Yesterday Anne Atkins again did Thought for the Day (see below) on the Today Programme and again touched a raw nerve by talking about Abortion. Later there was a piece which is listed as "Should religious people have a privileged position in society? We speak to Labour peer Lord Harrison and Peter Hitchens of the Mail on Sunday." Hitchens this time was pro-religion. This morning Today invited people to discuss whether Atheists and Agnostics should take part in this slot. Send them an email
Abortion is like divorce: it is never a good thing. It may arguably be the lesser of two evils, but it is never a reason for rejoicing. So when the Department of Health puts out a statement reassuring us that "the statistics show that the number of abortions performed remains stable year on year" it hardly seems cause for congratulation. Especially when that statistic is over 500 abortions a day, at a cost of over 70 million a year to the NHS.
This subject divides us passionately. And yet surely almost all of us are both pro-choice and pro-life? No civilised person wants either to force a woman to give birth to a baby she dreads, or to end the life of a healthy unborn child. We may disagree about which is worse, but we surely concur that both are pretty undesirable. Can we not agree on other things, then, which might help to reduce the statistics?
Open access to all information, for instance: Some years ago, the Pro-Life Alliance put up 50 candidates for the General Election, specifically to earn the right to make a party political broadcast. I saw that broadcast, and it was the most powerful few minutes of film I've ever seen. Apart from back-ground music, it only consisted of facts, figures and photographs, yet it was banned by every single television channel. Why? Because the images could cause offence. Indeed: but if the truth is unpalat-able, isn't it even more important to see it? It's not hard to think of upsetting television footage we tol-erate without even the need to know.
Also genuine freedom of speech: I was asked to write an article on the negative effects on the mental and physical health of some women who have abortions, and soon discovered an extreme reluctance even to discuss such matters. Of course this was selective information, and as such needed a balance: we also ought to know the negative effects of withholding abortion. Truthful education means all the evidence, all the arguments, all facts and all interpretations. If we don't like a particular bias, the an-swer is more, not less information.
And real choice: The Cardinal Winning Pro-Life Initiative gives help to women with "crisis pregnan-cies", enabling them to keep the baby if they wish to by giving equipment, support and money. Offered entirely without pressure, it's hard to see what objection could be raised to it - though there have been those, sadly and predictably, who have accused it of "bribing" women. But in recent years there has also been more consensus, and glowing accolades from unexpected pro-choice quarters.
I was at a conference, over the weekend of the anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade, where many wondered what Wilberforce's cause might be today. Some of the world's worst atrocities have been committed against people denied human status - because they are black, because they are Jewish... and now, perhaps, because they are not yet born.