50 Years of the Abortion Act
Last Friday (27th November) marked the 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act. Since the Act passed in 1967, abortion has become the leading cause of death in Britain. It claims 200,000 lives per year. 3,800 per week. 550 per day.
1 in 5 pregnancies now end in abortion and 1 in 3 women will have an abortion in their lifetime.
These statistics show that this painful topic is near to us and affects us personally. I am conscious as I write this how it may be affecting you the reader; perhaps discomfort at discussing such a highly-charged subject, maybe pain or guilt for a past abortion that few know about, potentially indignation at anything other than a ‘pro-choice’ stance.
Responding to huge losses of life
It’s hard to get a handle on what the numbers mean. This video contains some helpful comparisons. The Airbus A380, the largest passenger plane in the world, carries about 550 people. 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in history, killed 2,996 people. The olympic stadium in Stratford seats 66,000 people, so 3 olympic stadiums would hold 200,000.
When 550 people die in a day from the same cause, it is understandably headline news. The loss is unfathomable and heart-wrenching. The people that die had lives, talents, relationships, and potential. But now it’s over.
Huge losses of life are usually described as great tragedies, or great injustices, or both. Whatever we call them, these events have a tendency to bring people together in solidarity. People give generously, both of their time and money, to help the victims’ families, and cry out for justice against the perpetrators. We take to the streets, take time off work, make grand statements about how these things will not divide us, and resolve to do everything we can to make sure they never happen again.
But for the most part, the same response is not seen with abortion.
Tragedy and Injustice
Many do not see abortion as a tragedy or injustice because they dispute that a life has been taken. However, Scripture is clear that life begins at conception, God knows us and knits us together in the womb (Psalm 139:13-16). Every foetus is a person made in the image of God. Therefore every abortion is a tragedy. If you were born after 1967, there are thousands of missing people who are your age. Some of them might have sat next to you in school, or at work. They might have been your friends, or your rivals. They might have had a heartwarming smile, a hilarious laugh, or an embarrassing habit. They might have achieved great things in medicine and art and literature and science. We will never know. Their lives were cut short.
And it’s not just the children. Despite what is said in the debate, abortion is never an easy decision. Mothers feel tremendous pressure, often from family, from culture, from themselves and from the father of the child to make a decision. Many live with feelings of guilt and regret for years. They feel unable to talk to anyone about it. The reality is that whatever the mother chooses in a crisis, whether adoption, abortion, or motherhood, the decision is hard and painful and she will have to live with it for the rest of her life.
Abortion is also an injustice. It does not heal any illness or address any physical or mental malady. Those whose job it is to save life, take it. Frequently those performing abortions also break the law. Pre-signing of abortion forms, carrying out abortions on illegal grounds, even offering abortion on the basis of the sex of the baby are prevalent and almost never prosecuted. It’s a lucrative business, too. The most recent Care Quality Commission report on Marie Stopes International (one of Britain’s leading abortion providers) revealed that staff may lose their bonuses if women choose not to abort their child.
Pastoral and Prophetic Responses
Christians have often been on the forefront of responses to tragedy and injustice. The gospel confronts injustice, calling sin what it is, and never shying away from the evil of the human heart. But it also offers genuine forgiveness and hope for those who recognise their sin and repent, and restoration and comfort for victims of tragedy.
Each of us will likely fall more naturally into one of two camps. Some will have a prophetic emphasis, calling out the injustice of abortion and holding people to account. Others emphasise the pastoral side of things, caring for women who have had abortions and offering forgiveness. These tendencies are often played off against each other, as if the prophetically-minded forget the hope of grace, and the pastorally-minded forget the seriousness of sin.
But it need not be like this. The Prophet Isaiah gives us great hope and challenge (Isaiah 1:17-18). When Jerusalem had been filled with innocent blood, he said that God was willing to forgive:
Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.
There is forgiveness for abortion. For women who have had abortions, and for a nation which has aborted 8.8 million children, God offers to wash us white as snow. It is costly for him to do so; it cost him his own Son. Yet his forgiveness comes to us as a free gift, available to all.
God also calls his people to action:
Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
We ought to take this seriously. We can help to stop the injustice, speaking out for those who don’t have a voice yet, defending them, and seeking justice on their behalf. We can serve young mothers in need so that they have support and a way out; abortion need never be the only option to a crisis pregnancy.
Here are a few concrete actions we could take as a church to mark the 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act:
- Pray. Lament the huge loss of life, cry out to God for justice and pray that he might have mercy and compassion on all those involved.
- Reach out to those you know who have had abortions - particularly now when it is being talked about more in the press. Assure them that there is forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Listen to them and pray with them.
- Act. Write to your MP. There is a big push in the pro-abortion lobby at the moment to further liberalise abortion law. Ask your MP to stand up for the vulnerable children and mothers by opposing this. Raise your democratic voice with grace and boldness.