Abortion - This Generation's 'Slavery'?
Having recently celebrated the life and work of William Wilberforce, some religious leaders have called abortion-on-demand the 'new slavery'; the human rights issue that will define our generation's place in history.
It is forty years since abortion became legal in Britain.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, has warned that abortion is increasingly being seen as the easy option for women, perhaps just another form of contraception. In the process, he says, British people risk losing sight of the sanctity of life.
This last statement is supported by the fact that some notable supporters of a lower legal age limit for abortion are also vocal campaigners for voluntary euthanasia.
In 1967, when the act legalising abortion was passed, says Dr. Williams, 'what people might now call their "default position" was still that abortion was a profoundly undesirable thing and that a universal presumption of care for the foetus from the moment of conception was the norm.'
'There has been an obvious weakening of the feeling that abortion is a last resort in cases of extreme danger or distress. Nearly 200,000 abortions a year in England and Wales tell their own story. We are not now dealing with a relatively small number of extreme cases.'
Recently, several British newspapers carried stories of babies who were aborted for nothing more than having club feet or cleft lips or palates - minor disabilities which can be corrected with surgery after birth.
In an age where people love to jump on the high horse of this human rights issue or that, surely we should defend the rights of the most fragile among us, the truly voiceless in our midst.
We talk about human rights, but where is the right in this: we kill unborn babies while we fight to save forest trees?
Abortion has not been debated in the British Parliament since 1990, yet politicians have spent almost 800 hours debating the killing of foxes.
Even now, any new debate has only started because some people want to lower the age limit; the debate is not about abandoning abortion-on-demand.
In conducting a recent TV interview, author and broadcaster Clive James made the observation that the liberals of the 60s - himself among them - called for the liberalisation of everything. Now that they've achieved it, he said, they find it has also brought a liberalisation of violence.
Western societies are, for the most part, more violent than they were four decades ago. In the end, abortion as we now know it is about violence; it is the ultimate form of bullying.
Illegal and dangerous abortions have been carried out for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. And the terminating of a pregnancy when the mother's life is in danger is nothing new. But abortion-on-demand -- where there are no other issues than a woman's choice involved -- is a relatively recent development, having found wide favour only from the late 60s and early 70s.
The pro-abortion-on-demand stance is an important one to several groups of people. First of all, to those women who might not want a baby or who feel emotionally or financially ill-equipped for motherhood.
I seriously doubt that any caring person would want to see a return to the days when single mothers were ostracised and condemned by society at large. People of faith will certainly agree, as it was Christ who taught us to love the marginalised and the hurting.
This love must be more than an intellectual assent to the idea of caring - it must involve practical assistance. But showing compassion does not mean staying silent when speaking up might save someone from wrongdoing and pain. There is such a thing as 'speaking the truth in love'.
The pro-abortion-on-demand position is also important to radical women's rights movements. Such organisations have consistently maintained that abortion is an issue of women's rights. When a human embryo is growing inside a woman's body, they say, it is her 'property' and she has the right to do with it whatever she pleases.
While purportedly setting out to change community attitudes towards women, some of these groups have shut many women out of their work, by solely representing fringe interests.
As is often the case, these liberal radicals are quick to pigeonhole those who don't completely agree with their agenda. They seek to demonize their opponents, saying that those who would reappraise abortion-on-demand are 'anti-women'.
In actual fact, there is good evidence to show that being anti-abortion may in many cases be the more pro-woman stance.
Pro-abortionists like to talk about freedom of choice, but they rarely tell the truth about the after-affects of abortion: either the physical complications that can arise, or the mother's sense of emotional loss and grief which can take many years to come to terms with.
Thank God, the message of Christianity is that through Christ even that pain can be healed over time - though the memory doubtless remains, with support and love people can be given closure.
Pro-abortion-on-demand radicals will sink to political dirty tricks and downright lies. Some years ago, I read an Australian right-to-choose pamphlet which told teenage girls that 'abortion is the safest surgical procedure in the world' and that it was 'safer than having your tonsils out'!
A final group for whom a pro-abortion position is important are certain medical researchers.
We should be thankful for the wonderful work done by scientists in many fields. But some bio-researchers are hopeful that they will be able to use foetal cells in all kinds of studies and operations; cells that have been 'harvested' from aborted foetuses.
Of course, not everyone in the scientific community is in favour of such activity. Some scientists have openly questioned where this might take us next.
They ask, might we not see in desperately poor countries the forming of 'abortion industries', where women are paid conceive so that their foetuses can be removed for experimentation?
Others have wondered, if we now accept experimentation on the unborn, what will stop a new generation of scientists from wanting to experiment on people who are comatose, or dying?
And what's to stop the use of aborted foetal material in eugenics-type experiments like the ones carried out by the Nazis?
One point cries out to be made here: they are far more abortions carried out right now than could ever be justified on the basis of scientific research.
The big question for us is this: is an embryo or foetus a human being? There are basically five views on this -- and each of us must make our choice from these options.
You may choose to believe that the embryo or foetus is nothing more than a growth inside the mother's womb, a collection of cells. Alternatively, you may believe that the embryo or foetus becomes human somewhere between conception and birth. This one is tricky: where do we draw the line, and for what reasons?
A third option is the idea that the embryo becomes a person only after it reaches viability, the time when the foetus can survive on its own.
A number of studies have shown, however, that unborn children exhibit many truly human traits long before they're ready to live unaided.
Some people choose to believe that birth itself is the crucial moment when personhood begins. But how can we justify giving a baby a completely different right-to-life status five minutes before it is born, or even one minute before?
Our final option is that the embryo has been human all along, right from the time it was first conceived. If that's the case, the embryo has had inviolable rights from conception.
This latter option is the one supported by most conservative scholars in the reading of the Bible and other major religious texts.
In biblical terms, the embryo is like the seed of a tree -- it isn't yet all that it will become, but it contains everything needed to get there. It is not just a 'potential' human being -- it is human.
But there's more to it even than that. The scriptures teach that we should treat the embryo as a person because it is known and loved by God -- it is a human being for which he has very special plans. There are several examples in the Bible narrative of people whose future was announced before they were even conceived - Samson and John the Baptist among them.
Mary, the mother of Christ, was told by an angelic messenger about the unique son she would bring into this world. Again, this was before she even became pregnant.
If a baby is valuable to God before it is even conceived -- because he knows what it will grow to become -- how can it be of lesser value afterwards?
When is an embryo human? The Bible's answer is: right from the start!
Is it possible that one day, a few hundred years hence, people will look back and thank God that humanity gave up on abortion, just as it did on slavery?
Is it possible that the forefront of that change will Christians who lovingly, wisely and courageously put their case, as did abolitionists like Wilberforce centuries before? We should all hope so.
Keywords: abortion | contraceptive | slavery | abortionist | euthanasia | Mal Fletcher comment
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Mal, you are the man! Great insights on how to stay focused on the truth in a "post-Christian" society and present the message of Jesus in a relevant way to secularized Europeans. Keep it up!
Brad, United Kingdom
I was quite surprised to see the EDGES website - a human-transparent site with an inclination towards God. I really like the way you are posting your brilliant reports about issues. Keep up your good work.
I often check out your recommended reading section, which includes some excellent books. There's a new title which I highly recommend: 'Simply Christian' by N.T. (Tom) Wright (Bishop of Durham)...
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