An Evil that must End
As one year gives way to another, we naturally reflect upon what is past and ponder what is to come. We look back to recent events in our lives, especially any ambitions achieved and experiences enjoyed, and look forward in hope to the year ahead. We may make plans regarding our family, work and leisure. Each one of us should be thankful to the Lord for the life He has given us, and for health and strength and other blessings.
It is a time when we also think of people who are no longer with us. The media have reminded us of the rich and famous who have died during the past year, and perhaps some of our own friends and beloved members of our families and congregations have also entered eternity recently. These individuals, like ourselves, lived long enough for their talents to develop and flourish. They had the opportunity to make their own contribution to the world.
But what of the lives which ended last year that never blossomed or bore fruit? In some countries many die in infancy, due to war, famine or disease, but it is not those individuals that we have in mind, sad as their case is. We are thinking instead about our own land, favoured with peace and prosperity, and where every form of care and welfare exists. We are thinking of that host of individuals in Scotland, formed by God and with their own unique potential, who last year and every year are never actually born, because they are killed in the womb. It is high time we thought about them.
Under the present law, abortion is permitted throughout the UK (with the exception of Northern Ireland) up to 24 weeks for non-medical reasons and up to birth for disability or if there is substantial risk to the woman’s life. In March last year power over abortion legislation was devolved to the Scottish Parliament. It was a move that many had called for but one which provided our politicians with a real test, especially those in government. What would they actually do with the new power? Would their much-vaunted aim of creating a better, kinder society extend to the unborn child?
In the autumn of 2015, before the power was devolved, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “I have no intention, this Government has no intention, of legislating to change the current time limits for abortion.” Not much sign of compassion for the unborn there. The last two months have witnessed two disturbing developments which show that there is very little sympathy indeed for the victims of abortion in Scotland on the part of those in power or with influence over those in power.
In November, in response to a question from the Scottish Green co-leader Patrick Harvie, the First Minister said she would look into the possibility of granting women from Northern Ireland access to National Health Service abortions in Scotland without incurring substantial costs. (Abortions are illegal in Northern Ireland, except for cases where the mother’s health is in danger – a situation which has led to women from the Province travelling to the mainland seeking an abortion, for which they must pay.) The First Minister said she believed that no woman should ever be “stigmatised” for having an abortion, and that it was a fundamental part of healthcare. A spokesman described her as “very sympathetic” to the proposal.
Leaving the actual matter of abortion aside for a moment, there are some obvious concerns if such a thing was ever to happen. Firstly, the implication for the rule of law. Can it be right for the authorities in one part of the UK to aid and abet people living in another part of the UK in doing something which would lead to prosecution if it were to take place where they live? Secondly, the implication for democracy. As recently as February last year, the Northern Ireland Assembly voted against amending legislation to allow abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, and against allowing abortion in cases of sexual crime. If elected representatives in Northern Ireland are content with the present law on abortion in the Province, surely politicians in Scotland should not be thinking of subverting the political process there in the way proposed?
In December a group made up of ‘women’s rights’ and other organisations published a report arguing for the removal of all restrictions on abortion, including the time limit and the requirement for two doctors to give their approval. The report also favours allowing pregnant women to perform abortions on themselves using abortifacients. Emma Ritch, director of the feminist organisation ‘Engender’, said: “This is an opportunity for Scotland to do things slightly different....we could have a situation like Canada does where there is no criminal law when it comes to abortion, there are no time limits, and they haven’t seen an increase substantially in the number of abortions that occur.”
While figures show that in Scotland very few abortions are presently carried out after 24 weeks, we feel that the number would be bound to increase if abortion were decriminalised altogether. However the consequences of taking such a step would not be limited to yet more innocent lives lost: such a move would amount to a further cheapening of infant life, lead to more psychological harm to women and represent a significant hardening of our national conscience.
We are thankful that a spokesman for the Scottish government responded by saying that it has “no plans to change the law” – although we realise that such a form of words leaves plenty of ‘wiggle room’. At a later date ministers can say: “What we meant was, we had no such plans at that time. Of course, things have changed now.” Unless a position is based on principle, rather than what is expedient, it is all too likely to undergo alteration: plans may well emerge, if it suits those in government.
On the first day of the new year the First Minister distributed the first trial ‘baby boxes’ in Scotland. The scheme is based on a long-standing policy in Finland, where a ‘maternity package’ containing clothing, bedding, toys and other practical items is given to expectant mothers to help them in the care of their newborn infants. Nicola Sturgeon said: “Scotland’s baby box is a strong signal of our determination that every child, regardless of their circumstances, should get the best start in life.” In typical modern fashion, the boxes will be provided not just to those who are less-well-off but to everyone, and will be provided ‘free’. The aim is to improve the level of infant care and decrease the level of child mortality.
But what of the babies who, let alone getting a good start in life, do not get any start? Those who, because of abortion, only receive an end, and a most cruel one at that? Twelve thousand of them last year, and no doubt the same again this year. No ‘baby box’ for them. The scheme is just a gesture – something which is meant to make us feel good about ourselves and our country but hinders us from seeing how far we have gone in the wrong direction. When the Lord commands, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exod. 20:13), He means that life in the womb should be valued and protected, just as life outside it. How great then is our guilt before God, because of abortion!
Abortion is a revealing issue. It demonstrates the deplorable state of our society in a way that few other issues do. Do we see the confusion which is caused when God’s law is set aside? The creation of a permissive society resulted in increasing promiscuity, which in turn fuelled abortion. Now, in 2017, with Scotland’s population ageing, the Scottish government wants to increase immigration to boost the workforce. But why are so many individuals ‘missing’ from the younger generation? Where have all the children gone? The pressure on women to go out to work, the tendency to marry later and the widespread use of contraception, have all played their part, but we all know that abortion is also to blame. It is a truth that just can’t be stated, because abortion is in a different category from the rest: it is too shaming and convicting a subject for our nation to face up to – too horrendous for us to contemplate – so we hide from it.
Morally we need to recognise our guilt as a nation, in allowing so much innocent blood to be shed. Practically we need to reckon with the real cause of abortion, which is the permissive society: put an end to it, and we will be on the way to ending the evil of abortion itself.
Abortion is a defining issue too. Any society which claims to be a caring and compassionate one must have a place in its heart for its weakest and most vulnerable members, namely the unborn. The advocates of abortion insist that they are full of compassion: a compassion for the women who want an abortion. Compassion must indeed be shown to women who find themselves in difficulty because of pregnancy, but not at the expense of the unborn child. It should take the form of appropriate material and emotional support during the remainder of the pregnancy, continuing after the child is born for as long as required. If absolutely necessary, there is the possibility of adoption for the child.
As we are all aware, 2017 marks the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation, that great work of God whereby the gospel of grace that brings life and joy to sinners was recovered out of Romish error and superstition. It also marks fifty years since the passing of the infamous Abortion Act, in which time close on half a million children in Scotland have lost their lives in their mother’s womb. It would seem that nothing less than a God-given revival of religion will bring about the end of abortion, and prevent what will otherwise be the complete collapse and ultimate death of our Christian culture. Let us pray fervently and labour diligently for such a revival.