Thu | Jun 17, 2021

Kenneth Richards | Abort that thought

Published:Friday | July 5, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Kenneth Richards

One of the difficult instances presented as justification in support of procuring an abortion, at least within 12 weeks, is where conception results from rape, especially if the victim is a young child.

Instinctively, the supporters for abortion in this situation are rightly concerned about the trauma the victim experiences. So advocates for abortion, under such circumstance, feel justified in their conviction, because they conclude it is unreasonable, unfair, and repulsive to ask the victim to carry to term and safeguard a human life conceived under such circumstances.

Furthermore, they may posit that the motivation in this situation is not based on purely selfish reasons or out of ­convenience, but to ‘repair’ an injustice.

The Catholic Church acknowledges that if pregnancy occurs as a result of sexual assault, the knee-jerk reaction to procure abortion will not resolve the psychological impact of the bad experience for the victim. Of course, some persons sympathising with the victim will feel that an abortion to remove the biological consequence of the unjust sexual assault is justified.

As an alternative, the Catholic Church has intervention programmes that address the variables and dynamics of the emotional reaction and response elicited in a victim of sexual assault. The essence of the church’s programme is characterised by accompaniment. However, the impact of our digital milieu with ready technological access spoils us into demanding immediate solutions for most problems.


But impulsive action can often lead to overlooking alternative solutions for complex situations. Hence, no consideration is given to protecting an innocent life, in conjunction with care for a victimised woman/child, if conception occurs from sexual assault and abuse. Yet, reasonable persons can acknowledge that it is unjust to correct an injustice by doing what is unjust to an innocent life.

One mistake we make is that we prefer taking action in relation to symptoms instead of rooting out or stemming the problem.


1. As an advancing civilisation, we cannot continue accommodating sexual irresponsibility by ignoring that a sexually permissive environment makes sexual abuse commonplace. We must not overlook the correlation between sexual irresponsibility and the socio-moral issue at hand. Let us have programmes to improve sexual responsibility.

2. We must not allow easy cases for administering justice to escape criminal penalty and publicity. Taking steps to administer justice through follow-up on easy cases can be a deterrent. Therefore, make effective application of laws against sexual abuse.

3. REMAIN SILENT NO MORE! We must advance campaigns that enable and empower victims of sexual abuse to seek immediate assistance and support. Families and community structures must become a space of trust for victims to immediately report abuse.

Seeking immediate help can prevent the possibility of pregnancy resulting from rape and abuse. A campaign to break the silence can create an environment that empowers victims of sexual abuse.

Breaking the silence can also (1) prevent and mitigate health challenges associated with sexually transmitted infections; (2) provide early psycho-social support; and (3) prevent a pregnancy that can lead to further moral complications. This latter solution is quite complex because regard for innocent life requires protecting the innocent life. Therefore, establishing a protocol to prevent conception resulting from unjust sexual assault must include protecting innocent life if conception has taken place.

The challenge to determine the right action in this debate must be based on valid moral principles and not emotive reactions. Establishing common, agreeable principles must be our pursuit as we contend with this difficult issue.

The fact is, those of us contending for or against the termination of a pregnancy successfully transitioned all the developmental stages in our mother’s womb. In appreciation for the privilege of our existence, may we accord to the innocent life in the womb the privilege we enjoy?!

The Most Rev Kenneth Richards is Archbishop of Kingston. Email feedback to