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18 February 2016

Doritos, cleft lips and trusting women

Doritos, cleft lips and trusting women

A few Sunday nights ago the other side of the pond celebrated the Superbowl. In it's 50th year, 30 seconds of commercial break airtime cost advertisers five million dollars. Doritos forked out the big bucks to run this advert for their corn-based snacks. The 30 second advert shows a pregnant woman having an ultrasound while her partner eats a bag of Doritos. This was enough to attract the wrath of National Abortion and Reproductive Rights League (NARAL Pro-choice America) and others who labeled the advert 'anti-choice' because the act of showing a baby on a ultrasound scan 'humanised the foetus.'

Back in the UK, last week Eurocat reported that the number of abortions in the UK for cleft-lips was likely to be 10 times higher than the Department of Health statistics. They estimate 157 abortions on the grounds of cleft-lips between 2006 and 2010 instead of the 14 recorded by the Department of Health. Ironically, it's believed that the true figures were not being recorded so as to spare the woman's feelings or avoid controversy.

Last week also saw the launch of the BPAS We Trust Women campaign. The aim of the campaign is to fully decriminalise abortion in the UK. The implication being that those who don't advocate abortion don't trust women. The narrative of this campaign is that women today are 'standing on the shoulders of giants', brave women who fought for equal rights in the past. The criminal offence of abortion is painted as the last great barrier to equality for women in the UK in 2016.

Finally last week there was a vote on amendments to change abortion law in Northern Ireland. The law on abortion in Northern Ireland allows for abortion where the continuance of the pregnancy threatens the life of the woman, or would adversely affect her physical or mental health in a manner that is real and serious and permanent or long term. Outside of these legal parameters abortion is a crime. This is of course exactly the same situation as across the rest of these islands - abortion is a criminal offence when it occurs outside of the legal parameters. The proposed amendments would have allowed for abortion in case of life-limiting disability or where the pregnancy was presumed to be as a result of rape, incest or sexual crime. Our detailed briefing goes into more detail on why we advocate that these proposals were not the best way forward for dealing with these sensitive issues.

So what are we to make of this snapshot of news stories on abortion over the last week? What impact should this have on our advocacy work in the UK?

Frequent readers of Everything Advocacy will know that abortion is a policy issue I write about often. Thank you for bearing with me. This time it's personal. I have a cleft lip. The thought that others like me never received the gift of life, love or human dignity simply because their lip or palate did not form properly deeply saddens and disgusts me. I have never considered it a disability and it's certainly not considered a disability by the government to the point where I'm reasoned disabled or given financial help. However, pre-birth it's deemed enough of an imperfection to end my human life. The troubling thing is that the campaign from BPAS to decriminalise abortion would bypass any such arguments and go so much further. It would remove the requirement for any reason for abortion at all, whether around a detrimental impact on the woman or grounds of 'fault' with the unborn child. The campaign would allow abortion by any woman, in any pregnancy, at any stage and for any reason. This would move the ending of human life from a matter of public interest to a personal concern. Make no mistake, this would mark the privatisation of the value of human life.

In America now the very image of a baby in an ultrasound scan was enough to be labelled by some as 'anti-choice'. The physical presence of the unborn is deemed offensive by it's mere acknowledgement and depiction on a screen. To get to this point of abstraction, reality must be suspended. Faith in a new personal 'truth' is required whereby humanity and protection are granted to some and withheld from others. Women become the ultimate arbiters of humanity, dignity and life itself.

The internet age allows campaigners to find common global cause and so while American and British cultures are very different we cannot be ignorant to this attitude. In response it is vital that Christians acknowledge the imago Dei, the divine image of God, somehow present in every human being. We assert that human worth and dignity is inherent and not a potential to be realized, or granted by another human being. We assert the biological truth that the pre-born is human (DNA) in the face of an ideology which rejects and undermines any humanity in the foetus. At the very least we tread carefully, not blindly.

Is abortion a largely 'settled' issue on the political and/or Church agenda in Great Britain? May I suggest we need a Parliamentary review of abortion law and evidence generally given the fact that 8 million abortions have been carried out in England and Wales since the 1967 Act. For the Church, yes abortion is a contentious issue but we need a strong and coherent, gracious and compassionate narrative which values and supports human life to flourish. Specifically, we need urgent clarification from the Department of Health about the figures alleged by Eurocat on cleft-lip and other minor medical conditions. We acknowledge the wrongs that women have suffered and strive for policies and practices which include and celebrate woman. We reject the attempt to supplant the campaign for gender equality with the abortion agenda. We are wary when the state allows interference with human bodies whether women's or the unborn child. Yet this leads us to cherish the life, health and wellbeing of both woman and unborn child and to challenge the dangerous ideology of unlimited choice. This is shaped profoundly by individualism and consumerism and is leading our culture towards de facto eugenics.

In the Northern Irish context we continue to forge a different path. The abortion landscape here is very different but subject to the same pressures and demands for outright decriminalisation. We have an opportunity to deal differently with these sensitive issues through creative and compassionate care pathways and the pursuit of different cultural values. We continue to offer a different vision and to advocate for compassionate care and life-affirming choices for woman and their families in every pregnancy.

Image: CC Pawel Loj