Why the remaining pro-life bastions fall

by Liam Gibson

On 4 October 2021, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) took the government of the United Kingdom to court over its latest effort to dramatically expand the provision of abortion in Northern Ireland. Before abortion was decriminalised in October 2019, the Province had been the safest part of the UK for unborn children. And while the current legal regime is now one of the most extreme in Europe, the full-scale rollout of the London government’s abortion agenda has been hampered by persistent political opposition from locally elected politicians. Frustrated by delays in implementing late-term abortions, the London government has sought to short circuit the devolved structures stripping them of any responsibility for the issue. SPUC’s legal case is aimed at returning power to locally accountable ministers who may eventually restore the right to life and protect babies from abortion.

The history of the abortion battle in Northern Ireland, in many ways, demonstrates both the strengths and limitations of the pro-life movement. Since the 1980s this movement had prevented the introduction of the British Abortion Act to the Province. This is reckoned to have saved the lives of over 100,000 children who would almost certainly have been aborted had the law permitted it.

The efforts of this movement — the grassroots campaigns, the tenacious defence of life mounted by courageous politicians, the tireless sacrifices made by activists and volunteers and the steadfast objections of conscientious medics — has saved these lives. Yet powerful as this witness is, it will never be strong enough to overcome the evil that propels the culture of death.

The pro-life movement in Ireland, both North and South, successfully delayed the advance of the culture of death but it could not defeat it. This is because no human institution is capable of prevailing against the gates of hell.

When on 25 May 2018, the people of the Irish Republic voted to repeal its constitutional ban on abortion it demonstrated that reliance on politics and the efforts of the pro-life movement were not sufficient to overcome the power of the enemy. For the previous 20 years, divisions had shattered unity within the movement and the representatives of the Church had attempted to distance themselves from the abortion controversy. While a small minority of priests worked to maintain the ban, the spokesmen of the Church were largely silent and pro-life homilies from bishops became occasions for reproaching pro-lifers for their “lack of compassion”. After the referendum, one activist from an explicitly Catholic pro-life group in the Dublin area spoke publicly of how a senior church official informed him that no pro-life material was to be permitted in any church in the archdiocese.

Half-hearted while the battle raged, a sense of resignation within the Church quickly followed the defeat. Rather than remain defiant or denounce abortion as wrong regardless of the law, the Primate of All Ireland adopted the empty promise of the abortion lobby and expressed his hope that abortion would be “safe legal and rare”. While the criticism this statement drew caused him to regret it, that choice of words reveals how the hierarchy has internalised the thought processes of the world.

Two years on 13,243 babies had been aborted under the Republic’s new law[1] and abortion on demand was imposed on Northern Ireland by Westminster. More recently San Marino, one of the few remaining remnants of Christian civilisation, has also succumbed.

There is only one force for good in the world — the Catholic Church. And while the lives of the faithful must redeem the times in which we live (Eph 5:16) it is only the Bride of Christ who can overcome the greatest crime in history. Only she has the power to confront and cast out an evil this great. (Lk 9:1)

If SPUC’s court case is successful then the pro-life movement in Northern Ireland will live to fight another day. But the triumphs of any human institution will be partial, periodic and always precarious. The lasting victory of our cause will not be won in the courts or in parliament. It will only be achieved when the Church invokes her divine mandate and the successors of the Apostles commit themselves to end abortion. When that happens, victory will follow with such rapidity that the whole world will recognise it as the work of God.

[1] The Irish health department recorded 6,666 abortions in 2019 and 6,577 in 2020.