On Monday, the House of Bishops at the Church of England’s General Synod reaffirmed its pro-life position, effectively declaring that the vast majority of abortions are morally unacceptable.
The clarification came in response to a question posted by Christian Concern chief executive, Andrea Minichiello Williams, which went as follows: "The Church of England has a number of times made the statement: ‘The Church of England combines principled opposition to abortion with a recognition that there can be strictly limited conditions under which it may be morally preferable to any available alternative.’ What are the 'strictly limited conditions' where it is 'morally preferable' to intentionally kill the unborn child?"
In response, the Bishop of Carlisle, James Newcome, who is also the Bishops’ lead on health and social care, said: "The General Synod resolved in 1983 that ‘in situations where the continuance of a pregnancy threatens the life of the mother a termination of pregnancy may be justified and that there must be adequate and safe provision in our society for such situations’ and in 1993 that ‘In the rare occasions when abortion is carried out beyond 24 weeks, 'Serious foetal handicap' should be interpreted strictly as applying to those conditions where survival is possible only for a very short period.’ In 2005 the General Synod received a briefing paper from the Mission and Public Affairs Council summarising these resolutions: ‘The Church of England combines strong opposition to abortion with a recognition that there can be - strictly limited - conditions under which it may be morally preferable to any available alternative’.”
As a result of this clarification, and in accordance with English law, the only reasonable circumstances under which an abortion would be morally acceptable in the eyes of the Church of England are as follows:
- when there is a threat to the life of the pregnant woman
- when termination is necessary to prevent permanent injury to physical or mental health of pregnant woman,
- when an abortion would save the life of a pregnant woman
- to prevent grave permanent injury to physical or mental health of the pregnant woman
- if substantial risk child will suffer physical or mental abnormalities
As Christian Concern noted, just 1.7% of all 196,083 abortions carried out in 2018 were done so on these particular grounds.
From this calculation, Minichiello deduced that the House of Bishops had effectively indicated "that 98% of abortions that take place in the UK are morally wrong."
"This is a huge statement and one which the new government needs to address urgently," she added.
In November of last year, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby told LBC Radio that he supported so-called "buffer zones" outside abortion clinics, enforced to prevent pro-life activists from protesting in close proximity to patients.
"Whatever you think of abortion, they’re human beings,” Welby said, after pledging his support for the exclusion zones. The Archbishop went on: "You could say they’re doing the wrong thing, you could say they’re doing the right thing, you can say it’s their right, you can say that the baby has rights."
Finally, Welby clarified that the CofE does have an official position on abortion, without specifying exactly what it was: "The Church of England is very clear on this...the Church of England has a very clear view on that and had since the eighties," he said.
Mr Welby has previously spoken with greater candour on the issue. In a previous interview with LBC, he said: "We have to hold to the dignity of human life, and, certainly, in common with the rest of the Christian Church, we believe that human life begins at conception, and, therefore, the baby in the womb requires legal protection in the same way as any other human."