Anne Bell assesses the moral, social and personal consequences of the current cult of abortion
IF WE WANT a full understanding of motherhood, we must have the courage to trace it to its source. Most people rejoice when they see the natural order reflected in the world around them, as birds carry food to their young or hens protect their offspring from prowling cats. But when human beings reflect on motherhood in their own Species, emotions are rather more mixed. However sentimental we may be over animals, motherhood presents a challenge to men and women because it has a direct impact on their desires and objectives.
Thousands of pregnant women make the journey to authorised clinics for terminations because they do not find it convenient to continue an unplanned pregnancy. The fact that their actions are sanctioned by law and society as a whole means that we as a nation do not respect human life from conception. But because no one wants to face up to this unpalatable fact, the act of abortion is surrounded by a deadly secrecy which eats into the souls of the would be mothers and their friends and families like a cancer. Faced with the seemingly intractable conflict between society’s acceptance of abortion and Christianity’s historical condemnation of abortion as murder, is there a way forward.
Christians are deeply disturbed by the apparently casual acceptance of abortion. Many have lobbied for further legislation to amend the 1967 Abortion Act, making it more restrictive. But even they tend to shy away from acknowledging that the materialistic attitudes that pervade modern society now extend to motherhood. There is an almost universal expectation that any pregnancy should be planned and that it should lead to a perfectly formed child. The National Health Service supports this outlook, offering all pregnant women a battery of scans and tests to ensure that their unborn children are healthy, and terminations if any child’s development should appear abnormal,
Alongside this pressure on women to produce perfect children at appropriate times, the health of the nation is being put at risk by the insistence that all women are capable of holding down a full-time job and rearing children. Most women who have attempted this superhuman task know only too well the physical and mental strain it imposes on them, and recognise that all too often the entire family can suffer despite the material benefits. All too many marriages are now collapsing under the strain.
People are strangely reluctant to discuss the results of these stresses. An increasing number of young mothers are suffering serious illness and sometimes death. Priests who are called ill to take such funerals are only too aware of the new and sinister trend, but hesitate to draw attention to it. Yet it is happening on such a scale, that in one provincial town a local hospice has developed a special project to help bereaved children.
Motherhood is the natural goal towards which ally developing teenage girl will look But in the twentieth century artificial contraception has opened a Pandora’s box, and an entirely different attitude to moral development has evolved. Motherhood is no longer seen as a spiritual as well as a physical development. This failure to acknowledge the spiritual dimension is causing all unparalleled mental anguish among women. Every indication from theology, psychiatry and historical testimonies tells us that the act of abortion lays the foundation for severe psychological problems in the lives of young women. However, very few sources interpret it as an attack on the spiritual dimension of motherhood. The late Mother Theresa was one of those few: she insisted that the act of abortion killed both the child and the conscience of the mother.
Many post-abortion counsellors are aware that while unborn bodies may be subject to people’s desires, the same cannot be said of their souls. A child’s immortal soul cannot be disposed of through the act of abortion. In the same way, motherhood – the spiritual outpouring of love that accompanies the conception and bearing of a child – cannot die with the foetus. Any priest who has heard a woman confess to an abortion after years of secrecy will witness to the depth of emotion that well up from a seemingly bottomless pit. Sooner or later, in one way or another, the pressure must be released. While all of us aspire to the peaks of high mountains, bathed in brilliant sunshine, we must first cross the valleys where raging tempests have wrought devastation.
The Christian church must look beyond the question of the ethics of abortion to the
root causes of its widespread use as a means of birth control. Christians should practise and promote natural birth control and self control, The role of the Church of Christ is not just to deal with the aftermath of the sins of those who facilitate and those who undergo abortions: it must give a strong moral outlook which Christians can adhere to. It is a most serious commitment of priesthood to teach and preach the moral armour that is available to all Christian’s in a society that sees the sexual act as the culmination of human aspiration. Nowhere is this firm guidance more clearly reflected than in the person of Mary, the mother of the Incarnate Word, and in the example of the Holy Family.
No woman wants to die as a result of stress, or to see their families disintegrate. Many women resent the pressures on them to take on full-time work alongside their commitments to their husbands and families, just as they question the widespread expectation that each and every pregnancy that goes to term should be planned and must result in the birth of a healthy child. It is the task of the government, voluntary organisations and the churches to show compassion and understanding for the examples of damaged motherhood we see among us.
At the heart of this deep-seated stress lies society’s inability to recognise that life is a gift from God, and that a woman who conceives a child in her womb receives the gift of personhood. God called all women to take responsibility for the life entrusted to them. “It is the Creator of the universe who has moulded men and has provided for the generation of everyone,” 2 Macc. 7:23. Men and women must therefore respond with love to the great gift of life that God offers them.
Anne Bell is a writer and artist living in Somerset.