At a recent children’s Mass at a church in County Cork, Ireland, a guest speaker’s message was straight out of a previous century. To the horror of many in her audience, the speaker spoke about having had an abortion and then said that, due to this, she had been “punished by God by having a grandchild with special needs,” says Nicky Clark in the New Statesman. There were actually children with disabilities as well as their parents in the audience.
As Clark comments, “it seems an odd morality which subscribes to the theory that disability exists as any form of punishment.”
The very notion that a disability, whether physical, mental, developmental and of any sort is some sort of “punishment” for one’s behavior is abhorrent. As a parent of a son with disabilities, I have too often wondered if eating something or other while I was pregnant, or doing X or not doing Y, had something to do with Charlie being autistic. This is dangerous thinking that can render a parent paranoid, spooking herself and himself — there have been more than a few studies linking older fathers to increased risk of having an autistic child, causing more than a few men I know to kick themselves for having children later in life.
To say that having a child with disabilities is the result of parents’ actions is the sort of thinking that informed now-discredited theories about autism causation, most of all the infamous refrigerator mother theory according to which parents (and mothers in particular) were charged with “making” their child autistic due to being “emotionally frigid” and failing to bond with their child.
Comments like that of the guest speaker at the church in County Cork only, as Clark says, add to the “emotive propaganda” aimed at curtailing women’s rights over their bodies, their health and their lives.
Views on Abortion Making the News in the UK
The first abortion clinic in Northern Ireland recently opened and the clergy and anti-abortion groups have been none too happy about this; a mass rally protesting the Maria Stopes clinic is planned for the city center of Belfast. In the UK, Jeremy Hunt (until recently the culture minister and now the health minister) has said that he is in favor of halving the limit on abortions from 24 weeks to 12 weeks. The UK’s Women’s Minister had also called for changing the limit for abortions to 20 weeks.
While Prime Minister David Cameron emphasized that abortion is “issue of conscience” and that Hunt was “absolutely entitled to hold an individual view,” the fact that a member of the British cabinet could make such statements gives us all reason to pause. In making his remarks, Hunt also said that “there are some issues that cut across health and morality, a bit like capital punishment does for crime.” In other words, Hunt is considering abortion not only from the perspective of health, of science and medicine, but from that of morality and ethics. His statement all but implies that abortion and capital punishment can be considered in the same category.
Of course, American politicians also hold anti-choice views as well as others otherwise indicating their intention of controlling women’s bodies.
Irish Bishops Defend Speaker’s Anti-Abortion Views
The speaker’s antiquated and deeply troubling statements were reported in an October 11 article in the Irish Examiner. Clark contacted The Irish Bishops’ Conference regarding this and was sent a press release by Archbishop Dermot Clifford. The Parish Priest of Mitchelstown, Rev. Michael Fitzgerald, had invited the woman to speak at a mass for the annual Day for Life in Ireland. “It is a matter of regret that a small number of people were upset at some aspects of the lady’s address, especially as they related to children with special needs,” Rev. Fitzgerald said in the press release.
The woman, he continued, had “[come] to accept” that the birth of a grandson with disabilities was not God’s punishment” and “emphasized that her grandchild with special needs was loved and cherished as all children are and should be.”
I would imagine that no one “intended” to upset people by offering a speaker at a children‘s mass who spoke about how some children, including some in the audience, were the result of some misdeed on the part of their parents, or other relatives. But a religion and its clergy that allow such ugly statements to be made as part of its services is one that, whatever it says about love and all that, does not know how to practice what it says it preaches.
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