What is the C of E’s position on abortion?

The question of abortion has been raised once more in the election campaign, because of statements in both Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos. Labour includes their briefer comments in their section on Justice, in which they comment:

We will introduce protections for victims of so-called revenge porn. Labour will introduce a no-fault divorce procedure. We will uphold women’s reproductive rights and decriminalise abortions.

The Liberal Democrats, who have a long section on identity politics and appear to want to push controversial aspects of the trans agenda still further, include their comments on abortion not under Justice or Equality, but under Help to Stay Healthy within their Health and Social Care section:

We believe that everyone has a right to make independent decisions over their reproductive health without interference by the state, and that access to reproductive healthcare is a human right. We will:

  • Decriminalise abortion across the UK while retaining the existing 24-week limit and legislate for access to abortion facilities within Northern Ireland.
  • Enforce safe zones around abortion clinics, make intimidation or harassment of abortion service users and staff outside clinics, or on common transport routes to these services, illegal.
  • Fund abortion clinics to provide their services free of charge to service users regardless of nationality or residency.

Anyone who is concerned about the issue of abortion, and the distance we have moved in practice from the intention of the 1967 Act without any major legislation changes, will have some large questions about the coherence of these positions. I don’t think I know what it means to ‘decriminalise abortion’ whilst ‘retaining the 24-week limit’. What then will happen to someone who is involved in an abortion beyond that limit? And what impact will decriminalisation have on the debate? How does that sit with all the medical evidence of the awareness and sense-experiences of babies in utero at a much earlier stage than previously thought?

Both manifestos include strong themes of defending the vulnerable and pressing for equality, and it is no small irony that neither offers any protection for the group that must qualify as the most vulnerable in our society by some way—those not yet born, who are in complete dependence on others and have no means of defending themselves.

The question then arises for Christians in their different churches: does my denomination have a formed and settled view on this question? The Catholic bishops of England and Wales have made an election statement along with giving a press conference, and mention abortion as the first of their list of the vulnerable whose dignity and rights must be upheld:

In making judgments about how to vote, the Bishops ask that the following are carefully considered and, indeed candidates can be asked how they will uphold:

  • The innate dignity of every human being; defending both the child in the womb, the good of the mother and an understanding of the immeasurable good of a child not yet born;

(It is worth noting that this statement was not without its Catholic critics, both in terms of its content and the way it was presented.)

Is there a clear statement of the settled view of the Church of England, led by its bishops? Actually there is, and it is publicly available on the C of E website here. It offers a clear, consistent and definitive position, which dates back to 1993, and has been repeated at intervals since then. The 1993 position was articulated in a motion of the General Synod:

In the rare occasions when abortion is carried out beyond 24 weeks, ‘Serious foetal handicap’ should be interpreted strictly as applying to those conditions where survival is possible only for a very short period.

And this was quoted and commented on in a 2005 Briefing Paper by the Mission and Public Affairs Council (MPA):

The Church of England combines strong opposition to abortion with a recognition that there can be – strictly limited – conditions under which it may be morally preferable to any available alternative.

The MPA drafted a press statement in 2011, which made specific observations about the current situation in law and practice, and it is worth noting this in full:

• The Church of England combines strong opposition to abortion with a recognition that there can be strictly limited conditions under which it may be morally preferable to any available alternative. This is based on our view that the foetus is a human life with the potential to develop relationships, think, pray, choose and love.

• We would like to see a drastic reduction in the number of abortions carried out and stricter interpretation of abortion law.

• The case for further reductions of the time limit for abortions should be sympathetically considered on the basis of advances in neo-natal care.

• Every possible support, especially by church members, needs to be given to those who are pregnant in difficult circumstances.

Women facing an unwanted pregnancy realise the gravity of the decision they face and do not take it lightly: all abortions are tragedies, since they entail judging one person’s welfare against that of another (even if one is, as yet, unborn). We would like to see more support for them including access to information, advice and counselling from a wide range of providers that would enable them to make a fully informed decision.

This Government has found it difficult to successfully tackle the problem of teenage pregnancy. Some may think that increased abortion rates for teenagers show that teenagers have been able to get access to advice and help when facing unplanned pregnancy. However we can not view this as a success. Money and energies have to be spent in tackling the root causes. The cross-Government strategy is to cut under 18 conception and we would support that intention. Long term methods must involve strategies to avoid conception, such as good sex education accompanied by good relationship education for both boys and girls, increasing hope and choices for girls in areas of deprivation, decreasing poverty and a climate where people talk about responsible relationships, rather than viewing abortion as a readily accessible solution to personal or social problems.

That statement has been used several times since then—though in all the recent summaries, the details calling for a drastic reduction in the number of abortions carried out has been omitted, so it would be easy to forget this important and specific part of this 2011 comment.

If this is such an important issue that Anglicans cannot vote for parties who stand against Church teaching on this issue, it might look like Anglicans have no choice but to vote Conservative. But in fact I think there are large parts of all the manifestos which, as a Christian, I could not support, and which are also important. I am not sure it has in recent memory been clearer that, from a political point of view, Christians are now ‘strangers and aliens’ (1 Peter 1.1) scattered across our country.

But given the clear statement of these two parties, and the equally clear past statements of the Church of England, along with the silence of Church of England bishops on this issue in the election so far, I was very happy to add my name to an open letter on the issue, published in the Times:

The Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats have, in their manifestos, proposed the decriminalisation of abortion. This would remove all sanctions in criminal law for those who perform abortions outside the limits set by the Abortion Act 1967. These changes would amount to a declaration that a foetus was no longer a human being, worthy of the same protections against deliberate harm and termination of life. In light of the Church of England’s own teaching that “the foetus is a human life with the potential to develop relationships, think, pray, choose and love” and that the church “would like to see a drastic reduction in the number of abortions carried out and stricter interpretation of abortion law”, we write, as members of the Church of England, lay and ordained, female and male, to express our sincere concerns about these proposals, and to call on the bishops of the church to do all they can to speak out against them.

Immediately, in response to this, the seven bishops of the Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda (a group of traditionalist Anglo-Catholics) issued a short statement:

We pledge ourselves to oppose any legislation involving further liberalization of the law in respect of abortion that may be introduced by any future UK government.

We invite all Christians preparing to cast their vote in the forthcoming General Election to reflect on all issues which touch on the dignity and well-being of the human person. Furthermore we advise that parishes and individual Christians take the initiative of asking any of their parliamentary candidates what their view is on this issue and how they would vote if legislation came before the Commons.

And the next day the bishops of Newcastle and Carlisle issued a broader statement confirming this view, which at its centre repeated the previous statements.

I was grateful to see these responses—but I was puzzled by the need to prompt a response, rather than hearing anything directly. And I was puzzled when the Archbishop of Canterbury was unable to articulate this when pressed on a recent radio phone-in. The assumption that the Church of England’s position is ‘well known’ is, I think, unfounded. And if any hesitancy here is based on the idea of not alienating people with whom we want to work positively—well, that ship has long sailed. The most cursory glance at the party manifestos show how far most are from the historic view of the Churches. We are out of step with our culture on many, and we shouldn’t be embarrassed to say so.

David Baker highlighted the importance and poignancy of this issue in poetic terms last week:

Do not walk away from those of whom we shall now speak. Do not turn your head, or block your ears, or shut your eyes. Look! Listen! Now – can you hear them? There are more than 150,000 of them. They whisper – softly, almost silently; murmurs of pain echoing into the vast emptiness of the universe, all but drowned out by the noise of our society’s self-righteousness, the clamour of our self-will.

They call across the void of 18 years – forgotten, unnamed, unloved perhaps. They are the voices of those who would have been first-time voters in 2019. Their shadows stir; they are our nation’s aborted children.

One of the most striking observations he makes is that abortion was once a feminist issue; in a world committed to women’s equality and women’s perspective, how has this issue been trampled on by the juggernaut of individual rights?

Once, abortion was a feminist issue. Alice Paul (1885-1977) denounced abortion as an evil forced upon women by men. A number of suffragists called abortion “child murder” in Susan B. Anthony’s publication, The Revolution. There are those who still bravely bear that flame today, with Feminists for Life of America, being one such organisation. Feminists for Life of America first revealed and shared many pro-life quotes from the first wave feminists and on its website you can read ‘pro-woman answers to pro-choice questions’…

Let the last words be given to feminist writer and bioethicist Fiorella Nash. ‘Authentic feminism should be pro-life,’ she says. ‘It grew out of a rejection of the idea that women are the property of men; by what justification therefore, can we treat our own offspring as property? No movement that truly believes in justice and equality seeks to achieve those goals through the sacrifice of innocent lives.’

She adds: ‘Radical feminism has let women down and has betrayed women everywhere because of its dogmatic obsession with promoting and defending abortion. Where were the radical feminists… when Chinese women were being forced into abortions? Where are radical feminists when baby girls are being aborted in India at a rate of one per minute?’

It is an issue we cannot treat as just one amongst many.

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51 thoughts on “What is the C of E’s position on abortion?”

    • Did you watch “World on Fire”, the BBC series following some people during the first period of WW2? One story line was a German family who lived next door in Berlin to an American radio reporter. They have a daughter who has epilepy. The reporter finds out about the programme of taking ‘deficient’ children and exterminating them. Eventually, the mother kills the girl and herself, rather than let the girl be taken. The reporter talks with the doctor leading this programme, who commends it as ‘scientific’.

      The parallels with abortion in our present time were chilling.

      • I did David,
        It was an outworking of philosophy taken to enforced extremes. Horrific.
        I was thinking more along the lines of legally, by changing the law, decriminalising killing an infant after delivery, up to the present first 12 months of the child’s life,(in England and Wales) outside the mother’s body, and carried out in perhaps a “clinical” setting… even perhaps before the umbilical cord has been cut. (Or where there is partial birth, for example, the upper part having emerged) It doesn’t take a lot of insight to see how arguments would proceed to justify a change in the law.
        Some may object that this is slippery slope thinking, but it doesn’t mean we are not on one.

  1. My current situation is this.

    2 buffer zones have been instituted round Ealing and Richmond clinics. Without going into the reasoning behind these (life is too short)…accordingly I protested with leaflets at Richmond Council building which is not in the buffer zone.

    However, when one does that, the police threaten to do you for harassment. Every time one says that the only reason that highly distressing photos exist is as evidence of the highly distressing reality that you yourselves are sponsoring, and without the reality there would be no photos – they just change the subject. Consequently, on this and other topics, every conversation I have with them is a long sequence of ‘I am not going to talk about that’. There seem to be an awful lot of rather important angles that they simply blank out.

    There are 3 things wrong here:
    (1) the treatment of young humans
    (2) the criminalisation of otherwise law-abiding people
    (3) the making of public prayer illegal in some places – Christian Hacking has already been arrested and charged/prosecuted – only let off on a technicality.

    The long and the short of it is that the buffer zones are dreadful in many ways – but as soon as one tries to protest outside the buffer zone, non buffer zone areas are treated as practically the same as the buffer zone – because people (less than honest) do not like being reminded what ‘abortion’ actually is.

    I said – look I don’t want to get arrested. Please advise me. You have spent a lot of time saying what I cannot do – but that was off topic. I am asking what I can do. The policeman said ‘Oh – you can protest.’ But in what way? ‘I would recommend a silent protest.’ If I did that, no-one would know either that I was protesting or what I was protesting about. Not a great use of time. Then they terminate the conversation.

    I am sure that the police version of things is illegal. I have the right to protest in numerous ways, but they use ‘harassment’ which is actually claimed-harassment (and anyone who is internally convicted, or who has it in for you, can *say* they were harassed – there is no way of checking the truth of it – it is subjective even if true, but may not even be true) as a catch-all to shackle people.

    I am advertising this to let people know some of the things that are actually going on. It is far worse than some might realise. But if people give in and capitulate it will get worse still.

    • You are right. The police make up the law all the time, to intimidate or to chill protest. Look at the way they have arrested street preachers for doing nothing more than expressing presently unpopular opinions about Islam or homosexuality. They can be challenged in court, but who has the time or money to do this? We desperately need the kind of defences of free speech that Americans have in their Constitution but I can’t see this ever happening. Inch by inch we are creeping into a totalitarian society in which people will be afraid to speak. And this has happened under the Tories as much as under Labour. All presaging the oppression of the Church which will become ever more manifest in the coming decade. Justin Welby’s complete inability to articulate traditional Christian doctrine on the sanctity of the lives of pre-born humans is a miserable thing, but should be no surprise to anyone. Never in my lifetime has there ever been a more untheological archbishop in the Church of England, with little grasp of the biblical, doctrinal and historical dimensions of this issue, or indeed of any tangentially related to sex. Appeaxing revisionism has addled his theological sense.

      • I’d agree that though the prime requisite in a Christian leader is holiness, it is never wise not to appoint on intellect as well, and the pool will generally be large enough to allow this. But in truth notable holiness with notable intellect is quite an ask.

  2. I think the point about Christians now being disenfranchised is of course true. It has been effectively true for some years. UKIP/Brexit was viewed as extreme, yet I don’t see Christian marriage or abortion policy in UKIP/Brexit let alone the main parties, whose policies if spelt out simply are sometimes gruesome and inhuman. What cannot be over-emphasised is that the main thing is not surface policies but philosophical underpinning. There are certain policies which will be especially catastrophic 2 stages down the line, so it is sometimes no good just looking at the immediate future and thinking that they look innocuous one stage down the line. If they are bad seed at all, then the bad plant they produce will only grow larger as time goes on.

  3. I think that the CofE statement of 2011 has some weakness.

    The language of potential is problematic. I have been alerted to this by Michael Marsh in his Grove Booklet “The Moral Status of the Embryo-Foetus”, which I thoroughly recommend. The value of the foetus, as with any human being is not in what they might become in the future. It lies in what they are now. He writes:
    “This open definition, he or she who is, reflects the physical and metaphysical status of every moment of that individual’s life- from zygote onwards. Having seen the futility of forcing some arbitrary notion of personhood or potentiality onto a zygote or later embryo-foetus, we are cleared to evaluate the latter on their own terms.” (italics original).
    And he defines this evaluation that the zygote/embryo/foetus is a new, genetically-unique and self-generating human being.
    Do we say that a child who is, say, damaged in birth so that she has little potential for relationship, etc. is less than human?

    Another area of weakness is in the statement, “all abortions are tragedies, since they entail judging one person’s welfare against that of another (even if one is, as yet, unborn). ” It is not judging one person’s welfare against that of another. It is judging one person’s welfare against the life of another. I think the number of abortions which are carried out because of a significant risk to the life of the mother is a very small fraction of the total.

    It is hard to escape the fact that deliberate termination of a pregnancy is a moral evil. There may be circumstances where it is the lesser of two evils, i.e. not terminating the pregnancy could be a greater evil.

    • Good points, and also the whole idea of setting a mother *against* her own child as though somehow their interests were competing (opponents) is horrid. It is done by the same people, by and large, who are accustomed to set men *against* women, an equally chilling tendency.

  4. Hard questions need to be asked about “decriminalisation”. Does this mean that it is OK to abort a child because you want a boy but the child is female? The effects of sex-selection by abortion are become very clear in India, and it isn’t pretty. There are reasons to believe that the rise of the horrific gang rapes and murder are a consequence of the excess of young men over young women.

    If things like colour of hair or eyes can be found out prior to birth, will it be OK to abort because you want a blond, blue-eyed boy rather than a girl with brown hair and eyes? People say that every child should be wanted. But are the grounds for not valuing a human being? If an unwanted child that has yet to be born can be killed, why can we not kill a child if the unwantedness is not discovered until after her birth?

    The whole pro-choice agenda is founded upon the autonomy of the individual. This is problematic for abortion, in that in a pregnancy there are two individuals involved, not one. (Actually, there are three as there is the father as well). The deeper problem is this whole individualism. It is a false anthropology. We are not independent, but interdependent. John Donne understood this:

    “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

    The 800 abortions each working day in the UK diminishes me and you.

  5. Many thanks for this. I have been in touch with all candidates in my constituency and have only heard from the Green Party candidate so far. Their position is no better than the parties you refer to, somewhat surprising given that party’s commitment to care for creation in all its fullness, complexity and interdependence.

  6. Many thanks for this. I have been in touch with all candidates in my constituency and have only heard from the Green Party candidate so far. Their position is no better than the parties you refer to, somewhat surprising given that party’s commitment to care for creation in all its fullness, complexity and interdependence.

  7. Thank you so much for including a deeper feminist perspective and its historical roots. As a GP for 25 years what struck me was that most women who decided to have an abortion did so as they felt that they had no choice.

    • Hi Rhona

      That also intrigues me, as so often it is the GPs and clinic workers who were singled out as the people who were not offering a choice (besides family members). Would you say that was true in your experience?

  8. Maybe one of the much wider issues to address is how the pregnancies began in the first place- irresponsible men who have no concern for the consequences of their sexual laxity and behaviour, no responsible use of preventative measures, and no thought other than the immediacy of the climax. No-one is addressing the need for a huge change in sexual behaviour amongst men, learning to have self-control: yet this is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and when we have several un-evangelised generations who have no grasp of responsibility and moral behaviour, the consequences of human sin in defiance of God’s instructions means some women have little or no alternative; we know it “takes two to tango” but it’s dealing with the roots rather than the consequences that will bring about a change of behaviour: time for evangelism to be stepped up everywhere, for the call to repentance, a change mind leading to a change of behaviour, with the Holy Spirit as the power to change hearts, minds and lives that is the real underlying answer: particularly young men to discover a different way of living that is selfless rather than selfish.

  9. I am not convinced abortion, at least in the first few weeks, is as evil as some Christians think.

    One thing that has made me reconsider is the number of natural abortions, also known as miscarriages, which happen on a daily basis. It is estimated around 250,000 natural abortions occur every year in the UK alone. The vast majority of these, 80%, happen within the first 12 weeks, which is similar to the data for medical abortions, 80% within the first 10 weeks. For the most part the remains of a natural abortion occurring at home within those first few weeks are flushed down the toilet (this happened to a relative of mine, a strong Christian lady). Few really think of of the developing fetuses, expelled by the woman’s body, as ‘babies’ in these cases. If they did, funerals would be held as standard (I appreciate sometimes they are, but typically more for late stage miscarriages). So why is there such an outcry over medical abortions during these first few weeks?

    Comments welcome.


    • Hi Peter

      The response on this occasion is easy, but so easy that it ought to have been seen already.

      What you are saying is that dying is the same as killing.

      That means that anyone who would die anyway (i.e., all of us) can get killed with impunity. Or does it?

      In fact, dying is not only *not* the same as killing, but quite distinct. Something that even a child can see.

      Evan Harris made the same point to me. He said that if God does that to the babies who are we to argue? Yet he is an atheist so that did not add up. For an atheist it is a case of simple injustice.

      A further angle that also needs to be looked at is: the spontaneous miscarriages are doubtless self-selected out for non-viability. Whereas the killed-off are at all levels of viability.

      • Together with which the following angles remain:

        (a) one would still have killed one’s own son or daughter;

        (b) the holy intricacy of the creative act would still be sullied as though its sacredness did not exist;

        (c) one would still be interfering with nature.

      • Christopher, I dont think it is as ‘simple’ as you claim.

        You’re equating a natural abortion with the natural death of a fully-fledged human being, and then arguing in the same way that few or anyone would view killing a human being as ok, therefore we cannot view destroying a foetus as ok (though of course quite a few Christians are for the death penalty – seems to be a contradiction there…).

        But that goes to the heart of the issue. Is a developing foetus, at least in the first few weeks of pregnancy when the vast majority of both natural and medical abortions occur, really to be viewed as a fully-fledged human being? As you say yourself, “spontaneous miscarriages are doubtless self-selected out for non-viability.” That does not sound like a human being to me, yet you still claim (a) in your 2nd post.

        Indeed that was my main point – given how common natural abortions are, whereby the foetus is rejected by the female body, are we really to conclude that foetuses at every stage should be viewed as human life in the same way that babies, children and adults are? I very much doubt it.

        I would also ask those who view medical abortion at any stage of pregnancy as killing the unborn ‘child’ why you do not call it murder, and be out protesting in the streets against the wholesale murder of babies? Very, very few are doing that despite their claims, even though it is the logical position.

        As for (c) we interfere with nature every day of our lives. Contraception is interfering with nature, a man having his ‘tubes tied’ is interfering with nature as are women on the pill, yet many Christians are happy with that ‘interference’. If we let nature have its way, many more of us would be dead already.


        • I do call it murder on the basis that it is unclear what the difference could be. All we are talking about is one human who is visible and one who is invisible, one who is larger and one who is smaller, one who is older and one who is younger, one who is more dependent and one who is less dependent. None of these things makes one more or less human or more or less precious.

          The central features of murder are:
          killing a human being
          a deliberate act.

          So – minor points of difference, major points that show us that it’s the same thing. You are surely not denying that the 9 week old is just you at a different stage of continuous development, are you? If you are not denying that, then I do not get the force of your points.

        • Is a developing foetus, at least in the first few weeks of pregnancy when the vast majority of both natural and medical abortions occur, really to be viewed as a fully-fledged human being?

          This isn’t the issue. The point is that it is a potential human life and therefore how we treat it goes to our attitude towards human life in general: do we see it as an end in itself, or do we see it is something to which we can take an instrumental view?

          I recommend Rosalind Hursthouse’s essay, ‘Virtue Theory and Abortion’.

          • Hi S

            Do you think there is a danger in saying ‘this isn’t the issue’ since that presupposes that there can only ever be one issue, when in fact often there are 2 or several?

            On the ‘potential’ point, I disagree:

            (1) An offspring of 2 humans is human, nor is that a controversial point.

            (2) What other species could offspring be? How can we talk of a living creature that belongs to no species at all?

            (3) We do not do that in any other context.

            (4) Further, potential generally implies merely possible fulfilment, whereas what we have here is both present actuality and *probable* *further* fulfilment.

            (5) And even then ‘fulfilment’ is a problematic concept. At which stage of life do we take ‘fulfilment of potential’ to have finally happened? It’s not a clear point by any means.

            (6) IMHO, by contrast, the babies are perfect right now just as they are. The very potential/fulfilment concept is adult-centred for no reason.

            On ‘natural abortions’ or miscarriages, the fact that dying is far from being the same as killing covers the case by itself, IMHO.

          • Do you think there is a danger in saying ‘this isn’t the issue’ since that presupposes that there can only ever be one issue, when in fact often there are 2 or several?


            My point is that the ethical case against abortion remains whether or not the ‘foetus [is] viewed as a fully-fledged human being’.

            Therefore whether that view is taken is irrelevant to the actual issue.

            Again I recommend Hursthouse’s essay.

          • Those who classify species would say unambiguously yes? But then I am not a biologist or botanist – how I wish I was!!

          • I disagree. It is of paramount importance. I find it odd that Hursthouse dismisses the issue as irrelevant, but in the examples she gives she is clearly making a judgement as to the ‘status’ of the foetus. Hence her distinction between early and late abortions.

          • Peter, you don’t get my central point. My central point is that biologists do not view tadpoles and frogs as 2 different species, caterpillars and butterflies as 2 different species. So who are nonspecialists like you and me to disagree?

        • Hello Peter
          I agree with you. The question is about personhood. Is a foetus a person when it is not viable outside the mother’s body? When does personhood begin? Of course, all embryos are potential lives. As are the embryos created through IVF. As, for some, are ova and sperm.
          I have great sympathy with the Jewish belief that a foetus does not have personhood and is part of the woman’s body. As indeed it is.
          This does not mean, of course, that reproductive failure is not a tragedy for many parents or that ‘disabled’ children often bring much joy to families.
          I think targeting vulnerable women visiting clinics with scare literature is abhorrent. Some clinics offer many other services and sometimes women who aren’t even going for terminations are assaulted or harrassed.
          I really think that any Christian who wants to return to a world of coat hangers, women dying of sepsis and women being imprisoned because they have miscarried need to ask themselves some hard questions.

          • Hi Penelope
            I disagree with you on some points. It is about personhood, or rather whether or not a foetus within the first few weeks of pregnancy is to be viewed as a human being (rather than just a ‘viable’ human being). But if you think not, that doesnt mean it is simply part of the woman’s body. I think that reasoning is used too easily to justify abortion at just about any time before birth. A baby born would also not continue to live without being dependent on the mother, or at least other humans. So dependency is not relevant.

            I agree with your point regarding clinics. And the reality is, despite some claiming to believe that abortion at any stage is ‘murder’, their lack of serious protest says otherwise.

            And I disagree with your final point. It’s not appropriate to equate a Christian being against abortion as someone who wants to create pain and death of pregnant women. Rather they want the woman to continue with the pregnancy. I think that is reasonable if you truly believe to do otherwise is to commit murder. But I just dont think it is murder.


          • Pointing at protesters’ lack of urgency means you are exalting culture and subjective feelings above evidence and actuality – they are clearly lower not higher.

            Why is there that lack of urgency? Never underestimate the normalising power of the law and of social norms and of the sense that things have always or for a long time been this way. The strangest things can be accepted for these ‘reasons’.

            Not that I show any lack of urgency myself – quite the reverse. Mary Wagner, a peaceful person, constantly gets herself imprisoned for entering kill-inics.

            Peter, your words ‘I don’t think it is murder’ have no evidential base. People think all sorts of things. Where is your evidence? You have not responded to mine already given, and one wonders why not. When defining what is murder, perhaps the 3 main features are all present: killing of a human, deliberate act, premeditation. So it can’t be significantly different from murder (if at all), can it? Whereas the differences between killing someone in and out of a womb are: location/visibility; size; degree of dependency; age. Now, my bipartite challenge is this. (a) If you can find a way that any of those 4 things make someone more or less human, say what it is. (b) If you can find a way that any of those 4 things make someone more or less precious, say what it is. I will be very interested in your answer(s). These 4 things are not things normally cited as conferring higher or lower degrees of membership-of-the-human-species, or of value, as we both know.

            You seem to be following the apparent reactions of others and their lack of urgency. But what about not following but leading, and thinking independently? Does that lack of urgency actually add up, or is it the product of something that seems apparently very powerful: the hold that social norms and laws have on most people, and their apparent fear of social deviance?

        • Penny,

          It is wrong to think in terms of ‘personhood’. That is ill-defined and has the danger that it comes to be defined in terms of capabilities. When you do that, you create an arbitrary level of capabilities which needs to be exceeded for an individual to pass in order to be considered ‘a person’. Can one dispose of human beings who have been born but do not have the right capabilities to be classed as people worthy of protection? If it can be done to the unborn, why not those who have been born?

          As Michael Marsh says in the Grove booklet I referenced, the embryo/foetus is a distinct human being who is, who exists. Such have value now, not for what they might become.
          View (better than listening or reading for the proper impact) the talk by Sally Phillips I linked in another comment. Consider the issue of abortion in relation to disability and Down’s syndrome in the light of what she says. There are some fundamental things in what she says which highlight some deep issues with the values of the modern society in which we live.

    • I’m hesitant to join a conversation involving two other men about what women feel about miscarriage. So, I’m not sure I can accept “few really think of of the developing fetuses, expelled by the woman’s body, as ‘babies’ in these cases.”

      I suspect that miscarriage in the first few weeks may not be recognised as a pregnancy at all, and just some irregularity in the cycle. (After all, there are cases of women not realising that they are pregnant until they give birth!) However, I do nnow a few women who have miscarried, probably within the first 10-12 weeks, and this was accompanied with significant but admittedly private grief. One friend miscarried three times while working as a midwife. Imagine the pain.

      I have heard that the attitude of the medical profession can be callous to those who miscarry. The aborted foetus can be treated simply as medical waste, and the mother given no opportunity to grieve.

      • I have personally witnessed a rubbish/recycling truck that removes so called biological waste (”waste” – can you believe it?) from one of these (as they are known) kill-inics. But when civilisation had advanced 2500 years less than it has now it was possible to uphold the Hippocratic Oath. The breaking of the Hippocratic Oath and promise to protect life – by not merely changing it but actually reversing it so as to take life deliberately – is like a cut Eden taproot or (in Arthurian terms) Dolorous Blow from which there is no hope of the medical profession recovering till it renounces it. Doctors and police who were formerly worthy of respect within interknit communities are now acting at times as morals-free servants of whatever is passed into law (and, by the nature of law, absolutely anything could potentially be).

      • The reason I made that comment is not because I know the minds of women, but because how naturally aborted foetuses are treated shows what people really think – primarily a failed pregnancy in its early stages, not the death of a human being.

        • People will think what their culture encourages them to think.

          And their culture may have vested interests.

          On this particular occasion, the culture certainly does have vested interests.

          What people think or what people feel weighs nothing. Only evidence weighs.

  10. This:
    from Sally Phillips has a huge amount to say about the whole debate about abortion – and beyond. There is much I could quote, but this is particularly relevant:

    ” It is my view that women carrying Down Syndrome pregnancies are encouraged to terminate by the machinery of screening, it’s called Pathway dependency. While abortion providers have successfully campaigned for and won increased care for women choosing termination, still no care pathway exists for women choosing to continue a Down Syndrome pregnancy, you’re basically left on your own. ”

    This is one of the significant problems with the environment. It is all very well talking about ‘choice’, but we have reached a point when the system and the organizations are built around not enabling true choice. It seems that if the woman has any qualms about her pregnancy, termination is pushed on her. There is support for that route, but none for keeping the child.

    (I believe that the support post-abortion is actually not that good. There are many women who feel significant trauma and guilt following choosing termination. There is no discussion of this beforehand, and no help after from those who perform the termination.)

  11. Rather than scattered interjections, a more systematic brief commentary on the said C of E statements:

    (1) ’24 weeks’ is just taken for granted, and there is no justification for that. A 24week old human is killed. Second, 24 weeks is a rather arbitrary point on a continuum, whereas conception, implantation and birth are by contrast watersheds. The arbitrary is actually exalted in importance above the watersheds as a benchmark!
    What is 24 weeks anyway. It is the point at which a baby can live outside the womb. How irrelevant is that when one is speaking of a baby who is *inside* the womb! And second, how irrelevant it is to use a benchmark (24 weeks) whose only significance relates to survival. Survival is only an issue for babies who may not survive. The babies we are now talking about are already surviving and likely to remain that way, therefore any period of weeks that is derived from survival considerations has nothing to so with them whatsoever. It is sleight of hand. ‘They could not yet survive outside the womb, *therefore* it is ok to kill them’ (logic, anyone?). Moreover, they are already viable individuals so long as invasive people keep their gr*b*y hands off them. Those people are the only factor preventing their being so-called viable. Of course, if someone actively kills them, they will not live. But that is the fault of the person who is actively killing them (who then, having killed the baby, turns round and talks about viability aka ability to live, which only they themselves by their invasion have made to be an issue at all) not of the age that the baby’s budding life is at this present time.

    (2) ‘Our view is that the foetus is a human life’. The error is to call a fact a ‘view’ as though there could be other views, even other views [all?!] equally valid. Such as that the foetus is a goat’s life, perhaps? And the word ‘view’ itself, covering as it does the whole spectrum from research conclusion to wishlist, is far too broad to be meaningful.

    (3) ‘with potential’ – No. When we see a baby we value them for what they now are. We do not value them for what they may one day be, though we cherish and eagerly imagine possibilities.

    (4) ‘drastic reduction’. I wish I had £1 for every time I have heard ‘safe, legal, rare’. Has that ever been implemented, or has anyone had the motivation to do so? No. Once the Rubicon has been crossed of saying that it is ok to end human life, the bar has been lowered and the consciences of the complicit are beyond repair (short of renunciation and repentance – see ‘Unplanned’ DVD).

    (5) ‘stricter interpretation’ – the law is not now being interpreted – it is being flouted. Even ‘interpretation’ is a conveniently vague word much beloved of twisters. Mental health is a thoroughly vague concept – conveniently vague, should one be devious by nature. What is for sure is that those who do not get rid of their baby (when they could have) have, to no-one’s surprise, better ‘mental health’ than those who do (making the mental health clause, already deceitful, even more of a nonsense). In fact, more than that, those of them who do not positively love their baby are very rare. It is like with your family or work colleagues. When you know that your life will be spent with them, this has a maturing effect, and long-term bonds develop. Stability.

    (6) ‘further reductions in time limit’ – see (1) – this relies on the 24week idea making sense, which it never did. So the idea is that the Christians follow the law. But if the Christians are taking their lead from the secularists, they are admitting that the secularists are more advanced (not that they actually are) so ought to be secularists themselves.

    (7)’judging one person’s welfare against that of another’ – in other words, baby and mum are opponents?? or jostling for position *against* one another?? – as opposed to sharing the most blessed bond. Not likely! The idea, secondly and hellishly, is that a mum’s welfare is served by killing her daughter or son. No. It. Is. Not.

    (8) ‘information…to make a fully informed decision’ – but the only information that is necessary is the information that even a child knows – that, given that one option is to kill not any old baby (which would be bad enough) but your own baby, that option is a nonstarter and a non option. Everyone must realise that this is what they are doing. Therefore how far is the problem one of lack of information and how far is it one of the old Adam? Combined with the idea that ‘women’ (you notice that here the C of E lumps the entire disparate gender together as one – just as the secularists do: ‘Trust Women!’ they say, as though all women are minded to do this to their babies, even though most are not and still fewer are of the relevant age) never do anything wrong, and ought never to be criticised, and *all* have considered the position and their choices most carefully. Is there no variety among them? And what if their average degree of consideration were only on an equal level to that of men, which (male) level presumably we would be encouraged to disparage?

    (9) Problem of teenage pregnancy – what problem? If unmarried, then yes. With the extremely large proviso that a baby is a baby, a problem is a problem, and there is no connection between something so positive and something so negative.

    (10) Strategies to avoid conception such as good sex education??
    So – no strategies to avoid sex outside marriage?
    Conception is suddenly a problem when in reality it is the reverse – a blessing.
    Sex education (which is invasive and undoes all parents’ good work from the cradle on) produces ever worse results, after which the call goes out ‘the solution is more sex education’.
    One does not value the thinking of those who cannot think outside the box.
    In 1967 or so, sex education began in earnest, never mentioning marriage which was the state of the vast majority of households! Since then, several things have quintupled. Teenage abortions. First intercourse under 16. UK births outside wedlock. U16s at birthcontrol clinics increased 10fold until the MAP made stats imprecise. First intercourse under 16 brings a 6fold chance of 2+ sexual partners in a given subsequent year. STIs doubled in the 1990s alone – more than doubled among teenagers.
    In 1976-86, the FPA launched targets to reduce abortions and extramarital births. In these 10 years they distributed over 50million items of literature paid for by public money. In those years abortions rose from 130000 to 172000. Extramarital births rose from 19600 to 39600. The brief Gillick swingback then reduced family planning visits among youngsters by a third and also abortions from 5.6 to 5.4 per 1000. But that progress was soon quashed by the courts.

    So, yes, sex education is the answer?

  12. A question for PCI – and for Penelope:
    The Son of God was once an “embryo” and a “foetus” (although these Greek and Latin words mean nothing other than “offspring”, there is nothing technical about them).
    At what stage did the Son of God become a “person” or a “human being”?
    Was He not one from the start?
    How does your reflection on the Incarnation (if you do any) shape the way you think about pre-born human life?
    A final thought. The classical, pagan world into which the Son of God was born was one in which abortion and infanticide (exposure of newborns) were commonplace and no crimes. That is the world we are returning to. Are you happy about that? Do you consider that an advance into truth and righteousness? What does the Son of God say about this?

  13. I’m reluctant to engage in what is clearly an emotive issue for some and one of which I have no personal experience. But from the standpoint of an interested observer it seems this issue is being largely discussed theologically and on the moral issues it raises, which are appearing in very black and white tones. But it seems to me that at least one broader issue is being overlooked.
    Historically (ie pre-1967 in the UK), desperate women have turned to abortion as a last resort to end an unwanted pregnancy and avoid the birth of an unloved child. Those who were rich did so in comparative safety, those who were poor risked, and not infrequently lost, their lives in the process.
    Much as Christians may deplore the practice of abortion, we have to recognize that we live in a fallen world; abortion is not going to stop however much we condemn it. The issue – being played out in several US states at the present time – is whether it is done legally or illegally. We can salve our consciences by making abortion difficult or illegal but a clear practical effect of that would be to discriminate against the poor and put lives at risk as abortions return to the back streets where unhygienic and dangerous methods are used. Of course, this would have no effect on rich women who would continue to have access to safe terminations in the (now discreetly disguised) private clinics of their choice. I wonder if those who argue so passionately for restricting abortion have considered this (unintended) consequence?

    • a clear practical effect of that would be to discriminate against the poor […] Of course, this would have no effect on rich women […] I wonder if those who argue so passionately for restricting abortion have considered this (unintended) consequence?

      But you could say the same about any law. Take murder, for example. Poor murderers are locked up for decades; rich murderers hire expensive lawyers who either get them off entirely by making up rhymes about ill-fitting gloves, or take heavily reduced sentences.

      Does this mean we shouldn’t have laws against murder because of that ‘(unintended) consequence’?

      Or look at the ‘me too’ movement, where it turns out that rich, powerful men have been getting away with rape and sexual assault of the type that have had poor men locked up, for decades. I don’t think anyone thinks the correct reaction to these revelations is to make rape legal, because otherwise the ‘(unintended) consequence’ is that poor men get locked up for behaviour that rich men get away with?

      Surely whether something is illegal should depend on how wrong it is, not how easy it is for the rich to get away with? And if there is a problem with unequal application of the law, surely the correct solution is to properly enforce the law on the rich, not to give up on it entirely?

    • Hi John

      Saying ’emotive issue’ has become a cliché. It is a cliché that makes little sense and requires thought. There is not an option to show no emotion when humans are being killed (unless one has psychopathic tendencies or is world-weary and unfeeling – none of which is a good state to be in). ‘Emotive’ also needs to be defined. Surely the more injustice to the innocent, the more strong emotion will be right and proper.

      So-called ‘abortion’ may be being discussed here theologically, but not by me, as I see it as a justice issue akin to slavery. Some humans are being treated as less than human and as dispensable (potential sacrifices, generally collateral damage to maintaining an accustomed lifestyle, though there are exceptions) by those privileged classes to whom treatment serves their ends.

      You say ‘abortion’ is not going to stop…’. But this inaccurately makes it an all or nothing issue where the only options are 200000 per year and zero per year. We both know it is not an all or nothing issue because there is a whole spectrum in between. All we are saying is that legalisation brings normalisation and an increase of at least 500% per annum. Initial legalisation saw a rate of something like 35000 per annum. This in turn would have been a leap from the previous year because legalisation brings normalisation and perceived acceptability to no small degree.

      In short, abortions will take place many times more often if those in authority are perceived not to mind about it. That encourages people to lower their standards. If even my superiors have no standards, why should I? – is the thinking.

      ‘We can salve our consciences’ – (a) do you think salving consciences is somehow more important than saving lives? (b) To denigrate the conscience is the very reverse of what we should be doing – we should be exalting conscience.

      You say ‘the issue is whether it is done legally or illegally’. First of all the implication that there can be only one ‘issue’ is incorrect.

      Second, law cannot be the issue since laws change (with the wind) so there is nothing firm about them. They are under no obligation to reflect reality. They are voted in by non experts who are after votes and will mostly not have studied the debates let alone the broader arguments. The most central issue is not law but biological reality. And justice.

      Do people consider this unintended consequence, you ask. It is one of the main points thrust at us in debate and has been for decades. But for anyone under teen years the very idea of killing a baby is abhorrent in the first place. Even harming a baby is abhorrent. Likewise for sensible adults. So how come there are people for whom it is not abhorrent? The only explanation I have ever been able to find convincing is that the one thing the aborters generally have in common is extramarital sex, and that this deadens conscience. People should stop being dishonest and face the fact that abortion is part and parcel of the sexual revolution which is in most ways harmful and splits precious families at a colossally increased rate. Societies without much extramarital sex are perfectly possible and are real within living memory and within this island. That is just a fact. It is all to do with the norms that are fed to people. The very idea of thinking that sex itself is not a choice, when of course it is a choice that may have known consequences; the very idea that some people do not know that babies come from sex; the very idea that extramarital sex is something normal and inevitable in all societies – these are 3 of the weak links in a weak argument.

      • You’re right, Christopher, affirmation of abortion walks in lockstep with the sexual revolution which separates sex from the exclusive bond of marriage as the covenant in which children are conceived and raised as a blessing. The sexual revolution would not be possible without the “safety net” of abortion. Almost all justifications for abortion are ex post facto defences of the sexual revolution , the idea that young people as well as older adults can engage in many sexual relationships without consequences. This idea – which condemns working class and black girls to poverty and single motherhood- has been one of the most destructive developments in the past 40 or 50 years and lies at the heart of inequality and school failure.

  14. How about the sanctity human life, at any stage of cellular development? Is that of significance in Christian ethical application. If so, how so? Or is ethics of pragmatism supreme within the Church, even while it is paramount in many spheres, of ends justifying means. ?
    What is God’s view of consumation and conception, of human life in its miraculous cellular simplicity and complextity?

    • Geoff, you understand, and thank God some people do. The intricacy is something that inspires our awe to the nth degree, but the more we study it the more intricacy we see – we never seem to come to the end of it.

      Even if humans had a millionth of the intricacy they in fact have, destroying them would still be a yobbish and thuggish act.

      • It’s something to do with origins, Genesis, Peter: a Christian theological world view that is not dependent on a closed material systemic world view, and the Awe that Christian scientists maintain in the irreducible complexity of Triune God created, Ex Nihilo human and material world existence .
        It something to do with the miracle of nature, of natural law, of humans, male and female in the image of God?
        Where is your gob -smacked Awe, Peter?
        Here are a couple of quotes from CS Lewis:
        1“A naturalistic Christianity leaves out all that is specifically Christian.”
        ― C.S. Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study
        2 “Nothing can seem extraordinary until you have discovered what is ordinary. Belief in miracles, far from depending on an ignorance of the laws of nature, is only possible in so far as those laws are known.”
        ― C.S. Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study
        So Pete, what do you say is “strictly a miracle”?

  15. PS
    When did the Church lose the Awe? The Awe of God in Trinity, the Awe of human life, as oppose to any other life form?
    Was it through evolution, the enlightenment? Through social engineering, scientism and scientific manipulations with corresponding ethical justifications?

  16. Thank you for this. There are two big problems with the CofE’s stated position. One is that the “strictly limited conditions” under which abortion is permissible or morally preferable are never spelled out – meaning effectively that abortion on demand is tolerated, because everyone can claim, in the absence of any definition, that theirs belongs within the “strictly limited conditions”. The other major problem is that the Church’s “strong opposition” to abortion is almost entirely non-existent. They have a statement on a shelf that says they oppose it, but, for example, when they could have opposed abortion being thrust upon NI recently, they didn’t say a word. The 26 “Lords Spiritual” didn’t even turn up to vote against it. The priest and the Levite no doubt “opposed” robbery, but they did not help the man on the road to Jericho. Unsurprisingly, it is so often the clergy today that are following in their footsteps.

    • ‘The other major problem is that the Church’s “strong opposition” to abortion is almost entirely non-existent.’ Yes, I think I’d agree with that…which was part of the reason for writing the post.


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