How (not) to end abortion: a response to John Stevens's pro-life strategy
Updated: Feb 23
In a recent back-and-forth over the ethics of abortion-related vaccines, Matthew Mason and John Stevens helpfully corrected my thinking on 1 Corinthians 10 and then went on to say that there are other and better ways than refusing the vaccine to bear witness against the horrors of our baby genocide.
And I wholeheartedly agree. There are other and better, tried and tested ways to change hearts and minds on the baby genocide - it's just that I can't see how voluntarily receiving the fruit of the very genocide that we are seeking to stop (along with baby organ harvesting which also continues today) can go hand in hand with any such endeavour. However, leaving behind for now the question of the vaccine itself (is that a small cheer for joy I hear?), I wish to address head on the all-important question of how to end abortion.
I am thankful to John Stevens for articulating what he thinks is the way to end abortion, but with the greatest respect I fear that what reveals in doing so is the acceptance of a number of dangerous myths or misunderstandings which are badly at odds with the history of successful social reform and continue to hold back the pro-life movement significantly in this nation, costing many thousands of lives yearly.
Although it is in response to Stevens that I am writing, in fact his beliefs are shared by many if not most Christians in the UK, and it is for this reason that I felt it important to hold these beliefs up against the history of social reform and beg him, and anyone else currently convinced by them, to reconsider. So much is at stake.
Allow me to take these commonly accepted myths or misunderstandings in turn before, in Part 2, commending instead the tried and tested strategies gifted to us by the history of successful social reform.
4 myths that most of us believe about how to end abortion
1) "We just need to preach the gospel and plant churches"
I don't want to overstate Stevens's adherence to this particular belief. He is certainly not saying we should sit back and do nothing other than preach and plant (many do hold that view). But he does say: "Pursuing evangelism and church growth is the most effective long-term pro-life strategy." This is because we need many more people to accept "the biblical view of the value of human life created in the image of God." Obviously the most likely way that is going to happen is if many more people become Christians.
As Stevens says, revival would really help!
In a sense I completely agree with Stevens - and I certainly share his heart for evangelism and church planting and a longing for revival. Christians are more likely to be pro-life than others, and so the creation of more Christians has to be a good idea.
But I need to qualify what Stevens says in a fundamental way, and I have to be blunt here.
There are many evangelical Christians who are not pro-life, not even notionally pro-life, and there are a good few non-Christians who are pro-life.
It's just not as simple as: Christian = pro-life.
A relatively recent Evangelical Alliance survey found that 80% of evangelicals think that abortion is sometimes justified. There is a huge spectrum of opinion within the UK evangelical world, even just on the morality of abortion, let alone the strategy for ending it.
The obvious reason for this is that almost no evangelicals receive thorough, regular, biblical teaching on abortion. They may know that they are meant to be pro-life because that's what evangelicals are, but they have no real understanding of the issue and they are defenceless against the unrelenting onslaught of the other side through the media, Hollywood, education systems, and other channels. They are extremely vulnerable to the subtle and not so subtle lies and twists of the abortion lobby. And so 80% of them think that abortion is sometimes ok, even if at the same time they think they are basically "pro-life".
People don't become truly pro-life automatically upon conversion or by osmosis thereafter. They need to be taught, persuaded, shown the evidence. Read Part 2 for more on that.
At the same time, people such as my atheist vegan animal rights activist friend Lesley, who volunteers with one of our CBRUK public education teams, demonstrate that you don't have to be Christian to be strongly pro-life. Lesley is one of our most faithful volunteers full stop. It is always difficult to know how to respond when she asks why so many Christians are so weak and inconsistent when it comes to abortion. "They're meant to be pro-life," she says.
We need to pay attention to this evidence. It leads us to some uncomfortable conclusions.
How do I put this?
When it comes to abortion, UK evangelicalism is not working. Not even in proportion with its small size. Not even internally. We aren't even managing to convince ourselves to be pro-life, let alone others. Pro-choice ideology is dominating, within the Church.
Let me put it like this: How will the proliferation of churches that say and do virtually nothing about abortion bring about the end of abortion? How will the multiplication of Christians who think that abortion is tolerable bring about the end of abortion?
And on the question of revival specifically: What makes us think that revival will come before we repent of our apathy, indifference, tolerance, even complicity and participation, in the face of child sacrifice? The idea that revival could end abortion rather ignores the fact that we are part of the problem, that we are currently facing in the wrong direction. An extra wind in our sails is not quite what we need right now; we need to turn around. Repentance and revival: yes!
Evangelism and church planting are essential, and they could help to end abortion, but not automatically. What we desperately need is not a change in the number of churches but a change in the culture of churches. We already have enough churches to end abortion. We could have ten times as many churches and we still wouldn't be ending abortion if they were of the same kind as we have now.
We need to address the culture, the hearts and minds, the attitudes and thinking, the behaviours, both within and without the Church. How do we do that? Read Part 2.
2) "We need to cultivate sympathy for the pro-life movement"
Stevens believes rightly that the pro-life movement in the UK does not enjoy widespread popular support (though it's always surprising just how much sympathy there is out there on the streets compared with what the media would suggest there is). He also believes, again probably rightly, that refusing a vaccine would not endear us any more to the culture around us.
But that is simply not the point. The purpose of the pro-life movement is not to endear itself. It is to endear the actual victims of the real injustice - the babies - and I'll come onto how we do that in Part 2. Here, suffice to say, rightly handled, refusing the vaccine could indeed endear the victims of the injustice, even if at the same time it made us less popular.
Here is a key principle of social reform: that you can, indeed must, allow your personal reputation to plummet whilst at the same time, by highlighting their humanity and their plight, causing the victims' reputation to rise.
This is an incredibly important point: no successful social reformer was ever universally liked, and no universally liked social reformer was ever successful.
William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, and their abolitionist allies were tremendously unpopular in their day. Clarkson had to have a personal bodyguard on his travels, and he was very nearly assassinated by a gang of sailors on a pier in Liverpool. If the abolitionists had focused on cultivating sympathy for themselves, for their movement, rather than for the actual slaves, they would never have undertaken effective activity and they would never have prevailed.
Similarly, Martin Luther King was hugely unpopular in his time. In 1966, two years before his assassination, two thirds of Americans still disapproved of his actions. But MLK understood the bigger picture, he knew what needed to be done.
By definition, you cannot overturn accepted, systemic, widespread injustice with all your bridges intact. We need to make peace with being "hated for righteousness' sake", even having men "falsely say all kinds of evil against [us]" (Matthew 5:10-12).
Of course we make friends wherever we can and of course we avoid any unnecessary offence. But the point I'm making is this: offence is absolutely inevitable in this work, and in fact, rightly handled, it is actually a powerful tool.
If we insist on keeping our reputation in one piece, we will never do what is needed to end abortion. We may as well write an official letter of resignation to the babies: "Good luck, you're on your own!"
3) "We need more social support in place"
In some ways this is an extension of myth/misunderstanding No. 2, in that it is sometimes a response to the kind of ad hominem that says, "Unless you're willing to adopt every baby on the planet, you have no right to stand against abortion."
It is the charge heard often in the States, and sometimes here, that "pro-lifers" aren't really "pro-life" because they ... (fill in the blank: "have a different attitude towards public healthcare provision / immigration / welfare state..."). They are therefore bad people who don't really care, they have therefore no right to voice opposition to abortion, they should therefore shut up.
The problem is that for those of us who want to be liked or who think that being liked is a sine qua non for ending abortion, it is indeed enough to shut us up - and we may well busy ourselves improving social support for the less than 1% of unwanted babies that the genocide perpetrators allow to escape the womb alive, but we will leave the other 99%+ of unwanted babies totally unsupported and undefended to be violently killed by those perpetrators, whom we have allowed to establish themselves as the only ones righteous enough to voice an opinion on abortion.
It is a clever ploy by the abortion lobby to take us out of the game, and largely it is working.
It is interesting that we don't apply this thinking to other crimes or acts of violence. No-one would dream of saying we should remove the pressures that lead to wife-beating instead of outlawing wife-beating. No-one says we should ask what makes people feel like being racist instead of exposing and condemning racism itself.
It would be quite bizarre of someone to say, "Until you are willing to pay personally for police reform in the USA, you have no right to demand an end to police brutality."
We need to call out this ad hominem for what it is instead of trying to dance to its tune. It is a cynical delaying tactic, a dishonest changing of the subject.
The fact of the matter is that even if it were true that pro-lifers are nasty people who don't care about anyone the moment they exit the womb (and it's not), the brutal killing of babies in the womb would still be an egregious evil and it would still need to stop.
But even if we set aside the ad hominem element to this, if we take seriously the belief of some pro-choicers and some pro-lifers alike that abortion really is just the result of other social issues and we should attack those issues instead of abortion itself, there's another reason we need to reject this kind of response.
Stevens says that without more social support in place the pro-life movement is a "non-starter in contemporary culture", which would seem to suggest we should indeed do nothing until more social support is in place first. We should keep killing babies until there is more social support waiting for them outside the womb. But how much more?
This is one of the reasons this idea is so dangerous. It is a bottomless pit. One can always demand more social support, which will often be a good and helpful thing of itself. But we are caught in never-ending procrastination if we keep on insisting: Just a little more support in place and then we'll oppose the bloodshed (or maybe, we'll never have to)!
The reality is that whilst of course there are all sorts of pressures and circumstances that contribute to any abortion decision, and we can and should target those, they do not tell the whole story nor are they, at a societal level, the most important explanatory factor behind our soaring genocide figures. Put it this way: you could have all the support in the world and there would still be lots of abortions. Indeed, we do have a great deal of support, certainly compared with the 1960s, and yet abortions continue to climb.
Between 1967 and 1973, abortions per year multiplied by six, from 27,000 to 175,000.
Was that because poverty multiplied by six over the same time period? Or did sexual crime multiply by six? Did the benefits system get six times worse over those six years?
Stevens argues that more needs to be done to remove the "stigma" of single parenting, instead of attacking abortion directly. Honestly, I cannot recall a single moment in my lifetime (b. 1989) when I have actually witnessed an act or word of stigmatisation against single parenting. Of course it can be subtle or implied or felt, I'm not saying it never happens, but my point is this: compared to the 1950s or 60s there is absolutely no question that there is far less stigma attached to single parenting - and yet the abortion rate continues to soar more than ever. There is in fact an ongoing mainstream campaign to destigmatise alternatives to the traditional family unit - and still abortions rage.
Social support is a good thing in itself and I am not saying that people shouldn't be working on this. We all have our different callings and focus. But insofar as ending abortion goes, it's a red herring. Lack of social support is not the problem that led to abortions multiplying in the first place, so more social support is not going to be the solution.
Nor am I saying that all or most abortions are undertaken lightly. Many women are indeed in desperate situations, often thanks to complete abandonment and dereliction of duty by men. We can do a lot of good at an individual and societal level by highlighting and addressing these many facets. But it's not how we're going to end abortion.
Perhaps the best illustration of this is to consider the many abortions at the other end of the motivation spectrum. I know of a couple in a stable relationship with good jobs who actually wanted to have babies together some day. They got pregnant but because it wasn't the year they had planned to have a baby, they had the baby killed. What is Stevens's social support answer to this, for which we are waiting before we oppose that killing directly?
Or consider the "bikini body" abortion. The abortion industry was found to give the green light for an abortion on the grounds that being pregnant would jeopardise the woman's figure on an upcoming beach holiday. What is Stevens's social support solution to this? Should churches launch pre- or post-partum fitness classes so that women don't feel they have to choose between a great figure and having a baby?
Again the history of social reform is clear that you don't end an injustice by working around it, addressing everything except the actual injustice itself. Yes, there are contributory factors, as with everything, and yes they deserve attention too, but injustice must be tackled head on.
The abolitionists understood this. Setting up free colonies such as Sierra Leone was an admirable and worthwhile venture, albeit met with significant teething issues. The abolitionists did have a hand in providing a better future for freed Africans, but thanks be to God that they did not drop their focus on ending the slavetrade itself whilst doing so. They knew that the kingpin, which we will consider in Part 2, could not be neglected.
You can make Sierra Leone as attractive as you like but that won't open the hands of slavetraders to release voluntarily their precious slaves.
4) "We need to focus less on trying to change the law"
Stevens says that we have "focused too narrowly" on trying to change the law. Instead, as outlined above, we should try to improve the social situation, bring about cultural change, remove "incentives" to abort.
Here, actually I half agree with Stevens.
The relationship between law and culture is a little like chicken and egg. It is hard to know which one comes first but they undoubtedly do produce one another.
What I think Stevens underestimates is just how much the law does change the culture, by which I mean here attitudes and behaviours to do with abortion.
The stats I've already mentioned show how the change of abortion law in 1967 led directly and rapidly to the multiplication of abortion numbers year on year. It is quite simply by far the greatest explanatory factor. Why were there so many abortions every year in the UK by the mid-70s? Because the law allowed them.
The same pattern is repeated again and again worldwide: when abortion is legalised, numbers rocket. The converse is also true: restrict abortion legally, and numbers plummet.
Some will claim that abortion numbers actually stay the same either way - it's just a question of whether they are clinical and safe, or backstreet and dangerous. But this is another abortion lobby lie, tragically believed on by so many pro-lifers. I myself believed it, or something close to it, until just a few years ago. Backstreet abortion numbers have been shamelessly fabricated or exaggerated by those who know they can use such figures to manipulate naive pro-lifers into giving way to abortion laws which the abortion lobby know they need because they are so significant and helpful to them.
But the reality is this: even where backstreet abortion numbers really are high, legalising abortion will only increase the number of babies killed, and more women will die as a result as well.
It is devastating to see Stevens going along with this abortion lobby narrative, that "recent legalisation of abortion in Argentina is a result of the fact [italics mine] that there are already an estimated 500,000 abortions a year." This is exactly what the abortion industry wants us to think: that we are helping by legalising abortion without having to stop being pro-life. It's precisely the same trick we fell for in 1967.
Think on this: if the law is so irrelevant, why does the abortion lobby campaign so relentlessly for law change? The Abortion Law Reform Association was founded in 1936 in the UK. Working tirelessly for 30 years before their big break, they were pivotal in getting the law changed with the help of David Steel in 1967. They continue today under the new name Abortion Rights. I get their regular e.mails. They are still at it, instrumental in pushing the genocide into Northern Ireland. They never stop.
Pro-aborts know that the law matters. Nothing could bring delight and peace to their mind more than the knowledge that pro-lifers are encouraging one another to back off from trying to change the law.
Can you imagine if the abolitionists, or the civil rights movers, had told each other not to focus on trying to bring about legislative change?
Stevens shares the fact that he was born in 1968 to a 15-year-old mother and was adopted. I am grateful. You don't really meet people with a similar story who are much younger. Nowadays, it's almost unheard of for a baby to be voluntarily relinquished for adoption at birth. That's because to the nearest percent, 100% of unwanted babies are killed in the womb. And that's because it's legal, not because there's a lack of couples queueing up to adopt babies. Quite the opposite. To put it crudely, the "demand" for newborn adopted babies (couples queueing up) vastly outweighs the "supply", or more correctly, the sparing of unwanted babies. And it's all thanks to the law, and the culture that the law chiefly has given birth to.
But where I think I may agree with Stevens, is that we cannot tackle the law only or even directly. Just as law changes culture, so culture changes law (especially in a democracy), and so we must focus predominantly on changing the culture, partly as a means of ultimately changing the law.
Law change must be the goal, but it is not the only or even the primary goal.
What then are those cultural changes we need to focus on directly, and how do we do it?
Read Part 2: