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18 April 2013

Protecting the unborn

Protecting the unborn

The World Health Organisation estimates that there are somewhere between 40 and 50 million abortions carried out worldwide each year. To give some sort of numerical comparison, the Second World War claimed the lives of around 60 million people.

In 2007 - 40 years since the introduction of the 1967 Abortion Act - the total number of abortions carried out in England and Wales was reported at 6.7 million. Today this figure has risen to well over seven million. Again to give some context, this equates to the entire population of Scotland and Northern Ireland combined.

In 2011, in England and Wales there were 723,913 live births and 189,931 abortions. This means that for every four children born, one has been aborted.

These numbers are difficult to take in. It might be helpful to read them again, slowly. We can be a little dismissive about statistics, but sometimes the facts are just overwhelming - especially when you think about the man, woman and unborn child behind each one.

It is a serious criminal offence to carry out an abortion in England and Wales outside of any of the permitted grounds of the 1967 Act. Over 98 per cent of abortions are carried out on one ground alone, that of mental health. Concerns have been raised by organisations like CMF about a deliberate misinterpretation of these mental health grounds and the lack of objective medical evidence in most cases. This flagrant abuse of the law has created de facto abortion on demand, a completely unintended and unexpected consequence of MP David Steel’s Private Members Bill all those years ago.  Indulging my legal tendencies for a moment. it’s entirely possible to foresee a future police or government enquiry finding criminal culpability in these mass ultra vires (beyond power) abortions. 

Conversely, the number of abortions carried out in England and Wales under grounds F (to save the life of the mother) or G (to prevent grave injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman) i.e. under similar conditions as to those permitted in Northern Ireland, are so rare that the official statistics recorded none in 2011. It is thought to be less than 0.0001 per cent. 

The law in Northern Ireland strongly protects the life of the mother and unborn child. This is something to be deeply thankful for and to be celebrated. It is very different to England and Wales because the 1967 Act was never extended here. A consultation on guidance for health care professionals on the limited circumstances for the lawful termination of pregnancy has just been issued in Northern Ireland. It is really important to clarify that the law itself is not being changed. However, as shown above, without careful interpretation and practice of the law, abortion on demand can be given a foothold which becomes difficult to reverse.

So we agree that guidelines are absolutely necessary but they must be clear and robust enough not to allow abortion on demand in through the back door. We will be responding to this consultation and are also encouraging our members in Northern Ireland to respond by sending a short, clear, polite email to familypolicyunit@dhsspsni.gov.uk. If you live in the rest of the UK perhaps some of these statistics or the renewed debate in Northern Ireland will strengthen your resolve to reform abortion practices in the UK. You may also wish to contact your local MP.

We believe that life and the freedom to make choices are generous gifts from God. We believe in the intrinsic sanctity of life; that God is the creator of life even from before the ‘unformed body’ (Psalm 139) in the mother’s womb. Choices around ending life, whether before or after birth, will always be agonising when we value life properly and life should never be ended at our convenience. The death of any life before birth is always a tragedy, if we lose the weight of this, we risk losing our very humanity.