Court Verdict Encourages Indian Church, But Challenges Remain | Catholic National Register

KERALA, India – The Church in India is excited about an unprecedented justice verdict in the state of Kerala, categorically declaring that “unborn children have the right to life”.

But she has a heavy job to do in spreading this pro-life message in a country where millions of selective abortions of unborn girls take place and where the Church itself is “alarmed” by the low birth rate of. his flock, especially in the Christian heartland of the southern state of Kerala.

“The verdict of the Kerala High Court is extremely positive, although abortion as such is legalized in India,” said Archbishop Thomas Mar Koorilos, chairman of the Doctrinal Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India. India (CBCI).

“We are happy with this verdict. The Church represents the unborn child, that he must be cared for and cared for, ”Archbishop Koorilos, who heads the Syro-Malankara rite Archdiocese of Thiruvalla, told the Register on September 18.

Archbishop Koorilos’ reaction arose out of the emphatic verdict of the High Court of Kerala (high courts are the highest courts in Indian states), responding to a petition from a 31 weeks pregnant woman seeking an abortion who claimed that her unborn child had a deformity.

As abortion beyond 24 weeks of pregnancy is not allowed in India except in cases of significant fetal malformations, the court set up a medical commission which reported that the malformation of the unborn child was born. was okay and the pregnancy was safe for the mother.

In a country where hundreds of thousands of female feticides are practiced despite laws designed to prevent them, the rare categorical verdict in Kerala affirming the unborn child’s right to life has been hailed.

“We welcome the judgment of the High Court of Kerala which protects the right of the unborn child,” said Tehmina Arora, director of the Indian branch of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

“We are encouraged by this judgment that every child has the right to life. Unfortunately, too often the unborn child is vulnerable even in its mother’s womb, ”said Arora, a lawyer at the Federal Supreme Court of India.

ADF is leading a campaign against endemic female feticide and for the protection of girls called Endangered Girls. It highlights how gender-selective abortion devastates the lives, not only of the unborn girl and the mother, but also of Indian society as a whole.

The 2018 “Economic Survey” of India recognized that 63 million women have disappeared in India in five decades due to gender-selective abortion rooted in deep-rooted prejudices against girls. The study also pointed out that 21 million girls remain unwanted in India, The Washington Post reported.

“This verdict gives us a boost,” said Abraham Jacob, a Catholic doctor from Kerala.

“I have not come across such a strong verdict confirming the baby’s right to life in the womb,” said Jacob, who has been involved in pro-life activities and awareness programs for three decades.

Indian abortion law

The existing legal provision against abortion under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act of 1971 lacks force, Jacob said. Under the legislation, by which India legalized abortion, any doctor could approve the abortion, even including the excuse that a “contraceptive failed,” he noted.

“By law, a pregnancy can be terminated for up to 20 weeks by a married woman if the contraceptive method or device fails. The bill allows unmarried women to also terminate a pregnancy for this reason ”, specifies the law.

In March, the Indian Parliament amended the MTP legislation, further liberalizing abortion standards. Under the 1971 law, approval of abortion within 12 weeks of conception required the advice of a doctor and two doctors for 12 to 20 weeks. However, in accordance with the amended version MTP passed in March 2021, abortion can be performed on the advice of a doctor for up to 20 weeks and two doctors for cases between 20 and 24 weeks.

The amendment also introduced a provision for the establishment of state-level medical boards to decide whether a pregnancy can be terminated after 24 weeks in the event of significant fetal abnormalities. It was in such a case that the High Court of Kerala delivered a categorical verdict affirming the right to life of the unborn child.

“Normally, verdicts on abortion requests only go one way. But I am delighted that the tribunal here has approved what the Church teaches. It is unique. Our people should be made aware of this historic verdict and spread the message, ”said Jacob, who runs pro-life classes statewide.

Encourage a pro-life culture

“We are extremely pleased that the court has rendered such a clear verdict confirming the unborn child’s right to life,” Father Thomas Vadakkel, secretary of the CBCI Doctrinal Commission, told the Register.

The court verdict, he said, is “a powerful tool for the Church in the campaign against abortion.”

“We will definitely incorporate it into youth outreach programs, colleges, and marriage preparation classes.”

On the issue of the low birth rate among Christians, especially in the Christian heart of Kerala, even though the local Church remains vocal about abortion and other pro-life concerns, Father Vadakkel said: “It is a challenge that we must take up. “

The assembly at the beginning of August of the Council of Catholic Bishops of Kerala had expressed its “concern” at the drop in the birth rate and the low growth rate of Christians, compared to Hindus and Muslims in the state.

Professor of theology at the Apostolic Seminary of St. Thomas in Kottayam, Father Vadakkel enumerated several factors at the origin of this “alarming situation”, in particular an increase in the number of single Catholics, the migration of Catholics for work, the lack of interest in the education of children in certain young couples. , and friction between couples in the early stages of their marriage.

However, Vincentian Father Robert Chavarananickal, who is leading a campaign promoting openness to children with the slogan “More Children, More Blessing,” says some Church programs are also inadvertently contributing to the problem among Catholics.

“The Church has set up a well organized system [mandatory] marriage preparation course. The emphasis here is on NFP (natural family planning) against [artificial] contraceptive options. In the process, the message they get is to avoid children, ”said the priest, who organizes special retreats and prayers focused on the unborn child.

Although some dioceses have started supporting families with four or more children, Father Chavarananickal suggested that the Church announce a broader policy to ensure concrete support for large families, given the economic pressures.

“We are indirectly promoting a utilitarian culture among the young couple – how to avoid pregnancy and have fewer children to avoid the financial burden,” he said. “The Church must take a critical look at the content of marriage preparation courses. “

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