COMMENT JULY 1997
OVER THE LAST three months the subject of abortion has been much in the news. There was the case of the Scottish couple who, three weeks after their separation, found themselves locked in a High Court battle over which of them had the right to decide on the life or death of their unborn child. There was the advent of the much heralded 'lunch-break abortion’, a minor surgical procedure which would scarcely inconvenience the daily routine of the career woman.
On the political front great efforts were made to discover the new Prime Minister’s view. Married to a Roman Catholic yet leader of a party wholly committed to abortion, he permitted friends to reveal his personal opposition - a view wholly inconsistent with his voting record in the House. And finally the ennoblement of David Steel whose solitary political achievement and monument is the 1967 Abortion Act which has, to date, denied four and a half million unborn children the right to life.
Significant voices raised on behalf of the defenceless innocents include Clive Calver of the Evangelical Alliance, Cardinals Winning and Hume, the tireless workers of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child and the consistent drumbeat of protest and compassion that has characterised this papacy. From the leaders of our own church there has been at best, a terrible silence. This will be no surprise to seasoned Synod observers where, the last time this issue was debated, significant leaders in all houses revealed themselves to hold at best ambiguous and at worst unchristian views. Only one woman speaker was called who unconditionally represented the orthodox teaching of the church. Indeed a good number of priests who have worked in the pro-life field have been warned of career consequences of such “single issue obsession’ in their ministry!
If we were a purely materialistic society the removal of “an inconvenient agglomeration of cells with human potential” would present no problem. We would simply applaud the “lunch- break abortion” as a great and humane step forward. But biologically and theologically we know that at conception a unique and irreplaceable life has been wilfully created and that to destroy it, at any stage, , is to break the sixth commandment and to deny the doctrine of creation (Genesis l v.26, Jeremiah 1 v. 5, Ps 139).
Jesus's most common word for hell was Gehenna. It referred to the Valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, a rubbish tip, a continuing vision of fire and rejection. It was the place where, when the people of God periodically resorted to paganism they went to sacrifice their children to heathen gods. Jeremiah called it the “Valley of Slaughter”, Jesus took it as a final image of Hell, the place where a deceived and disobedient people destroyed the ultimate gift of God and sacrificed their future in the lives of the innocent. We also know, pastorally, that each abortion has, at least two victims. In addition to the lost child is the tragic mother who has been pressured and deceived into this “solution”, and who will bear the silent burden of that sorrow and denial of her motherhood all her days.
Five hundred years before Christ, the “Father of Medicine”, Hippocrates, framed his famous oath which governed medical ethics until our day. It is brief and specific. Nothing shall be done to harm a patient, “no deadly drug” (for the purposes of euthanasia) “and especially 1 will not aid a woman to procure an abortion.”
Two and a half thousand years of medical ethics and Judaeo-Christian teaching have been tom up in our lifetime and we have remained largely silent, to our shame and judgement. Four and a half million lives have been taken - our most defenceless citizens whom the State has classified as non-people and used our taxes, via the health service, to extinguish. The unborn have become the Jews of our time and, for the most part, the Church of England has preferred to look away.
In this issue of New Directions you will find an envelope. If you can do nothing else in this battle for the lives of the innocent we exhort you to pray for the Society for the Protection of the. Unborn Child and support their work as generously as you can. To the priests and church council members amongst our readership we ask you to consider urgently setting aside a Sunday when you will, as a church, preach and witness to your people on this great concern of the Gospel and, if you are able, dedicate your offering for that day as a sign of your compassion for all victims, children and mothers of this the tragedy of our time.
At this month's meeting of General Synod Fr. Geoffrey Kirk has tabled a motion proposing the preparation of legislation to allow women to become bishops with appropriate safeguards for the original integrity under Bonds of Peace. As Father Kirk and the orthodox constituency do not accept women priests, let alone women bishops, this may, at first glance, seem a curious move. The logic, however, is simple and, we believe, irresistible.
The Anglican Communion has women bishops already and it is illogical and theologically dishonest to have women priests without women bishops. Those who wanted the former must have the latter unless they are to open themselves to new charges of injustice and sexism. For those who do not believe either to be right new arrangements must be made.
The final round of Crown Appointments have made it perfectly clear that whatever Bonds of Peace may have said, no battler for orthodoxy will be appointed as a Diocesan bishop even in formerly orthodox dioceses and the process of exclusion in most dioceses is almost complete.
The bench of bishops will resist these proposals for a variety of reasons. One, because many of them do not actually want women in their exclusive club; two, because they fear such an event would trigger another expensive round of resignations before the closure of the compensation date; and three, because they hope and believe that the message of the appointments system will gradually convert the orthodox. The alternative - the prospect of a Third Province is anathema to most of the bishops.
However it is becoming increasingly clear to those women priests who retain personal friendships and contacts with orthodox colleagues that the only way to end the civil war and work productively with one another for the Gospel where we, in conscience, may, is to have a clear recognition of this in the ordering of our Church.
Such a task cannot sensibly be delayed if the Church of England is to avoid limping, hobbled and handicapped in its central task by this issue, into the third millennium
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