Abortion: the hard cases

At Life we often find that people agree with us that abortion is a tragedy and that there are far too many terminations in the UK. But when it comes to rape – and other hard cases – they find themselves unable to commit to a fully pro-life stance. Here we can hopefully address the concerns that people rightly have about these kind of situations.
Life’s position on abortion is rooted in a deep concern about the unique importance of individuals, which is the core of our values.

Our argument is that there can never be a good enough reason to intentionally take the life of an unborn child. It is very often understandable and we do not judge individuals. But the act of abortion is always wrong. We are human beings from the point of conception. This is a truth shown to us by simple observation. No human being should have the right to take the life of another human being.

Life of the mother

It is sometimes suggested that abortion is necessary to “save the mother’s life”. It is true that, occasionally, a situation arises where a particular medical treatment is required to save the mother’s life, which will probably have the side-effect of fatally harming the unborn child. An example of this is an ectopic pregnancy, where the embryo implants in the fallopian tube instead of in the womb. As it grows, it will eventually rupture the fallopian tube, resulting in the death of the mother and also of the child. In these cases, it is generally accepted that one may ethically carry out a treatment to save the life of the mother, even if the child might die. This is the ethical principle of double effect, which allows for certain actions with foreseen but unintended bad consequences to be carried out as long as a particular good outcome is also achieved . These kind of interventions should not be thought of as abortions because the intention is not to end the unborn child’s life, but to treat the woman. One good way to work out what a doctor intends to do is to consider how he/she would react to various outcomes. If an abortion is intended, the desired outcome is that the child’s life is ended, so a surviving child would be a failure. If the intent is to treat the mother, a surviving child would be a source of happiness.


Concerning disability, we would argue that allowing abortion for disability is discriminatory and hypocritical. Born disabled people are quite rightly protected from discrimination by legislation and yet the lives of unborn disabled people can legally be terminated. Is this fair or just? Is it really in accordance with our values of diversity and tolerance ?

There is a tendency to view those with special-needs as somehow “other” and different from the mainstream. But this is a false view. That unborn babies are killed because of a disability is deeply offensive to born disabled people and sends out a message that society simply tolerates rather than values their presence. Families should get extra support and advice when a disability is detected in the womb to cope with the specific challenges ahead of them. The child similarly should get help – not have their life ended – something that is increasingly being imposed in our hospitals (approximately nine out of ten unborn babies with Down’s Syndrome are destroyed in the womb). The so-called social model of disability, a rather insightful way of looking at the issue, offers us the suggestion that what we call disability is actually a failure of society to adapt properly to those with impairments.

We have a duty to help people with disabilities, which begins with protecting their right to life.


One of the difficult issues for many people is pregnancy resulting from rape. Pregnancies resulting from rape test the convictions of even the most dedicated pro-lifers. Rape is a truly horrific crime against women. Whether or not it results in a pregnancy it can leave a woman feeling angry, afraid and guilty. Rape can have a crippling effect on a woman’s self-confidence and self-esteem. It can seem as though a child conceived as a result will be a constant reminder of the attack. For this reason, abortion is often seen as the obvious response.

However, we believe that the right to life of a child applies regardless of the circumstances of that child’s conception. As difficult as it may be, Life cannot see abortion as the right response.

A victim of rape has not chosen to be pregnant; but neither has the unborn child chosen to come into the world in such tragic circumstances.

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