On November 23rd a radical bill to decriminalise abortion and impose it on Northern Ireland was stopped in its tracks thanks to opposition led by Christopher Chope MP. The status quo is preserved for now – but it’s no time for us to rest on our laurels.
The Royal College of General Practitioners has just stated: “The College will now work with partners across the health sector, including the BMA, the Royal College of Nursing, Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health, the Royal College of Midwives and others, to call for the decriminalisation of abortion across the UK.”
A month prior to the November knock-down I’d listened wide-eyed at a pro-abortion Parliamentary meeting as Diana Johnson MP and Stella Creasy MP candidly shared their dream to see abortion fully decriminalised right up till birth. This would for example officially legalise gender-abortion – a fact which, when raised in the meeting, was neither denied nor apologised for. It would also drive abortion even further underground in terms of medical accountability. No longer would (increasingly discredited) “health” grounds be needed to grant every abortion, making it harder to prove as the tracks are covered that hundreds of thousands of specific abortions have been performed expressly on the basis of false medical information.
There was in this meeting a palpable eagerness to capitalise on the Repeal of the Republic of Ireland and rush abortion into the North, even though it is against the wishes of the Northern Irish people themselves – 100,000 of them are alive today thanks to the strong protection of the unborn currently enshrined in their law.
These twin legislative giants, representing the most aggressive advances against our unborn in recent years, are still lurking just around the corner and have only really been held off for now by little more than a political technicality. The DUP’s strong pro-life stance, combined with its position as something of a cornerstone in an otherwise non-existent majority, means that for now any such bill is unlikely to get time or support from the Government. But the abortion industry will not rest until they have prevailed, and the post-Brexit House of Commons may well be much more vulnerable. Moreover, abortion advocates are increasingly attempting to sneak it through in the form of amendments to other bills – something the DUP could be powerless to stop.
It’s almost impossible to find a single prominent Church figure in the UK who has publicly denounced abortion at all, let alone these specific and imminent threats, and some Christian doctors, whilst avoiding involvement in abortion themselves, prefer to keep their heads down rather than raise them above the parapet with vocal opposition.
Our relative silence is taken for assent – especially when it’s our taxes paying for abortions, our Royal Colleges championing them, and our British Medical Association backing full decriminalisation.
If there was ever a time for the Church and for Christian doctors to break our relative silence on abortion, it’s now.
So what holds us back?
A blast from the past might help…
In the late 19th Century, horrific atrocities were being committed against the native people of King Leopold II’s Congo Free State. Hands were cut off for the crime of insufficient rubber collection, and children were eaten by soldiers, in full view of their fellow-villagers to terrorise them.
The English missionaries there were uniquely placed to provide evidence and expose this injustice internationally, but they didn’t want to provoke King Leopold; they risked expulsion from the Congo Free State. Would it be worth it?
Perhaps we ask ourselves the same question, faced with current and threatened abortion injustice. Perhaps, like those missionaries, we consider what we have to lose – our position, our platform – and perhaps we really do believe that we need to protect these for selfless, gospel-driven reasons.
“The difficulty,” said Grattan Guinness, director of the Congo Balolo Mission at the time, “is to do good without doing harm.”
But is this cost/benefit approach to decision-making really the biblical, Christlike way?
Countless men and women in the Bible risked and gave their lives in obedience to God. Think of Joseph, Moses, Jesus, and the early Church (and later, the Reformers). They didn’t stop to wonder whether it would be “worth it”. They simply obeyed God and left the outcome to him.
Remember the words of Esther confronting the King about the plot to exterminate the Jews: “If I perish, I perish.” She understood that her platform, and even her life, were not for protecting: they were for using and if necessary for using up, “for such a time as this”, in the cause of something greater.
If engaging with issues of justice is a command of God, there are in fact only two possible paths – obedience, and disobedience.
It’s hard to think of a harassed people group more numerous, more vulnerable, and more unable to speak for themselves, than unwanted babies in the womb.
The unborn is our neighbour, and we are commanded to love our neighbour as ourselves.
Can there be any question over the biblical mandate to defend the unborn?
Whenever we allow God to back the security of our job or mission field but disallow him from speaking through us about justice, we make God in our own image and engage in a form of idolatry.
I wonder how history will look back and judge us. Will they see men and women who stood up whatever the cost? Or will they see men and women who loved their own lives?
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, comments: “Ultimately, this is about providing non-judgemental care to our patients so that women who face the difficult decision to proceed with an abortion are not disadvantaged by the legal system.”
When faced with a pregnant woman, she sees only one patient. But we see two, and as doctors, and as Christians, we have a duty to protect both.
Decriminalisation, and abortion in Northern Ireland: these giants will make another attempt, and soon.
Will we wait for them? Or shall we go on the front foot, go on the offensive, and “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves“?
Dave Brennan, founder and leader of Brephos