By the Revd Dr Peter Sanlon
With a quarter of all pregnancies in the UK ending in abortion, the reversal of Roe v Wade by America’s supreme court ought to give all in our country pause for thought. Considerable support for abortion has been bequeathed outside the borders of America, by the erroneous ruling half a century ago that the Constitution of the United States provided the right to abortion.
In the UK there has been a widespread ceding of the public square by much of evangelicalism – with the result that abortion (among other social issues) has not been challenged or taught about as clearly as it has been in the American churches. There have been honourable exceptions in the UK such as The Christian Institute, Christian Concern and the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child. That said the issues have been largely left to the instincts and private learning of the individual believer.
The UK tradition of our main political parties making matters of abortion a non-whipped conscience vote has communicated that the life of the unborn is a matter not worth political effort. No matter of significant political importance can be pressed through our legislature without parties taking a stance on them. So the result of our approach has in practice repeatedly ceded ground to advances in abortion — most recently DIY abortion kits for home use.
In churches it is tempting for ministers to apply the same approach to abortion as our political parties — leave it up to individuals to work out what they think best. Ministers are all too aware that the abortion statistics mean it very likely some women in their congregations will have had abortions, and certain that several will have friends and family who have.
And yet the Bible is clear that life begins at conception (Ps. 139:13-15). The unborn child has the right to the protection afforded by the Law’s commandment — ‘You shall not murder.’ (Ex. 20:13) Christians in our nation need to in humility learn a bit from those in America who have been willing to be publicly reviled for teaching God’s Word as regard the neighbourly love we ought to show the unborn.
From my own experience, almost ten years ago, I have seen first hand how persuasive doctors can be when they feel that abortion is the best course of action. When we were told that our 12 week old unborn baby had a fatal condition (anencephaly), my wife was handed consent papers to terminate the pregnancy within half an hour of being told our baby wouldn’t survive. We were told the matter could be ‘resolved’ immediately, with a simple ‘procedure’. At that moment we were profoundly shocked, distressed and confused. Carrying our baby to term was not even an option presented to my wife. With tears flowing and the papers limp and unsigned in my wife’s hand, we were even told which nutrients she should be taking when we ‘tried again’ for a healthy baby. The pressure to abort was considerable. It was only because she and I had together thought carefully through the ethics of abortion in every situation, that through her tears my wife could firmly hand back those unsigned papers and make clear that she wanted ongoing pregnancy care for herself and our unborn child. It breaks our hearts that women are pressured into abortions in the profound shock and distress of that moment. Having already had a stillborn baby 4 years previously, we understood the heartbreak doctors were trying to shield us from, but we also understood something more profound: We also knew the value of carrying a child who does not survive birth. Each child is infinitely precious and brings pride and joy to their parents, even when their life is short. Abortion sucks that possibility of that joy away.
And so set about giving our daughter, Anastasia Joy, every day that was ordained for her. Despite the doctors falsely telling us that 99% of babies with anencephaly die in utero, like the 75% of babies carried to term, Anastasia was born alive. She lived a beautiful, peaceful 80 minutes in our arms, before she went to be with Jesus. Her short life brought us more joy and peace than we could ever have imagined in that cold consultation room on that dark December ‘diagnosis day’.
Our experience underlines why we need to teach our people what the Bible says about the unborn. Without a prior, firm conviction, that the unborn child is infinitely precious, belongs to God and is not ours to dispose of, many in our churches are unprepared for the pressure brought to bear on them in a crisis moment. Teaching on this topic needs to be sensitively handed, but it needs to be firm and clear also. Where regret and sorrow for past decisions exist in our church families, wonderfully Jesus offers full forgiveness and peace to any who repent. So let’s not live in fear of those different experiences, and prepare those in our church families to stand firm and embrace the lives of all the children God blesses them with.