Abortion and the breakdown of moral norms

In an atmosphere of celebration, the British pro-life movement gathered in London last Saturday, in the early autumn sunshine, before processing the short distance from Marsham Street to Parliament Square where it called for an end to abortion. The March for Life UK is now an annual fixture in the pro-life calendar. Although it attracts more participants every year, the culture of death continues to tighten its grip on the United Kingdom. Official figures released on 22 June 2023 showed that in the first half of 2022, abortions in England and Wales had increased by 17 per cent since the same period in the previous year — 123,219 compared with 105,488.1 The abortion rate in Scotland between 2021 and 2022 saw an increase of 19 per cent.2 This dramatic rise is almost certainly due to the Pills-by-Post scheme that delivered abortion drugs to women without requiring an in-person consultation. Introduced in 2020 as a temporary measure to streamline access to abortion while most elective procedures were suspended under Covid restrictions, this policy has since become permanent.  

Another consequence of this scheme that was accurately predicted by its opponents has been the increase in abortions taking place beyond the terms of the Abortion Act. On 6 March 2023, Carla Foster (44) pleaded guilty to obtaining abortion drugs under false pretences for the purpose of aborting her daughter, Lily, who was then between 32 and 34 weeks’ gestation. On 12 June, Foster was told she would have to serve 28 months in prison. At the hearing, the judge revealed how leading members of the British medical establishment had improperly sought to influence the court’s decision. However, subsequent protests from the abortion industry and its allies in the House of Commons meant that, in July, the Court of Appeal reduced the sentence to a 14 month term, which was then suspended. This ensured Foster’s immediate release. 

In August, a 22-year-old woman was formally charged with “intent to destroy the life of a child capable of being born alive, by a wilful act, namely administering drugs to procure abortion, contrary to section 58 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, [which] caused the child to die before it had an existence independent of its mother”. Since she pleaded not guilty, her trial has been scheduled for January 2024. 

These cases were a direct result of the relaxation of regulations demanded by abortion advocates, yet they have in turn fuelled a campaign for its complete decriminalisation. Despite the leniency shown to Foster, abortion advocates continue to insist that she — not Lily — is the real victim of this tragic story. 

Ironically, in parallel with these developments, new legislation in England and Wales has criminalised any pro-life activity, including silent prayer, near an abortion facility. In Scotland, a Bill to introduce so-called “buffer zones” is still being prepared, but has already gained the backing of the devolved administration. A similar law has already been implemented in Northern Ireland. 

In June, the London Government also made it illegal for secondary schools in Northern Ireland to promote a pro-life point of view when dealing with the subject of abortion. The Relationships and Sexuality Education (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2023 tramples on the rights of parents recognised in international law. This legislation delivers into the hands of government ministers the power to dictate the moral education of other people’s children. The authors of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention proclaimed the “prior right” of parents to have their children educated in line with their own religious convictions.3 This was intended to prevent the ideological indoctrination of children through the education system.4

This brief examination of the anti-life legislation across the UK perhaps explains why the theme chosen for this year’s March was “Abortion destroys the freedom to live”. Last year, Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, the director of March for Life UK, made international headlines when she was arrested for standing alone and silently praying outside an abortion centre that was closed at the time. While abortion deprives an unborn child of the fundamental freedom to exist, a society that promotes the false right to end the life of an innocent human being must either recognise its mistake or progressively eliminate the rights of everyone who dares to speak the truth. So, the more deeply the culture of abortion embeds itself in our society, the more aggressive we can expect the attacks on the pro-life movement to become. While this may be the intention of some within the abortion lobby it is in fact much more serious. After all, an attack on the fundamental rights of one group — their freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and the rights of parents — has a detrimental effect on the rights of everyone. 

Legalised abortion is the most profound assault on human dignity in the modern world; it has killed more people than all wars in human history combined; it is the primary weapon of the eugenics movement; it has turned human beings in the early stages of life into a commodity through IVF and the commercial exploitation of fetal cell lines; the remains of its victims, long regarded as clinical waste, are now routinely flushed into sewage systems across the Western world. No other section of the human family has ever been subjected to this level of degradation.

Since the pre-legal concept of human dignity is the basis of all our human rights laws, the social acceptability of abortion inevitably undermines and radically redefines this concept. Increasingly within the medical profession, dignity is associated solely with autonomy.5 Those individuals who lack the ability to exercise autonomy are therefore regarded as either not truly human or not truly alive. This applies to adults with a profound brain injury as well as embryos in a laboratory. In his 2011 book, Practical Ethics, Peter Singer states:

“For most mature humans, these forward-looking desires are absolutely central to our lives, so to kill a normal human against his or her wishes is to thwart that person’s most significant desires. Killing a snail does not thwart any desires of this kind, because snails are incapable of having such desires. (In this respect, however, human foetuses and even new-born infants are in the same situation as snails.)”6

Although Singer is the best-known exponent of this view, he is far from alone. Increasingly the medical profession identifies humanity with agency and dignity with autonomy. It should, therefore, come as no surprise when individuals assume that they can decide who should live and when they should die.  

It is in this context, in which fundamental moral norms have been systematically broken down, that the crimes of Lucy Letby must be understood. Letby (33) was a neonatal nurse who was popular with most of her colleagues. On 18 August 2023, she was convicted of the killing of seven babies in her care and the attempted murder of six more between June 2015 and June 2016. At her trial, the prosecution presented evidence that Letby had injected children with air, force-fed them with milk or poisoned them with insulin with the intention of killing them. Some of those who survived were left with serious brain injuries. Initial attempts by other members of staff at Countess of Chester Hospital to raise the alarm about Letby were dismissed by officials who forced the whistle-blowers to formally apologise to her. It appears that concern for the reputation of the hospital may have resulted in the murders being swept under the carpet.

When police were finally involved, a search of Letby’s home uncovered a handwritten note saying, “I AM EVIL I DID THIS”. She also wrote, “I don’t deserve to live. I killed them on purpose because I’m not good enough to care for them. I will never marry or have children. I will never know what it’s like to have a family.” So far, however, she has never admitted any wrongdoing.

Lucy Letby is one of the few women in Britain to have been sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of release. She has been dubbed by the media as Britain’s most prolific baby-killer. This double standard was summed up by David Robertson, writing in Christianity Today, when he observed:

“On the one hand, we are outraged that a nurse attempted to kill a 23-week-old baby, but on the other hand, when Carla Foster was sentenced to jail for killing her 34-week-old baby, our progressives were outraged that she should be punished at all! Abortion has become such a secular sacrament that to point out this inconsistency is almost regarded as blasphemy in our ‘progressive’ society.”7

While horror at Letby’s crimes is the appropriate reaction, it demonstrates the cognitive dissonance that exists in the minds of the vast majority of ordinary people who are either oblivious or accepting of the killing of more than 600 babies every day by Britain’s professional baby-killers.


  1. Abortion statistics for England and Wales: January to June 2022. Department of Health and Social Care (22 June 2023).
  2. Termination of pregnancy statistics Year ending December 2022, A National Statistics publication for Scotland (30 May 2023).
  3. The third paragraph of Article 26 of the UDHR states, “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”
  4. “…the majority of the Committee considered it desirable to include these fundamental rights in the list of guaranteed freedoms. It considered that the father of a family cannot be an independent citizen, cannot feel free within his own country, if he is menaced in his own home and if, every day, the State steals from him his soul or the conscience of his children.” (Collected edition, I, p 128, Rep 1949, p1147. Preparatory Work on Article 2 of the Protocol to the Convention (Sitting held in the Assembly on 7 September 1949).
  5. See for example, Ruth Macklin, ‘Dignity is a useless concept, It means no more than respect for persons or their autonomy’ (2003) 327 BMJ  p 1419.
  6. Peter Singer, Practical Ethics (3rd ed) (CUP 2011) p 77.
  7. David Robertson, “What does the case of baby killing nurse Lucy Letby tell us about our society?” Christianity Today (28 August 2023).