The introduction to the MARFAM March theme FAMILY RIGHTS MATTER states one of the commonly held assumptions about human rights, “when we think of rights we tend to think of individual rights.”
The Big One, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, begins by recognising the inherent dignity of all members of the human family and its articles address the rights of “everyone.” Article 16 after presenting the right to marry as equals continues, “the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and state.” There is no doubt the assumption there that marriage and family go together.
Apart from general governmental policies with regard to social wellbeing of citizens there are international and local “charters of family rights” in different formats including the 2013 South African White Paper on the Family. This is the government’s main resource, rooted in the Constitution, to promote the wellbeing of all families which today come in a variety of forms, not only marriage. The Department of Social Development in collaboration with government departments and civil society is responsible for coordinating implementation of the White Paper.
After the 1980 Synod of Bishops on the Family, the Church established the Pontifical Council for the Family which developed a Charter of the Rights of the Family in 1983. This followed the earlier Apostolic Exhortation of Pope St John Paul II FAMILIARIS CONSORTIO. The Charter is addressed to governments, intergovernmental international organisations as well as to everyone and families themselves. “It aims at reinforcing among families an awareness of the irreplaceable role and position of the family, wishes to inspire families to unite in the defence and promotion of their rights, encourages families to fulfil their duties in such as way that the role of the family will become more clearly appreciated and recognised in today’s world.” (Intro Charter)
Pope Francis in AMORIS LAETITIA reinforced the relationship with local governments who carry responsibility for the support and care of their citizens. He stresses “how important it is to insist on the rights of the family and not only those of individuals. Families have the right to be able to count on an adequate family policy on the part of public authorities in the juridical, economic, social and fiscal domains.” AL 44
Different articles or statements in these various documents focus on a particular right. For the moment I wish to focus on just one, the Right to Life. The SA Constitution’s Bill of Rights includes the Right to Life. (Art 11.) What does that really mean and how has it been developed and implemented? Before and since 1996 when the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act was enacted there has been much debate from different perspectives while the Church still stands firm that “abortion is a direct violation of the fundamental right to life of the human being.” (Charter Article 4.)
However, greater compassion and less condemnation do now exist for those struggling with this reality but, still, much more support needs to be offered by way of counselling, emotional and practical support too and this is an appropriate time to consider it from various angles. On 25th March we celebrate the feast of the Annunciation, on 19th St Joseph. Were these two people not faced with an unplanned pregnancy? On 23 March there is a CULTURE OF LIFE MASS in Johannesburg. The CoLA group provides a home and some support for pregnant mothers to have their baby. A new ministry Rachel’s Vineyard is starting too, one that offers post-abortion support. Since the Year of Mercy Pope Francis as approved granting absolution to those who have had an abortion.
The Right to Life is a much larger topic too. Familiaris Consortio speaks of serving life in all its forms and stages from conception until natural death; in other words, being life-giving in the broadest sense. Charters of Rights should maybe not be too dogmatic and rigid, but build strongly on positive family-centred conscience-formation programmes and the common good, and of course on Love. TR FAMILY WEEKLY 13 MARCH 2019