Abortion: Is It a Gospel Issue?

Yesterday was the 52nd anniversary of the Abortion Act coming into effect in Great Britain (27 April 1968). Many of us have been moved in recent months by Heidi Crowter, a young woman with Down’s Syndrome who has initiated a case against the UK government because abortion law discriminates against babies with disabilities. It has been a rare moment when our media have allowed us a tiny glimpse of the meaning of a procedure that is tragically common. But it is only a tiny glimpse, and only a part of the meaning of abortion in the UK. Since the Abortion Act came into effect, almost 9 ½ million unborn babies have been killed. That is one child dead every three minutes for 52 years.But it is not just children; the mothers damaged by abortions, physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually are another of the abortion industry’s guilty secrets.

In contrast with the situation in the United States and perhaps in part in reaction to the way American Christians have addressed the issue, evangelicals in the UK have remained largely silent on the issue of abortion.2 It was therefore encouraging last week to attend an online event organised by Brephos: “Abortion: Is It a Gospel Issue?”3

The event began with Glen Scrivener interviewing Vaughan Roberts about a new book on abortion, co-authored with Dr Lizzie Ling.This arrived on my desk today and looks like an excellent short resource (I’ll post a short review soon). Vaughan and Glen helpfully explored ways in which ministers can speak about abortion and connect it to the gospel by speaking of the uniqueness and value of humans as God’s image-bearers. Vaughan also spoke helpfully about why we might be nervous of “going there,” but how his congregation, and not least women in his congregation, have found it helpful when he has. In short: given the statistics, there will undoubtedly be women in our congregations who have had abortions, and others who would consider it. Addressing the subject with courage and compassion is therefore a pastoral necessity.

This was beautifully illustrated by a fabulous testimony from Laura Mann. Laura spoke movingly of feeling pressured into having an abortion at the age of 19, and of the terrible trauma she experienced for years afterwards: nightmares, night tremors, shame, overwhelming guilt, secrecy. She spoke passionately about the need to help women (and men!) understand abortion, and understand why it is wrong and damaging. She also observed how the church’s silence does nothing to help those trying to come to terms with having had an abortion. In her words: “If we keep quiet, we won’t help people deal with stuff. What will happen is we will have broken people playing at church.” We have begun to realise this in pastoring people with same-sex sexual desires. But it is true in every area of life. When we shy away from loving people with God’s truth, the pastoral consequences for individuals and churches are disastrous.

Finally, Dean Gavaris from New Jersey spoke about the gospel-centred pregnancy advice service he leads. Dean’s zeal for the gospel and love for women and unborn children was evident, and it was encouraging to be reminded that zeal for evangelism and zeal for human life do not conflict with one another, and that abortion is a gospel issue not primarily a political one.

However, through no fault of his own, this was probably where the cultural differences between British and American evangelicals became most apparent. Much more needs to be said, theologically, ethically and pastorally about abortion than it was possible to cover in a few hours online. And if we are to speak into our own social, political and ecclesial contexts on this side of the Pond, much of that work will need to be done by us. If the British Church will not speak up in protection of the unborn, who will? If we will not speak to warn and protect men and women and teenagers who might otherwise offend God and harm themselves in providing and seeking abortions, who will? If we will not minister the gospel directly and winsomely to those who have already had abortions, who will?

And if we will not speak now, what will we say of the next 9 ½ million children to die?

[1] This is, of course, an average figure. In reality, as the www.righttolife.org.uk article linked above notes, in 1969 there were 54,819 abortions. Since then “there has been a 270% increase in the total number of pregnancies ending in abortion in England and Wales.” In fact, “Almost 1 in 4 (24%) pregnancies in England and Wales now ends in abortion.”

[2] John Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today (Leicester: IVP, 1st pub.1984) is a notable exception, as is the excellent work of brephos.

[3] A recording of the event is available here.

[4] Lizzie Ling and Vaughan Roberts, Abortion (London: The Good Book Company, 2020).