The 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, Section 58, made abortion a criminal offence. It was punishable by imprisonment from three years to life even if performed for apparent medical reasons. This was not changed until 1929 with the Infant Life Preservation Act and then the Abortion Act of 1967 which provided for exceptions to the 1861 Act.
The 1929 Infant Life Preservation Act amended the law so that an abortion was no longer a felony if it was carried out in good faith and the mother’s life was in serious danger should she go ahead with the birth. Yet the Act still made it illegal to kill a child “capable of being born alive”. Twenty-eight weeks was the date set beyond this point a foetus was deemed to be viable. Before this Act came into force, a doctor could perform an abortion only as long as he was completely “satisfied that the continuance of the pregnancy was liable to endanger the health of the expectant mother”.
Believing the abortion law of the day to be unsatisfactory, in 1936 the Abortion Law Reform Association was founded. The view was that further clarification of the law was necessary. Then, in 1938 the celebrated Bourne case came before the courts and a change came. A young woman had been gang-raped and Dr Alec Bourne agreed to perform an abortion and was later prosecuted. His defence was that the abortion had been necessary in order to preserve the health of the young lady. The judge in the case agreed that forcing the woman to continue with the pregnancy would completely ruin her life. As a result of this judgment the doctor was not convicted. A legal precedent had been set for performing an abortion to preserve the mother’s mental health.
Before the 1967 Abortion Act, some women did have abortions for urgent medical reasons and also to protect their mental health, but only with the agreement of a doctor or a psychiatrist. Wealthier women, as was to be anticipated, could find the money to bribe a psychiatrist who would agree to an abortion. Those less well off and anyone living in poverty went to illegal ‛back street abortionists’. The cost of these illegal abortions to women’s health generally was high. Around forty women died every year at the hands of these clandestine abortionists and many more suffered horrendous injuries. Doctors, politicians and the members of some religious groups argued for a law allowing for a widening of the circumstances under which an abortion could be performed. Today, the vast majority of abortions are carried out under the provisions of Ground C of the Abortion Act 1967, meaning that 99.84% were due to fears concerning the mother’s mental health.
The political campaigning prior to the passing of the 1967 the Abortion Act in Parliament was intense. Although seen as a triumph for women’s rights this was hardly the case, as it was still not the woman’s right to choose. The Act was not a rights issue, but was passed because it was seen as a matter of public health. The rights and responsibilities for the decision to perform an abortion went not to the pregnant woman, but to doctors. Abortion was not generally legalised, but only allowed for exceptions. ‛Risk to a mother’s health’ remains something notoriously hard to define and tends to be flexible in meaning. Doctors were to make a decision based on weighing up the perceived risks rather than by referring to specific circumstances in law in which abortion would be legal.
There are few reliable statistics on abortion for the United Kingdom relating to the time before the 1967 Act. In the first year following the Act there were registered 22,332 legal abortions in England and Wales. By 1978 this had increased to 111,851, then in 1988 it was 168,298, in 1998 it was 177,871 and in 2004 there were 185, 415. It seems to have become an ever-increasing spiral. Across mainland Britain in 2013 according to government figures there were 202,577 abortions. It is estimated that since the 1967 Act over 8 million (8,120,818) abortions have been carried out in England, Wales and Scotland. If it is that abortion is simply a way of disposing of a foetus in an unwanted pregnancy, then perhaps those involved may be able to justify the action at least to themselves. On the other hand, those of us who see abortion as the killing of an as yet unborn child or potential child will see these figures as almost unprecedented in human history, murder on the scale of the Nazi death camps.
On the publication of the 2013 abortion figures, one MP observed, “The UK is a rogue state when it comes to abortion.” Our abortion time limits are double those of most other EU states. Elsewhere they are usually around 12 weeks, whilst we allow an abortion six months into a pregnancy. Many here would still like to open up the restrictions on abortion. The principle of a woman’s ‛right to choose’ is still rejected outright as a ground to abort, although attempts at change have been made in parliament. The ‛right to choose’ lobby regards the present law as vague and restrictive. In 1990 the 1967 Act was amended with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, reducing the twenty-eight week to twenty-four for most abortions. Recent debate has centred around two possible changes: the removal of the need for a woman to seek the permission of two doctors and the further reduction of the upper time limit.
Originally the reason for abortion was with respect to the physical and mental wellbeing of the mother. There have of course been many unintended and unforeseen consequences. Examining the abortion figures for Britain reveals an alarming tendency to use abortion as a form of contraception. In order to give sanctity to abortion, as with so many things, language is stood on its head. The slogan is ‛the woman’s right to choose’. Abortionists demand that she has the right to do as she wishes with her own body. Forgotten is the fact that the unborn child is not strictly speaking her body over which she has the right to choose whether it lives or not.
The restrictions imposed in 1967 are now largely ignored. Police and prosecutors now consistently refuse to charge doctors caught pre-signing abortion forms without even seeing the woman involved. ‛No questions asked’ abortions are widespread. It is seen as a ‛lifestyle choice’, as ‛career girl’ abortion. The contraception argument is supported by the rapid rise in the number of serial abortions. In 2013 almost 19,000 were on their third abortion, 49 in England and Wales had already had at least eight abortions. Abortion providers view ‛terminations’ as a standard part of women’s health care. Many women already having children, probably struggling with those they already have, see in abortion a solution to their difficulties. 53% already have at least one child, a rise of 13% in a decade. Overall abortion rates for 2013 show an increase of 2.3% over the last ten years. The numbers are double those of 1970. 64% of all abortions are carried out on behalf of the NHS by a large number of private companies. Abortions cost the NHS anything up to £1000 a time. The NHS spends £1 million a week providing repeat abortions.
The promotion of abortion on a global scale has increased in recent years. Foremost in this crusade, but along with others, is Amnesty International. Using the slogan that abortion is a ‛healthcare right’, ‛my body, my rights’, it has been one of the loudest campaigners for abortion on demand in Ireland. The group has also campaigned in Mexico, El Salvador, Paraguay, Chile, Argentina and many other places. In June 2015 they called upon the UN Human Rights Committee to declare abortion a ‛human right’, maintaining that the right to life does not apply before birth.
The attitude to the unborn child will inevitably spill over into the stance towards all children. The unborn child has been reduced to a disposable commodity when its birth constitutes an inconvenience to the mother. There can in such instance be no talk of being fond of children. It is a contradiction and meaningless sentimentality. Interestingly enough, many of those who campaign most for abortion expend the same vigour in their opposition to the death penalty. The motto seems to be to kill the innocent and set the guilty free. There can be no difference made in any unprejudiced mind between killing a baby still in the womb and one born and is say a few weeks old.
The reason that such changes in attitude with respect to abortion and homosexuality have come about is that there has been a deliberate dismantling of and antagonism towards the teaching and practice of the Christian faith. The Christian Scriptures celebrate children and never view them as a nuisance or inconvenience.
“Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.” (Psalm 127:3-5)
Much that has already been said can be extended to the area of embryo research. Defenders constantly point to the supposed future benefits of their research such as in the prevention and cure of disease and deformity. However, in seeking these goals we cannot resort to forbidden pathways, good never grows from that which is evil. The reasoning is hypocritical and all too often merely indulges the whims of researchers. Other ways ought to be considered. To call a living and real entity an embryo or foetus when talking of research hides the fact that we are talking of that which is potentially another human being.
In vitro fertilisation says much about what society understands by parenthood and reveals a disturbing attitude to the human beings thus created. Theoretically every embryo (read baby) conceived in the laboratory could be transferred to the mother. In reality though, only a few are given the chance of life. This is a callous disgrace as all the rest are thrown away like garbage, some are frozen to be disposed over or used in experiments. Some are also produced solely for the purpose of experimentation. It is reminiscent of the experiments of Dr Mengele at Auschwitz.
Human embryos are used as a source of stem cells. They are said to be useful in medical advances such as in ‛therapeutic cloning’. Embryos are destroyed for their cells. Another euphemistic expression used to conceal the fact that embryos are produced solely to be used in medical research is ‛cell nuclear transfer’. Human embryos are cloned only that they might be destroyed in the ‛harvesting’ of cells. There are other sources of stems cells and there is no real need to engage in this appalling practice. It is perfectly possible to take stem cells directly from adults. It is strange that animal rights activists who are prepared to engage in criminal activity to further their aim of preventing experimentation on animals are nowhere to be seen when there are protests against a similar use is proposed for human embryos. Clearly, their concern is not that animals are viewed as equal to humans, but animals must take priority over them.
The well-rehearsed continually reiterated excuse for the killing of embryos is that an embryo is not a person and it is gross ignorance to suggest otherwise. Left alone to develop every embryo developing normally becomes a person and so is most certainly a human being. It is what the word says, an embryo is a human being in embryo. It cannot be right to deliberately set out to create a potential person with the intention of killing it in the interest of some vague, unstipulated, hypothetical and uncertain future advantage. The answer is that such a course of action can never be right.
Any society prepared to countenance such things has turned its back on all respect for human life and this is something that will spread out to many other spheres because it betrays a general attitude. Certainly, it is just one more sign showing that England is no longer Christian in any sense of the word for our nation has turned its back on all that is good and specifically on the teaching of the Bible over a wide range of moral issues. A society that treats the unborn as disposable utilities is devoid of any transcendent or absolute values, in fact of anything that can remotely be called a value.