Jamaica needs to learn from Britain’s abortion story

5 April 2019

Representing Christian Concern, Carys Moseley was invited to give oral evidence at the Human Resource and Social Development Committee of the Parliament of Jamaica at the end of March 2019. Here, she explains what Jamaica can learn from the legalisation of abortion in Britain and how Britain could learn from Jamaica about standing up for the sanctity of life.

In March 2019, I went to the Jamaican Parliament to give evidence on behalf of Christian Concern. The occasion was the tabling of a private member’s bill to decriminalise abortion in Jamaica. Whilst it is for the people of Jamaica alone to decide on whether to keep their current abortion law or to decriminalise abortion, our role was to show what has happened in Britain since the introduction of the Abortion Act 1967, so that members of the committee – and through them, Jamaican citizens – could study the implications.

Our submission was twofold: a legal document setting out the sources for the right to life in international law and how this affects sovereign states, and oral evidence exposing some of the social effects of abortion on British society over the last fifty years. Below, I set out the main arguments made during the session.

The right to life from conception is assumed in international law

Our legal document setting out the defence of the right to life from conception in international law was sent to the chairman of the Advisory Group on Abortion at the Jamaican Ministry of Health. It made clear that the plain reading of the sources of international human rights law shows that the right to life from conception is assumed.

The right to life is obviously foundational and is the precondition for all other human rights. It is enshrined in article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“Everyone has the right to life.”

In article 6.1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:

“Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”

In article 6 of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child:

“Every child has the inherent right to life…State parties shall ensure…the survival and development of the child.”

No right to abortion yet the UN tries to push it

No competing right to abortion is recognised by international law or ever has been. There is no binding international treaty that recognises a human right to abortion, and no UN treaty or European treaty mentions it either explicitly or even implicitly. We noted that pro-choice activists failed to create an international right to abortion at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo and at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women.

However, intergovernmental bodies – especially the United Nations and the European Court of Human Rights – have tried to create a right to abortion. To do this they have been willing to overstep constitutional laws and principles. This is a case where judicial activism based on secularist anti-life philosophies militate against constitutional democratic norms and the rule of law.

Closer to home, we can see a recent example of this in the case of Northern Ireland, where abortion remains illegal but where some British MPs have been pushing for abortion rights. This brings me to discuss some of the most serious negative effects of abortion on Britain.

The negative effects of abortion on Britain

It isn’t possible to sugar-coat the effect of the Abortion Act 1967 on British society. Since it became law, there have been more than 9 million abortions in Britain. Doctors are now trained to kill, despite medicine being about saving lives. Unlike doctors, nurses do not have the legal right to opt out of helping with abortions on ground of conscience. Thus, the ethics of nursing, a profession that was founded on Christian principles of caring for the sick and the vulnerable, has been undermined.

Most importantly, in healthcare there is now an incoherent and inconsistent approach to the value of unborn children, given that they no longer have an absolute right to life. One glaring example of this is the increasingly negative effect on care of premature babies and attitudes towards them. Although 1 in 3 babies born at 23 weeks survived as of 2017, the abortion limit was 24 weeks.

Similarly, the rights of disabled people are enshrined in UK equalities legislation, but abortion permitted on grounds of a baby’s disability has had a negative effect on attitudes to the disabled. This was poignantly articulated by the Christian peer and disability activist Lord Shinkwin as he introduced a private member’s bill to end abortion up until birth on grounds of disability in the House of Lords in 2016.

Sex-selective abortion brushed under the carpet

One of the most shocking examples of the effect of abortion policy on the mentality of government institutions has been the way in which the scandal of sex-selective abortion has been brushed under the carpet. In 2012, an undercover investigation by The Telegraph found that some British doctors were performing sex-selective abortions at the request of parents, mainly on girls. One our supporters, Aisling Hubert, decided to challenge this state of affairs by bringing a rare private prosecution against the two doctors identified in the investigation. However, even though the Abortion Act does not allow abortion on ground of the baby’s sex, the Crown Prosecution Service refused to allow this private prosecution for sex-selective abortions. The excuse was that it was not in the public interest. Aisling Hubert was left with huge legal costs to pay.

The irony here is that a poll, commissioned by Christian Concern and taken by ComRes at the time, clearly showed the public to be overwhelmingly opposed to sex-selective abortion. I was able to tell the Parliamentary committee that this was one of several instances where recent polling has found that public opinion on abortion is very mixed, and that there is a huge gulf between the public and government on this issue. Any country contemplating the legalisation of abortion should consider the long-term effect on relations between citizens on the one hand, and government and legislators on the other. Because by refusing to prosecute sex-selective abortion, the message being sent out is that the lives of unborn girls are of less value than the lives of unborn boys.

Negative effect of abortion on women’s health ignored

In general, the British government has not wanted to acknowledge the negative effect of abortion on women’s health. In 2017, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), Britain’s oldest pro-life organisation, published a report collecting international evidence on this topic. Some of the negative effects include increased rate of deliberate self-harm (including substance abuse) after abortion, increased suicide risk after abortion, increased mortality rate for suicide after abortion, greater likelihood of sleep disorders among women who have had abortions, higher risk of admission to psychiatric facilities among women who have had abortions, and greater risk of trauma among women who abort babies for reasons of foetal anomaly.

In addition, it is important to say that women who have had abortions may carry over these mental health problems into the time of life when they have subsequent children. There is a question here as to whether legalising abortion has led to gradual loss of knowledge and insight regarding origins of psychological disorders. For the tie between mother and unborn child is the first human relationship every human being has, and it has a profound effect on his or her subsequent relationships. This brought me to the problem of the lack of curiosity on the part of governing authorities regarding reasons for abortion.

Questions are not being asked as to why abortions happen

As can be seen from the arguments made above, some effects of abortion being available can be measured statistically, which is useful for policy debates. However, not all can be. I am personally rather suspicious of attitudes towards disabled people, for example. Whilst most people would not admit to prejudice against them, we know that many abortions are performed on grounds of disability. This would seem to indicate an attitude of fundamental rejection towards persons with congenital disabilities. For example, currently there is a fuss being made internationally about the fact that most unborn children diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome in certain western countries are being aborted. In Iceland, 100% of babies with Down’s Syndrome are now aborted, but Britain is not far behind at 90%.

I told the Jamaican parliamentary committee that some of the most important effects of abortion are not being monitored, because there are no relevant official statistics being collected on them. This is undoubtedly because those in charge of abortion policy inside government have never wanted questions asked on these matters. For example, nobody in Britain knows how many women having abortions were coerced into doing so by abusive partners. This is because there is no statutory requirement to ask women turning up for abortions about this. I put it to the committee that these are matters of the quality of life and well-being of the population; concepts that are central to modern healthcare.

Occasionally, the press publishes individual stories of personal tragedy, of women who were abused and even killed by male partners because they refused to have abortions. Likewise, nobody knows how many relationships or marriages have broken down due to abortion. Abortion is not a ground for divorce. (Although with Britain now contemplating ‘no-fault’ divorce, it is possible that some men will divorce women who refuse to have abortions, and that this will go undetected.)

Why the people of Jamaica should study Britain

Debates about abortion often focus on hard cases, such as abortion in cases of rape or saving the mother’s life. This was how the debate unfolded in the Jamaican parliament chamber the day I was there. The problem with such debates is that they focus on individuals rather than the effects on the population at large and relationships between different people within it. The truth is that hard cases of this kind make bad law.

Like many other countries around in the world, Jamaica is in the fortunate position of being able to study the effect that legal abortion has had on countries such as Britain over several generations. People in Jamaica can make use of numerous studies based on official data and also survey evidence. They can also learn from the experience of women themselves, and the growing international evidence of the effects of abortion on other relatives of the unborn children who are killed. They can also note the questions that are not being asked by those in government in Britain, because they are politically and socially ‘inconvenient’.

Why the people of Jamaica should not be complacent

Polls show that most people in Jamaica oppose legalising abortion. From a Christian pro-life point of view, this is good to know, but it is revealing that the press in Jamaica tends to be pro-choice. This in itself is significant because it means important elements of the press are not in tune with Jamaica’s traditional Christian ethos.

Before I arrived there, I was surprised to find that a major newspaper had attacked the chair of the committee, essentially on the grounds that he is pro-life. In fact, he was unbiased in his role as chair. For a newspaper to pre-emptively attack a Parliamentary committee chair is quite extraordinary and casts serious doubt upon press impartiality. For a newspaper in a country like Jamaica, where abortion is feared by many to harbour overtones of international population control – which itself has overtones that can be linked to racial prejudice – this is shocking.

What Jamaican Christians can teach British Christians about the sanctity of life

The campaign to legalise abortion in Jamaica goes back some years now. Each time, faithful Christians have turned up to argue the case for life. One of the other people who turned up to give evidence told me that Jamaicans were keenly aware of the injustice and saw defending the right to life as being as important as opposing apartheid.

This is a perspective that would be foreign to most people in Britain. It also shows how Christians in Jamaica are starting from a rather different position than many in Britain, in that they were taking a comprehensive whole-of-society approach to the sanctity and value of human life, rather than viewing the question in narrowly individualistic terms.

The most striking fact that I learnt was that most people in Jamaica believe in God, whereas in Britain the figure is roughly half, and many of those that do, do not really believe in the personal God of Christianity. The Christians I met were very concerned at how godless Britain has become, especially given that they had received the Gospel from British Christians many years ago, and because many have relatives in Britain. I left thinking that, in reality, Jamaican Christians could teach British Christians a few lessons about standing up for the sanctity of life and the right to life from conception to natural death.

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