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18 October 2017

Marking 50 years of the 1967 Abortion Act

Marking 50 years of the 1967 Abortion Act

 One of our Both Lives Matter partners, our friends at CARE are holding an event to mark the 1967 Abortion Act in central London on Saturday 28 October. You can find out more information here.

It will be 50 years since the passage of the 1967 Abortion Act through parliament on 27 October 2017. Marking this anniversary is a difficult thing to do.

Today, by the age of 45, one in three women will have had an abortion. Last year 37 per cent of abortions were repeat, that is for women who had at least one before. Today, for every four children born, one has been aborted. And so for some abortion has become synonymous with women’s rights and reproductive justice and for them this anniversary presents an opportunity to champion it further in the name of feminism and equality.

It’s important for those of a pro-life orientation to appreciate here a real desire to advance women’s rights, however gravely they feel it is misdirected. There are genuine grievances and wrongs to be rectified; for far longer than the past 50 years, the state, men, civil society, the Church have often not treated women well. There is still a long way to go to tackle systemic sexism and gender-based violence in order to create cultures where women are no longer diminished because of their bodies or biology.

However, it’s also important to appreciate how truly sad, small and terrifying this vision for women has become. Women are pitched against their unborn children, turning the first form of human relationship into a war of rights. In 50 years the choice of abortion in very limited circumstances as ‘necessary evil’ has moved to a moral good for any woman in any circumstances. The moral pendulum has swung so far, that those who advocate for the protection of human life are now often cast as the immoral perpetuators of misogamy. It’s important not just to look back at the effects of the past fifty years but ahead too. The end being pursued by many abortion activists is one where any woman can have an abortion at any stage for any reason without anyone else interfering. A key part of this is to remove abortion from the criminal law jurisdiction, making abortion to become an unremarkable health care procedure – as easy as having a bunion removed.

Yet, in an age where for many, the greatest good is to let people do what they want and the greatest evil is to prevent this, the slogan ‘my body, my rights’ demands no further ethical enquiry. On this view, unlimited abortion up to birth would be a victory for women and is the key goal by which progress must be measured.

The idea that freedom for women is best advanced and measured by their ability to end the life of their unborn children is chilling. In a factual, and indeed metaphorical, sense abortion is an inherently destructive act. It de-forms that which is being made, it is de-creative, it de-humanises.

The language of ‘choice’, abortion ‘services’ and ‘products of conception’ reflect a narrative of consumerism. Children move from being seen as a gift from the giver of life, to a property-option which can be rejected at will. The public value of human life which we hold together in common is becoming privatised.

Surely there is a better way to approach these things, these human beings? As the 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act 1967 and the nine millionth abortion since its introduction in England and Wales approaches, a growing number of people are beginning to see things differently. They are rejecting a pro-choice/pro-life dichotomy and are seeking the best for the life, health and wellbeing of both the woman and their unborn children. This radically different pro-both starting point leads to radically different conclusions.

Both Lives Matter (link - https://bothlivesmatter.org) was launched in January 2017 with these aims in mind. It has established by an independently verified estimate that more than 100,000 people are alive in Northern Ireland who would otherwise have been aborted if the 1967 Act was introduced there.

In this sensitive moment there are nine million reasons to pause and remember the women, the unborn babies, wider families and communities affected by abortion. There is also an opportunity to raise a hundred thousand questions about where the conversation on abortion is going, and how better pathways can be created for both women and unborn children.