2002-02-22 00:00:00

Leaders of the Christian Family Movement in Sri Lanka say they will launch a nonviolent protest if the government proceeds to legalize abortion in the country.

Basil and Merine Wijeratne, national presidents of the Christian Family Movement, said they also vowed to make people aware of the dangers of abortion through print and other media.

"No one, at any stage, has a moral right to snatch away the life of another, which is a sacred gift from God," Basil told UCA News Feb. 18.

The couple, from Anuradhapura, 206 kilometers north of Colombo, said as a preliminary step, they will inform people of the moral dangers of this crime.

Basil said if the government authorities continue to be firm in their decision, the movement will stage protest campaigns, like picketing and other nonviolent means.

He added that they planned to mail a statement opposing the government move on Feb. 19 to all Catholic parliamentarians, cabinet ministers, the bishops´ conference, lay movements, and Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim leaders.

According to Dixon Anthony, the movement´s publication committee secretary, their awareness campaign will take place mostly through articles and statements to national newspapers.

Local media reported Feb. 10 that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe´s United National Front government intends to re-explore the possibility of legalizing abortions on a selective basis.

The move originated in 1995 under the People´s Alliance government, now in opposition, when the then justice minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris, who is also a member of the new ruling government, proposed amendments to the penal code to legalize abortion.

In Sri Lanka, abortion is illegal except to save the life of the mother, and the move was scuttled by protests from various religious groups.

"Morally, abortion is a grave sin and a challenge to God, our creator. Socially, it is illegal and contravenes all known ethics," said Susil Gunaratne, a Catholic lawyer from Kalutara, 43 kilometers south of Colombo.

He told UCA News Feb. 18 that 1,000 abortions are reportedly performed daily in the country, although the number could be much higher.

"We Catholics are more concerned about outward rituals, but less interested in vital issues of this kind," Gunaratne said, lamenting that abortions are common in his area.

"We will take to the streets, if needed, and we will go to any extent to oppose the move," he said. Gunaratne and his wife were former presidents of the Christian Family Movement.

Lucian Jayasuriya, a doctor and counselor of the Catholic Doctors´ Guild, told UCA News Feb. 19 that "a woman has no moral right whatsoever to kill her baby, even in selective cases of rape or incest as the unborn child is always a ´non-aggressor.´"

Jayasuriya, former guild secretary, said that Church leaders should not hesitate to take the lead to thwart such attempts by the government.

Jupiter Munamale, another Catholic doctor from Kurunegala diocese, said that he will form a "pro-life committee" comprising people of different professions, who are against abortions.

"The (government) move enraged me and I have even met a Church prelate in my area, who is quite favorable to my idea," the doctor told UCA News.

Father Bonniface Mendis, the family movement´s national chaplain, said, "It is high time that the Catholic Church intervenes to obstruct all attempts at justifying abortions and therefore we have requested lay groups to draft a statement."

Meanwhile, Alavi Mowlana and A.H.M. Fowzie, ministers in the previous government involved in the proposal to legalize abortion, now say abortion is "anti-religious" and equal to "murder."

However, officials of the ruling government´s women´s affairs ministry have justified the move to legalize abortion, saying two neighboring countries, India and Bangladesh, have legalized it.


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