Sometimes you’ll hear a federal politician claim abortion is just a state issue. Yet in the lead up to this year’s federal election, the federal Labor Party announced a national abortion policy that sought to make abortion easier and completely tax-payer subsidised. They threatened state health funding if abortion wasn’t available in all public hospitals, promised to build an abortion facility in Tasmania, and “encouraged” NSW to liberalise abortion laws.
Although Coalition politicians refused to be drawn on the controversial issue, the Australian Christian Lobby and Cherish Life campaigned against Labor’s policy. Labor lost the election, and Labor MP Ed Husic claimed that the campaign against abortion was a contributing factor to their miraculous defeat.
The Federal Government already subsidises abortion through Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and the Therapeutic Goods Administration regulates the drugs used in medical abortions. It’s simply false that abortion is only a state issue.
One week and one day after the federal election a significant anniversary in the timeless battle for the sanctity of life went by in Australia almost entirely unnoticed. It was the 50th anniversary of the first effective legalisation of abortion in any part of our nation, and nearly four years before the landmark Roe v Wade case in the Supreme Court of the United States in 1973.
On the 26th of May, 1969, in the Supreme Court of Victoria, Justice Menhennitt ruled that abortion might be considered lawfully justified if “necessary to protect the physical or mental health” of the mother. The Menhennitt ruling was later largely adopted by courts in NSW (1971) and Qld (1986) and was also influential in some other states. The Law Library of Victoria was one of the few to mark the 50th anniversary, calling the Menhennitt ruling “one of the best-known cases of ‘Judge made law’“.
An unelected man single-handedly made law for the whole nation which has come to be so loosely defined by including vague references to the mental health of an expectant mother that even unplanned pregnancies may be interpreted as damaging to her health. Today, at least 70,000 and up to 100,000 living humans are intentionally killed before they’re born in Australia. Around 95% of abortions are performed on healthy women with healthy babies.
In 1984, President Ronald Reagan issued a proclamation designating the 11th anniversary of the terrible Roe v Wade decision (22 January) the first National Sanctity of Human Life Day. Every Republican President since has issued similar proclamations. Churches around the United States use the day to celebrate God’s gift of life, commemorate the many lives lost to abortion, and commit themselves to protecting human life at every stage.
This is one of the Church’s most important roles, to speak against injustice and to declare God’s Truth in the public square. Isaiah 1:17 instructs us to seek justice and rebuke the oppressor. Isaiah 59:16 says God is amazed and appalled when no one intervenes where there is no justice. Jesus called us to be salt which changes the flavour of its environment and light which dispels darkness for everyone, like a city on a hill which refuses to be hidden in a dark world.
Rev Martin Luther King Jr echoed this teaching in his sermon, ‘A Knock At Midnight’. He preached, “If the Church will free itself from the shackles of a deadening status quo, and, recovering its great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, it will enkindle the imagination of mankind and fire the souls of men, imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth, justice, and peace. Men far and near will know the Church as a great fellowship of love that provides light and bread for lonely travellers at midnight.“
Likewise faced with the manifest evil of legislation and popular opinion treating living humans as disposable private property, William Wilberforce observed, “A private faith that does not act in the face of oppression is no faith at all,” and, “Surely the principles of Christianity lead to action as well as meditation.“
G. K. Chesterton commented, “We do not want a Church that will move with the world. We want a Church that will move the world.” Famous public critic and martyr of the Nazi regime, Dietrich Bonhoeffer exhorted fellow Christians, “We are not to simply bind the wounds of the victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.“
Why should Australian churches wait any longer for a national leader to declare a national day for awareness about the single largest cause of death in Australia, bigger than the top 3 causes of death combined, but easily preventable? Why don’t we have a national “Sanctity of Life Sunday” like other nations, whether official or not? The Christians of 1800 England created the world’s first grassroots human rights campaign and though it took many decades, they were instrumental in changing the culture and then the legislation which protected the slave industry.
I propose that we begin ourselves by marking the anniversary of the first legal precedent liberalising abortion in Australia with the Sunday nearest 26 May every year. Let’s petition the Prime Minister to make it official, but with or without official designation, mark Sunday 24 May 2020 in our calendars now as the first Australia-wide Sanctity of Life Sunday.
Fifty years of legal child sacrifice is far too much. Political commentary and religious meditation aren’t enough. We need action, and we need a public witness across all denominations to the sanctity of life. I’ve been discussing this initiative with Christian leaders in Australia for several months now, and the early support is very encouraging.
Sanctity of Life Sunday is non-denominational and non-partisan. It has no legislative agenda. It is the Church taking up its role as a social conscience, leading the culture. It’s not something for churches to support, it is the Church. If anything, the Sanctity of Life Sunday website will be a resource for spiritual leaders to help compassionately minister to the needs of post-abortive and abortion-vulnerable women in their congregations.
This, in turn, equips Christians to let their friends within and outside the Church know that the Church will help them, and not judge them, telling them about the professional community resources which provide abortion grief counselling and unplanned pregnancy support. As many as 70% of women who chose abortion would’ve made a different choice if they had known there was just one significant person in their life who would support them.
Will you join us? Please share this with your pastor or priest, and ask them to pray about participating in this witness to the nation that God’s Word has not changed and human life is still and always will be a sacred gift to be treasured and defended?
Please visit SanctityOfLifeSunday.com.au for more information or to get involved, because every human life is precious and worth defending at every stage.