A woman holds a foetus doll in the palm of her hand. File picture: Esteban Felix/AP

Pretoria - The Catholic Archdiocese of Durban has joined the legal battle by a group who called themselves Voice of the Unborn Baby, in its constitutional challenge for parents to be able to bury the remains of a foetus after a pregnancy loss at 26 weeks or earlier.

As things now stand, parents who lose a foetus younger than 26 weeks do not have the right to bury or cremate the remains. These remains are regarded as medical waste and accordingly disposed of.

The group is taking on legislation with the aim of allowing parents to choose whether they want to bury the remains of foetuses 26 weeks or younger.

In their constitutional challenge against the provisions of Births and Deaths Registration Act (BADRA), the group said in papers before the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, that grieving parents have the right to decide what to do with the remains of the foetus.

The Catholic Archdiocese now indicated that it will join the proceedings, as it believed that from a Christian point of view, parents should have a say in whether or not to be able to bury these unborn children. 

Lawyers acting for Voice of the Unborn Baby meanwhile turned to court on Monday in an interlocutory application to try and force the Ministers of Health and Home Affairs to file their opposing papers in the matter. 

Lawyer Renaldi Ingram said papers have been served on the ministers months ago and they have not yet responded to the application.

Counsel acting for the ministers told Judge Harshila Koovertjie that they are awaiting the input of experts they have consulted, before government decides to oppose the application or not.

The judge remarked that this was an important and complex case and that time frames should be put in place to deal with the filing of papers. She removed the matter from the roll and told the parties to approach Deputy Judge President Aubrey Ledwaba for a special court to deal with the matter.

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of the Catholic Church in Durban meanwhile said in his court papers that the sincere religious belief of the members of the Catholic Church remained that abortion is a moral offence against human life.

“But this does not mean that the Catholic Church in this application contends that the right of parents to bury deceased unborn children should not be afforded also to those who suffer pregnancy loss ….There are circumstances in which termination of pregnancy is regarded as morally licit by the Catholic Church.” 

Napier said there are special cases where it is medically necessary to terminate a pregnancy and in such tragic cases the parents should be able to receive the remains of the unborn child for burial. 

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