Que. cardinal wants abortion debate reopened

QUEBEC – Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who sparked controversy this month with his comments on abortion, has called for a broader debate into the issue but still considers abortion a "serious moral disorder."

The Quebec cardinal – who is the primate of the Catholic Church in Canada – on May 15 told a pro-life conference in Quebec City that abortion is a "moral crime," one as serious as murder. He said abortion is never acceptable, even in cases where a woman has been raped.

But on Wednesday, Ouellet called a news conference to "clarify" his message. Ouellet said he is sorry if his remarks offended women who have had an abortion, but stressed that his comments were distorted and taken out of context.

"They were used as a weapon against me," he told reporters, adding the reaction in Quebec was "completely without measure."

Carefully choosing his words, Ouellet said that he considers abortion a "serious moral disorder" but said he does not condemn women who resort to it.

Although the cardinal acknowledged canon law states women who have an abortion should be excommunicated, he called for compassion and solidarity.

"The woman takes the decision in light of her personal circumstances and only God can judge because he alone can assess the elements that led to that decision," Ouellet said.

He reiterated that the rights of the unborn child should have priority over those of the woman because "it’s a question of life and death" for the fetus.

Alexa Conradi, of the Quebec Women’s Federation, argued Ouellet is trying to stir a debate that has been settled for years.

"Although his tone was more sensitive and thoughtful, in the end, he still thinks that the priority should be given to a fetus over a women’s choice and I think he’s wrong," she said. "I think that’s disconnected from women’s lives. What that would come down to is eventually the criminalization of abortion."

Canada’s abortion law was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1988 and no government has reopened the sensitive debate since.

Ouellet acknowledged there is no political will to give legal protection to the unborn child and called for an "awareness campaign" to provide women with more information about abortion alternatives.

"The number of abortions could be reduced by half if only women in distress because of an unwanted pregnancy were welcomed, informed and accompanied in their choice with compassion and solidarity," he said, accompanied by Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast at the news conference.

They noted that there are about 100,000 abortions in Canada each year, including about 25,000 in Quebec alone.

"There is too (many) abortions and I think everyone agrees that we need to reduce that number," Ouellet said. "The abortion debate is on and we should not be afraid of it."

One way of achieving that goal, he said, would be to give more funding to pro-life groups. "Governments are funding abortion clinics. I would like equity for organizations that are defending life and helping women to keep their child."

The Quebec cardinal also said the federal government could draw inspiration from Belgium that has banned abortions after 12 weeks.

"We need to legislate on when we consider that there is human life," he said.

Critics believe Ouellet is showing his true colours by further pressing an issue that has been in the news for weeks with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision not to fund abortions under its global G8 maternal-health initiative.

"Today I was confirmed in the worry that he is trying to have the debate become a political one in Canada and, unfortunately, the Conservative government at the same time has also decided to make it a political debate by refusing to fund abortions internationally," said Conradi. "So there is a conjunction of concerns."

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