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24 April 2014

When will we see human dignity accorded to all babies before death?

When will we see human dignity accorded to all babies before death?

The World Health Organisation estimates that there are somewhere between 40 and 50 million abortions carried out worldwide each year. In the year we commemorate the start of the First World War, and to give some sort of numerical comparison, it 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.

Maybe this sounds disturbingly familiar? It's the same introduction I used in my PQ piece last April 2013. The numbers continue to mount…

The language from the headline last month was graphic and shocking. NHS trusts have admitted burning more than 15,000 fetal remains as 'clinical waste' alongside rubbish while two others used the bodies in 'waste-to-energy' plants which generate heat for hospitals.

There's something about this story that jars with most people. Something deeply cold about using aborted and miscarried babies as clinical waste to fuel hospital incinerators. So it was no surprise that these revelations caused a strong public reaction. In response, the Department of Health issued an instant ban on the practice which health minister Dr Dan Poulter branded "totally unacceptable".

Moving away from the issue of miscarried babies to focus on aborted babies, there is a certain irony in this story which seems to have been missed. There is public revulsion at the practice of incinerating aborted babies, yet many of the same unborn babies were afforded no human dignity prior to their death.

From which framework of values is the practice of treating the remains of aborted babies as clinical waste branded totally unacceptable and made illegal, while the practice of aborting babies on demand while alive is acceptable and legal?

The prevailing Western framework is that life ultimately began by chance. For many, God is dead or to be more accurate, He never lived. Human life has no objective or intrinsic purpose or value over and above an ape or a fish. Life is protected to a point by human laws, but essentially it only has value, purpose and dignity because it is accorded so by other human beings.

In a culture in the UK where abortion on demand exists in practice if not in law, human life is reduced to the value that people place on it. Some people hold the arbitrary power of life and death. If a child is wanted and it is lost, then it is mourned. If it is not wanted then it is not even accorded the language or status of humanity. They are equalised only in the dignity of death.

It is here in this moment that there is an ironic dilemma for those who advocate abortion on demand. If the life is not accorded the dignity of humanity while it is alive then why should it be accorded the dignity of humanity in death? Why shouldn't it be treated as clinical waste? Either it is a life and should be treated as such or it isn't and we shouldn't be offended when it is treated as medical waste.

It's right here at this raw intersection of life and death that we offer a different narrative: one of hope. The Christian worldview is that humanity is made in the image of God. This is a profound mystery and yet there is a simplicity in it that even a child can grasp. Inherent to every person is dignity, value and purpose. It's another example of why for many people searching for dignity, value and purpose, the prevailing Western worldview raises more questions than answers.

This is not a pleasant story. It raises controversial and awkward questions. Abortion is not a popular issue for many Christians, let alone others and so I raise it sensitively. However I make no apologies for writing about something so crucial to our humanity, relationships, freedoms and justice. What is the Church doing across the UK today to offer hope and life? When will we see human dignity accorded to all babies before death? Finally, will I be raising the same figures again this time next year?

David Smyth, public policy officer, Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland.