By Charlotta Smeds

Mar 23 2024

As the Norwegian government seeks to extend the deadline for an elective abortion, the country’s bishops say the bill is inconsistent with its own principles and those of the Constitution.

“If you change a law, it should be for the better,” according to Bishop Erik Varden, bishop of Trondheim in Norway.

He and Bishop Bernt Edvig, bishop of Oslo, signed an eight-page response to the Norwegian government’s proposal to change the abortion law that has been in force in the country since 1975.

In 145,000 words, the abortion committee appointed by the Norwegian government presented its proposal on how and why it will be easier to have an abortion in Norway.

In their response, the bishops note how the length of the text, along with an inconsistent mix of science, politics and even ideology, makes it difficult for the reader to pay attention to the points of view that make the bill untenable.

The main point of the proposal is to extend the deadline for an elective abortion by six weeks, up to and including week 18.

Life begins at conception

The current law is obviously not a good law, Bishop Varden said in an interview with Vatican News.

The bishops state that “in Catholic Christian anthropology it is axiomatic that human life begins with conception and from that moment on deserves respect.”

In their response, the bishops relate the current law to the new bill and notes a number of ethical, anthropological, and philosophical changes, and see in the proposal for a new law on abortion “a clear step away from the Christian and humanist heritage of Norway.”

A life-or-death choice

The bishops note that the new bill avoids talking about children, but simply “guarantees pregnant women the right to abortion and access to safe abortions and treatment,” so they can “make independent decisions about their bodies.”

The vocabulary has changed, they note. Instead of talking, as in the current law, about society’s responsibility to help the woman give birth to her baby, consumerist words such as request, right and quality guarantee are used.

The woman’s decision-making process is completely privatized and she is left to order her abortion on a website by a digital form.

This, the bishops note, leaves her alone “in a choice of life or death. A choice that a true human society cannot let anyone make alone.”

Not a conflict of gender roles

The bill is also deceptively simplistic in designating the previous law as outdated and patriarchal.

 “Naturally women, like men, must have autonomy and control over their own bodies,” say the bishops. “But the issue of abortion cannot be reduced, as the text does, to a conflict of gender roles.”

The abortion committee’s referral presents the fetus largely as “an excrescence of the woman’s body, an organic parasite.”

“We cannot ask that a woman make her body available to a fetus for nine months,” reads the bill.

Unborn child protected by the Norwegian Constitution

However, the bishops recall, the “unborn child” is legally protected in the Norwegian Constitution.

“Even the unborn are named among those entitled to inheritance,” the bishops say about the Constitution.

They further note that rights and duties may be attributed to the unborn child, who also enjoys its own subjectivity which is not absorbed by that of the mother.

“This part of Norwegian law is forgotten in the bill, which is therefore based on false premises,” observe the bishops.

Is the fetus a child? – In new law, that depends on whether it is desired

The amendment to the law states that the law must “guarantee respect for unborn children,” but at the same time it says that pregnancy must be considered part of the “private life” of the woman.

In other words, the new bill confirms that, ultimately, the criterion for recognizing the child depends on whether the fetus is wanted or not.

Another ambiguous paragraph of the bill to which the bishops draw attention is whether, with advanced fetal diagnostics, children can be aborted due to the wrong appearance and sex or chromosomal abnormalities.

“Once again the bill establishes a gray area with respect to the inviolability of life,” underline the bishops.

Bishops’ duty to respond

Bishop Varden notes that an understanding of pregnancy is essential to properly understand the bill and how to respond to it.

“I am probably the only bishop in the world to have the “Preglife” app downloaded on my phone,” says Bishop Varden smiling.

“But as bishops, it is our duty to speak openly about political and social issues,” he emphasizes. “Here the law says that people have the right to judge for themselves what constitutes a life that is worth protecting and has value, and this is fatal to society.” – Vatican News