Africa could teach England a lot about building a culture of life

The Royal College of midwives row puts us to shame (PA)

Reading Christ’s New Homeland – Africa: Contribution to the Synod on the Family by African Pastors, published by Ignatius and distributed by Gracewing for £12.99, I have constantly been struck how, despite all the tribulations that have befallen this continent over the last two centuries, African culture is so resolutely pro-life.

As he writes in the epilogue, “An Appeal from the Church in Africa to the State”, Cardinal Jean-Pierre Kutwa, archbishop of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, states, “The family’s mission is to educate its members in the meaning of life and human life. The peoples of Africa have understood this and carefully put it into practice: life and above all human life is the most precious gift received from God.”

In the West, African society is often mocked for its polygamous practices. But even this pagan cultural form has its roots in a pro-life mentality.

As Archbishop Antoine Ganye of Cotonou writes in the chapter on “Monogamy and Polygamy: “A consideration of polygamy as the model of marriage in Africa reflects a misunderstanding of African anthropology. In this regard, we have already said that the African is essentially monogamous. He becomes polygamous only for circumstantial reasons, the most significant of which is his first wife’s infertility. In Africa, a house without children is like a day without sunshine. The child is the fruit of the marriage. When the legal wife cannot have children, the husband often calls on another wife. This is bigamy…Talking about ‘African marriage’ in terms of polygamy is to make an unwarranted caricature of Africa.”

I make this point, illustrated by these two quotations, because it shows the huge gulf between Africa and our own country where the rejection of new life, abortion, is systemic, written into the legal system.

How and why did we depart so far from the belief that “a house without children is like a day without sunshine”, in the archbishop’s poetic image?

On Monday we learned that Professor Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) which represents almost 30,000 midwives and health staff, has given her College’s “full support” to a British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) campaign which wants legal limits to abortion – at present 24 weeks except for medical reasons – to be completely scrapped, with abortion regulated at the discretion of doctors.

Members of the RCM were not consulted about this move on the part of its board. According to the campaign group Christian Concern, 200 midwives have signed a letter to the RCM board, disowning its “extreme position”.

Professor Warwick of the RCM is also chairman of the board of trustees of BPAS. That midwives, traditionally seen as bringing babies into the world, should now be so closely involved with one of the major abortion organisations in this country, is a new and ominous step in what has rightly been characterised as the “culture of death.”

On Tuesday a Telegraph report quoted a spokesperson as stating, with deceptively emollient words, “This is not about being for or against abortion; it is about being for women and respecting their choices about their bodies”.

Clare Murphy, a director at BPAS, defended Professor Warwick’s seemingly conflicting roles, arguing that the duty of midwives is “to offer support to mothers for any decision made during pregnancy.”

As with pro-life doctors and nurses, it seems that pro-life midwives might soon have to fight for the right to exercise their conscience. When people refer to Africa disparagingly as “a basket case” (I have heard this expression many times) it is worth asking if, despite our enormous wealth, social security and democratic freedoms in comparison to the “dark continent” we are the real “basket case”.