On Monday, 5 July, in the wake of considerable pushback, Dame Diana Johnson MP withdrew her proposed amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (NC 55). Had this amendment been accepted, it would have liberalised abortion in England and Wales more than any other step since the advent of legislation in this area.

Polls suggest that most people (women in particular) oppose such a move, and as one who affirms the value of human life both before and after birth, I am relieved that this is the case. As one who cares about how we might better host diversity of thought and belief in public life, I have been driven to ponder the aspiration that lies beneath such an amendment, the well of belief it is drawn from, the understanding of human flourishing that it is inspired by. 

As these things do, however, what began as an external enquiry has in ended up raising pertinent questions for my own life. 

What is the value of a life? 


Across the spectrum of those who do support abortion (or to use the approach taken this week, the decriminalisation of abortion), there is a desire to show compassion to women in difficult circumstances. What compassion means requires some definition though, and it is at this point that frameworks of belief around what is involved in the termination of a pregnancy really diverge. 

This is the central question in this debate, not just in its (crucial) consideration of the value of unborn life, but also in its quest to understand what makes for a dignified life at any stage of development. 

For those who subscribe to the understanding that our dignity, our worth and our value as human beings flows from our autonomy, a culture of abortion is not only permissible, it is admirable. It frees women from the incursions of law and society, but also from their own biology, enabling some deeper sense of self to rise above mundane, restrictive concerns.

What is sought is true and full liberation — freedom from the bounds of other people’s beliefs and opinions, from the suffocation of tradition, from anything that means living life on terms other than one’s own. 

Free indeed?

The universe can only handle one sovereign, however, and as Psalm 115:3 – 9 notes, that is the Lord Himself. Our God is in the heavens, and he does as he wishes. Their idols are merely things of silver and gold, shaped by human hands. They have mouths but cannot speak, and eyes but cannot see. They have ears but cannot hear, and noses but cannot smell. They have hands but cannot feel, and feet but cannot walk, and throats but cannot make a sound. And those who make idols are just like them, as are all who trust in them. O Israel, trust the Lord! He is your helper and your shield.” (NLT)

There is something in this drive which is, at its most basic, a desire for freedom from God. This desire is of course not an invention of the 21st century or the abortion rights movement or any other movement for that matter. The movement in question is a movement of the heart, away from God and towards the self. 

This heart movement was seen again and again in the story of the people of Israel, evidenced in their repeated adoption of the religious practices of the nations around them through the worship of idols. Through perhaps initially imperceptible movements of the heart, they were seduced into believing the fullness of life was to be found apart from God, and they poured their affection and attention into the pursuit of other gods. 

These gods were tangible, easier to grasp than the God of Israel who forbade the creation of idols, willing instead that His people be His living icons, testifying to His goodness in the very substance of their life. 

They were manipulable –able to be bent towards human ends, shaped as they were by human hands – unlike the uncreated one Himself. Principally, however, they were an illusion. In their features they pointed to life, but in reality they could never deliver on the promises of their appearance. 

The tragedy wasn’t only that these idols neither had nor could receive life; it was most acutely their draining life from their worshippers. And those who make idols are just like them, as are all who trust in them.” (Psalm 115:8)

Surprising overlap

It is quite easy for me to spot this phenomenon at play in staunch advocates of abortion, unleashed in the stridency of their activism. In their quest for liberation and progress, there is a trail of dashed hopes and lifeless bodies, sacrificed on the altar of an illusion. This is a deeply lamentable fact, and those who know life in Jesus should be moved to halt this tide of death. 

It is less easy for me to spot the ways in which I partake in the same charade, the subtle ways in which I am also induced into believing there is fullness of life to be found anywhere outside of Jesus, my ignorance of where my unbridled desires, unchecked fears and unrestrained ego will lead me, the ways in which I also, seeking freedom, might inadvertently be emptying myself of life.

And so I end this week grateful that something of this tide of death has been stemmed in the political arena. I end it with renewed conviction as to the importance of engaging in these issues in the public arena. Less glamorously, I am reminded of the importance of integrity, a quiet acknowledgement that public issues are private issues and vice versa. 

Something of the drama of public life points to a daily drama playing out in my heart, engaging the very core of my being. It has an audience of one, and its focus is where I put my trust –whether I will seek freedom from life Himself or choose with His help to receive this life and extend it to others. 

O Israel, trust the Lord! He is your helper and your shield.” Psalm 115:9