40 Years of Abortion – ‘A Time to Kill and a Time to Heal’
[an abridged version of this article appeared in the September 2007 issue of Evangelical Times]

This year is the ruby anniversary of our dreadful 1967 Abortion Act – there is nothing to celebrate  This is the legislation that has sanctioned the death of some 7 million unborn children throughout England, Scotland and Wales.  Abortion is a ghastly practice, unworthy of any civilised society.  The whole nation should be ashamed that we ever allowed it to occur and then to let it persist for so long.  Moreover, since Christians declare that all human life bears the image of God and is therefore special and worthy of protection, we are doubly culpable.  Abortion is not only a blot on our nation, it also signals a failure of Christians to be preserving salt and illuminating lights.  Evangelical Christians should hang their heads in shame.

The grim facts
The latest figures show that there were 201,173 abortions in England and Wales during 2006 – these were performed on 193,737 resident women plus 7,436 non-residents.  This was a record total and the first time the 200,000 barrier has been breached.  There can be no redeeming features from these grim facts.

The Act's history
Back in 1966, when David Steel’s private member’s Medical Termination Bill was before Parliament, the vast majority of evangelicals (me too) were either unaware or unconcerned about the issue.  Only a handful of leading evangelicals protested.  Now consider the aftermath.  The proponents of the Act said that its provisions would help the overstretched, sickly mother with a large family, poor housing and little financial support.  But nowadays, abortion is mainly for young, fit, single, childless women who are carrying healthy unborn children.  You want evidence for the existence of a bioethical ‘slippery slope’?  Here is it.  The original legislation was framed to assist those few difficult cases.  During the last 40 years, its boundaries have been rolled back and its restrictions largely ignored so that in 2007 we now have a free supply of abortion, or ‘abortion on demand’.  Indeed, it is now estimated that one in three UK women will have an abortion during their lifetime.

Current thinking
Abortion has thus become deeply embedded in our nation’s thinking and practice.  Earlier this year, The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) confirmed this sorry state of affairs by asserting that, ‘… abortion is an essential part of women's healthcare services.’  But how can killing off our unborn offspring, and abrogating a fundamental attribute of womanhood ever be regarded as ‘essential’?  Something has gone seriously awry in our land.

Yet despite all this talk about abortion being a woman’s right, and part of her autonomy and her healthcare needs, there remains in our collective conscience an intuitive feeling, written on our hearts, that abortion is somehow abnormal and wrong.  Indeed, even ardent abortionists are beginning to exhibit a growing unease about the physical and mental effects of abortion.  For example, there is mounting support for an association between abortion and the onset of breast cancer, the so-called ABC link.  In addition, scientific evidence about the adverse psychological consequences of abortion is becoming more undeniable.  Can abortion ever really be in the best interests of women?  No – and certainly not for their unborn children either.

Crumbs of comfort
Is there any consolation after four decades?  Some recent crumbs of comfort may, just may, point to a change of heart among some.  For instance, in April, the RCOG warned that Britain could be facing an abortion crisis because an increasing number of doctors and nurses are refusing to get involved.  The RCOG reported that it was aware of, ‘the slow but growing problem of trainees opting out of training in the termination of pregnancy and [that it] is therefore concerned about the abortion service of the future.’  In May, the GPs' magazine Pulse contained the results of a recent survey.  It appears that a quarter of UK doctors are refusing to refer women for terminations and more than half said that the current 24-week abortion limit should be reduced because medical advances mean that babies born before that cut-off time are capable of survival.

Apparently, this change of heart is to do with ethical distaste and growing religious convictions.  Among healthcare workers, it has led to an increase in ‘conscientious objectors’, who are requesting exemption from the ghastly task.  It has been called the ‘dinner party test’ – whereas gynaecologists who deliver babies are revered, no one ever boasts about being an abortionist.

Predictably, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which carries out a quarter of all UK abortions, believes the Government should do more to, ‘motivate doctors to train in abortion.’  But instead of treating these ‘rebel’ doctors as a problem, should we not be listening to them?  Abortionism is a low-grade, undemanding profession, it heals nothing, and frankly, it stinks.  It does seem that the younger generation of doctors and nurses (and others) are beginning to understand and reject the abortion trade.  That is a sizeable crumb of good news.

The notable anniversary
It was 40 years ago, on 27 October 1967, that the Act received its Royal Assent and six months later, on 27 April 1968, it came into force – the killing started.  Such a notable anniversary deserves to be commemorated. Marie Stopes International, the largest private provider of abortion in the UK, is hosting a two-day ‘Global Conference on Safe Abortion’ in London during October.  This jamboree, which will cost you nearly £700 to attend, is to be, ‘a platform to advocate for much needed law reform’.  Other commemorations will be more sober and less triumphant.  For instance, two major church services are to be held in London on Saturday 27 October – one at Westminster Chapel and the other at Westminster Cathedral.  What else can we do?  Express private and public repentance.  Pray for our nation, its leaders, doctors and nurses.  Tell the truth to our children and our children’s children.  Acknowledge the horrors of abortion on the Lord’s Day, 28 October.

And there are other positive acts of involvement.  For example, LIFE, the UK’s largest pro-life charity, is to mark the anniversary by encouraging each of its supporters to raise £183 during the six months from 27 October to 27 April (the 183 days) in order to fund the expansion of its pregnancy care service and its education programme.  Readers could assist with that.

The big opportunity
And for those of us who have felt largely impotent and guilty about abortion over the last 40 years, there is one big redemptive opportunity coming.  This autumn, the Human Tissues and Embryo Bill is due to come before Parliament.  This Bill’s major purpose is to revise the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (HFE Act) 1990 by, among other measure, approving of the creation of animal-human embryos, ending the requirement for doctors to consider the need of a father for children resulting from fertility treatment, and weakening the ban on human reproductive cloning.  But, because the HFE Act 1990 also dealt with abortion, pro-life MPs and peers are preparing to use the Human Tissues and Embryo Bill to amend our abortion legislation.

An alliance, headed by the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group and supported by several evangelical organisations (including CARE, the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship, and the Christian Medical Fellowship) plus others (such as LIFE, Alive and Kicking and the Prolife Alliance), is planning a forthright challenge to legalised abortion.  This will probably be based on an upper abortion limit of between 12 and 18 weeks; a cooling-off period for women awaiting abortion; proper informed consent about the risks of abortion; parental involvement for minors; a ban on eugenic abortion.  In addition, Lord David Alton and Ann Widdecombe MP are planning to tour the UK to gather support for such a campaign.  This is a high-risk strategy, but to do nothing is not an option because the pro-abortionists are already planning to remove the requirement for two doctors’ signatures; repeal of the conscience clause; extend the Act to Northern Ireland, and so on.

In the meantime, the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group has issued ‘A Constituency Toolkit’, which can be readily downloaded from the CARE or LIFE websites.  The idea is that you and I arrange a meeting with our MP and, using the Toolkit, determine his/her views on abortion and the other issues coming up in the Human Tissues and Embryo Bill.  For those of us who did nothing to restrict the 1967 and 1990 Acts, here is our opportunity to take constructive action at last.

Abortion has not been debated at Westminster for almost 20 years – perhaps this will be our last opportunity to limit, or even stop, some forms of abortion and destructive experimentation on human embryos.  Hopefully, evangelicals will play their rightful part in the vanguard of these proceedings – after all, we hold that, ‘Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people’ (Proverbs 14:34).

There it is then – the challenge has been issued.  Will you stand up and be counted this time? Could there yet be something to celebrate about the 40th anniversary of the Abortion Act?  We’ve had our time to kill, now, may it please God, it’s time to heal (Ecclesiastes 3:3).

Dr John R. Ling is a freelance bioethicist and a member of the Central Committee of LIFE.  His personal website is www.johnling.co.uk.

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