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Act of Folly

September 2007 | by John Ling

ACT OF FOLLY

The ruby anniversary of Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act falls on 27 October this year but there is nothing to celebrate. Since its inception this legislation has sanctioned the death of some seven million unborn children.

Abortion is a ghastly practice, unworthy of any civilised society. The whole nation should be ashamed that we have let it persist for so long. The latest figures show that there were 201,173 abortions in England and Wales during 2006 – performed on 193,737 resident women and 7,436 non-residents. This was the first time the 200,000 barrier has been breached. There is no redeeming feature in these grim statistics.

Unconcerned

Back in 1966, when David Steel’s Medical Termination Bill was before Parliament, the vast majority of Evangelicals were either unaware or unconcerned about the issue. Only a handful of leaders protested. The proponents of the Act said that its provisions were designed to help overstretched mothers with large families, poor housing and little financial support.

But what happened? Abortion today is mainly carried out on young, fit, single, childless women with healthy unborn children. If you want proof of a bioethical ‘slippery slope’ here it is.

The original legislation was framed to assist a few difficult cases. But during the last 40 years, its boundaries have been rolled back so that in 2007 we effectively have ‘abortion on demand’. Indeed, it is now estimated that one in three UK women will have an abortion during their lifetime.

Abortion has become deeply embedded in our nation’s lifestyle. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) recently confirmed this sorry state of affairs by asserting that ‘abortion is an essential part of women’s healthcare services’.

But how can killing our unborn offspring, and abrogating a fundamental attribute of womanhood, ever be regarded as ‘essential’? Something has gone seriously awry.

Crumbs of comfort

Despite all the talk about abortion being a woman’s right and meeting her healthcare needs, our collective conscience retains an intuitive sense that it is abnormal and wrong. Indeed, even its ardent supporters are growing uneasy about the physical and mental effects of abortion.

For example, there is mounting evidence for a link between abortion and the onset of breast cancer (the so-called ABC link), while adverse psychological consequences have also been recorded. Abortion can never really be in the best interests of women and their unborn children.

Some recent crumbs of comfort just may point to a change of heart. For instance, in April 2007 the RCOG warned that Britain could face an abortion crisis because an increasing number of doctors and nurses are refusing to get involved. They report ‘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 reported a recent survey. It appears that a quarter of UK doctors are refusing to refer women for terminations and more than half wanted the current 24-week abortion limit reduced – because medical advances mean that babies born before that cut-off time can now survive.

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.

Notable anniversary

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 at least is good news.

It was 40 years ago, on 27 October 1967, that the Act received its Royal Assent. 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 will cost you nearly £700 to attend and is canvassed as ‘a platform … 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 the Roman Catholic 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.

Involvement

And there are other ways to get involved. For example, LIFE, the UK’s largest pro-life charity, is to mark the anniversary by encouraging each of its supporters to raise £183 to fund the expansion of its pregnancy care service and its education programme.

And for those of us who have felt largely impotent and guilty about abortion over the last 40 years, there is one big 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. New measures proposed will permit the creation of animal-human embryos; will end the requirement for doctors to consider the need of children resulting from fertility treatment to have a father; and will weaken 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 new Bill to amend our abortion legislation.

Alliance

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 and18 weeks; a cooling-off period for women awaiting abortion; informed consent after being told the risks of abortion; parental involvement for minors; and a ban on eugenic abortion.

In addition, Lord David Alton and Ann Widdecombe MP are planning to tour the UK to gather support for this campaign. To do nothing is not an option because the pro-abortionists are already planning their own moves – to remove the requirement for two doctors’ signatures; to repeal the conscience clause; to 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 downloaded from the CARE or LIFE websites. The idea is that any of us can arrange a meeting with our MP and use the toolkit to determine their views on abortion and related issues. For those of us who did nothing to restrict the 1967 and 1990 Acts, here is an opportunity to take constructive action at last.

Abortion has not been debated at Westminster for almost 20 years. This may be our last chance to limit abortion and destructive experimentation on human embryos. Hopefully, Evangelicals will stand 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).

Contributed by Dr John R. Ling who is a freelance bioethicist and a member of the Central Committee of LIFE (www.johnling.co.uk).