Church officials have urged Catholics in Sri Lanka to voice their opposition to government plans to ease the island nation's abortion laws. In a country where abortion is currently illegal, except to save the life of the mother, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Sri Lanka said they were concerned about media reports that the government plans to water down related laws. One such report by the Sri Lankan news portal Hiru News Feb. 1
stated that the country's Justice Ministry is seeking to legalize abortion when a pregnancy is due to rape, incest, or when the female is under the age of 16, or when there is serious fetal impairment. The Sri Lankan bishops' conference said all Catholics should oppose such attempts and for Catholic politicians to block the move. Bishop Valence Mendis of Chilaw, secretary general of the bishops' conference, said he was first aware of moves to change laws mid last year. "The entire Catholic bishops' conference signed a letter expressing our opposition," said Bishop Mendis in an official statement. "We request that prayers be offered in expiation of this effort to legalize [abortion], even for cases of rape and incest," the bishop said. Father Ashok Priyantha Perera, director of the Family Apostolate in Chilaw Diocese, reiterated the Catholic Church's opposition and urged Catholics to oppose the move. "No one has the moral right to take away the life of another, it is a grave and mortal sin," said Father Perera. "We organize many awareness-raising programs at the parish level, in marriage preparation classes, special talks and sermons," said the priest. The Catholic Doctors' Guild wrote to the Sri Lanka Medical Association on Feb. 19 about the proposed legislative changes. "It is the fundamental cornerstone of any religion that the inviolability and protection of life is a crucial pivot on which many of the sacred beliefs and precepts of that religion rest," they said in the letter. "We appeal to use your good offices to point out to the authorities concerned that abortion is the taking of a life and that it violates the fundamental principle of the sacredness of life," it continued. An estimated 600 illegal abortions take place in Sri Lanka every day, said K.K. Karunathilake from the Social Science Unit of Kelaniya University, at a conference held at the Health Education Bureau in May. The Catechism of the Catholic Church
says that "Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law." It teaches that "human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception" and that "from the first moment of existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person — among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life."