Mal Fletcher
Abortion - This Generation's 'Slavery'?

Having recently celebrated the life and work of William Wilberforce, some religious leaders have called abortion-on-demand the 'new slavery'; the human rights issue that will define our generation's place in history.

It is forty years since abortion became legal in Britain.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, has warned that abortion is increasingly being seen as the easy option for women, perhaps just another form of contraception. In the process, he says, British people risk losing sight of the sanctity of life.

This last statement is supported by the fact that some notable supporters of a lower legal age limit for abortion are also vocal campaigners for voluntary euthanasia.

In 1967, when the act legalising abortion was passed, says Dr. Williams, 'what people might now call their "default position" was still that abortion was a profoundly undesirable thing and that a universal presumption of care for the foetus from the moment of conception was the norm.'

'There has been an obvious weakening of the feeling that abortion is a last resort in cases of extreme danger or distress.

Nearly 200,000 abortions a year in England and Wales tell their own story. We are not now dealing with a relatively small number of extreme cases.'

Recently, several British newspapers carried stories of babies who were aborted for nothing more than having club feet or cleft lips or palates - minor disabilities which can be corrected with surgery after birth.

Abortion has not been debated in the British Parliament since 1990, yet politicians have spent almost 800 hours debating the killing of foxes.

Even now, any new debate has only started because some people want to lower the age limit; the debate is not about abandoning abortion-on-demand.

In conducting a recent TV interview, author and broadcaster Clive James made the observation that the liberals of the 60s - himself among them - called for the liberalisation of everything.

Now that they've achieved it, he said, they find it has also brought a liberalisation of violence.

Western societies are, for the most part, more violent than they were four decades ago. In the end, abortion as we now know it is about violence; it is the ultimate form of bullying.

Illegal and dangerous abortions have been carried out for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. And the terminating of a pregnancy when the mother's life is in danger is nothing new.

But abortion-on-demand -- where there are no other issues than a woman's choice involved -- is a relatively recent development, having found wide favour only from the late 60s and early 70s.

The pro-abortion-on-demand stance is an important one to several groups of people. First of all, to those women who might not want a baby or who feel emotionally or financially ill-equipped for motherhood.

I seriously doubt that any caring person would want to see a return to the days when single mothers were ostracised and condemned by society at large. People of faith will certainly agree, as it was Christ who taught us to love the marginalised and the hurting.

This love must be more than an intellectual assent to the idea of caring - it must involve practical assistance. But showing compassion does not mean staying silent when speaking up might save someone from wrongdoing and pain. There is such a thing as 'speaking the truth in love'.

The pro-abortion-on-demand position is also important to radical women's rights movements. Such organisations have consistently maintained that abortion is an issue of women's rights.

When a human embryo is growing inside a woman's body, they say, it is her 'property' and she has the right to do with it whatever she pleases.

While purportedly setting out to change community attitudes towards women, some of these groups have shut many women out of their work, by solely representing fringe interests.

As is often the case, these ultra-liberals are quick to pigeonhole those who don't completely agree with their agenda. They seek to demonize their opponents, saying that those who would reappraise abortion-on-demand are 'anti-women'.

In fact, there is good evidence that being anti-abortion may in many cases be the more pro-woman stance.

Pro-abortionists like to talk about freedom of choice, but they rarely tell the truth about the after-affects of abortion: either the physical complications that can arise, or the mother's sense of emotional loss and grief which can take many years to come to terms with.

Some years ago, I read an Australian right-to-choose pamphlet which told teenage girls that 'abortion is the safest surgical procedure in the world' and that it was 'safer than having your tonsils out'!

A final group for whom a pro-abortion position is important are certain medical researchers.

We should be thankful for the wonderful work done by scientists in many fields. But some bio-researchers are hopeful that they will be able to use foetal cells in all kinds of studies and operations; cells that have been 'harvested' from aborted foetuses.

Of course, not everyone in the scientific community is in favour of such activity. Some scientists have openly questioned where this might take us next.

They ask, might we not see in desperately poor countries the forming of 'abortion industries', where women are paid conceive so that their foetuses can be removed for experimentation?

Others have wondered, if we now accept experimentation on the unborn, what will stop a new generation of scientists from wanting to experiment on people who are comatose, or dying?

And what's to stop the use of aborted foetal material in eugenics-type experiments like the ones carried out by the Nazis?

One point cries out to be made here: there are far more abortions carried out right now than could ever be justified on the basis of scientific research.

The big question for us is this: is an embryo or foetus a human being? There are basically five views on this -- and each of us must make our choice from these options.

You may choose to believe that the embryo or foetus is nothing more than a growth inside the mother's womb, a collection of cells.

Alternatively, you may believe that the embryo or foetus becomes human somewhere between conception and birth. This one is tricky: where do we draw the line, and for what reasons?

A third option is the idea that the embryo becomes a person only after it reaches viability, the time when the foetus can survive on its own.

A number of studies have shown, however, that unborn children exhibit many truly human traits long before they're ready to live unaided.

Some people choose to believe that birth itself is the crucial moment when personhood begins. But how can we justify giving a baby a completely different right-to-life status five minutes before it is born, or even one minute before?

Our final option is perhaps that the embryo has been human all along, right from the time it was first conceived. If that's the case, the embryo has had inviolable rights from conception.

Is it possible that one day, a few hundred years hence, people will look back and give thanks that humanity  fianally gave up on institutionalised abortion, just as it did on slavery?

Mal Fletcher (@MalFletcher) is the founder and chairman of 2030Plus. He is a respected keynote speaker, social commentator and social futurist, author and broadcaster based in London.

About us