The Silence of the Sheep – why is the UK Church quiet about Abortion and Planned Parenthood?

The following is a slightly expanded version of my latest article on Christian Today – you can get the original here.

Why is the Church Afraid to Speak out about Abortion

Having taken a six-week break from social media, the internet and writing, it was with a sense of trepidation that I emerged from my cocoon. What has been going on in the world? In seeking to catch up I read over newsfeeds, papers and websites, and found there is one issue that stands out – mainly because apart from in US Christian circles, the silence has been deafening. I am talking, of course, about the Planned Parenthood videos. I am sure that most readers on Christian Today will be aware of the basics of the story – how the Center for Medical Progress set up a series of sting videos in which representatives of Planned Parenthood discuss selling aborted baby body parts. The latest of these is beyond horrific – describing dismembering a baby as ‘cool’ is a new low in the abortion debate.

What intrigues me, though, is the silence of both the British media and much of the British Church. As I trawled through the news I found surprisingly little about the scandal. There was an excellent article in The Telegraph, but just one news item from the BBC headlined ‘Planned Parenthood Funding target of Senate Republicans‘, which simply leaves the impression that right wing nutcases are up to their usual tricks of being against women. The Guardian, meanwhile, ran a series of articles about the wonderful work that Planned Parenthood does and – just to reassure its readers – gave us a piece from a scientist who “examines anti-abortion arguments”. The fact that the scientist concerned was a physicist (not a biologist) and that he used almost no scientific evidence to deal with the main questions was something that seemed to pass most readers by.

Abortion is one of those shibboleth issues that is considered a ‘secular’ value and therefore cannot be criticised, which is why the PP scandal has been kept quiet and will be relatively unknown in the UK. But of course, everyone knows that lots of abortion doctors have been murdered by extremist Christians in the US and you can absolutely guarantee that if one was murdered tomorrow it would be headline news in the British media…and Christian columnists would be quick to step in and condemn – rightly so. The only problem is that the total number of abortion doctors murdered is four, with four other abortion providers being killed. Eight is eight too many, but it is not quite the epidemic that the secularist urban myth portrays and there have been none this century. There have, however, been one million abortions in the past year –300,000 of them carried out by Planned Parenthood (the irony of the name seems to have escaped many people). And again the spin-doctors have been busy – PP put out that only 3 per cent of their business was abortion. It is a disingenuous and dishonest claim and was exposed as such by the New York Post.

But enough of the secular media. What about the Church? In the US there have been many Christian commentators who, appalled by the videos, have not been slow to comment. But in the UK the silence has been almost deafening – apart from the Catholic Church and various campaign groups. But what about the rest of us – especially the evangelical church? I have been reflecting on this and would like to suggest the following reasons:

1. We have been affected by the secular media and their agenda of portraying anyone against abortion as being some kind of redneck fundamentalist Christian terrorist. We are too concerned about our own image and building bridges into the secular world. So even though we may disagree with abortion and be horrified, we prefer to remain silent.

2. We are aware of the horrendous difficulties and problems that many women have with unwanted pregnancies and so we don’t want to appear uncompassionate. The horror of pregnancy caused by rape or incest, or the danger of serious harm to the mother are not issues to be lightly skated over. But using the complexity of the problems of evil is not a reason for remaining silent. We should both condemn abortion and seek to help those who are faced with unwanted pregnancies. There are alternatives to killing babies.

3. We buy into some of the arguments put across in the secular media. For example, the view that the Center for Medical Progress was being dishonest in setting up these video stings, or that the videos themselves were dishonest because they were highly edited. This is straining at gnats and swallowing camels. By these standards we would never heed any evidence from sting operations (including by the police!) and we would never watch an edited video. Thankfully the Center for Medical Progress has made the full videos available and, if anything, they are worse than the edited versions.

The truth is that, with some honourable exceptions, while we are quick to jump in and condemn (rightly) the sins that our society recognises as sin (racism, homophobia, slave trafficking), there seems a reluctance to upset the applecart and condemn those things that God says is sin and our society, in its rebellion, says is right. As moderator of the Free Church of Scotland I say quite simply, on behalf of our whole Church, that the killing of babies in the womb is a barbaric sin, as deserving of the judgment of God as the slaughter of babies to Molech was in the Old Testament.

This has profound implications for the Church. Take, for example, the issue of Communion. I would not sit at the Lord’s Table with someone who professes to be a Christian and yet is a racist. If they do not recognise another human being as a believer just because of the colour of their skin, then they are not recognising the body of the Lord. Likewise, those who do not recognise the body and humanity of a child in the womb do not recognise the body of the Lord.  I will not sit at the Lords table with those who support the tearing apart limb by limb of the child in the womb that is ‘fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps139).

Does this mean that someone who has had an abortion, for whatever reason, has committed the unforgiveable sin and is beyond the pale? God forbid! The Christian message not only identifies the sin, but also offers the antidote. What I am simply saying is that there is something to forgive. That’s why we thank the Lord that there is a means of forgiveness –the cross of Jesus Christ. I remember one teenage girl who came crying after having had an abortion. “They lied,” she cried, “they lied…they told me that it was just like having a wart removed, but they were wrong…I let my baby be killed”. Doubtless the social worker and the doctor in their ‘non-directive’ counseling thought they were doing the girl a big favour. Instead what they did was abusive. Thankfully, there is a Saviour who atones for our sin and takes away our guilt.

We need also to remember that the children in the womb are not the only people being harmed. The would-be mothers are far too often participating in a process where they have not been given enough information and later come to regret what they have done. Society as a whole also suffers a dehumanisation from this child sacrifice.

Why is so much of the Church so silent about this issue? The lambs are being slaughtered. Will the shepherds speak out, or are we to be left with the silence of the sheep?

David Robertson is Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland and a regular contributor to Christian Today.


  1. Thanks for this powerful and direct post David. For me this exposes the craven, comfy, inward-looking ‘social club’ culture which now infects much of Scotland’s evangelical community. The obscenity of abortion is only one of a number of issues which many Christians have edited from their self serving agendas.
    I think you might experience a certain amount of ‘heat’ from evangelicals as a consequence. Nevertheless keep on posting and continue to challenge Scotland’s evangelical leaders to take a real stand for Christ in the public square in their own locality.

  2. I think abortion has too many issues attached to it for it to be a simple black and white, yes or no question. So much gets in the way:

    1. Humanity has, pretty much universally and from the beginning, treated women as property and things to control. Even in the acts of worship in many religions, many women have a much reduced role. Not exactly equal before God. So any debate about abortion cannot look like men (and society controlled by men) telling women that all they are a walking uteruses to be used in a way they do not want to be.

    2. Science and our understanding of things fertilsation and prenatal development does, I think, present some problems who are against abortion. That is because the biggest killer of unborn babies is the female body itself. Around 50% of zygotes dont even make it to the womb lining. It could be the wrong time of the month or there could be genetic problems that mean the womb lining rejects the zygote. Fertilsation does not mean life in any shape, form or manner. Even if the womb lining accepts the zygote, developmental problems can mean that the female body rejects the developing zygote during embryogenesis. Genetic abnormalities arising months into the pregnancy result in miscarriages. If souls are indeed implanted at the point of fertilisation then most souls who have come to earth have left it a few weeks later. What is interesting is that the effort in protesting against abortion is not matched in demanding that science and medicine ends this very high failure rate. If a fertilised egg is life then the fact that no church campaigns to end this very high destruction rate of life is very hypocritical. You call them babies David. Why are you not at Ninewells daily demanding that these unwanted deaths (after all, a lot of women desperately want children but cannot due to Gods will) are prevented.

    3. I think terming pregnancies due to rape or incest as “unwanted” is a fairly lightweight phrase. I checked that link. No mention of rape and abuse counselling. No mention of how the trauma of rape will be dealt with in 9 months to prevent the staggering mental affects of something coming out due to the pain of something unwanted going in. And forcing children to give birth does smack of lacking compassion. In any debate about abortion there has to be a clear understanding of why children should be forced to give birth if all abortions are made illegale. Additionally, the voices of rape victims must be heard and listened to and a better answer than “God says so” developed if they are to be forced to give birth to their rapists child. I dont think that saying it was Gods will you were raped so you can give birth is going to be a positive argument to non-believers.

    4. More work needs to be done on reducing unwanted pregnancies. Proper sex education would help. I like the Dutch model of sex education starting at a basic level in primary schools. I know this is far too early for you but the dutch do have a very low rate of unwanted pregnancies. Other studies have shown that where contraception and sex education is made available in poorer communities, the rates of abortion fall.

    5. If abortion is to be made illegal then the *known* consequences of this will be increase number deaths of desperate women due to illegal, backstreet and often unsafe abortions. I suppose there is a trade off here. Reduce the deaths of “babies” and shrug the shoulders at the deaths of women, who may have already had families.

    6. Enforcement, sort of related to the above is the problem of enforcement. What will be the penalty if a women does have a illegal abortion. Since you think that these are babies being killed it must be murder? As if our prisons don’t have enough desperate women in them. What about miscarriages? You can get medicines that induce miscarriages – how are they going to be investigated?

    7. Quality of life. Some fetuses develop abnormalities that will mean profound lifelong (years, not decades) disabilities which, despite the quality of care, will mean a lifetime of only knowing pain and misery. We need to have conversations about the ethics of this (likewise, the ethics of abortions due to relatively minor defects like cleft lip need to be talked about).

    There does need to be a look at abortions. Why they happen, when they happen and what happens to the women who have them. But this examination cannot be basic solely on the drive of one particular belief or perspective. It needs to be fully informed by peoples experiences, evidence and a clear objective for the future. I actually think that the best way for any church to act against abortion is to address the causes of abortion rather than just banning abortion itself.

    1. Forgot to mention in point 2: Whilst you are at Ninewells you might, to be logically consistent, consider protesting at the Assisted Conception Unit. The IVF there does result in the disposal of embryos that are not used or perhaps are not seen as ideal. These ‘babies’ deserve your protection as well, don’t they?

    2. 1) Most of the anti-abortion people I know are women.
      2) Science actually backs up the anti-abortion position. The more we know about the child in the womb the more we know that she is a child, not an ‘it’.
      3) Rape and children giving birth are a tiny percentage of abortions.
      4) I agree about proper sex education….but I suspect you would not agree about what I would call proper sex education. Because you would want your values to be imposed on every one in society.

      And I agree with your last point

  3. 4. A large number of Christians want it to remain legal.

    Never know when mum just doesn’t want any more kids, or dad doesn’t want her to have any more, or daughter finds herself in a spot.

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