Abortion: re-engaging with the issue

Growing up in a Christian family and having spent the majority of my life in the church, it has not been hard for me to accept that abortion is wrong. However, the numbers of moments when I have ever taken a stand against and actually done something about it could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Because, in the UK, the opportunities to win ground and fight this cause were few and far between I was rarely if ever called upon to stand up and be counted on this issue. As a result I was lazily against it, knowing where I stood but not required to stand up and be counted.

Then this summer my news feed is filled with outrage over the Planned Parenthood scandal in the US. The developments there have brought the issue of abortion before my eyes and yet, living now in Sweden, taking up that cause seems more pointless than ever.

In 1974 Sweden’s law states ‘that up until the end of the eighteenth week of the pregnancy the choice of an abortion is entirely up to the woman, for any reason whatsoever’. Between 18-22 weeks abortion is possible if there is a serious medical risk to mother or child. There are about 38,000 abortions every year in Sweden, the ratio is quite high but is falling slightly.

Abortion is not a political issue and the Planned Parenthood scandal has not warranted a single mention in Swedish newspapers. Abortion gets a mention when a republican presidential candidate says something that Swedes can use to look down on right-wing Americans.

Yet just because the cause looks hopeless doesn’t excuse me from inaction. If I was to see a much bigger stronger assailant attacking someone, my relative weakness or fear doesn’t excuse me from inaction to step in. I, too, was challenged by the wife of journalist Ruben Navarrette Jr

These are babies that are being killed. Millions of them. And you need to use your voice to protect them. That’s what a man does. He protects children—his own children, and other children. That’s what it means to be a man.

That being said, I needed (and maybe you do too) a refresher the pro-life case.

find out What happens in the womb

As my biology has always been somewhat ropey, this guide to what happens month-by-month inside the womb gives weight to the view that life begins at conception.

find out The scale of the issue

38,000 abortions in Sweden might not sound like such a big deal or maybe not even 2oo,000 in the UK but according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) there are between 40-50 million abortions worldwide every year. So far this year approx 28 million abortions have taken place. That’s an incredibly vast number of human lives.

find out a well made pro-life case

I wanted to read an articulate well-made argument defending the pro-life case out in the public square and not just where the whole audience would agree. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry says that the sharpest debunking of pro-choice arguments has been made by Ross Douthat in the New York Times, here and here. He takes all the big questions and deals with them. If you’re going to engage in a debate on abortion, Douthat’s tone and quality answers provide a masterclass in the pro-life case.

Find out what the bible says

Rosaria Butterfield puts it eloquently:

But when I was first converted, I did not understand why abortion was a sin. I remember asking the women in church why Christians condemned abortion and celebrated capital punishment. I never heard a compelling argument.

And then, one day during worship, we sang Psalm 102 and it hit me between the eyes. Here was the line of my undoing: “And peoples yet uncreated shall praise and magnify the LORD” (Ps. 102:18). I got it: abortion is not a right or an entitlement. Abortion steals praise from God by denying image-bearers the opportunity to live through and for him. Abortion despises and attacks and destroys the image of God.

Find out the issues that make abortion possible

Abortion however isn’t an issue that exists in isolation from broader cultural forces and it’s worth being aware of those, so that as Christians, we fight to change a culture and not just win an argument. Carl Trueman notes five cultural issues that are worth thinking about and lay the ground for abortion in a society:

  1. We live in a culture with a chaotic notion of the self
  2. We live in a culture that has denied personhood to the unborn child
  3. We live in a culture that has given sovereignty over our bodies to the individual.
  4. We live in a culture that has commercialized the body
  5. We live in a culture of relative truth and relative good
find out what to do

My thinking has led me to five key areas to form a response, compassionate, consistent, persuasive, practical & persistent.

I think there’s no question that far too often Christians come across as fundamentally lacking in compassion and failing to think about those who are already alive. A recent study showed that having a baby can be tougher than divorce, redundancy or bereavement, and yet too often a harsh approach seems to condemn women to suffer and struggle, and leave them too often alone. A shortage of compassion to those that have had abortions or contemplating one is a shameful failure for followers of Jesus.

We must also be far more consistent on issues concerning the sanctity of life and be far more willing to protect it wherever possible. That means becoming far more committed to adoption and foster care and far more engaged in poorer communities.

We must become persuasive not simply in the wrongs and evils of a world that kills 125,000 unborn children every day, that lets men force themselves on women and then get away with it or fathers who abandon their families. To persuade against is only half the job, we must also make the case for a world which could be more beautiful, where men & women take responsibility for their actions both before and after having sex, where children are valued, loved and cared for. Where mothers are genuinely supported before, during and after pregnancy and so on. In other words Christians need to do better in making the case for a more not less Christian world.

Our strategy should not be above the practical, realistic steps need to be engaged. Rick Simpson in his booklet Abortion: Choosing who lives  focuses on the process by which abortions in the UK are performed and makes recommendations for a better process.

Similarly, I wouldn’t advocate a hard-line approach that seeks to ban all abortions. Most people, reasonably enough, struggle with issues involving pregnancy following a rape, or where the life of the mother is weighed against the life of the child or even in the cases of extreme life-threatening disability (not something like Downs Syndrome). It does the pro-life case no favours to ignore the complexity of these cases and all pronouncements are likely to fail the test of compassion or persuasiveness in the current climate.

Lastly, and this has been demonstrated by many on the pro-life side, is that they know how to be persistent. This is an issue that will take generations to change so dig in for the long-haul.

Photo by Antre

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