Professor Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), has been in the news in the last few days, for throwing the RCM’s support behind a campaign by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), the UK’s largest abortion provider, to decriminalise abortion.
If you’ve read anything I’ve ever written before, it won’t surprise you to learn that I wholeheartedly oppose this move. My understanding of what the Bible says about the origins of each human life has been a core factor in shaping my position on this, but how can I speak about it with those who don’t share my belief in the sanctity of life – or indeed in the existence of a loving creator God?
There are many compelling arguments that don’t rely on a Christian worldview or faith-based language to support them. Here are just a few:
PROTECTION OF THE VULNERABLE
– A key part of the issue concerns what we as a society value most highly. Do we care more about choice for the powerful or protection of the vulnerable?
– Maintaining tight boundaries over whose lives we are allowed to end and under what circumstances is vital to protect those who can’t speak for themselves.
– There are circumstances in which it is necessary to turn off life support systems, whether artificial medical ones or biological human ones, but this is always an incredibly difficult decision, and focuses on what is in the best interests of the patient, not the family.
– While opinion is divided on whether a pre-born baby is fully a person or not, with the full rights of personhood, no-one can deny it is a live human being, and thus has human rights, such as the right to life.
– The fact that this issue keeps arising suggests that women need more support during crisis pregnancies – it appears they feel there is no hope other than abortion. Christians should be leading the charge in finding ways of helping them see their options, and we as a nation should be putting resources into providing help and care rather than causing the physical and psychological damage that many women suffer as a result of having an abortion.
– One criticism I have heard from the US of those who campaign against the loosening of abortion laws is that ‘they care about the baby…right up to the point at which it is born’. The argument is that very often those seeking abortions do not feel able to cope with a/nother child – they may be in an abusive relationship, trapped in poverty, addicted to harmful substances or in any number of other hugely challenging situations. We as Christians need to make sure this accusation cannot be levelled at us, and go beyond simply campaigning against abortion into working hard to support and provide for those in physical, emotional and financial need.
– This is not about statistics. In an article for The Guardian, Prof Warwick cited the experience of Canada, which legalised abortion 25 years ago. She said,
Their experience since decriminalisation is that over 90% of abortions are done in the first trimester, only 2-3% are done after 16 weeks, and no doctor does abortions past 20 or 21 weeks except for compelling health or genetic reasons.
This is a red herring. Regardless of how many, or how few, people would choose to undergo late term abortions – we’re not counting heads and saying ‘this number of abortions is too high, but this number is an acceptable loss for the resulting gain’ – it is a question of the principle of the protection of the vulnerable and the value of human life.
THE REAL CHOICES
– If you believe the hype, you could think that keeping abortion above 24 weeks as a criminal offence means women’s only other option is an ugly, dangerous, gruesome back-street abortion. This is not true. There are more than two choices here; more than just keep the child or kill it. There are many infertile couples longing to adopt babies, for example, but not enough babies to go around.
– Yes, adoption is agonisingly painful, giving up your child, not knowing whether you will ever see it again, not knowing if it will be happy or if it will hate you. But adoption leaves doors open and possibilities available. Abortion puts an end to all possibilities. There is no going back, no undoing what has been done, no way to make it right if you later come to regret it.
– Life and death are not consumer choices. We have become so used to assuming we are in control of everything that happens to us, that we expect to be able to operate that way in everything. That is not the case.
– A woman’s choice to have an abortion ends forever the possibility of another human being to make any choices of his or her own.
WHEN TO MAKE HUGE LIFE DECISIONS
There’s an episode of the West Wing where President Bartlett is preparing for an election debate. The staff are asking him rapid-fire questions and he is pretending to have a crisis of confidence, in order to play a joke on one of his staff, Toby. Sure enough, Toby’s turn to ask him a question comes round…
This next question’s on capital punishment, which you oppose.
If your daughter was raped and murdered would you want to see the man responsible put to death?
Bartlett fluffs the answer, and Toby loses it:
What’s the matter with you? I just mentioned your daughter being murdered and you’re giving us an answer that’s not only soporific, it’s barely human.
Yes, you’d wanna see him put to death.
You’d want it to be cruel and unusual.
Which is why it’s a good idea that fathers of murder victims don’t have legal rights in these situations.
– The BPAS campaign that the RCM is supporting is called ‘We Trust Women’, and we do, but anyone considering an abortion is by definition in a very difficult, probably highly-emotionally-charged position, just like Bartlett in that example. It is incredibly hard for anyone to think clearly and dispassionately when under physical and emotional stress. That is why the decisions about when and how any human life can be ended are made dispassionately by the courts in advance and outside the contexts of highly emotional cases. It is the position of the courts in this country that beyond 24 weeks a foetus is viable outside the womb and that therefore it comes under the protection of the law.
Those are just a few ways in which we can engage in discussion about this huge and difficult question. Note that I have not made it personal – many are criticising Prof Warwick for the way in which she announced the RCM’s support of this campaign, without any consultation of her union’s members. That is an issue, but we need to be wary of dealing with side-issues that don’t actually affect the main point – if she had done it after full consultation and with the support of a democratic vote, the decision would still be wrong.
This is an edited version of a post I wrote for Christians on the Left.