Here is a prediction that will hearten some, dumbfound others and enrage a few: abortionism (by which I mean the acceptance and provision of abortion as part of modern life) is doomed. Sooner or later our society must repudiate it. It’s a question of when, not whether. This is so for two reasons. First, abortionism is incompatible with our society’s commitment to equality and human rights. Why? Because unborn children are clearly as much members of the human family as are infants, adolescents, adults and the rest, and therefore deserve the full, equal protection of the law.
They are this because they are the products of human gametes (human sperm and cells). Our conception (fertilisation) is the only moment we can point to say and say: “this is when I, unique me, began and I have been me ever since”. Deny that and you simply fly in the face of the findings of the modern sciences of human genetics and embryology, both of which are still young and almost every day producing new evidence of what an astonishing event our conception was and how quickly we developed in the womb.
Moreover, thanks to modern ultrasound technology, we can see unborn children developing in their prenatal homes: see their hearts beginning to beat three weeks or so after conception, their limbs sprouting fast, the little ones soon sucking their thumbs and responding to their mothers’ life patterns.
Birth is simply an incident in a process already nine months old; not the decisive beginning of anything. Of course some try to argue that this is either untrue or irrelevant. They say that prenatal life may be human but it is not “personal” life – because the unborn child lacks self-awareness, self-determination, the ability to relate to others, to make choices or whatever.
Leave aside the awkward fact that you could say the same of a one-month, three-month, six-month and perhaps even older born child – and hence justify infanticide on a huge scale. There is profound confusion here. Self-awareness, autonomy, choosing, etc, are features and functions of human life; not human life itself. To put the same thing another way: life is either human or it is not. It cannot become more human. A two-year-old is not more human than a two-month-old; a 10-year-old not more human than a five-year-old. And so on. The older ones are more developed, more self-aware, enjoy greater autonomy, etc, but are not more completely members of the human race.
A cricket match is not more “crickety” after 15 overs than after one. It will simply be more developed. A big circle is not more circular than a small one. It is simply bigger. But suppose the abortionists are right. Suppose unborn children are not truly human and do not have a moral right to life. To be fair (and accurate) you would have to say that they are not yet human and hence do not yet have that right. But they will do if they are allowed to live. They will do so by virtue of their own inner dynamism; not because of anything conferred on them from outside.
But to take away the ability of someone to achieve a right which would otherwise be achieved by virtue of self-generated dynamism – if only the subject was allowed to do so – is to do the latter as great an injustice as denying it the exercise of a right that has been achieved. Thus it is as wrong to cut off an infant’s feet – for no good reason, just out of malice – as it is to cut off a teenager’s. The fact that the former could not yet walk is irrelevant. He/she would have been able to do so one day.
So the “not yet” argument does not work. Indeed, it is a boomerang. That is moral philosophising. The pro-abortion lobby frequently turn to the law and remind us that the courts have repeatedly ruled that the child in the womb is not a legal person (but has only “interests” – which “crystallise” into legal rights at birth). On the other hand, it is agreed that the child is not part of the mother (as her hands or arms are). It is a separate but not yet separable human being. It is a dependent being (and dependence implies duties for the person depended upon, not rights over the dependant). But it is not yet a person in the eyes of the law.
As well as being vulnerable because in reality it is just another version of the “not yet” line of argument, this only shows that our law is in a profound muddle. Is not the fundamental purpose of our law to protect us all equally, without regard to age, wealth, sex, creed and race? Yes. Is not a legal person an entity which (at least) enjoys the protection of the law? Yes. But has not unborn human life been protected at Common Law since time out of mind, albeit this protection has often proved difficult to provide because of a lack of knowledge of prenatal life and, of course, modern technology (eg ultrasound scanning)? Yes. And have not four statutes (of 1803, 1828, 1837 and 1851) imposed increasingly severe punishment for abortion? Yes.
So must not the unborn child possess legal personhood? Abortionists have tried to argue that those Acts of Parliament were concerned only to protect women against the “backstreet” butchers, not to protect unborn life.
But this is wishful thinking again. Those Acts were manifestly intended to protect the unborn child, otherwise why would they have provided for punishment of the women who sought abortion, or self-aborted?
When Parliament passed the Abortion Act in 1967 it clearly understood that it was decreeing that the severe penalties for taking unborn life laid down in the Act of 1861 would not be incurred if two doctors decided in good faith that they had met certain strict conditions. It clearly and rightly understood that those previous Acts had been primarily intended to protect human life in the womb. If they had merely been aimed at backstreet quacks and crones with knitting needles the 1967 Act would scarcely have been necessary.
But that is by the way. The crucial fact is that the Abortion Act is profoundly incompatible with the fundamental principles of our law. We are indeed in a muddle. There is a second, equally decisive, reason why abortionism is doomed.
Every abortion is objectively (ie whether this is realised or not) a profound affront to a woman’s innermost dignity, her very womanhood. Her womb is the centre of her being, something “other”, something that the male body cannot begin to match, something uniquely equipped to nourish and protect new life. That this safe haven, this sanctuary, should be violently assaulted, its defences breached by a merciless assailant and the new life within either sucked or pulled out or poisoned; that it should be the site of violent destruction of new life – this is a profound contradiction, a profound humiliation.
Hardline feminists shout that it’s a woman’s right to choose. Leave aside the fact that they cannot answer the question “Where did this right come from? Who gave it to them?” The more immediate fact is that in a truly just society no one would have any right to choose death for any other human being.
The feminists have betrayed the sisterhood. One day the “wombed ones” will discover that abortionism has been a momentous victory for the predatory male because it has made women finally “available”. The male chauvinists have never had it so good; and women’s minds and bodies have never been so vulnerable.
The killing – hundreds every day, thousands every week – has got to stop. We cannot claim to be a just society, a serious democracy, a civilised society until it does. We are committed to the Human Rights Act 1998, article 2 of which reads: “Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law.” If we deny that protection to any fellow human we are living a lie.
We cannot live with the present contradiction, the muddle, the moral schizophrenia. Something has to “give”. Perhaps it would be better to say that we will “outgrow” abortionism – as we “outgrew”, say, burning heretics and the Atlantic slave trade and many other forms of cruelty which even the most enlightened of their day often regarded as necessary, even laudable. Similarly, and after much travail, we came to accept universal suffrage and reject capital punishment.
Eventually women will repudiate what they have been duped into believing was the path to “liberation” and society will come to its senses. No doubt there will still be unwanted, crisis pregnancies. So there will still be a need for that positive, loving support for any woman of any age, race or creed in difficulty which the pro-life movement, notably Life, strives to provide in today’s world. But abortionism will have withered away, having been recognised for what it really is, namely, profoundly negative, violent and unjust. One day it will join the ranks of those other “isms” – racism, sexism, ageism, etc – which we have learned are unworthy of us.
Professor Jack Scarisbrick is national chairman of Life