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Speaking about the value of life in a confused society

How can the church speak about abortion in such a confused context? asks Danny Webster

Recent media coverage of abortion suggests that as a society we have a confused outlook on the topic and are inconsistent in how we value life.

It would seem as though we are not as comfortable with the continued normalisation of ending life before birth as is often portrayed. More than 100,000 people have signed a petition to protest a court’s judgment to end a pregnancy through force of law.

Fortunately, the Court of Appeal has overturned the ruling from the Court of Protection which would have forced a woman to have an abortion against her, her mother’s and her social worker’s wishes. 

The woman, who is in her twenties and has a relatively severe learning disability, was 22 weeks pregnant. In her initial ruling Justice Nathalie Lieven said: I am acutely conscious of the fact that for the state to order a woman to have a termination where it appears that she doesn’t want it is an immense intrusion.”

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Regardless of this, Lieven went on to say that it was in the woman’s best interest to have a termination. 

The initial judgment also further devalued life before birth in suggesting an abortion was better than the baby being born and taken into care. They agreed with the hospital’s legal team, which argued: “[The NHS Trust] consider that [she] is likely to find the loss of a pregnancy easier to recover from than separation from the baby if he or she is taken into care.” This decision was neither pro-life nor pro-choice.

The judgment from the Court of Appeal is not currently available, however, we should give thanks that it seems the value of life has been defended as well as the wishes of the family. We can also be grateful that an outrageous over-extension of the state’s reach has been stopped. This case, and the reaction to it, shows that many do not consider abortion to be just another medical procedure, but something far more significant and ethically complex. 

The widespread outrage at this case, and the lack of voices defending the court’s decision, demonstrate that as a society we do still value life. Similarly, when the Child Poverty Action Group report, All Kids Count, found that some expectant mothers had felt forced into considering and even booking appointments for an abortion so as not to further their financial difficulties, the reaction demonstrated that abortion has not been normalised as far as we might sometimes think.

The wider report provides a challenge for what it means to speak up for life. If our system pushes women to a place where they feel that abortion is the best option for their and their families’ financial wellbeing, we have devalued life. If the same system causes women to be unable to flee abusive partners, and the risk that poses to them and their children, we have devalued life. 

The coverage of the Court of Protection case and the effects of the two-child benefit cap offer some hope for a renewed conversation about promoting and protecting life. Both stories are about how we value life; however, one story – about a Catholic woman almost being forced by the courts to have an abortion – resonated well in particular church and political circles, while the other – with a critique of government welfare policy at its heart – will have been noted by a largely different group.

Politics makes a difference to the issues that we think are most important. This week’s stories provide a rare insight into when one theme draws from both sides of the political aisle. This doesn’t mean that speaking up for life is now easy in public debate; it still remains a tricky topic for politicians to navigate. Jeremy Hunt, one of the two remaining candidates to be our next Prime Minister, has faced questions about his previous votes supporting a reduction in the time limit for abortions to 12 weeks. In his interview with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg this week he was asked how he would vote if an MP brought forward legislation to lower the limit, and he responded saying: Well how I voted before is a matter of public record. As you say I’ve been very clear that as Prime Minister I wouldn’t seek to change the law. I didn’t as health secretary either. How I vote in any future private member’s bill would be a matter of conscience and I would have to see what that bill is before I make that decision.” 

In any political race candidates are cautious about saying things that will alienate potential supporters, but Hunt’s hesitancy to address the topic shows that we have a long way to go before supporting life isn’t written off as a fringe interest. 

As a witness to wider society the church needs confidence to speak up to defend life, calling our egregious actions of the state when it both tries to force women into having an abortion through the power of the law, or leaves them feeling that they have no other choice. And we need to help politicians know that the normalisation of abortion is not an irreversible tide and give them the space to speak out with confidence and boldness. 

Please pray for: 

  • The woman, her unborn child, and her family at the centre of the Court of Protection case. 
  • Women and families who feel like they have no option other than an abortion due to financial pressures. 
  • The church to be a witness for life across all aspects of society, in law, in politics, in local communities, in compassionate care, and a willingness to lead sacrificial lives. 
  • Politicians to have confidence to speak for life despite pressures they may face. 

About the author

Danny joined the Evangelical Alliance in 2008 and has held a range of roles in the advocacy team. He currently looks after media relations and oversees advocacy programmes and projects including public leadership. Before working for the Evangelical Alliance, Danny, who has degrees in politics and political philosophy, worked in parliament for an MP. Danny is passionate about encouraging Christians to integrate their faith with all areas of their life, especially when it comes to helping them take on leadership outside the church. He frequently provides comment on current political issues, both in Evangelical Alliance publications and to the press.

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