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Regan King: Being anti-abortion is not enough

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After a vote in the House of Commons last week in favour of decriminalising abortion, Regan King analyses the Johnson bill and urges us to be pro-life.

"We must cultivate a helpful and hope-filled willingness to not only call people away from what is bad, but to simultaneously point people to what is good and make adequate provisions to accomplish that good," he says.

On Monday 13 March, 2017, MPs in the House of Commons voted 172-142 in favour of a bill, presented by Labour MP Diana Johnson that will see the complete decriminalisation of abortion in England and Wales [1]. This may come as a surprise to some. You may have assumed that this was accomplished 50 years ago with the 1967 Abortion Act. Often overlooked in the Abortion Act, however, are the precise practical qualifiers one must meet in order to legally receive an abortion. The Act says:

Subject to the provisions of this section, a person shall not be guilty of an offence under the law relating to abortion when a pregnancy is terminated by a registered medical practitioner if two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion, formed in good faith—

(a) that the pregnancy has not exceeded its twenty-fourth week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family; or

(b) that the termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; or

(c) that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated; or

(d) that 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. [2]

In summary, you will not be prosecuted for an abortion if two licensed practitioners sign it off having determined mental or physical risk to either the mother or the child. There has been abject failure in upholding even this fundamentally flawed criteria. For example, in 2012, an undercover Daily Telegraph investigation filmed two doctors in British clinics agreeing to terminate the infant's life based solely on whether a baby was male or female [3]. The willingness to falsify paperwork to arrange these 'sex-selective' abortions was highly illegal, not to mention immoral, and no one was ultimately held accountable as the CPS deemed any case against the two doctors concerned as 'not in the public interest' [4]. The same year the government revealed that spot checks showed some doctors broke the law by "pre-signing" abortion consent forms in anticipation of abortion requests [5]. With approaching 600 abortions per day in England and Wales [6] such aberrations of an already flawed legislation should come as no surprise.

What the new law will allegedly 'not do'

First, decriminalisation will not make it easier to access abortions post-24 weeks...The decriminalisation can apply these exact same conditions…

Let us consider the argument Diana Johnson is making here. Ms. Johnson seems to assume that a post-24 weeks abortion is outside the bounds of morality. That is why post-24 week abortions can, under her proposed legislation, still be criminalised. Let's break this down for clarity's sake.

First, Diana Johnson is talking about post 24 weeks from conception, meaning the mother is 25+ weeks pregnant. What is the mother pregnant with? Even the 1967 Abortion Act avoids impersonal euphemisms (eg. embryo, foetus, etc) and speaks of 'the child'. And yet the 1967 Abortion Act upholds the criminal nature of a post 24 weeks abortion except in the rarest and most extreme of circumstances, while at the same time indicating that the mother is carrying a 'child' in the time up to 24 weeks in which an abortion is allowed!

So what then makes an abortion more moral prior to 24 weeks from conception than an abortion post 24 weeks? It is not because this is around the time the child's heart starts beating – that takes place around day 22 (this info is readily available from almost any basic science book). It is not because post 24 weeks, the child's nervous system and other vital organs are forming. That generally takes place from week 3. It is not because post 24 weeks, the fertilised egg of day 1 suddenly looks more human. In weeks 5-8, eyes, legs, and hands (including fingernails) begin to develop, brain waves can be detected, mouth and lips are present, eyelids and toes form, and the nose becomes distinct.

By the 8th week organs are in place, the baby can begin to hear, its unique fingerprints begin to form, bone begins to replace cartilage, and the baby is able to kick. Pre 24 weeks abortions are not more favourable than post because of the baby's ability to experience pain from 24 weeks on. By week 11, its skeletal structure is formed along with nerves. From week 12 every part is present that can allow the child to experience pain, though some people are born with a condition that means they cannot feel pain – that to say that pain is not what makes a person 'human'. From 20 weeks the baby in the womb can begin to recognise the mother's voice. All of this vital development takes place prior to the 24 weeks abortion time limit that exists in the UK – the time limit that Diana Johnson says can remain in new legislation. That aside, even if Diana Johnson can make a moral case for aborting a baby up to 24 weeks from conception (I do not believe she can any more than for post 24 weeks conception), it is very optimistic to presume that decriminalisation will not make it easier to access abortions post 24 weeks. Indeed she uses as poster-girls for her bill,

...women who have sought help from online organisations to buy abortion tablets—something that no one would have imagined in 1967, let alone 1861—as, in so doing, they are committing criminal offences under the 1861 Act.

Surely with the presence of online organisations and indeed illegal access to abortifacient drugs via the internet already, the decriminalisation of abortion would only serve to increase the openness and ease of access to women regardless of pregnancy term. If abortion is decriminalised little will be able to stop vulnerable women from increasingly becoming a target for what is sure to be an even busier market - and there is no guarantee that there will be any accurate term of pregnancy evaluated.

Johnson's final two 'safeguards' naturally follow on from the first. In the Commons she said:

Secondly, decriminalisation will not lead to a free-for-all with unlicensed practitioners providing abortions; as now, there will be strict regulation and licensing of health professionals…

Once more, Johnson has no way of ensuring this. With decriminalisation, by definition it would be significantly easier for unlicensed professionals to offer abortion services as well as making it possible to return to the days of back street abortions. Maria Caulfield, the Conservative MP for Lewes made this point in the Commons as well, saying, "the Bill would be a charter for unsafe abortion practices, not dissimilar to the back-street abortions that the Abortion Act 1967 was supposedly meant to end." Certainly with Johnson's acknowledgement of the growing availability of abortifacient drugs via the internet, her promise that decriminalisation will not lead to a free-for-all seems fairly hollow.

Johnson's final point asserts:

Finally, decriminalisation will not permit gender-selective or non-consensual abortions. Some opponents of decriminalisation argue that the only way we can restrict these practices is to apply criminal law to everyone. I hope that hon. Members will appreciate that it is well within the capacity of this House to find a better way forward that does not criminalise all women and all practitioners. Let me be clear that under current law, women cannot obtain an abortion on grounds of the gender of the child. With decriminalisation, professional bodies that are best placed to take action can continue to prohibit this as a ground for abortion. It is worth pointing out that the current law does nothing about those who try to coerce women in those circumstances. On the issue of non-consensual abortions, such as when ​a man assaults a pregnant woman, these would continue to be criminalised under other laws such as grievous bodily harm.

Once again, despite Johnson's insistence to the contrary, decriminalisation would logically necessitate further lack of substantial regulation and this would lead to gender-selective and non-consensual abortions. Regarding the latter, Johnson's speech indicates that the woman's choice is the only choice that matters – father's don't really have rights when it comes to non-consensual abortions. If they did, then why would Johnson seek to stir up sympathy by producing the following quote from a woman seeking abortion pills online?

I live in rural England and have no friends and the relatives I have I am not close to. I was hoping to have a termination in the comfort of my own home without judgmental eyes and without worrying about my husband knowing. I fear what would happen if he did...

If the father of a child or any other man was to harm an expectant mother so that the child was lost, there would be legal repercussions. The child was desired and so it has rights. Take away the desire for the child, throw in the idea that the pregnancy is inconvenient in some way and suddenly the child has no rights and can be killed in the mother's womb, its life snuffed out in a moment of selfish and thoughtless choice. This can be due to gender or a disability such as Down's Syndrome which the parent does not want to deal with.

C.S. Lewiswas right when he observed in The Abolition of Man:

A great many of those who 'debunk' traditional...values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process...When all that says 'it is good' has been debunked, what says 'I want' remains.[7]

At the end of the day the decriminalisation of abortion is an attempt to further debunk what is good, leaving what certain people want, rather than the created order of what is right as the standard of morality on which our society rests. At the root of this is a dangerous and motivated nihilism. A contemporary of C.S. Lewis', Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) admitted 

I had motive for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics, he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantageous to themselves. ... For myself, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political. [8]

Huxley was honest, where so many today are not.

As morally inconsistent and abhorrent as the 1967 Abortion Act is both in theory and practice, Diana Johnson's bill to decriminalise all abortions expands on this, using illogical and unsubstantiated assurances in a bid to make her case more palatable. For any conscientious person this just does not work.

What then?

It is all fine and well being anti-abortion. Many people are anti-abortion, but the sad reality is that not enough people are really and truly pro-life. Openly opposing abortion and campaigning against pro-abortion legislation are good and right and have been effective in saving many children's lives and giving expectant mothers' further thought as to the moral validity of aborting their baby. Such opposition is not enough.

If we are anti-abortion we must be, both vocally and practically, pro-adoption. If we are pro-life, we must be concerned not only that the infant make it through the pregnancy and is delivered safely, but that both the mother and child are effectively and empathetically cared for practically. If in counselling we steer mother's away from abortion and its plethora of consequences, we must also drive mother's on to appreciation of life and its plentiful challenges. We should provide whatever spiritual, mental, and physical support necessary to ensure health and vitality for both mother and child.

What are some points to pray for and seek to enact practically?

1.    An online UK directory of good crisis pregnancy centres and of charities and churches where good counselling will be received is needed. An online one-stop shop is needed and is not currently existent, though I know one is being created as I write. Pray that there will be no roadblocks or barriers to this project and that it will be a tool through which many lives are saved.

2.    Availability of trained counsellors to man a helpline. Pro-abortion organisations such as Marie Stopes and BPAS have 24 hour advice helplines. Why is there no Christian organisation with this level of professionalism let alone dedication? Do we really believe in the value of life? Is it a matter of resources? I am sure resources can be found. Is it a matter of time and energy? Personally, if I knew that I could potentially save a child's life I would be willing to man an emergency line from 2-5am every night. Such an emergency hotline does not exist in the UK at present, however, so what I would be willing to do is pointless until such a facility actually exists. Pray that in the establishment of a UK-wide directory there will be the ability to begin a helpline for those in crisis pregnancies, to talk, listen, advise, and refer as necessary.

3.    Consider encouraging your church and its leaders to act as an advertised place where women can find help and counsel. If churches are not serving in this way, the world will. It is time for churches to up their game practically in the UK. Pray about this and look into ways in which your church can be a megaphone for light and life in your community.

4.    Provision of more safe housing with care for pregnant homeless and/or vulnerable women. The charity, Life, does have such facilities, but more are needed.

5.    Adoption. Consider adopting and loving a child who has been abandoned, removed from family for safety, or has a disability that left him/her unwanted. Care about unwanted children post birth as much as pre-birth.

6.    Learn and love. Seek to learn the facts surrounding abortion and how to best show love in giving good counsel to someone considering an abortion or who has already had an abortion. Never fail to uphold the grace of God in Christ Jesus offered to all who come to him in repentance and faith. Listen both sympathetically and empathetically and seek to lead discussions concerning abortion to the truth of life from conception, made in God's image, and filled with meaning and purpose. Weep with those who weep in sadness over previous wrong choices and point people to the comfort and cleansing of sin found in Christ. Bear burdens and help people carry their baggage when and where needed.

Pro-life protests, campaigning and debates are important and have been effective both legislatively and in personally helping many considering abortion to consider whether their actions are objectively moral. There must at the same time be increasing pro-life resources. We must cultivate a helpful and hope-filled willingness to not only call people away from what is bad, but to simultaneously point people to what is good and make adequate provisions to accomplish that good. This creates a double-edged sword with which the wrong of abortion is exposed and the right of life and to life is espoused.

[1] Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations), 13 March 2017, House of Commons Hansard, Volume 623
[2] Abortion Act 1967, Section 1
[3] Claire Newell and Holly Watt, "Abortion investigation: doctors filmed agreeing illegal abortions 'no questions asked'" in The Daily Telegraph 22 Feb 2012
[4] "CPS statement on abortion related case" 05 Sept 2013
[5] Robert Winnett, Claire Newell and Holly Watt, "One in Five Abortion Clinics breaks Law" in The Daily Telegraph, 22 Mar 2012
[6] UK Health Centre, FAQ 'How many Women have Abortions?',
[7] C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man. (C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd., 1974). Cited from The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2007), 707
[8] Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means (New York, NY: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1937), 270 


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