Human beings have an unhelpful tendency to believe what they want to believe. One example of this is to imagine that aborted babies are just blobs of jelly without awareness or feeling. However:
The remarkable early development of the human embryo
- 5-6 weeks after conception the unborn baby’s first electrical brain activity begins[i] and his/her heartbeat can be detected.
- 7 weeks after conception the unborn baby’s eyes (cornea, pupil, iris, lens, and retina) start developing. He/she can see light from about 16 weeks after conception.
- 8 weeks after conception the unborn baby can feel pain (Maureen Condic, Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah, told the US congress: “The neural circuitry responsible for the most primitive response to pain, the spinal reflex, is in place by 8 weeks of development. This is the earliest point at which the foetus experiences pain in any capacity.” She added “There is universal agreement that pain is detected by the fetus in the first trimester [12-14 weeks].”[ii] Dr Stuart Derbyshire, research psychologist, who is pro-abortion, wrote in 2006 that “foetuses cannot experience pain”, but now acknowledges there is “good evidence” they can.[iii] Two other scholars state: “Sensitivity to touch, develops from 8 weeks” (Viola Marx and Emese Nagy, School of Psychology, University of Dundee).[iv]
- 11 weeks after conception the unborn baby can move his/her face and even smile; responds to light, noise and pressure.
So, even in the first three months of pregnancy, the unborn baby has remarkably human characteristics: brain activity, heartbeat, developing eyes, ability to smile and respond to light and noise. He/she can also feel pain. This is not a blob of jelly but very clearly an embryonic human being.
When does an embryo become a human being?
But is such an embryo really a human being? Some say no, the unborn becomes human later. I have always found this a totally unconvincing argument – but a very convenient one for proponents of abortion. To argue that an embryo is not human until some stage after conception is arbitrary wishful thinking. The only argument which makes sense is that an embryo is human from the point of conception – as soon as the male and female elements from the parents come together. That union of male and female elements makes sense as an important enough development to mean the creation of a new human being. Nothing else which happens during the pregnancy logically warrants the idea that the embryo suddenly becomes human.
The idea that separation from the mother’s body is the point at which an embryo becomes human is also unconvincing. An embryo could be successfully separated from the mother’s body quite early in the pregnancy and could survive. The two youngest babies to survive premature birth are thought to be James Elgin Gill (born on 20 May 1987 in Ottawa, at 21 weeks and 5 days gestational age), and Amillia Taylor (born on 24 October 2006 in Miami, at 21 weeks and 6 days gestational age).[v]
So the embryo must be human (or ‘potentially human pending the separation’) at this quite early stage in the pregnancy. And we are back to the question at what stage in a pregnancy does an embryo become human? We also have to remember that a new born baby remains very dependent for some considerable time. How do we decide on the level of dependency which causes a baby to be human? Again, all of this is clearly arbitrary wishful thinking.
The fact of the matter is that an embryo is human from the point of conception and this is confirmed by the remarkable early developments listed above. So to kill an embryo is morally wrong. It can only be justified if it is definitely the lesser of two evils, i.e. an unavoidable way to save the mother’s life.
In February 2020 the Bishop of Carlisle made the following statement at the General Synod on behalf of the House of Bishops: “The General Synod resolved in 1983 that ‘in situations where the continuance of a pregnancy threatens the life of the mother a termination of pregnancy may be justified and that there must be adequate and safe provision in our society for such situations’ and in 1993 that ‘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.”[vi]
On what grounds do abortions take place in Britain?
Britain has one of the most liberal abortion laws. Most countries allow abortion up to 12 weeks of gestation, while some allow it up to 18 weeks (Sweden), 22 weeks (the Netherlands), or 24 weeks (United Kingdom). The government in its “Abortion Statistics, England and Wales: 2018”[vii] speaks of seven grounds:
A. Where there is a risk to the life of the mother.
B. To prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the mother.
C. To prevent injury to the physical or mental health of the mother (up to 24 weeks of pregnancy).
D. To prevent injury to the physical or mental health of any existing children in the family (up to 24 weeks of pregnancy).
E. Where there is a substantial risk the child would be seriously handicapped.
All the above must be certified by two registered medical practitioners but abortion on the following emergency grounds can be certified by one registered medical practitioner:
F. to save the life of the mother (cf A above).
G. to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the mother (cf B above).
This government report states that in 2018, there were 205,295 abortions notified as taking place in England and Wales in 2018 (23.8 per cent of pregnancies), of which 200,608 were to residents of England and Wales. (The following figures relate to the latter figure). 97.7% of abortions (196,083) were performed on Ground C, i.e. to prevent risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the mother. NOTE: This is not Ground B: to prevent GRAVE permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the mother. These were abortions to prevent harm to the mother which were NOT SERIOUS OR GRAVE PERMANENT INJURY. The word ‘harm’ has been very loosely interpreted, in many cases meaning against her wishes to have the child thereby causing her deep upset.
A further 1.6% (3,269) were carried out on Ground E: to prevent substantial risk the child would be seriously handicapped. Another 0.6% (1,104) were carried out on Ground D: to prevent injury to the physical or mental health of any existing children in the family
Only 145 abortions were carried out on Grounds A and B together (the government don’t separate the figures) i.e. where there is a risk to the life of the mother or to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the mother. Another 7 abortions were carried out on Grounds F or G which are emergency versions of Grounds A and B.
So only 0.076% of the 200,698 abortions carried out in England and Wales in 2018 were to save the life of the mother or prevent permanent injury to her. On the basis of abortion being morally justified only as an unavoidable way to save the mother’s life, this means that some 99% of abortions were morally unjustified. Since this involves ending the life of unborn human babies this is a VERY serious matter.
Abortion is a huge moral issue because in 2019 there were over 42 million abortions in the world, the single largest cause of death. Also new research from the National University of Singapore, reported in the New Scientist indicates that sex-selective abortions may have resulted in the deaths of more than 23 million girls around the world.[viii]
Since 1967 there have been 9 million abortions in Great Britain. David Steel, who spearheaded the 1967 Abortion Act, says he didn’t anticipate there would be so many and added: “I still think there are too many, and [that it is] wrong to use abortion as a contraception.”[ix]
Moves to decriminalise abortion
Britain has one of the most liberal abortion laws. Most countries allow abortion up to 12 weeks of gestation, while some allow it up to 18 weeks (Sweden), 22 weeks (the Netherlands), whereas the UK allows it up to 24 weeks. But there are moves to make it even more liberal.
The Labour Party manifesto for the 2019 election included plans to decriminalise abortion, without a time limit. The Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the British Medical Association support decriminalisation. Supporters argue that women, not doctors, should have control over their own bodies and should not be forced to carry “foetuses” to term against their will. One slogan is: “Reproductive freedom is a basic human right.”
In May 2018 the Observer newspaper published an editorial which said: “Access to reliable contraception and safe abortion has unshackled women from the burdens of unwanted pregnancy. Our abortion law remains stuck in Victorian times: abortion is still a criminal offence and a woman is only permitted to have an abortion if two doctors confirm that continuing with the pregnancy poses a greater risk to her physical or mental health, or that of her existing children, than terminating it. This is demeaning, paternalistic and out of step with public opinion: 70% of the public believe a woman should be able to access an abortion if she does not want to proceed with the pregnancy.”[x]
Such callous comments ignore the unborn baby’s rights.
Even worse comments were recorded in a BBC Panorama programme “America’s Abortion War” in 2019 which interviewed Dr LeRoy Carhart, a proud late-term abortionist in Maryland. He said: “To the foetus it makes no difference whether it’s born or not born. The baby has no input in this as far as I’m concerned.” The interviewer asked “And you don’t have a problem with killing a baby?” Dr Carhart responded: “Absolutely not. I have no problem if it’s in the mother’s uterus.”[xi] Dr Willie Parker is a Christian doctor in the US who practises obstetrics and gynaecology, specialising in abortions and is a reproductive justice advocate. In a newspaper article he described how he changed his mind about the compatibility of abortion with his faith. He included the comment “The Bible says nothing about abortion.”[xii] This ludicrous statement shows Dr Parker should stick to medicine. The Bible has strong things to say about taking the life of innocent people.
However the good news is that several US states have recently signed a bill making abortion illegal in most cases.
Abortion harms women
In 2011 a report published in the British Journal of Psychiatry concluded that: “Women who had undergone an abortion experienced an 81% increased risk of mental health problems”.[xiii] It said that more than 50% of women who have abortions, do so because they were put under pressure to abort by family, friends and partners.
The Northern Ireland situation
Northern Ireland had an almost total ban on abortion until in 2019 the Westminster Government decided, whilst the Northern Ireland Executive was not meeting, that abortion should be permitted in Northern Ireland.
– Removes from law all explicit protection for the unborn child up to 28 weeks of pregnancy.
– Offers no specific protection for unborn babies with disability.
– Does not prohibit abortion based on the sex of the baby.
The majority of people in Northern Ireland do not support the Westminster decision and there is strong criticism of the ignoring of devolution. Conservative MP Fiona Bruce described the proceedings as “unconstitutional, undemocratic, legally incoherent and utterly disrespectful to the people of Northern Ireland”. She also criticised the government for proceeding “with just a derisory one hour’s debate”.[xiv]
This is an example of the very strong commitment to liberal abortion in Britain.
Opposition to abortion is strong in the US but tends to be largely ignored in the UK. Yet it is a huge moral issue which involves taking the lives of hundreds of thousands of unborn babies. It is clearly something which brings the nation under God’s judgment and we need to be very concerned.