There is an anniversary upon us. A 50th anniversary. One that conservatives or Christians or lovers of human life cannot celebrate, no indeed! It shall be marked, it shall be commemorated. Of course, I am referring to the Abortion Act 1967. The splendid Ann Widdecombe, former Conservative MP and minister, has put her shoulder behind the Pro-Life Alliance’s spiffing cause of having bells rung from every church, be it a Gothic Revival designed by Pugin or a Norman pile in Worcestershire, on Sunday October 29. This is a glorious and sublime notion to mark a rather unsavoury Act. Miss Widdecombe noted that ‘more than eight million unborn children have been taken from the womb since then. That’s the equivalent of the population of London’. The eight million figure is the UK only; some recent estimates have the worldwide figure of 40-50million. Other wise voices have been heard on the topic of abortion, including the Honourable Member for North East Somerset, Jacob Rees-Mogg. He said: ‘I am completely opposed to abortion. Life is sacrosanct and begins at the point of conception . . . abortion is morally indefensible.’ I was delighted to hear a politician stick to his guns and eloquently defend his principles and the sanctity of human life. I was hear-hearing all the way through the interview.
At any rate, why would the Church be interested in this anniversary? Why should Christians back the Pro-Life Alliance’s call for the tolling of bells? Well, let me have a swing at that googly.
First of all, let me clear up one thing. Abortion is still illegal in the UK under the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861, and the 1967 Abortion Act made abortion legally permissible only in very limited circumstances. Unfortunately, the reading and interpretation of this Act has become very loose and wide. So much so that Miss Widdecombe has said that those who voted for the Act in 1967 would have been ‘absolutely horrified’ at the way it is being implemented. The safeguards, unfortunately, are being trampled on like an American storekeeper opening his shutters on Black Friday.
Anyhow, please excuse the digression. Churches should get behind this, because life is a gift from God, and is therefore sacred and ought to be celebrated and protected. King David acknowledges: ‘Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me’ (Psalm 51:5). In this acknowledgment, he makes clear two foundational Christian truths: (i) original sin and (ii) human life begins at conception. Let me reinforce this with a passage from Jeremiah (1:5): ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.’ Again, life is before birth. Consequently, abortion at any stage of gestation is the taking of human life, and thus is contravening the Sixth Commandment, which is: Thou shalt not kill [murder] (Deuteronomy 5:17). You can see where I am going with this. It is fundamental to Christian doctrine, beliefs, values, call it what you will, to support, to cherish, to glory in human life.
I would suggest the most worrisome, disconcerting, downright folly of the Abortion Act 1967 is section 1, which details the conditions, or grounds, under which a medical termination of a pregnancy may occur. This ground in particular that states if ‘there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped’. Meaning that a disabled child may be terminated right up to the point of birth. Yes, till birth. The honourable Lord Shinkwin introduced a private member’s Bill to House of Lords to correct this folly, but unfortunately the Bill did not pass the chamber. This is where we should focus our efforts.
Furthermore, I believe that allowing abortion on the grounds of disability up to birth sends a clear message to the disabled and to the rest of society. This is the message: your life is not as valuable as a non-disabled person, and you are not as valuable to society at large. Of course, this is most certainly unacceptable. We are all unique, and all human life is sanctified, because ‘God created man in his own image’ (Genesis 1:27).
The 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act 1967 is an anniversary we should mark and we ought to think about and pray for those eight million lives that have been lost, and for all those family members that have been adversely affect by the Act. I cannot truly think of a better and more significant way of commemorating the Act than having the beautiful bells tolling away like billy-o on Sunday October 29. I say, let them ring!