliamentarians who are determined to have enshrined in our laws full recognition and protection of this most fundamental human right.
They often have to show considerable political courage.
We admire the bravery of those many other people in public office who, as champions of the weak and most defenceless, accept ridicule and contempt. Their efforts are in contrast to the unthinking and untenable actions of those who would seek total freedom within the law to do as they wish with the unborn. To speak as though killing a child in the womb could be anyone's right is an extraordinary perversion of truth. No one has the right to kill another innocent person for any reason whatever. To hide behind euphemisms and ambiguities is dishonest and cowardly.
"Termination of pregnancy" is just another cover-up term for taking the life of another person. When the Supervisory Committee speaks openly of "pseudo-legal" abortions in New Zealand, the judgement of some of those who decide on abortion is clearly in question.
For all her passionate concern for the unborn the attitude of the Church is at the same time one of understanding and compassion for the pregnant woman. It takes great moral and physical courage to go on with an experience of such magnitude as pregnancy and childbirth when, all around, social pressures are urging her to "get rid" of "it". We wish to defend both the rights of the child and the rights of the mother. The dignity of motherhood demands support and encouragement from everyone. Here again, words are not enough. The Church throughout New Zealand offers many pregnancy support services.
We hope to see these increasingly integrated with adoption services. Adoption is a superb word for practical Christian love.
The widespread, informal campaign designed to belittle the loving practice of adoption simply increases our determination to speak in its favour. We are resolved, further, to build up professional, dedicated, Christian-motivated services which provide a continuity of care and support from conception through pregnancy to birth and beyond. We will never rest content with the Church's effort in this whole field until every pregnant woman - married or single - can readily obtain all the professional and practical assistance, and all the human companionship and encouragement which she needs to help her have her baby.
The Unborn Life
It is providential that just when the attack on the unborn child's right to life is gathering momentum, recent scientific research is able to illustrate so clearly that the foetus is new, separate, alive and human; a real person, endowed with all the inalienable human rights, but so very vulnerable. Modern technology has brought this home to thousands of ordinary, non-scientific people. Through new techniques of colour photography people are seeing for themselves the development of the human individual following conception. They see the unborn child's own separate response to the stimulus of light and sound, and of pain and discomfort.
Thanks to other remarkable techniques, many people have heard for themselves a recording of the unborn child's separate heartbeat, and so come to a new realisation that a new human is living and growing in the womb. It is most desirable that everything possible be done throughout the Church, and throughout New Zealand to present this evidence to everyone who is willing to consider it. It should be a matter of deep concern to all that some refuse even to look at the evidence of science.
That evidence is so telling, and becoming so widely known, that anti-life people are being forced to shift their ground. Many of them now feel constrained simply to assert that, in some situations, killing the innocent is justified.
Often the motivation is concern for the mother or for the child.
BUT THE END (someone else's health, convenience, avoidance of pain) DOES NOT JUSTIFY THE MEANS (killing the innocent party).
No doctor and no mother and no one else has the right to play God by selecting who shall live and who shall die.
In fact, God is not like that either. God cares personally and eternally for every individual person even if they are maimed or deformed or born out of marriage or even conceived in rape. Indeed, can we really protest against the injustice of rape - as we must - if we are willing to condone the injustice of killing the child?
And there are other sinister developments. Some cast doubt on the right to life of the newborn disabled baby, and of others who are incurably sick and old, and of those whose lives - they judge - are "no longer useful to society or meaningful to themselves".
These and other anti-human, anti-personalist movements will grow unless there is unequivocal recognition of the sacredness of life. As we write, news of drug-induced home abortions being developed for worldwide distribution adds yet another chapter to the chronicle of destruction that is being promoted in the guise of social progress. Is New Zealand any better off for having killed some 100,000 unborn children in the last 20 years? With all our resources and skills could we not have found non-lethal alternatives? To countenance deliberate abortion even as a means to an end and deplore other forms of violence is moral hypocrisy.
Peace … Hope
Finally, as priests of Jesus Christ and ministers of his Gospel, we reach out with hope to the many women who have already experienced abortions. In his ministry as pastor, the priest knows many such women. But he knows, too, they are rarely mindless, or vicious, or callous. They are often victims of fear or social pressure. Many are tormented with guilt at the memory of what they have done.
But Jesus, who died for all sin, revealed a God of mercy and forgiveness. Pardon awaits every sinner whose sorrow is true. The sin of abortion was not excluded when Jesus told us that there is joy in heaven over every sinner who repents. He came into the world to save sinners. To that company we all belong.
The Good News is that God's gifts of grace and mercy are greater than our sins. Abortion does not fall beyond the merciful providence of God: His tender mercies are over all his works. Once a human life is conceived, it is irrevocably destined for ultimate immortality. Abortion denies to human life the decades of normal conscious development on earth, but does not simply blot it out of existence. Each of these little ones is embraced by God's love. God wants everyone to be saved, and does not exclude those who are innocent of any personal sin.