A few years ago, my church ran a sermon series on the Ten Commandments. I've sat through many sermons on this topic before, but usually the commandment 'you shall not kill' is glossed over, largely because it would be unusual for someone in church not to be cognisant of the fact that killing a person is wrong.
When it came to that week in the series, I assumed my pastor would pass on this particular commandment. But he didn't.
It was the first time I had ever heard abortion spoken about in church.
An understandable reticence
Many would disagree with this. Doesn't this heap condemnation, judgement, and shame upon the women and men who have experienced abortion within our congregations? Isn't it better to just stay silent?
In many ways, I understand this reticence. Women who have abortions are often deeply vulnerable; the abortion was the hardest decision they ever made; and they may even have had an abortion against their will. Abortion can cause women a huge amount of grief and shame. Countless studies, including those from pro-abortion scientists, have found that abortion is associated with an increased risk of mental health problems including anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicidality. Make no mistake, women are hurting in our churches from their abortions.
As Christians, it is right that we are concerned about this and that we seek to offer the utmost compassion to women and men in our churches who have experienced abortion. We are loved by a God who offers us complete healing and redemption. This is the heart behind CARE's OPEN ministry, which provides space so healing can be found. We long for women who have had abortions to know the forgiveness and love of Jesus and to find healing from their pain.
However, rather than justifying our silence on this issue, this is rather why we must talk about abortion. Our silence means that abortion continues to be surrounded in stigma and shame for these women. If we don't openly address this topic, how will women who have had abortions ever feel they can come forward about their struggles? How will men complicit in abortions ever come forward to seek forgiveness and healing?
They may sit in our churches for years, bearing the weight of abortion, wrapped in guilt and lies that they will be judged if they breathe a word of their past.
The lies of abortion culture
Our silence echoes the secrecy of the abortion culture we live in. In our public discourse, abortion is shrouded in euphemisms and convenient mishandling of the truth.
Nobody talks about the fact that the Abortion Act of 1967 was not designed to widen access to abortion. David Steel infamously said at the second reading of the Bill: 'it is not the intention of the Promoters of the Bill to leave a wide open door for abortion on request.'
Yet this is exactly what followed almost immediately after the Act was introduced. Since the late 60s, there has been an unthinkable climb in the numbers of abortions occurring in this country. This week, the newly released abortion statistics revealed that there were 205,295 abortions carried out in England and Wales in 2018. This is the highest figure ever recorded.
No one really wants to talk about this. If you try to address it, you will be met with soundbites about women's reproductive rights and 'bodily autonomy'. No one wants to even ask the question whether women are truly being 'empowered' by access to abortion. No one wants to know about the students who faced pressure to abort when they decided to keep their babies, or about the woman told to have an abortion 10 times because she had a diagnosis of spina bifida. In a truly civilised society, where we care for the welfare of the vulnerable, shouldn't we be doing everything we can to support these women? Abortion does not do that.
Neither does anyone want to deal with the fact that 98% of these abortions are occurring for social reasons. The 'mental health' ground for abortion has been so liberally applied in practice since 1967, that there is now an assumption that if a woman doesn't want her baby, it will be more detrimental to her mental health to continue with the pregnancy. This is despite evidence that shows that there is no mental health benefit from abortion. And what 'certified mental health condition' do most of these women have, according to the statistics? 'Other'.
An unfathomable silence
Finally, we must ask ourselves if we would stay silent on any other issue the way we do with abortion. When else would we turn a blind eye to almost 9 million innocent people being killed? Of all people, Christians should be the ones speaking out about the greatest human rights violation of our time.
At the heart of this issue is the personhood debate – whether a baby in the womb deserves the right to life as all other people do. So often we hear babies dehumanised into 'sub-people', described as mere 'clumps of cells' or 'products of conception'. This euphemistic language and arbitrary ethical justification denies biological fact, and attacks the dignity and worth of people who are no longer seen as worthy of life because they are disabled or dependent on others. It is undoubtedly reminiscent of regimes and practices in our history that dehumanise people in order to justify oppression.
As Christians, we must stand against this. Scripture tells us plainly that preborn babies are precious people in the sight of the Lord, just as women are. God knows us before we are born, we are made in his image. He formed us and knitted us together in the womb. Every human life is infinitely valuable to God. There is no concept that preborn babies are not people at any point outside of conception in both the Old and New Testaments, and the same Greek word is used to describe both preborn babies and young children – brephos.
We must speak out
Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said, 'Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.'
We are called to speak out for the vulnerable and voiceless, to correct oppression. We must therefore advocate for both women and babies, even if we are a voice crying in the wilderness of this culture.
Jesus did not shy away from awkward conversations, from fear of offending and hurting others. To the woman caught in adultery, he does not deny her sin. Instead he confronts it, but with an offer of his grace and mercy: "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more."
What would Jesus say to his bride? He has come to set captives free, and he has chosen to do so through his people. If we aren't willing to be used by him to speak out, even if it is costly to us, who will?
Naomi Marsden is Communications Officer for CARE. This article was first published on CARE