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The Church of England drafted the Abortion Act?!

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

Podcast Transcript | About Abortion with Dave Brennan

The C of E's Abortion Act: How the Church ushered in a genocide | 6 Sept 2022 | Episode 13

Hello and welcome to this week's episode of About Abortion.

I'm Dave Brennan. Thank you so much for joining. We are today carrying on our journey looking at how we got to the place where we are today. For those of us who've been with us from the very beginning, you'll know that in this series of episodes we're looking at the landscape of abortion in the UK.

What is going on with abortion in the UK? We've looked at it statistically, we've looked at the sheer scale of abortion. We are now at 10 million babies since 1967. More than 500 every day. That's one in four babies killed in the womb. We've looked at what abortion actually is, what happens in an abortion, what happens to the child in the womb, whether that's through what we call medical abortions, the poisoning of children, or surgical, the crushing, decapitation, dismembering of children. And we've really been exposing this issue from every angle. But more recently over these 3, 4, 5 episodes, we're looking at the journey historically of how we came to be here. How do we end up in this place? And we've looked at that legislatively, looking at how abortion law has changed the landscape.

We've looked at it culturally - what are the big shifts in cultural norms that have led to the status quo, in particular, the sexual revolution? But today we're looking at the spiritual dimensions. In particular, we're looking at how the Church has actually helped us to get to where we are today.

And in this episode and the next episode, we're going to be looking at five different books or documents which serve as milestones for us as we track the journey from the sixties to the present day. Where's the Church been on this issue and how's the Church actually influenced the nation to be where we're at today.

Every abortion clinic: Open by permission of the Church

Francis Schaeffer said every abortion clinic should have a sign in front of it saying ‘Open by permission of the Church.’ We can extend that in the UK context to say this: the Abortion Act of 1967 should have a preface saying ‘Passed by permission of the Church’ and the abortion industry all over the UK should indeed have the sign, the label; ‘We are operating with the blessing of the Church’.

Am I going too far? Am I exaggerating for effect? Bear with me and judge for yourself. Perhaps, I say perhaps, almost certainly you've heard of the Abortion Act in 1967. It was passed in 67, brought into effect in 68, and since then, as I've already mentioned, it's taken the lives of 10 million children in our nation. But have you heard of the Abortion Act 1965? The Abortion Act 1965 was a draft abortion bill written by guess who? The Church of England! The first document we're going to look at today is this, it's called Abortion - an Ethical Discussion. It was produced by the Church of England's Board for Social Responsibility in 1965, and it actually ends, it has an appendix, with the Church of England's own draft abortion bill. The Abortion Act 1965 actually requests, in clause six of this draft abortion bill by the Church of England, that this act may be cited as the Abortion Act 1965. And so to tell you the end before the beginning, the Church of England produced an Abortion Act two years before David Steele's Abortion Act got through Parliament.

Not only did the Church fail in the sixties to stem the flow of evil. Not only did it fail to speak up. Not only was it silent, it would've been better had it been silent. The Church actually encouraged this waterfall of violence and wickedness actively through this document that I'm going to just lay bare before you.

In this episode, we're going to be looking at ‘Abortion - an ethical discussion’. Then next week, tune in and we're going to be looking at, much more briefly, four other books, documents, which chart for us the journey of the UK Church. And thankfully there is better news in next week's episode than there is in this, but we've got to face our heritage. And this is particularly of course, about the established Church, the Church of England, but as we'll see next week, it's not as though the non-conformists, and the non-Anglicans can imagine that our hands are clean. We too share in a very problematic heritage.

But today we're focusing on this document, and I do believe it would be very difficult to overstate the significance of this document, just how much this has changed history, and although it's not a very well-known document, I guess you probably haven't heard of it, it's not that easy to get hold of these days. It's not something that's read very commonly, but as I’m going to show you, it changed history for the worse.

The document opens with a page explaining who the members of the committee are, who are these people who wrote this paper; a number of clearly churchmen, theologians, reverends, etc... Fellows at Oxford and Cambridge, tutors, professors, also a number of doctors. Someone called Abercrombie, formerly President of the College of General Practitioners. Someone called Portier Holman, Dr. Holman, senior physician in psychological medicine at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital. Miss Audrey Catford head medical social worker, Charing Cross Hospital.

Now I don't know whether those people were professing believers, whether they were Christians. One assumes the ordained people were. But whether these other medical professionals were Christians, I don't know. But it's interesting that already we can see, and we're going to see this throughout the document, this idea that the doctors are the experts on a moral issue. It’s beginning to bubble up to the surface. I'll come back to that in a moment.

But what's really quite striking in this introductory page is the acknowledgements section. Only two organisations are mentioned by name with grateful thanks for their contribution to this piece of work. Listen to this:

Members of the committee gratefully acknowledge the help given readily to them by the Abortion Law Reform Association and by professional and academic colleagues whom they have consulted for information and advice.”

In case you're unaware, Abortion Law Reform Association, that is the leading pro-abortion lobby group that's been in operation for nearly a hundred years now in this country. They've been campaigning steadily for the liberalisation, the relaxing of abortion law since about the 1930s, and they still work today. They've changed their name to Abortion Rights, but it's the same group and they readily gave help. I have no doubt they very readily gave help. I'm sure they were only too happy to help the Church of England with this particular piece of work.

And the other organization is the International Planned Parenthood Federation. Planned Parenthood is the main abortion provider in the United States. These are the organisations to which the Church of England turned for advice on abortion morality.

They went on to say:

The committee has of course made its independent judgment on the material brought before it, and it takes sole responsibility for the opinions which it has expressed.

Now credit where credit is due, they are taking responsibility for their document, but they are woefully mistaken if they think they're making an entirely independent judgment on the material brought before it.

Because what we're going to see in this document is they are heavily influenced by pro-abortion ideology. And I was reminded as I was looking at afresh at this document of Psalm 1. I'll just read Psalm 1for us because it's pertinent as we deal with the issue of abortion generally, but in particular this document which stands in stark relief as we consider the words of Psalm 1.

“1Blessed it as the man who does not walk in the council of the wicked nor stand in the way of sinners nor sit in the seat of mockers,

2but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law, he meditates day and night.

3He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither, whatever he does, prospers.

4Not so the wicked. They are like chaff, that the wind blows away.

5Therefore, the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous;

6for the LORD, watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

There are two worlds painted in this Psalm, two ways of journeying through life. One is to delight in the law of the Lord, and meditate on God's word. The other is to take our cue from the wicked, bad counsel. And this document is a brilliant example of what happens when we disregard God's word, and instead draw from bad counsel. Because in this document, I may have missed something, but in all the 60 or 70 pages, I could only find one direct reference to scripture. One direct reference to scripture!

Lots of reference to the so-called experts, the medics, the theologians, the Church's own tradition, but precious little treatment of scripture. And in fact, the one reference I could find is immediately undermined in that its application to this situation is trivialised.

Let me quickly talk you through some of the key points of this document. It opens with this:

Doctors and men of science call that which is conceived an embryo, a foetus, but ordinary mothers and fathers call it the child in the womb, for it already is in most cases, for them, an object of hope because of its potential future as a child of theirs.

Already we are seeing the moral and theological chaos being introduced. What you've got here is the doctors and the men of science up here. They're the great experts, and notice already, they are being given not just scientific expertise, they're not just having that ascribed to them, but also they're the philosophical experts and they're the moral experts. And that's a trend that we've talked a bit about on this podcast that I'm going to keep coming back to because people keep misunderstanding abortion as a medical issue. And I've said it before and I'll say it again: Abortion is not a medical issue. Suicide isn't a medical issue. Assassination isn't a medical issue.

Yes, you may well use instruments used also in medicine. You may use drugs, you may use tools, but they're not medical decisions. They're moral decisions. Abortion is a moral decision. And yet we have abandoned our duty, as well as our authority, to speak morally into this issue, because we say it's just a medical issue, it's a healthcare issue. It's for the doctors to decide.

And already in the sixties, the kind of gross expansion of medical to include moral is well underway. So what we have here on the one hand is the doctors, the men of science, well they're the experts and they know what's going on. And then at the other end, we've got the ordinary mothers and fathers who have their sort of sentimental personal values and it says for them, this might be as a person because of the potential future and so on. And so on the one hand, you've got this kind of expertism, and then you've got the kind of moral relativism, what something is for me, for you, for her, for him. And in the middle of all that, where's the Church? Where's God's word?

Where's objective truth? It's nowhere. And this paper really continues in that vein.

Church affirms sacrificing the unborn child

In the opening pages of this document, and I'll quote directly so you can hear I'm not exaggerating, it talks about sacrificing the unborn child. Sacrificing a human foetus as a reasonable consideration. Listen to this:

“The crux of the matter is surely in the decision that the life of the foetus has to be sacrificed to the interest of the mother”.

Let me read a bit further down. Talking here in this instance, specifically about whether a baby is born with some kind of abnormality, it's deformed.

The question is raised again, whether the life of the foetus should be sacrificed in the interest of the mother. The mother and her husband may look with dread on having to rear a defective child…..

This is the Church of England!

…perhaps to the detriment of their existing family, or indeed perhaps imposing such a handicap on them that they may shrink from having a further child or children. The question then arises, ought the life of the foetus to be sacrificed to these family interests? And then there is the interest of the unborn child itself. Is it better to allow it to be born, the calculable, statistical probability of deformity of some sort, or for it to be not born at all?

Where do you begin with this? One is reminded of the phrase in German, [Lebensunwertes Leben] the life not worthy of life, those whose lives aren't worthy of being lived. And they call it mercy killing, children with handicaps, we’ll make that decision on their behalf.

But where else have I read about child sacrifice? In scripture. But this document doesn't take scripture seriously. And so they can introduce, not as something horrific to be condemned and avoided and repented of, and warned against, but as something to be considered seriously as an option, child sacrifice.

This is a document that actually suggests child sacrifice is a good way forward, and this is meant to be the conscience of the nation. This is the national Church, the established Church. People understandably look to the Church of England, or at least are meant to and perhaps used to, for moral theological guidance.

And yet this is what's coming out in the first few pages of this document. And so it opens with this melay of situations and difficult dilemmas and the impact that's being made here is that there are only grey areas and there are lots of different parallel approaches, and this document never nails its colours to the mast on any kind of objective truth.

The first chapter finishes like this:

If the Church has anything to offer from its own theological and moral tradition, it will make its contribution as it studies the facts of the matter, interpreted by those who are professionally occupied with them. It is on this basis that the present committee's undertaken its work.

Do you hear that? If! If the Church has anything to offer. And actually the one thing the Church could have offered through this document, it didn't offer. The Church tried to act the lawyer, tried to act the doctor, tried to act the politician, the legislator. It tried to adopt the pragmatic well we'll try and take in a range of views and come up with some kind of middle ground.

Is there any scripture to be found?

What this document doesn't do is what only the Church can do, which is bring the clear Word of God to bear with all moral clarity. And then, fine, we have to let the legislators ultimately do their work. The Church is not the legislature, but the Church failed to do what only the Church could do.

But notice what the what the pool of wisdom is according to this paper:

..anything to offer from its own theological and moral traditions”.

A subtle but very important distinction between our tradition and the Word of God. We don't look to ourselves and our tradition for moral guidance. All that does is set in motion this circle where we look to ourselves, we find a lack of clarity, or whatever it might be, and then we use that as a basis for carrying on the same vein. Even more confusion. And yet that's what this paper does explicitly. It doesn't seek to take from the Word of God, and of course the theologians of old are going to have wisdom for us to learn from, but there is a distinct lack of clarity on what the authority here is even meant to be. Wisdom is not sought directly from the Word of God, but from tradition. And then notice the facts of the matter are interpreted by those who are the professional experts. And so it's reality according to the doctors and so on. They know what they're talking about because this is a medical issue. And of course we believe in common grace. We believe there are such a thing as medical experts, but the Church was not leading here. The Church is following.

OK, so into chapter two, this is where we finally get to our first mention of scripture and only, I think. And it's in the context of looking at abortion law in the UK, and where various theologians have spoken into the issue and they mentioned Tertullian, about AD200. And they quote from him as very clearly condemning abortion, very clearly. And they link this condemnation to Exodus 23 v7, part of Mosaic Law ‘insontem et iustum non occides’, ‘the innocent and righteous slay thou not’.

And then it goes on to say this, and this is one of the things that really grieves me about this paper, is that it actually seems to understand and to be able to articulate quite clearly what the Biblical, and Orthodox, and straight up Christian response to abortion is - the simple pro-life position. It actually manages to articulate that really quite plainly and faithfully, but then it goes on to undermine and reject that, and replace it with a whole load of confusing and competing voices. It says here:

Christians have consistently extended the protection of this law to the child in the womb. At what point in its development, the foetus became entitled to this protection was, from early times, a matter of doubt.”

Now, I think this paper somewhat exaggerates the historic confusion of Christians on abortion. Certainly, our history is not squeaky clean, and certainly our recent history is not squeaky clean. But you look at the Didache, you look at the Epistle of Barnabas, you look at of course the Bible itself, and it's just impossible. As my friend Matt Cliff likes to say, “You have to do hermeneutical gymnastics to argue from scripture that abortion is ever morally justified.”

And yet what this paper does is it homes in on where the Church has not been faithful, and then uses that as a rod against which to measure ourselves and to carry on in the same vein, rather than using God's word as the the standard.

So it goes on:

Well before the time of Saint Augustine of Hippo, Christian theologians and those responsible for pastoral discipline, had accepted a theory of animation, which was to influence deeply the development of European law. Scholastic writers attribute this theory to Aristotle. At conception, according to this tradition, the soul of the zygote was vegetative only. After a few days, it was informed by an animal soul, and later by a rational soul, between the 30th and 40th day for a male, and between the 60th and 80th day for a female.”

What is this? Does this sound like Christian thought to you? If you actually look at what the Bible has to say, it's ever so clear that what's present in the womb from conception is a living human being with a soul, with personhood, if we want to use that term. A morally significant being made in the image of God.

In Psalm 51v5 David speaks for himself as a person from conception. He says:

“…sinful from the time my mother conceived me”.

He said he was a sinner from conception. A bunch of cells cannot be a sinner. An organ cannot be a sinner. David didn't say, “A bunch of cells was conceived, and then later his soul arrived.” He said from conception he was a sinner.

And the Lord Jesus was not born of the Holy Spirit, he was conceived of the Holy Spirit. That's to say His earthly life began at conception. It wasn't that a bunch of cells was conceived, and then later Jesus informed that bunch of cells. No, that's a heresy that's been thoroughly refuted. His earthy life began at conception. Life begins at conception. That's a central Christian doctrine. It's there in the doctrine of the incarnation. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and yet this document wants to side with Aristotle, or his tradition, and talk about a human being at some point having an animal soul. Where did they get this stuff from? This is in no way Christian thinking, and yet it's entertained and given time of day, alongside a whole load of other conflicting ideas. The problem is this document never lands on any of these multiple possibilities. It just sets up a maze with dead ends and unfinished thoughts, just presenting these deeply significant claims, just setting them alongside one another and never getting anywhere.

Moving on to the next chapter. Again, this grieves me. Listen to this. It's not as though they don't understand what the Christian position's meant to be. They articulate it very well:

In traditional Christian terms, this value talking about the value of the unborn life rests on the belief that the human embryo is informed with a human soul, that it is a person in God's sight, created by God for eternal fellowship with himself. Theologians and canonists of earlier times may have claimed that this informing of the embryo with the soul occurs at the moment in conception.

Brilliant. All good so far.

But it has already been shown that the acceptance of the Aristotelian theory of animation at some time up to 80 days brought along another strong and persistent tradition into the Church's thinking and practice.”

And what? That in no way suggests that that's a theory that should be accepted. The fact that it did get accepted in the Church, that in no way proves that it's acceptable in God's sight. Today we have all sorts of ideas that have made their way into the Church. Does that in and of itself, commend those theories to us, those thoughts?

But here's the absolute lack of using God's word as the standard. We won't have time to go into it today, but there's a real confusion evident here in that they try to drive a wedge between this idea of a living soul and a person. This idea that there might be a living soul, but it's not really a person yet. Because already in the sixties we're seeing not just in the nation, but in the Church, ideas of personhood being down to what you are capable of, your functions, how clever you are, what you can bring to the table, your relational qualities or capacities. That's already making it into the Church. And these crazy ideas of a child being a potential person are taken seriously in this document.

Again and again, it talks about different arguments that can be developed, and we could say this, denoting the traditional Christian approach, but then others will say that and it never lands. And indeed the absolutist defence is often put in almost sneer quotes, inverted commas, that to be absolutist, it even says somewhere, ‘one could adopt the absolutist approach of Jesus and the Apostles, but of course, we want to be far more nuanced than that’.

So without really arguing from scripture how they got to this place, about halfway through the document, it says:

This discussion will proceed therefore on the supposition that there may be cases in which,

granted this general right of the foetus to live and develop, this right may be offset by other conflicting rights”.

They just decided that abortion is sometimes OK, not having established when life begins or begins to matter, but simply fudging that. It goes on then to denote various situations in which abortion may be justified or even commended. And then this document finishes, after its general summary, which says this, they talk about:

“..the mother's life or wellbeing and hence inescapably her health..”

We’re seeing here again the expansion of social to mean mental health, to mean medical health. Very vague and ambiguous terms. They're saying that abortion may be permissible for the mother's wellbeing, because that may affect her health. And of course, if something affects your health health, that is one of the great idols of our day. If it touches your health, well that's the end of the discussion. It talks about weighing of future probabilities that may affect the mother's wellbeing.

Now listen to how this comes out in their draft abortion bill. This is appendix number two. This is their own draft abortion bill amending Lord Silken's bill. Lord Silken put forth the bill during the sixties. It didn't get all the way, but it was in motion at the time. Here is one quote from the Church of England's draft abortion bill. They say that:

It's lawful for registered medical practitioners to terminate pregnancy in good faith and the reasonable belief that if the pregnancy were allowed to continue, there would be grave risk of the patient's life or of serious injury to her health, or physical or mental wellbeing.”


In determining whether or not there is grave risk of serious injury to health or physical or mental wellbeing, account may be taken of the patient's total environment, actual or reasonably foreseeable.

So the doctor is entrusted not just to make a medical assessment, but an assessment of mental wellbeing, dependent on ‘reasonably foreseeable’ circumstances. This is almost like fortune telling. But it's saying that a human baby may be sacrificed according to what's thought might happen in the future.

I wish I could say that this document didn't have much impact. It just sat on the shelf, very few people read it, and no doubt, almost everyone listening in this podcast has never heard of the document or certainly hasn't read it. It's not easy to get hold of today.

But in ‘67, when Lord David Steele brought his Abortion Act into Parliament as a private members' bill, he publicly thanked this document and said it was the best thing he'd ever read on abortion. He said this document enabled him to become a pro-choice Christian. And this document inspired and influenced him as he brought his bill through Parliament with the help of the Abortion Law Reform Association, who also helped the Church of England to write this document. Very interesting.

50 years later, as abortion was imposed onto Northern Ireland, this same David Steele, once again, he hasn't forgotten this document. We might have forgotten it, but he hasn't. He thanked the Church of England once again for this document, said how good it was. He even talked about how this document, the thoughts, the ideas, the principles of this pro-abortion, pro-choice stance, would enable women to live what he, and this is his wording, “to live in the biblical phrase, abundant life.”

So the Church of England has helped David Steele to believe that having your baby killed, sacrificing your baby, for even social reasons, is what abundant life looks like. This is the heritage, this is the legacy left by the established Church, and the effects rumble on today. Still to this day, the Church of England will not come clean against abortion. When abortion was pushed onto Northern Ireland, in the end, only a minority of Bishops even vote against it. Not one of them spoke against it.

The established Church continues today through silence and passivity, the help it gave in the sixties, explicitly out loud in writing.

And so to come back to Francis Schaffer's quote, how have we got to where we are? How did the abortion act come to pass? How have we got 10 million babies dead in this nation?

In large part, the answer to that question is this, thanks to the established Church.

Now we're not going to stop there. Next week we're going to talk about how the non-conformists have their part to play, but if we are going to learn what it really means to take account of our history, to repent and to take up the deeds that demonstrate true repentance, fruit of repentance, we need to understand what it is we're turning from and just how gravely we have corporately together, laying aside questions of the visible Church, the invisible Church, the reality is this is we are part of this. This is where we're coming from. We need to start by facing just how badly wrong we've got it.

Thanks for listening in, and tune in next week for the rest of the story.


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