A sermon preached to mark 50 years since the abortion act, October 2017

Psalm 82v1-4
God presides in the great assembly; he renders judgment among the ‘gods’: 2 ‘How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? 3 Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. 4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
It’s not always easy to tell when you are sick. Sometimes the symptoms develop slowly, and you can be so used to them that you don’t spot them. You just put your breathlessness down to old age – or whatever it might be. Sometimes, you’re just too busy to think about them at all.

But a good doctor – a good doctor will gently but firmly point them out. The best doctors will do that because they care. Because it matters for you – and perhaps for others, if you are in danger of infecting them.

Well, that’s what I hope and pray I might be able to do in this sermon. Jesus famously said he had not come for the healthy, but the sick. And my conviction is that what we have seen over the last 50 years with abortion – is a symptom of a culture that is sick and in need of Christ’s healing. And to the extent that we’ve been infected – we need that healing too.

Consider the statistics: It was 50 years ago on Friday that the UK’s abortion act was passed. There are now over 200,000 abortions taking place in the UK every year – a population the size of Brighton. Over 2,000 are beyond 20 weeks. In the last 50 years that’s 8.7 million babies in the UK – the population of Scotland and Wales combined, and currently aborted by 1 in 3 women. Worldwide, it could be almost 1.5 billion since 1980.

OK. But the question is this: Is this actually wrong? Is it a symptom of sickness?

Our culture doesn’t think so. It sees it as a mark of civilized society. Whether or not a woman can have an abortion is deeply significant for her. It’s her future that will be impacted if a baby is born. So the right to abort is seen as critical to gender equality. First, to the woman maintaining her rights over her own body. Second, to her freedom to fulfil her potential. And it is true, that if she is unable to have an abortion, her options will be limited. It’s also true that she may seek out an illegal and potentially dangerous one.

But when one considers it, this defence of abortion is filled with tragic irony. You see, as we come to the Bible we see that abortion even goes against the very biblical values our culture still accepts.

1 Abortion actually undermines equality.
Psalm 82 is a call to rulers. Take a look at verses 2-4. They show that God cares. He cares whether rulers permit or prohibit the abuse of the weak. It shows that our own government is not at liberty to say that abortion must be allowed because we are a liberal society that upholds individual freedoms. And the reason, is that liberty must never be affirmed at the cost of the needy. No, whether it acknowledges God or not, every government is accountable to him for doing what is right and just with respect to the vulnerable. And whether or not an individual is to be regarded as a person to be protected is not something the state is to decide, but something God decides as creator.

And the first thing rulers are to ensure is equality before the protections of the law. Can you see? Verse 2. The LORD rebukes partiality – or in modern speak, discrimination.

Well, many still baulk at sex-selective abortion. But you cannot consistently deny the woman’s right to abort according to the gender of the child if you have just affirmed her rights over her body and her freedom to fulfil her potential as she wishes. Yet sex-selective abortion usually is one that discriminates against girls and so against women.

But abortion doesn’t only discriminate according to gender. It discriminates against those with disability, downs syndrome and even a cleft palate. It explicitly discriminates against those most weak. Babies with these conditions are aborted and so unable to contribute to society.

2 Abortion therefore breaches rights.
It is deeply individualistic, disregarding the communal aspects of having children.

So it doesn’t consider the rights of wider society to benefit from the child, even if he or she suffers from a disability? Many of our schools now include disabled pupils, and the benefits are to all, as everyone is enriched by learning how to accept and care for them. And what of the rights of wider family to the child that has been conceived?

Of course the major right to be considered is the right of the baby itself - it’s right to life and to protection from harm. Psalm 82v3: God calls rulers to “protect” the weak.

I will never forget the news item when ISIS took the ancient city of Palmyra. There was just something wrong about it. We had a significant segment given to the tragedy of its statues and monuments being systematically destroyed by Isis. But there was nothing in the same bulleting about the loss of life.

Well isn’t it ironic that we can care so much for the loss of art but not the 50 million individuals each year that aborted?

Or think about bluebells. Did you know that they’re protected? You could be fined £5000 for intentionally destroying them – or even picking them or collecting their seed. But the government will provide the funds through the NHS not only for you to destroy a baby in your womb, but travel from Northern Ireland in order to do so.

I know this is emotive. But it’s true, isn’t it?

I think our inconsistency here is what brings this home. You see, from 23 weeks on, you could find a doctor in one room of a hospital aborting a baby, and in another trying to save a baby at the same stage that has been born prematurely.

Consider too, that in one room the staff may be regularly aborting children because they are not yet thought to be self-conscious or because they cannot yet survive independently, but in another room keeping adults alive in just such situations in the hope that they will become self-conscious and independent. Again, the first are not considered to have a right to life, whereas the second are.

A baby is not simply a part of a women’s body. From beginning to end the Bible treats individuals as human beings or persons from conception. It is assumed when king David personifies himself from the point of conception and gives himself as an adult the same identity (Ps 51v5, 139v13-16). It is assumed in God knowing and intending certain things for people before they are even in the womb (Jer 1v5, Eph 1v4). But perhaps the most compelling arguement is found in Luke 1v41. Elizabeth is about six months pregant with John and Mary about a month pregnant with Jesus. Yet John leaps to come close to Jesus. In other words, at around 24 weeks John is able to acknowledge Jesus, and at just four weeks, Jesus is a person worthy of that response. 

What this shows is that a foetus should be regarded as a human being, a person that we have responsibilities towards as John had towards Jesus. But whether one is ready to accept this or not, at the biological level it is certainly an individual entity being readied for independent life and personhood. From conception it has its full 46 chromosomes and entire genetic makeup. Its sex is therefore determined, as is its future growth to some extent. Surely the foetus therefore has a greater right to protection than buildings or wildflowers?

3 Abortion does great harm.
Rulers in Psalm 82v4 are called to rescue and deliver the weak.

As we saw in the video, mothers are harmed. Many speak of profound regret, guilt and despair at having abortions. We might also consider the harm the acceptance of abortion does to our cultural mindset – to how we view children or life or the disabled, and to how it encourages sexual promiscuity with all the psychological and emotional fallout that can accompany it.

But, again, the greatest harm is surely done to the babies themselves. By eight weeks they can respond to touch, implying sensitivity and possibly pain. At twenty weeks they can experience pain more intensely than adults as their pain system is established but its modifying component isn’t. 

Yes, medication is used for those early in pregnancy. Pills are taken to end the life of the baby and cause the uterus to expel it. But 90% of abortions of up to twelve weeks are not conducted in this way.

Now, its hard here. It’s hard to talk about the realities of what happens because they are so horrific. The literature tries to sanitise it. It talks of the “pregnancy” being removed by suction. It doesn’t remind us it’s a “baby” being removed and killed in the process – nor that the tube may be used to dismember the baby so that its body parts can be sucked out for disposal.

And I have to say, the further into the pregnancy the more brutal and terrible the procedure is: 42,000 babies are aborted each year after twelve weeks. They can’t come out as easily, and so have to be crushed and broken apart with medical tools in order to be extracted. When beyond 16 weeks a saline solution might be used to first end the baby's life. But this can take an hour as the baby dies of salt poisoning - and sometimes burns.

If later in the pregnancy, contractions have to be induced to expel the baby, causing its death in the process. Sometimes it is extracted by surgery. After around twenty two weeks it is recommended (but not required) to first induce an (obviously painful) heart attack in the baby so it dies. Otherwise the baby will have to be put to death during or after birth.

It is shocking isn't it? And there are some rather brutal parallels here that we should at least consider. When Pharaoh was worried the Israelites might threaten his rule, he had their babies put to death. Herod did the same when he heard a rival kings was to be born. And the Vikings were famous for exposing children showing signs of deformity, claiming they were being merciful.

Well what do you think? In each case the reason was because allowing the children to live would be a threat to their comfort. There is a parallel there. Could it be that future generations might look back on how ours treats the unborn with the same shock we look on these characters?

There’s much about feminism I’d want to support as a Christian. But isn’t the most noble calling women have been given – the sphere of responsibility in which they are undoubtedly over and above men – isn’t it that they get to image God as life-giver – that they get to produce, protect and provide for another human being – the most precious and glorious of creatures? So how can it be “pro-women” to do the exact opposite.

Our society is sick. The symptoms surround us. When it suits our own ends – when it enables us to keep our security and comfort, we are quite prepared to justify acts that contradict even the values we otherwise hold high. 

And I have to say, I think this is just one of the many evidences that the secular world view is wanting. It believes all nature to be the culmination of random processes and so discardable, not the creation of a good God and so precious. That's why people today have such a low view of the unborn. When we reject our wise God and so hold that the universe is meaningless, the value of all things is inevitably degraded, and we are let loose with no objective morality to do with it whatever we please. 

We should not miss the fact that the same arguements about the non-personhood of those who have undeveloped faculties is being used by the likes of Peter Singer to suggest babies might be put to death after birth too.

In need of our divine doctor
As we draw to a close, we must of course acknowledge there are tragic reasons someone might seek an abortion. And we must have sympathy for those who are swept along by a culture that treats sex so lightly, and who then find themselves pregnant – with huge implications for their future.

But I hope you can see, if the child is to be protected, abortion could only ever be justified on the rarest of grounds. Instead, as with all unwanted pregnancy, support is needed, and adoption should be considered.

Teens: One reason God gives marriage as the place for sex, is to protect you against pregnancies that are unwanted and disruptive, and to provide the best environment for any child. But know this. If you do ignore his will and do fall pregnant outside of marriage, God’s will is for you to have the baby. 

And parents: That’s why we must always support our children if this ever happens. If a child is conceived, we have a responsibility for them as their wider family. And as a church, for single Mums who are brave enough to carry their children to term.

But for now, what if you if you’ve had an abortion? Well, remember Jesus words with relief: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

It may be you were to some extent ignorant of what you were doing – just drawn along by the assumption that abortion was what you should choose. It may be that actually you were very aware of what you were doing. Either way, Jesus has come for sinners like you – and like me.

But to benefit from what he gives, we need to accept his diagnosis. We need to realise we need his healing. And so, whatever you’ve done that is wrong – whether abortion or anything else, can I urge you to acknowledge it to him in prayer? Can I urge you to ask his forgiveness, committing yourself to him?

And if you do, can I encourage you that he forgives. In his death he bore the punishment every one of us deserves. And by his Spirit he offers us a fresh start – as if we’d never done the things we wish we’d never done – no longer burdened by guilt and shame and regret. Leaving these things at the cross, accepting we’ve done wrong, but recognizing as the 2 Corinthians 5v17 so wonderfully puts it: “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation: The old has gone, the new has come!”