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Camilla Olim: Abortion and the politics of progress

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Christian Concern's Camilla Olim comments this week on various recent abortion-related news items, including Diana Johnson's bill to decriminalise abortion, premature babies surviving at 23 weeks, and Marie Stopes offering abortion over the phone.

"The contrasts here are stark and sobering; a depiction of our society's increasing confusion regarding its value for human life," she writes. "If progress means a society where all can flourish, then surely we are regressing."

C.S Lewis understood that 'progress' is not always positive.

In the children's classic The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, he wrote:

"But that would be putting the clock back," gasped the Governor. "Have you no idea of progress, of development?"

"I have seen them both in an egg," said Caspian. "We call it Going bad in Narnia. This trade must stop."

In the UK we consider ourselves progressive when it comes to our stance on abortion.

Over the past few weeks, abortion has hit headlines in various ways. The battle continues in Parliament: In one corner, Diana Johnson's Ten Minute Rule Bill effectively calls for abortion on demand. In another, Lord Shinkwin is campaigning through his Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill, to bring the abortion limit for unborn babies diagnosed with a disability, in line with the current limit for babies who are deemed healthy.

In the meantime, news has emerged that up to 70% of babies born as premature as 23 weeks are now surviving.

Elsewhere, proponents of a pre-natal test that will effectively 'screen out' Down's syndrome babies have warned that it could lead to 'gender-abortions'.

And all the while, Marie Stopes clinics have been blithely offering women abortions over the phone, without adhering to the legal requirement for the woman to be seen by two doctors.

The contrasts here are stark and sobering; a depiction of our society's increasing confusion regarding its value for human life.


I wrote an article in January about our blurred moral lines surrounding pornography, and the confusion and damage that such ambiguity brings. Ultimately, porn is harmful no matter who is watching it and where. Only by confronting that reality can we begin to clean up the mess it has made.

The same argument can be applied to abortion. MPs, Lords, health-care professionals (and not-so-professionals in the case of Marie Stopes), are all making varying value judgements about the worth of the unborn child. Our current law suggests that unborn babies are valuable after 24 weeks' gestation, but not before.

But as Lord Shinkwin has repeatedly and powerfully stated, the lives of unborn babies with disabilities are considered to be worth far less in this country, as these babies can be aborted up to birth. In a nation where 'Equality and Diversity' is at the top of the social agenda, it is shocking that such blatant injustice continues to be tolerated.

Disability abortion vs. 'Gender-abortion'

Further evidence of discrimination against the disabled is the UK's approval of a pre-natal test which can screen for conditions such as Down's syndrome. Already, 9 in 10 mothers who are told that their child will have Down's decide to abort. With the introduction of the NIPT test, it is believed that this number will increase.

Yet some of the same people who pushed NIPT are now warning that private clinics are using it to test for the baby's sex at only 10 weeks, raising concerns that some mothers will abort the baby if it is not the desired sex.

What kind of society are we if we are (rightly) admitting that 'gender-abortion' is deplorable, yet Down's syndrome abortion is justifiable? Down's, as families of those with the condition will tell you, is often by no means a crippling condition. Rather, the lives of those with Down's are often a blessing and a joy to those around them. If we continue this path of 'progression', we will follow Iceland's footsteps, where 100% of babies diagnosed with Down's are now aborted. Is that really what we want?  

Increasing survival of premature babies

Setting this aside for a moment and looking at the issue more generally, our current situation is sobering.

With an increasing number of 23-week old babies surviving, current abortion law must surely be reviewed.

Dr Peter Saunders of the Christian Medical Fellowship commented:

"These latest figures from centres of excellence demonstrate dramatically what can be achieved with a proactive approach and skilled staff and they highlight an unacceptable postcode lottery of care…It is utterly incongruous that, on the one hand, we are aborting babies at a gestation when others are surviving with good neonatal care."

He added: "A lowering of the upper abortion limit to 20 weeks would save more than 3,000 babies a year."

Calls for decriminalisation

But instead, pro-abortion campaigners are pushing for 'progress' complete decriminalisation. Diana Johnson's Ten Minute Rule bill is unlikely to become law, but it is a step towards abortion on demand becoming a sad reality. Groups such as BPAS claim that women should be trusted to make good decisions about abortion. By that logic, perhaps we should also decriminalise robbery, trusting that thieves will make 'good decisions' about when they think it is acceptable to break into your home.

The truth is that we are already not that far from abortion on demand. It is easy to forget that under the 1967 Abortion Act, abortion is illegal except in limited circumstances. It is particularly easy to forget this in light of news this week that Marie Stopes clinics are offering women abortions after a mere phone-call, without complying with the legal requirement that two doctors agree to it 'in good faith'.

Marie Stopes flouting the law

Under the law, the doctors must both agree that abortion would cause less damage to the woman's physical or mental health than continuing with the pregnancy. But the call centre workers were found to be writing down false reasons for the woman's wanting an abortion. When a reporter said that she "just didn't want to have the baby", the call centre worker put down "client is unable emotionally to continue with pregnancy".

Fiona Bruce MP said that "these shoddy procedures reveal an appalling lack of respect for the women concerned and for the law by Marie Stopes, whose contract involving huge amounts of public money should be reviewed immediately."

Re-establishing a biblical model

If progress means a society where all can flourish, then surely we are regressing.

This week, Dr Joe Boot, Director of the Wilberforce Academy, reminded us that only a biblical model can provide a truly just society that promotes the good of all:

"Because of the perversion of [man's nature], where God's word is rejected, his justice is no justice, and his social order, oppression."

Our nation's rejection of the Word of God is why our views on abortion are inconsistent and confused. Rather than our relentless desire for 'progress', we must realign ourselves with God's Word and His blueprint for living.

True progress is moving towards a God-fearing society that understands, protects and promotes the intrinsic value of human life.

"Injustice can only be overcome by God's justice," says Joe Boot. "The hopeless condition of fallen man…is precisely why it takes godly men and women, called to serve God and have dominion in Christ, to pray and work in faith for justice and righteousness – the kingdom of God."

Let's pray that we would become such men and women, who boldly speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. 

Related Links: 
Marie Stopes abortions signed off after just a phonecall
Boom in survival rates for babies born at 23 weeks (The Times £) 
Bioethicists call for ban on new pre-natal test 
Immanent wisdom and the democratic delusion 
Protesting porn in public