Saturday, October 28, 2017


In the end I have decided I cannot in good conscience let this day pass without a note, however sombre it must be, on the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act.  This week the Catholic Herald's front cover announces that this law has now cost us nearly nine million lives.  This does not take account of almost the same number of mothers to whom it will have caused suffering without mercy, one way or another, sooner or later.  Nor the abortions funded by the British government abroad, especially in developing countries.

Lord Alton's tour de force in the same issue of the Herald, which is also a tour de compassion, sets out the situation as well as anyone else could.  The fundamental question remains whether the sanctity of human life is irreducible, or merely negotiable.  I say with the Church that it is the former, by Heaven, and therefore that its deliberate destruction is out of the question.  I am unconvinced by any argument that life does not begin at conception.  Even those who are not sure should feel hesitant to to take the risk.  We may and must move mountains to help any expectant mother in a crisis, but we have no right to extinguish the new life being knit within her.  How can one unborn child be revered, and another deemed unfit for life?

I should think, and at least hope, that many of the Members of Parliament who voted in favour of the 1967 Act did so with compassionate intentions, and in the sincere belief that an abortion would remain a regrettable last resort to rare and extreme crises.  What would they make of the incomputable figure at which we have now arrived, though?  Is this moral landscape of 2017 really what most of them intended?

The pro-life movement now faces two different fronts.  One is the explicitly pro-choice movement, with which I have very little patience: forthright and sinister, understanding women's independence of mind and body through a particularly contorted prism, sloganising and deliberately intimidating and accordingly unafraid to requisition the law in the promotion of such slogans.  Abortion, for them, is not regrettable in the slightest, but a positive political ideal; their claim is to the symbolic liberation of all women.  Well, their questions deserve answering, but bluntly.   The pro-life generation holds the life of the mother and the life of the child to be equal.  Both lives must be preserved.  If the growing being is a child, then it is a child, and its life is sacrosanct, just as the mother's life is sacrosanct.  Meanwhile, the proclamations of 'choice' are vacuous for all their vehemence: for instance there is no acknowledgement of women who have felt precisely that they have had no choice at all but to see an abortionist, often under pressure from families withholding material or moral support, or men unwilling to face their responsibilities.  While such men are certainly liberated in their wickedness, there shall be no liberation for the women concerned.

On the other hand, there is is the other front of people with whom I hope my tone would be quite different.  They are the plain folk of Britain, who I suppose are not so different from the House of Commons of 1967.  Surely most of them, if asked, otherwise preferring not to think about abortion, would regret its existence but, meaning to be compassionate, express a view along lines that under extreme circumstances it must be considered a necessary evil.  They are people of good will.  So they might well understand justice and mercy; they might reasonably expect the pro-life movement's mettle to be shown in action as well as in words, and want proof that a culture of life they propose will abound in practical and merciful help to those in difficulties.  And indeed it already does precisely this where it is not prevented from doing so: the Life Charity provides moral and material support to mothers in crisis, and until recently the Catholic Church was free to run adoption services and thereby bring help to mothers in distress and joy to childless couples.

Much is said, too, about sitting in judgment on women who seek abortions.  I think the pro-life movement makes it very clear that, certainly in these days of commonplace abortion, the moral culpability of a mother who has recourse to this avenue is often, even generally, significantly diminished.  The abortion is always wrong, but the mother is not always guilty.  There is, however, surely seldom a guiltier party than the abortionist, who in sober mind and cold blood has devoted all that precious medical knowledge to the opposite of its purpose, to the destruction of life.  Yet when we say that the Church, in obedience to its Founder, is as rich in mercy as it is resolute in justice, we mean it.  Even for the abortionist.

If Martin Luther King's niece, Alveda King, calls the pro-life cause 'the new civil rights movement', then I think we had better take notice.  Lord Alton's estimation that 'the tide is turning' may well be correct: the pro-choice quarters are powerful but they are beginning to bluster and lash out, which is a sign of an awareness of losing ground.  They are going to try very hard to persuade the Irish people to repeal the Eighth Amendment of their constitution next year, but those slogans cannot last forever, and at some point they will have to ask themselves more carefully what really motivates the defenders of life, and why they will not give up.  The sooner they do so the better, and the sooner we can turn our attention to the real business of helping women and the unborn in need, rather than numbing our consciences to a dangerous compromise and wounding short-cut.  Let there rise up a proliferation of pro-lifers, holding aloft the twin lanterns of justice and mercy, in this as in all things!

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