Much has been written over the last week or so about the interview with Jacob Rees-Mogg on Good Morning Britain, in which he defended his position on same sex marriage and abortion. The coverage and subsequent media backlash have certainly brought pro-life issues to the fore and allowed debate to take place. For this we should be extremely grateful. However, one concern that I have is that the interview and all the associated coverage has implied that opposition to abortion is only a matter of faith.
There is a sense that there are those who wish to portray pro-life views as purely religious because such views become much easier to disregard and dismiss. This is something which we need to be keenly aware of when debating in public or sharing our views with others.
Appealing to the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of life can actually be counterproductive when trying to make a pro-life case to someone who doesn’t believe in God. In such situations, we can inadvertently weaken our pro-life arguments by giving discussions a religious framework. This is something that Phyllis Bowman, the great pro-life pioneer, was aware of during her many years of tireless campaigning within the anti-abortion movement in Britain. Her love for the unborn child and for her Catholic beliefs reinforced one another and she was a person of great faith. Despite this, she was well aware of the importance of a secular evidence based approach to pro-life campaigning.
The truth is that you don’t have to be religious to see the humanity of the unborn child and most arguments against abortion do not require a belief in the existence of God. Approaches, pioneered by people like Phyllis Bowman, aimed to ensure that the pro-life message was not attached to one particular religious viewpoint. This helped to create a wide and diverse constituency of support from people of all faiths and none and this continues to be reflected in the membership and support of pro-life groups and charities today.
A secular pro-life position rests mainly, although not exclusively, on the following convictions,
1) Human beings have human rights
2) A foetus is a human being
3) There is no objective distinction between ‘human being’ and ‘person’
4) Bodily integrity is not sufficient to justify abortion.
These points can be held with conviction by those of great faith and by the most secular minded humanists. In terms of Human Rights, almost all people would agree that the lives of human beings are valuable and have rights which express that value and dignity. The scientific evidence for life beginning at conception is overwhelming and only the most extreme pro-choice supporters would articulate otherwise. Denying that life begins at conception is as absurd as refusing to accept the theory of natural selection. Creating the distinction between ‘human being’ and ‘person’ is equally bewildering and raises more questions and problems than answers and solutions. It terms of bodily integrity, most people statistically do not have abortions to preserve personal autonomy. Research has overwhelmingly and consistently shown that most abortions take place because of socioeconomic reasons.
There is so much robust evidence that we can draw on. As Catholics, we may (rightly) be driven by our understanding of the sanctity of life and the intrinsic worth of all human beings, formed in the image of God. However, it is important to share the message that a pro-life position is something that many people hold from all sorts of social, religious, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Whilst we allow pro-life campaigns to be portrayed in the media and society as a Catholic or religious concern we limit all the good we aim to achieve and ultimately the lives of many of the unborn will be lost.