Saturday, October 27, 2007

Abortion (again)

Just noticed this excellent piece by Charles Moore in the Telegraph. Some quotes...

It is not hard to imagine how a future Museum of London exhibition about abortion could go. It could buy up a 20th-century hospital building as its space, and take visitors round, showing them how, in one ward, staff were trying to save the lives of premature babies while, in the next, they were killing them.


If you want to do people wrong, you must first undermine the idea that they are people. The Nazis called Jews rats. The Hutu in Rwanda called the Tutsis cockroaches. Pseudo-Darwinian views promoted ideas about racial purity or mental or physical health which allowed those who lacked these qualities to be seen as "inferior stock".

There's also this piece by the (very English) Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor. As I've said before, I think abortion is the most important political issue, and if the left-leaning parties or newspapers want my business or votes, they shouldn't let anti-abortion campaigning be mainly the preserve of right-wingers.


Anonymous said...


I often find your musings illuminating and well argued. I would like to know if you think abortion may be justified in some rare situations e.g. to save the life of the mother or whether there should be a blanket prohibition whatever the circumstances. I believe the the CofE accepts that the mother's life is a valid reason when the question was debated at The General Synod some years ago - or am I wrong?

Do you agree with this?

John said...

Ah yes.

It depends on the risk.

If the choice is abort or both die, then I'd be ok with abortion as the lesser of two evils, but there's hardly any of those.

If the choice is, for example, 5% risk of either mother or baby dying, I'd probably be against it.

Between those, there is a grey area.

It's like the potential use of lethal force by the police - I agree there are circumstances in which it may be justified, except we should be even more careful with abortion, because we have knowledge of innocence rather than suspicion of guilt.

But those circumstances are probably less than 1% of all current abortions.

Anonymous said...


I concur with your view. However, the 'grey areas' of which you speak are where Christian opinion often diverges. When engaging proponents of abortion in public debate, the Christian arguments to abortion are clearly articulated in opposition to selfish motivation and 'the right to choose'.

However when the debate moves onto the grey areas it is less clearly articulated by Christians. Specifically cases like:

(1) A very real mortal threat to the mother. Many Christians quoting Exodus 20 v 13 would say that you should still not abort. This is hard for proponents of abortion to understand even when they appreciate (but don't agree with), the merits of the pro-life arguments.

(2)Pregnancy via rape (I don't think abortion is justified in this case but I would not like to have to explain why to the woman involved). Do you think abortion is justified here?

(3) Developmental defects in the foetus that will certainly cause stillbirth. An example is when a foetus is growing without a brain - a neural tube defect. It cannot survive outside the womb. Should the mother be made to carry it to term knowing that it will not survive?

There may be other grey areas also. While they may form a small percentage they nonetheless exist and may be issues that church ministers have to deal with.
A lot of Christians get round these areas more or less by recourse to platitudes.

It seems to me that what is lacking is a well articulated theology that addresses the pastoral issues in the grey areas as well as the principal objections aimed at the pro-choice lobby, but I confess I have yet to read or formulate one.

John said...

As far as I can tell, those grey areas essentially overlap with horrible moral questions such as whether to do A, which kills five innocent people but saves six, or B, which lets the six die without your direct intervention.

I should admit, in those situations I tend to take the brute statistical approach, because if feelings get involved it tends to lead to paralysis.

To be honest, I don't see the point of debating those issues in much detail while the vast majority of abortions don't even vaguely fall into grey areas. It's more likely to be a constructive use of debating time to focus on the 99% or so of abortions rather than how to split the 1%.

FWIW, I'd be against abortion in case of rape, but not if the infant had 0 chance of survival.

If a difficult pastoral situation came up, along the lines you describe, I don't think it would be my place to tell the person what to do (unless it was in my family of course). It would be my place to keep their conscience as well-informed as I could and to pray for and support them in their decision.