The Scottish Secretary David Mundell has announced that an amendment will be brought forward to the Scotland Bill, currently making its way through the UK Parliament, so that abortion law can be devolved. The Scottish Parliament has responsibility for health and criminal justice matters so the fact that abortion law is reserved to Westminster is something of an anomaly. Most political parties in Scotland have previously indicated that they are in favour of the move, although it has been opposed by Labour.
Power over “end-of-life” issues already resides at Holyrood. This was evident in May when there was a Member’s Bill to legalise assisted suicide, which thankfully was rejected by a large majority. Now Holyrood is to receive power over “beginning-of-life” issues. The question is, What, if anything, will it do with its new power?
It would be wonderful to think that MSPs, having expressed their anxiety for vulnerable adults who might have been under threat if the Assisted Suicide Bill had become law, will soon be showing the same concern for the unborn children who are being destroyed daily in hospitals and clinics throughout Scotland. The signs are not very encouraging though. Unless there is a revolution in the thinking of our politicians, the opportunity to choose life will be rejected and the option of abortion will be retained.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has welcomed the move to devolve abortion law. However she stated as recently as September: “I have no intention, this Government has no intention, of legislating to change the current time limits for abortion.” Similarly the Conservative leader Ruth Davidson believes that the abortion limit is presently set at about the right level. Jenny Marra, the Labour party’s spokeswoman, goes further, fearing that devolving abortion law “could undermine the right of women to make their own decisions”.
Sadly these views represent the prevailing attitude in parliament and in the nation. Abortion is regarded as a liberty which belongs to women and if they exercise it within the law then that is their ‘right’. There will be no progress on this issue until we stop hiding behind this specious argument. It is time our society faced up to the reality of abortion – something we are keen to avoid because of the horror of it. Have you noticed how the language used has a desensitising effect and covers up the matter? We hear of a ‘foetus’, a ‘choice’ and a ‘termination’. But terminate a pregnancy and you terminate a child.
All the arguments in favour of abortion tend to rest upon a single premise: that what is formed in the womb is, especially in its very earliest stages, something less than a human being. But embryonic life is not less-than-human life, a stage we must go through prior to entering upon ‘proper’ human life: it is the first part of our personal history. The Psalmist was aware of this when he prayed to the One who searched and knew him: “thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.... I was made in secret.... Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect” (Psa. 139:13-16).
David is not alone. God set Jeremiah apart while he was still in the womb: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee” (Jer. 1:5). John the Baptist was “filled with the Holy Ghost” from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15) and leaped for joy when Mary, pregnant with her child Jesus, visited his mother Elisabeth (Luke 1:41,44). The only safe, wise and humane position for society to take is that human life begins at conception, when the embryo is formed.
Those who are dismissive of early life in the womb often stress that it is not viable. While a child born at less than twenty weeks may not be capable of survival, scientific research has shown that even very early life in the womb is far from being a ‘mere’ collection of cells, or just a ‘lump’ of tissue: it possesses all the features (in their embryonic form) which constitute human life. Importantly, all the genetic information which codes for a new (and unique) human being is present from the very moment of conception.
If it is suggested that unborn life is not ‘real’ life because it is wholly dependent upon the mother there is an obvious response: what about infants outside the womb? Children who have actually entered the world require maternal nurture and other parental support for years, until they are ready to manage on their own. There are massive developmental changes which must take place before a newborn baby becomes an independent adult.
The merest hint of a possibility that abortion ends the life of a fellow human being ought to mean that the law of the land is framed to forbid it. God has placed a garrison around the most vulnerable in society by giving us the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exod. 20:13); the state should apply this commandment to infant life in the womb as well as to all stages of life outside it.
It is a short step from the thought that an unborn infant is not viable to the thought that it has no value. But it does, as every human life! Why? God created man in a special way, in His own image and after His own likeness (Gen. 1:26,27). That means we have a spirit as well as a body. We see it in the way God made Adam: “the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7).
It is the possession of a soul which provides us with the capacity to know and enjoy God. Even after his fall into sin and the loss of the divine image man has a dignity which sets him apart from the other creatures and indeed places him above them (Gen. 1:28). By the grace of God in Jesus Christ the divine image may be restored and the sinner blessed through the friendship and fellowship of his Maker for all eternity.
The current abortion law is not only a scandal but also illogical. In the same hospital where one team is doing its utmost to save a premature baby born at twenty-four weeks, another team may be aborting a child at exactly the same point of development, the general time limit for abortion. The one child is viewed as having great worth while the other is regarded as worthless: that is the tragic result of man’s autonomy from God and a woman’s supposed right to choose.
Since the passing of the Abortion Act almost fifty years ago nearly 400,000 babies, each one made in the image and likeness of God, have been killed in the womb in Scotland. The current rate is around 12,000 per annum. The vast majority of abortions are carried out for social reasons rather than medical. Some women have multiple abortions during their childbearing years. The impression is certainly there that abortion is being used as another form of birth control: only 1% of all abortions are performed on the ground of the child’s handicap and a bare 0.02% because of risk to the mother’s life.
Abortion is a shame upon our nation and the Bible does not allow us to be indifferent about the matter. “Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction” (Prov. 31:8). We believe that there are some in the Scottish Parliament who have a conscience on this issue and would at least want a lowering of the time limit. That is not the ultimate answer of course: the deliberate ending of the life of a child in the womb is simply wrong and should be made illegal whatever the stage of development.
We should never put a limit on what God is able to do. Politicians come and go and great changes can occur rapidly, even within a generation. The Lord may be opening up a way whereby Scotland’s silent holocaust will be brought to an end. We hope that parliament will choose life for the unborn but it will only happen when the nation desires it. Let us pray for a spirit of repentance for this and all the other evils we are guilty of.