Abortion: Not just an ‘out there’ problem

Dr Lizzie Ling | 14 May 2020

Worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 40 million induced abortions every year. In the US there are, on average, around 2,400 abortions a day; in the UK, there are around 600.

It is difficult to deny that there is no longer a moral consensus on many of the issues we face today; some would say that we have lost our way. Values that once underpinned daily life are no longer recognised, and we’re left unsure as to what is right and wrong—or good and bad.

Talking Points: Abortion

Talking Points: Abortion

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Helps Christians to think biblically, speak wisely and act compassionately on the complex issue of abortion.

It’s like that with abortion, where there is a wide range of thought and opinion—opinion that is sometimes very strongly held. Debate can be fierce, making it hard to engage with those who hold different views. Often discussion revolves around extreme cases, which, although rare, are desperate and heartbreaking. Emotions run high.

This is the context in which Christians are called to think, speak and act. But it’s a hard thing to do and so our default position is often to retreat and keep quiet. Not only do we avoid conversations around this area with family and friends who do not share our faith; we also avoid talking about abortion within our churches. This is largely for two reasons: first, we haven’t taken the time to think carefully about the issue and develop firm convictions, and second, we find it difficult to discuss such a sensitive topic and don’t know where to start.

The result of this is that we are left vulnerable to going with the flow when this issue affects our lives. When suddenly faced with an unexpected pregnancy, for instance, we are at risk of making choices which we come to regret. In addition, those who are suffering as a result of an abortion are also left without the help and care they need.

A world that doesn’t make sense

The lack of moral consensus which characterises our world today means that as a society we behave in ways which are often contradictory. Much of the time, human behaviour doesn’t make sense. This is a natural consequence of rejecting God’s moral framework for life—and this means we’re now left to our own devices, relying on our own wisdom and making up our own rules. It’s because of this that we end up playing what might be called “ethical catch-up”.

Developing church cultures where people feel that they can talk about these things without the fear of judgment will go a long way to ensuring that they receive the love and care they need.

Consider a doctor who, on the neonatal ward, spends many hours fighting for the life of a child born prematurely. On an adjacent ward, a colleague is terminating the life of a perfectly healthy child in utero (in the womb) of the same gestational age. A third doctor, in a clinic at the same hospital, is trying to help an infertile couple who are desperate to have their own baby. Sadly, these scenarios are not unrelated because in attempting to solve our problems, we have just created more

The language we use

The moment that Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, announced that she was pregnant, everyone was delighted. It was as if her baby had already been born: the press discussed names and which school he would go to. If something had happened to Archie
during her pregnancy, the national and international grief would have been enormous. He was already a child.

In the antenatal clinic the assumption is the same. Parents, absorbed by the ultrasound pictures, marvel at fingers and toes. Is it a boy or is it a girl? What will they be called? What will they do? There’s a sense of anticipation and celebration.

This though is not what happens in the abortion clinic. There, too, mothers will have an ultrasound scan. But in this case the screen is often turned away. Without the visual image, it’s easier to suppress the truth of what’s happening and avoid some of the pain. For similar reasons the child is referred to as a “pregnancy” in conversation, and the act of abortion as “emptying the uterus” or the “termination of pregnancy”. The truth of the situation hasn’t changed, but the effect of altering the terminology is that the procedure has been sanitised and the child dehumanised—all of which makes it easier to go ahead with an abortion.

Sometimes language is changed out of compassion (even if this is misguided and short-term). Sometimes it is altered manipulatively. Whatever the reason, we must acknowledge that the words we use are very powerful. Subtly, as they are repeated over and over again, they can produce huge changes in how we think. We need to be aware of this and careful about the language we use.

The laws we make

Contradiction is also apparent in our laws, which have traditionally been based on Judeo-Christian principles. These value life and the protection of the weak. However, legislation has moved away from these principles to accommodate abortion—and in so doing our laws and the thinking that underpins them have become inconsistent.

Historically, the lives of the unborn have been protected by law. In the US today, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (2004) is a federal law that recognises the unborn child as a legal victim should they be killed or injured during the commission of one of over 60 listed violent crimes. In the UK, there is a statutory offence of “child destruction” for someone who kills an unborn child who would otherwise have been capable of being born alive. The offence carries a potential life sentence—the same as for murder.

However, in the last 50 years in much of the Western world, things have changed dramatically, and unborn children no longer receive the protection they once did. In many countries, under a variety of circumstances, abortion has become legal. And in practice, this often means that abortion is available on demand. In the USA, the case of Roe v. Wade2 was pivotal in 1973. In the UK, it was the 1967 Abortion Act. Both resulted in dramatic
increases in abortion rates.

Within our churches

Since one in four US women and one in three British women will have an abortion at some stage in their life, it would be a mistake for churches to think that this is a problem that doesn’t affect them. One American study showed that 13% of those having abortions described themselves as evangelical Christians.

The truth is that abortion deeply affects many women in our churches and congregations. Often, the first reaction to an unwanted pregnancy is not calm and rational thought but panic and a desire to fix the “problem” quickly. Abortion can be a very tempting practical solution, especially in the face of powerful pressures—family size, career, finances, and so on—and the potential for these things to destabilise relationships, marriages and family life.

Although we would hope that other church members would be loving and supportive, many women feel isolated and alone at these moments and find it hard to talk openly. Single women and teenagers are likely to find their situation particularly difficult and feel very ashamed in a church context. And then there are those women who, having had an abortion sometime in the past, continue to live with the consequences. For many, the long-term emotional pain is a reality, and this can be severe.

Developing church cultures where people feel that they can talk about these things without the fear of judgment will go a long way to ensuring that they receive the love and care they need. It will also help to protect the church from the steady drip-drip erosion of the prevailing culture on our thinking and beliefs.

In Talking Points: Abortion, Lizzie Ling and Vaughan Roberts survey the Christian worldview and help us to think biblically, speak wisely and act compassionately as we engage with the people, the questions and the heartache surrounding abortion, in a society with very different values.

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