It sometimes seems as though there are only two camps in the abortion debate – pro-life and pro-choice.
And very often there seems to be no real meeting of minds or genuine attempts to understand the other side. But I believe that when we try to enter this battleground, our first Christian task is to listen and to try to understand, to empathise with the pain that so many people experience. Because, above all, abortion is the source of huge personal pain, anxiety, loss, guilt and shame.
Only when we are prepared first, to recognise and empathise with the pain are we able to speak with integrity, with authenticity and with compassion. I believe passionately that this is an issue that we should talk about with tears in our eyes, rather than with harsh rhetoric and judgement in our voices.
Abortion is a topic which touches all of us. The statistics indicate that one in three women in the UK will have an abortion in their lifetime. And for every woman there is a man who is father of the child, although he may not even know that he was a parent. Many people reading these words will have been affected by abortion, although even their closest friends may not know. Many people in Christian churches have been personally affected by abortion, but they cannot talk about it to their closest friends or to their pastor. It is striking that although abortion is so common, it remains a topic that most of us cannot talk about. It is like a deep wound that cannot be discussed or even acknowledged.
And the problem is that when well-meaning people talk about abortion with harsh rhetoric and judgement, they are twisting a knife of guilt and shame within other hearts. This doesn’t mean that we should try to soft-pedal or sanitise the truth about abortion. But we should try to find the wonderful combination of grace and truth which Jesus revealed in the Gospels. “The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Truth without grace can be destructive and damaging. Grace without truth can be soft and gentle but ultimately powerless. But when we engage with both grace and truth intermingled, then we have a powerful and Christ-like combination. This epitomises the approach of Christian pregnancy centres which reach out with compassion and authenticity to women and their partners who are in distress because of an unwanted pregnancy.
In order to understand the deeper issues behind the current abortion debate, I have found it very helpful to understand a little about the historical background. The truth is that abortion has been carried out since the dawn of time, and it was very common and well-recognised at the time of the New Testament. So how did the early Christians respond to the challenges of abortion and infanticide which were so common in their communities?
Abortion was legalised in the UK in 1967. Since then it has become one of the commonest procedures carried out by or funded by the National Health Service. This essay provides more details on the complex reality of abortion today and the widespread effects it continues to have on women and health professionals.
Abortion has become a common topic of debate and discussion for philosophers and ethicists. This essay looks at the arguments put forward in favour of abortion by two prominent philosophers, Ronald Dworkin and Peter Singer.
I’m often asked the question When does human life begin? But I usually try to push back gently and suggest that that is not really the correct question. We all agree that whatever is in the womb is human and it is clearly alive. So the really important moral question is not When does human life begin? But When is there a person that we have a duty to protect?
And when you put the question like that, you realise that it is not primarily a biological or scientific question; it is a theological or philosophical question about personhood. This essay looks at the question When is a person? from a biblical Christian perspective.
Our Christian responses to the ethical challenge of abortion must involve more than theological reasoning. We are called to respond practically, with compassion and sensitivity, finding realistic alternatives to abortion. This essay looks at the human intuitions and painful emotions that abortion causes, the so-called hard cases of abortion for rape, fetal abnormality or risks to the mother’s life, and the practical compassionate alternatives to abortion that Christian pregnancy centres are able to offer.