Pro-Life for All of Life?

Christian on the Left member and former parliamentary candidate Rachel Burgin on what it means to be genuinely 'pro-life' across all public policy areas.

The apocalyptic images of Grenfell Tower roaring with flames will be seared on our hearts forever. A residential block of hundreds of people – men, women, children, old, young, Africa, Asian, European, British – asleep in their beds, woken up by smoke, panicked phone calls to the emergency services and loved ones, instructed to stay in their flats but many jumping from buildings in a last-ditch attempt at survival.

An avoidable catastrophe resulting from many countless decisions made in parliament, council chambers and committee rooms. A sobering reminder that even the most seemingly mundane policy area can have life and death consequences.

The_most_beautiful_sunset_in_the_world_can_be_seen_and_experienced_in_Zadar.jpgIn short, housing is a pro-life issue. The type of housing that is built, the materials used, the building regulations agreed upon, the building inspectors recruited, the fire safety procedures drafted, the fire extinguishers and sprinklers provided can make the difference between lives saved and lives lost.

But the truth is, every area of public policy is a pro-life issue – some more obvious than others. The NHS saves lives every day. If we believe people have the “right to life” then it follows they have a right to access universal healthcare – regardless of their income. Climate Change can and does put millions of lives at risk around the world. Mitigating it literally saves lives. International Aid provides life-saving resources to the world’s poorest people. Peace-making and international diplomacy works to bring an end to warfare, conflict and bloodshed around the globe.

In other areas of policy, the victims may be less visible – but no less real. Life expectancy in the poorest parts of Glasgow is in the 50s – on a par with Third World countries – compared to in the 80s in our richest communities. Cuts to welfare benefits have demonstrably resulted in many lost lives. The Potters Bar and Ladbroke Grove rail disasters happened, in part, because our trains still run on Victorian rail tracks.

It therefore baffles me that being pro-life is so often reduced to being anti-abortion. What’s worse is that the position many take on this issue seems less to do with the saving of the lives of unborn children and more to do with punishing people for having sex.

Protecting and preserving life is a good and noble political principle to live by – whatever the area of public policy. The need to reduce the numbers of abortions is something that even many “pro choicers” agree on – with the mantra “safe, legal and rare”.

But the focus on whether or not abortion should be legal, I believe misses the point. Both those who want to extend criminalisation – and completely decriminalise - are in danger of descending into virtue-signalling. This may make them feel better but it does nothing to tackle issues of domestic violence and sexual power, or make life easier for the women who give birth in desperate economic or health circumstances, or within violent relationships.

It makes no sense to say women should give birth – whatever their circumstances. Then when they have given birth, complain that single mothers are given preference on the council housing list or are provided with welfare benefits from the state.

For decades, the abortion debate has been fought as a proxy for the culture war: between those who believe fundamentally in the goodness of sexual liberation – and those who oppose it. The issue has become a test of orthodoxy both within the Church community and also within Progressive politics.  As Christian women on the Left, we have often found it impossible to find our voice without being shouted at by someone somewhere.

But politics is not – and should never be – about us. Those of us who believe in public service understand that politics is about the people we serve. What matters is not whether we hold to the right political doctrines but whether lives are saved, people are protected from harm and have the freedom to live their lives to the full. For those of us committed to seeing abortion become increasingly rare, we have a duty to be fully committed to the full range of public policy issues that would result in that – from the provision of contraception and tackling domestic violence to Welfare Reform and Housing.

That is something that we can surely all unite around?

by Rachel Burgin

The issue of abortion and crisis pregnancy more generally has been back in the news in the last few weeks. In the midst of the inflammatory language and virtue signalling from both sides of the debate it is sometimes difficult to have an adult conversation about the issue. This means for many of us, our understanding of such a complex subject is fairly superficial. Christians on the Left is curating the thoughts of some of our members and referencing some hopefully helpful background reading:

Whose Justice? by Heather Staff

Pro-Life for All of Life? by Rachel Burgin

Abortion and Devolution by Heather Wilson

The BMA and Decriminalisation of Abortion by Dr Rachael Pickering

Some detail from the medical profession: Reflections on the BMA Vote by Dr Peter Saunders [external link to Christian Medical Fellowship]

A theological article about the presumptions of both pro-life and pro-choice positions: Abortion and Our Attitude to the Foetus by Lee Gatiss [external link to The Theologian]

Here are also three articles from 2016 on the subject, following Professor Cathy Warwick and the Royal College of Midwives decision to back a decriminalisation campaign.

Surely We Can Agree on Some Things? by Jennie Pollock

Abortion is not Social Justice: A Northern Irish Perspective by Heather Wilson

We Must Speak Up for the Voiceless by Sunny Mandich

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