Opinion & Features

Abortion Act at 50: How to be positively pro-life

Unless we help mothers, our words will sound hollow and sanctimonious (Getty)

Pro-lifers have to speak out against the trivialisation of human life happening all around them. They must do so calmly and charitably, of course, but without fudge or compromise. They must be politically active – committed to securing the full, equal protection of the law for all human life from conception to natural death.

But they must also roll up sleeves and do their best to provide the positive alternative to all the wrongdoing; otherwise their pro-life words will sound hollow, if not sanctimonious, and their political efforts will be largely unsuccessful.

Yes, there will be a tension between the educational/political and the caring. But it will be a healthy tension. Each needs the other. A freestanding care service can be in danger of ideological drift. The campaigner must remember that it is not enough to say “thou shalt not”; you have to help people “not to”. That is the more difficult bit.

Life was founded in 1970 precisely to promote the absolutist case (ie, to say no to all abortion, however hard the case) and to provide a comprehensive pro-life care service.

Only heaven knows how many women facing a crisis pregnancy have not gone down the abortion road because Life was able to give them emotional and practical support. Maybe thousands. Some 6,000 women made homeless by pregnancy have been accommodated in Life houses over the years.

In the early days clients came to Life care centres for free pregnancy testing, material help and advice. Then the national hotline became a major way of reaching them. Today they come in fast-growing numbers via the internet.

Soon the IVF “industry” was opening up new ways of trivialising human life – and pro-lifers faced a new, double challenge: first, to explain to our post-Christian, utilitarian society why human beings should not be manufactured by white-coated technicians in laboratories, and secondly to provide the pro-life alternative to this wrongdoing.

After much experimentation that alternative was found. It came from America and is the achievement of a Dr Tom Hilgers and his Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha. It is called NaProTechnology there. We call our version Life FertilityCare. More than 200 children have been born through it. Many of their parents had previously tried IVF without success. It is truly “pro-life”: it restores health and, by enabling conception to occur naturally, it upholds the integrity and dignity of human procreation. It is cheaper and probably more successful than IVF. It could lick it if it had the necessary support.

And then there has been the merciless campaign against special-needs unborn children. Shockingly, they can be killed up to birth. By the early 1990s it was even common practice for hospital doctors to sedate to death newborn disabled children who had escaped detection in the womb. We protested. We even got one of those doctors tried for murder.

But it was not enough to have protested.

Parents of severely disabled children need much courage and deserve much support before birth and long afterwards. Their children have a prophetic role in our society: their innocence and vulnerability challenge and humble us. In them, we sinners confront human beings who commit no sin.

So Life begat Zoe’s Places – hospices specialising in the care of severely disabled children aged zero to five years (Zoe being the Greek for “life”). There are three of them. At any one time more than 100 children are receiving their palliative/respite care. Would that there could be more of them – they are the truly positive alternative to eugenic abortion and neonatal eugenics.

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Of course our statistics are puny compared with, say, the 8.9 million unborn victims of the Abortion Act or the thousands of children produced by IVF.

But that is not the point. We can put the following question to our fellow citizens: abortion, however it is done, is negative, violent, barbaric. Is not our care service the better way of responding to the crisis pregnancy, the civilised way, one that brings joy and hope?

We can show that we have the better way of overcoming infertility. So why not embrace it? Why carry on with your technologies which usurp the rights of parents, demean them and commodify human life – and are not all that successful?

We can put another challenge to our society: is not your ruthless “search and destroy” campaign against special-needs children in the womb utterly disgraceful? Are not Zoe’s Places (and, of course, children’s hospices) the better way of responding to the challenge which those children bring?

Abortion and all forms of assisted conception which supplant natural procreation (and also the onward march of adult euthanasia) masquerade as “caring” but in reality are unworthy of a truly civilised society.

Alas, many of our fellow citizens do not – cannot – yet see this, not least because they believe that there is no alternative to them.

We can show that there is. We have to defeat that defeatism and show that we have the better way: the positive, loving, life-giving way. We are radical democrats, tomorrow’s people.

Professor Jack Scarisbrick is a historian and emeritus national chairman of Life