Abortion; the deliberate termination of a pregnancy before 24 weeks gestation, has been a fact of life in the UK for 40 years. With the passage of time it is easy to become complacent about an issue that once may have been an emotive one for us and leave it to others to 'fight the cause' - especially if we are not in any way personally affected.
- Since October 21st 1967 when the Abortion Act for England, Scotland and Wales was passed, there have been over 6,000,000 abortions; 195,296 in 2008, and 189,100 in 2009 a fall of 3.2% . This figure rising to approx 200,000 when women from Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic are included. (See www.dh.gov.uk/en/publicationsandstatistics)
- Babies are now being aborted for minor abnormalities such as club feet, cleft lip or palate and webbed or extra digits. (In one area in England over 100 babies with minor disabilities were aborted in a three-year period, 54 of these with club foot.)
- There are proposals to drop the requirement for two doctors' signatures for an abortion and instead to adopt the policy of informed patient consent. It is also proposed that nurses rather than doctors carry out first trimester abortions (i.e. in the first three months of pregnancy).
- In the light of advancing technology- particularly 3D and 4D imaging of the fetus, there is growing pressure to reduce the gestation limit for abortions from the current 24 weeks (prior to 1990 the limit was 28 weeks gestation).
- In Northern Ireland there is mounting pressure to align the abortion law with the rest of the UK. Currently the 1967 Abortion Act does not apply to Northern Ireland. Here an abortion is legal only if two certified doctors rule that a pregnancy would damage the physical or mental health of the woman. However, some hospitals do carry out abortions for fetal abnormality.
In the light of these facts and statistics what is your response? The issue has certainly not gone away and as never before the Christian needs to be fully aware of the pressures and dangers and be persuaded of God's truth.
There are many issues that are important in this debate, but two arguments are regularly used to validate abortion.
1. "The fetus is not a person"
When does an embryo become human? At some point between conception and birth? At implantation - 7 to 10 days after conception? When the fertilised egg attaches to the wall of the uterus? When the fetus becomes sentient - aware of pain? Or at the moment of fertilisation?
It seems that if a girl or woman can convince herself that the result of the conception that has occurred is no more than a 'clump of cells', a 'lump of jelly', a 'parasite-like' organism, then it may be relatively easy for her to consider abortion favourably.
There are two ways you can argue against this view of the fetus - from a scientific and from a scriptural perspective.
What does science say about the status of the fetus? The womb is no longer a dark mystical place where the unborn baby stays secure and unrecognised until time for birth. Reproductive technology means that the fetus is visualised from as early as six weeks after conception, its sex can be determined from 15 to 16 weeks, and it can be operated on before birth. Research has demonstrated that a 4 to 5 month fetus responds to light and sound.
Parents are encouraged to 'bond' with their unborn child. This prenatal attachment of mother to fetus is the subject of much research. It is a well-known and accepted fact that, from conception, the fetus needs to be protected from drugs, alcohol, the effects of cigarette smoke and other toxins. Indeed the fetus has been granted legal status in the courts when a man was convicted of causing the death of his unborn child through violent abuse.
The paradox is that in the face of these advances that seem to proclaim the personhood of the unborn baby, this same fetus, if unwanted for whatever reason, can quickly become little more than an object for disposal. A woman has a 'termination of pregnancy' if there has been a calculated decision to have an abortion, but she 'loses a baby' if there has been a spontaneous miscarriage.
Orr in Life and Death Decisions states, "If these tiny individuals are patients who may be operated on, given medicine, protected from harmful environmental factors and, (very importantly) be easily seen through ultrasound, their rights as persons (even by secular, constitutional standards) cannot be easily ignored."
It is now a well-accepted fact that women may experience deep grief following early miscarriage. The intensity of the sense of loss and bereavement is not related to the stage of the pregnancy. No matter how early in the pregnancy, the woman still feels that she has lost a baby. This fact was ignored by health professionals until relatively recently, and one of the reasons suggested for this lack of recognition is the culture of abortion in which we live. Christine Moulder, who writes for health professionals, says, "Insights into the experience of miscarriage challenge an acceptance of abortion based on denying the humanity of the fetus."
These arguments, by themselves, may be persuasive, but the final word on the status of the fetus surely comes from God's perspective. Some may argue that the Bible never specifically discusses abortion, but the important thing here is this: what does God say about the status of the unborn child? Psalm 139:3-16, Psalm 51:7, Jeremiah 1 :4-5 and Isaiah 49:1,5 all clearly illustrate God's view of the fetus. He affords to them human status. Moreover, Dr. Luke records that a very short time after his conception Jesus was a person worthy of honour. We read that John the Baptist, a six-month fetus, leaps for joy in Elizabeth's womb in response to the greeting of Mary (Luke 1:41-45).
2. "The woman has the right to choose and control her own body"
From the moment of fertilisation a human being exists who is distinct from its mother both genetically and physically. Therefore the fetus is not part of the mother's body. We are dealing with two bodies. In her book Who broke the Baby? Dr. Jean Garton points out that, while there maybe many legitimate and valid ways in which a woman has a right to control her own body, that right is only partial and not absolute, and above all, is not unilateral (one-sided). Moreover, for the Christian woman the issue of control of her body has always got to be considered in the light of 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; her body is not her own; it is bought with a price.
What about the issue of choice? If every unborn child is an individual human being, then abortion is not merely a matter of maternal choice. Another human being is affected; the child's rights to life are being violated. Every human being possesses that basic right. God in his Word emphasises, not the exercising of our own rights, but rather the defending of the rights of others. We have a responsibility first and foremost to love God and then our neighbour. In the light of the above argument on the status of the unborn child, surely he/she is one of those neighbours.
Responding to abortion
It is not enough to be convinced of the errors of abortion; we must also demonstrate the care and compassion of Jesus. It is all too easy for Christians to be ANTI-abortion without taking any steps to help girls and women choose a positive alternative. Lyndon Bowring, a pro-life campaigner since the 80s, has stated - "We have a responsibility to proclaim God's truth AND demonstrate Christ's grace and compassion .. .I now realise that the most practical and compassionate thing we can do for an unborn baby is to support that child's mother."
Women facing a crisis pregnancy often are confronted with the most difficult decision of their lives. They recognise that they do not possess the strength or resources to carry on with the pregnancy. Fear and panic are often very real emotions. The temptation to take the abortion route may be very strong and often if there is someone there to confide in and to listen with compassion, it can give a much needed breathing space to enable rational decisions.
It's easy to theorize; it can be harder to do something. Action can take many forms:
- support for someone known to you who has faced up to the crises of an unwanted pregnancy and kept the baby, or had the baby adopted;
- involvement in one of the caring organisations as a counsellor or support worker;
- supporting pro-life organisations financially and prayerfully;
- lobbying your MP in person or in writing;
- praying for Christian doctors, nurses and midwives who are involved 'at the coal face' and for MPs and for all organisations speaking out for the rights of the unborn.
This list is by no means exhaustive; you may think of many others.
There are many other important issues that this article has not dealt with, but I trust that what has been said will stimulate your thinking about the basic issues and motivate you to loving action as we not only proclaim the TRUTH about abortion but equally demonstrate the GRACE of Jesus Christ.
Orr T, Biebel D, Schiedermayer (1996) Life and Death Decisions. Help in making tough choices about infertility, abortion, birth defects and AIDS (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House)
Carton J (1998) Who Broke the Baby? (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers)
Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (1994) Love your Unborn Neighbour (London: SPUC)