Abortion

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We believe that human life begins at conception and therefore the human embryo must be protected and cared for at all stages of its development.

We believe that both the mother and the unborn baby have inherent value and dignity, by virtue of being made in the image of God, and we advocate for the health and wellbeing of both persons.

 

A Christian view

The Bible shows us how God forms human beings inside a mother’s womb (Psalm 139: 13-16) and he knows us before we are born (Galatians 1:15). Human life is precious to God (Isaiah 43:1-2) and we must act to protect and defend it, especially those who are the most vulnerable in our society.

As Christians, we therefore uphold the humanity and worth of preborn babies from conception and we seek to be a voice for the voiceless (Proverbs 31:8). We also seek to act with love and compassion towards women in situations of unplanned pregnancy, who often feel they have no other choice (Proverbs 24:11-12). We are to act in love and alleviate the suffering of others (James 1:27; Luke 10:25-29). We can respond uniquely to this mandate as Christians, calling on our elected representatives to offer services that provide greater support to pregnant women and families, address the root causes of abortion, and to protect and uphold the lives of precious preborn babies. 

Abortion Statistics

Since the introduction of the Abortion Act 1967, there have been almost 9 million abortions in England and Wales. 

Here is a detailed breakdown of the most recent statistics from 2018:

  • There were 200,608 abortions recorded in England and Wales for women resident there. If non-residents are included, 205,295 were recorded. This is the highest figure ever recorded and an increase of 4% since 2017.

  • The statistics show 8,635,391 abortions have taken place since 1968 in England and Wales. This includes residents and non-residents of England and Wales. Excluding non-residents, 7,765,790 were recorded.

The statistics below refer only to abortions recorded for women resident in England and Wales.

  • 98% of abortions conducted were funded by public money.

  • 1,267 abortions were obtained by girls in under the age of 16 while 34,380 were obtained by women aged over 35.

  • 3,269 abortions recorded were due to the risk that the child would be born ‘seriously handicapped’ representing 2% of the total number of abortions.

  • 618 unborn children with Down’s Syndrome were aborted.

  • 15 unborn children with a cleft lip and cleft palette were aborted.

  • 3,313 abortions took place between 20 to 23 weeks gestation while 289 abortions took place after 24 weeks gestation.

  • 53,425 abortions were recorded in the North of England, 53,801 in the Midlands and East of England, 43,805 in London, 25,960 in the Southeast, 14,564 in the South West and 9,053 in Wales. London had the highest abortion rate with 21.1 abortions per 1000 women aged between 15 and 44.

  • 78,988 abortions were performed on women who had previously had an abortion. This equates to 39% of the total number.

  • 1,886 abortions were obtained by women who have had 4 or more previous abortions. 61 women had obtained 8 or more abortions.  

The Law in England, Scotland and Wales

The law in England, Scotland and Wales is governed by the Abortion Act 1967, amended by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990.

Under the Abortion Act 1967, women in England, Wales and Scotland can have an abortion up to 24 weeks, providing the abortion has been authorised by two medical practitioners who believe in good faith, that the woman fulfills one of the 7 grounds that exist for having an abortion (Grounds A-G). The Grounds are:

a. The continuation of the pregnancy would lead to risk of injury to the pregnant woman (section 1(1)(c)).

b. The termination is needed in order to prevent permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman (section 1(1)(b)).

c. The pregnancy has not exceeded twenty four weeks and the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk greater to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman (section 1(1)(a)).

d. The pregnancy has not exceeded twenty four weeks and the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk greater to the physical or mental health of any existing children of the pregnant woman’s family (section 1(1)(a)).

e. That there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped (section 1(1)(d)).

f. To save of the pregnant woman (section (1)(4))

g. To prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman (section (1)(4))

Abortion is currently a criminal offence under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and the Infant Life Preservation Act 1929, if it is obtained after 24 weeks and falls outside the Grounds of the Abortion Act 1967. The 24 week upper limit is fairly high when compared with European averages which limit abortions to roughly 12 weeks.

There is currently considerable pressure to decriminalise abortion across England and Wales. Find out more here about why this would be a devastating outcome for women and babies. 

Any change to legislation in England and Wales will also create pressure for change in Scotland, where abortion is criminalised under the common law. There is a campaign run by the organisation Engender to decriminalise abortion, although demand in the Scottish parliament, and amongst doctors in particular, is low at present. 

The Law in Northern Ireland

Until October 2019, Northern Ireland was exempted from the Abortion Act 1967 and  governed by sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and section 25 of the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945. An abortion was legally permissible in Northern Ireland if a woman's life was at risk or if there was a permanent or serious risk to her physical or mental health. These laws protected the lives of unborn babies, whilst striking a balance with the interests of the mother. 100,000 people are alive today in Northern Ireland because the Abortion Act 1967 was not extended there. 

Following considerable pressure to change the law, pro-abortion MPs hijacked an administrative Bill in July 2019, and repealed sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 in Northern Ireland. This means that abortion is now available in Northern Ireland up to the point where a baby is capable of being born alive. They also placed a duty on the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to introduce a regulatory framework governing abortion by March 2020. This means that Northern Ireland is in a 'limbo period' until March, where abortion is completely unregulated (and therefore unsafe). Northern Ireland moved from having one of the most life-affirming laws in Europe for both mother and unborn child to having one of the most liberal laws in Europe. 

CARE worked closely with the Both Lives Matter campaign to resist this change, of which we were a founding partner with the Evangelical Alliance NI and Life NI. 

The campaign launched in early 2017 with a report and billboard campaign, highlighting the fact that not introducing the 1967 Abortion Act in Northern Ireland means 100,000 people are alive today who would not have been born had the 1967 Act been applied to the Province. 

This claim was vigorously investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), following a complaint. The ASA consulted evidence from a health economist and other experts and concluded that the 100,000 figure was a reasonable estimate of the impact of Northern Ireland’s abortion policy. The campaign then won a prestigious Public Affairs Award for Northern Ireland Campaign of the Year in late 2017.

CARE NI also launched a series of billboards under the campaign Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. These were designed to highlight that all of us are knit together in our mother's womb and that we are all precious to God from our conception. These were displayed throughout Northern Ireland. 

CARE NI worked hard for many years to protect life in Northern Ireland and our work goes on. We will continue to advocate that both lives matter in any pregnancy, both through our parliamentary work, and by encouraging churches to speak out for unborn babies and do more to support women in crisis pregnancies. 

Abortion and women's mental and physical health

In England, Scotland and Wales the most common Ground for an abortion is Ground C. This allows for an abortion to be carried out where “The pregnancy has not exceeded twenty four weeks and the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk greater to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman.

Though the letter of the law would seem to indicate that continuation with pregnancy poses greater harm, in reality, this Ground is interpreted very loosely and the effect of the law is that abortion is, in practice, available on demand for up to 24 weeks. It is assumed that continuance with unintended pregnancy involves greater risk to the physical and mental health of the pregnant woman and that abortion is therefore a necessary solution.

Further research is much needed in this area, but there is enough evidence to question this stance. A comprehensive review of the evidence in the United Kingdom by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges in 2011 found no difference between the mental health outcomes of women with unwanted pregnancies who gave birth from those who had abortions, except for women who had a history of mental health difficulties before an unwanted pregnancy—these women were found to be at greater risk of mental health problems following an abortion.

In 2013, Fergusson et al re-examined the results of this review and additional evidence in this area. They came to the following conclusion: “there is no available evidence to suggest that abortion has therapeutic effects in reducing the mental health risks of unwanted or unintended pregnancy. There is suggestive evidence that abortion may be associated with small to moderate increases in risks of some mental health problems.” Two other longitudinal studies in recent times have come to similar conclusions.

It is notable that a meta-analysis study by Coleman published in The British Journal of Psychiatry—the largest quantitative estimate of mental health risks associated with abortion in world literature—found that women who had undergone an abortion experienced an 81% increased risk of mental health problems. The study concluded that, based on the data from 22 studies incorporating 877,181 participants, there is a strong indication that abortion is associated with a moderate to highly increased risk of subsequent psychological problems. Furthermore, nearly 10% of the incidence of mental health problems as a population attributable risk (PAR) was shown to be attributable to abortion. Most alarmingly, the PAR of suicide was as high as 34.9%.

It is frequently suggested that it is riskier to the life of a mother to carry an unwanted baby to term than have an abortion. However, a study by Gissler et al found that the mortality risk for a nonpregnant woman drops dramatically for a woman who becomes pregnant and carries the baby to term, yet increases considerably for those who have abortions.

Regarding the impact of abortion on women’s physical health, there is solid evidence of a link between abortion and subsequent preterm birth. This risk is small but certainly real, and is acknowledged by the RCOG. In 2013, a review of induced abortion and early preterm birth found “a significant increase in the risk of preterm delivery in women with a history of previous induced abortion.” Women who had one prior induced abortion were 45% more likely to have premature births by 32 weeks, 71% more likely to have premature births by 28 weeks, and more than twice as likely (117%) to have premature births by 26 weeks. A further study conducted in Finland in 2013 found a 28% higher risk of an extremely preterm birth.

There is enough evidence to suggest that abortion may be harmful to women, particularly if they have a history of mental health problems and depending on the circumstances surrounding their unintended pregnancy. There is certainly no robust evidence base to support the notion that widespread access to abortion is a necessary and positive right that is beneficial to women's equality and progress. 

What about freedom of choice?

CARE advocates for a society where women are free and equal, as every individual made in God's image should be. However, women's recourse to abortion is often not because of a perceived right to exercise choice or a sense of liberty and empowerment. Abortions are often sought as a last resort in difficult circumstances, which are very much not empowering. Reasons can include economic hardship, unsupportive partners, education barriers—or, at worst, coercion or domestic violence. Abortion does nothing to solve these problems and inequalities that women face: it is a symptom of a society that does not adequately care for women. In these situations, we would question whether women really are able to make genuine, informed choices between various viable alternatives, if they feel that abortion is their only possible option. 

No woman should ever find herself in a situation where she is unable to continue with a pregnancy because of social or economic issues that hold her back. That is why CARE supports the work of Life, a charity that offers women personal support such as housing, counselling, training in parenting skills, and baby equipment. Hundreds of women access the support of this charity each week, showing this is a fundamental need that is missing from public services. The Government must do more to offer this kind of support to women and babies. 

What needs to be done

More needs to be done to:

  • Reduce the abortion limit in Great Britain from 24 weeks to less than 12 weeks, which is more in line with European averages.

  • Clarify the law so that there is no doubt that sex-selective abortion is illegal in the UK.

  • Remove the financial incentives that exist for abortion providers by mandating that women who are presenting for an abortion receive independent counselling and advice before undergoing an abortion.

  • Reduce abortion limits for disabled children so that they are in line with limits on abortion for non-disabled children.

  • Proper access to genuinely independent counselling so that women are made fully aware of the options available to them

  • Ensure that Northern Ireland has a safe regulatory framework that ensures the best protection for women and babies

Read our latest news on abortion here.

' Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart. '

Jeremiah 1:5