I sometimes envy the Americans. They see their efforts to protect unborn children as being of a piece with their country’s other great struggles for justice, both against the practice of slavery and in the civil rights movement a generation ago. And today a united society fights together on this front. From this they get a strong sense of continuity, that their cause is part of their pursuit of the full spectrum of civil and political rights, of which the effort to defend the child before birth has become the keystone.
We in Britain don’t perhaps feel so conscious of our living links to struggles akin to this one. We need to look back to Wilberforce and his ilk for inspiration, and quite sensibly too, when his generation was perhaps the last to have fought to accord the most basic right to the fellow humans in their midst, the right to life and not mere chattel status. If we are still a nation with a proud recent record of defending democracy and helping the underdog, it’s all the more a shame that we cannot stand as tall as we might because of the moral handicap of our failure to care for the unborn.
Today’s Britain, then, faces a double challenge: to make the case that the unborn deserve the same fundamental rights as those who’ve been born, and another, perhaps less spoken about: to prepare and lay the ground for a post-abortion culture. It will be a great wrench for a culture such as ours to re-orient itself so as to recognise again, as it once did, the inviolability of unborn human life, with all that flows from that recognition. To help this transformation to take place, we’d need to be very realistic about the scale of the changes asked of the whole of society, but in particular of women: asking, first of all, for nothing less than that a pregnancy, once begun, be allowed to reach its term. That is a shocking thing to consider, so familiar have we all become with the status quo.
All being medically well, then, the normal expectation would once again have to be that a conception would lead to a birth. But what would our society look like once the legal option to end a pregnancy, whether undesired or too hard to bear, had been taken away? Much thought will have to be given to this, or the default position of the defenders of the current law will be to shout that we propose nothing more a return to the 1950s.
Were our “offer” to be made to look anything like that, then our goal would recede indefinitely. One of the main stumbling blocks for many people in fully acknowledging the humanity of the unborn might just be an anxiety about what might happen to the culture if they did so. Wouldn’t the change inevitably be retrograde? Our task is surely to say that it needn’t be so. Genuinely attractive scenarios have to be put forward that don’t have the look and feel of 50 years ago.
President Obama has called for a new Manhattan Project to find alternatives to fossil fuels. I think something analogous is required in our case if we want to wean ourselves off abortion. To go on saying that this is the best we can do for women in need is a truly defeatist position. A real collaborative effort is needed to search for new solutions to help those with unwanted pregnancies. That could allow society one day to put behind it the sad choice it made to condone the ending of a pregnancy that was found too burdensome.
We can do better. Yes we can. Human beings are above all creative. It cannot be beyond us to find ways to meet the needs of the half of society which does the job of bringing children into the world, while at the same acting responsibly towards the unborn.
Are men, though, a sticking point in all this? For sure, this whole discussion must be approached with humility. A man can never, for one thing, wholly understand what a physical sacrifice it is in so many ways for a woman to persevere with a pregnancy, and to play her unique part in the early years of her child’s life. Especially given that the modern lifestyles have greatly reduced the support, especially from family members, available to her in this vital period. But, if men can’t pretend to know the price women pay to be mothers, they can still endeavour to be aware of it, to genuinely support them in choosing it, share what burdens they can, and perhaps above all to thank them for it. We will make no headway in this debate otherwise. We cannot, either, allow ourselves to be tempted into a style that fails to be moderate and judicious. Moreover, we should reject the alternatives that come close to denigration of those who disagree with us, especially those who’ve known pregnancy themselves, and whose motivations we cannot fully know and therefore cannot condemn.
If such a project could be undertaken that would thoroughly explore the look and feel of a post-abortion world and then make proposals as to how we might adapt to it, what preliminary suggestions might one make? Firstly, perhaps that if it shied away from radical and untried proposals, blended however they may be with traditional ones, newly presented, then it won’t capture the imaginations of its intended audience. It would have to do so, also, because the goal is so well worth our trouble: a win-win situation in which we shed our collective dependency on this cruelly self-harming act, and above all come again to see our children as safe and welcome visitors in their mother’s body, and in the human community. Better still, we begin to repay the vast debt that is owed to women since the law first offered them the falsest choice of all.
Lord Nicholas Windsor is chairman of the Rome-based Dignitatis Humanae Institute