As the legal limits of women's access to abortions have been questioned again in the media recently, Heather gives her take on the more-restrictive laws in Northern Ireland, and how the Church should respond to the issue.
The issue of abortion is on the front burner again this week as the Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives, Professor Cathy Warwick, has come out in favour of scrapping the 24-week limit on abortion. Prof Warwick also chairs the BPAS board of trustees- who seek to remove abortion from criminal law. Coupled with this development and the recent Assembly elections, along with the decision to bring criminal charges against a twenty-one year old women who took pills that induced a miscarriage- the divisive issue of abortion remains prevalent within popular discourse in Northern Ireland.
It is well known that here in Northern Ireland abortion is still illegal. Only 23 legal NHS abortions took place in Northern Ireland in 2015 compared to the 200,000 in the rest of the UK. Some people are horrified by how small the former statistic is and others by how high the latter is. Those horrified by the former think that those horrified by the latter are a group of far-right evangelical fundamentalists who want to keep society in the dark ages. The latter understand the former to be a crazy bunch of liberals who hop from one liberal agenda to the next. This false dichotomy is unhelpful, as a range of people line up on either side of the emotive debate. Regardless to which camp people take to, my experience is that people tend to come to their conclusion out of a place of compassion. Whilst the debate is more nuanced than it is often portrayed by the media or lobbyist groups, it does inevitably require you to ask yourself some ‘black or white’ questions to arrive at a conclusion.
However, what is not ‘black and white’ are the stories of women, who for whatever reason find themselves in a position where they are contemplating abortion. Historically the church, both north and south of Ireland, have acted as the voice of condemnation when women have found themselves dealing with crisis pregnancies. Women who were kept in the shadows, labelled, shamed, had their children taken out of their hands immediately after birth, left financially struggling and bemused as to how to bring up their child in less than adequate circumstances. We have often been quick to reject such women and slow to help love and support them.
In April this year, a twenty-one year old girl was prosecuted after her housemates discovered her miscarried baby boy in the bin, as a result of taking abortion pills. This case is indicative of the sorry state of affairs that in the developed world today, women believe that abortion is their only option. I myself, as someone who is pro-life, have been asked the question ‘do you think she should have been prosecuted?’ Knowing what I know about the grace of God, so often the line between justice and mercy is so slight, I would tend to agree that it was not in the public interest to prosecute, nor was it in the interest of the girl herself.
Tim Keller authored a book in 2010 entitled ‘Generous justice’ - in it he defends the idea that ‘God’s grace makes us Just’, a truism so present in the pro-life voice. In the old testament, the word Mishpat means justice. Misphat not only relates to giving people what they deserve in the form of punishment, but also protection and care. For the girl in this particular case, I would argue that grace should have been extended in what I can only imagine were nothing short of distressing circumstances. As the people of God, we are called to recognise the unjust situations that women across the world find themselves in, to stamp our feet and to advocate for change. We need not to be afraid to recognise the injustice of a woman finding herself impregnated as a result of a rape or to call out how unjust it is that many women cannot enjoy their pregnancy due to worry about how they will feed and clothe their child and we need to hear the cries of devastation of women who find out their baby will suffer from a disability. As such, we need to seek justice for women who find themselves in these situations.
God is in the business of justice, justice that extends care to the vulnerable. However, God is in the business of doing justice for all- the born and the unborn. In caring for women who find themselves in emergency pregnancies, it must be recognized that the same compassion must be met when considering the unborn child. Justice should not be served by abortion. As previously stated, people often arrive at this conclusion from a place of compassion, yet this compassion is misplaced. Unborn children are the most vulnerable of all humankind and anything other than full protection should be considered the ultimate form of injustice.
In continuing to lobby for the protection of our current laws on abortion here in Northern Ireland, our churches must make strides in standing behind them with actions, care and love- pouring out justice that is emblematic of the character of God.
Heather Wilson is a 24 year old History and Politics graduate located in Belfast. She says:
"I'm keen to see the implementation of deliberative processes so that people have can have a voice in the political sphere more than once every five years. I've got a real desire to see social justice become a way of living rather than a hipster Christian Buzzword. I do also like to binge Netflix and generally tend to over-caffeinate myself..."