As the ‘Johnson ammendment’ fails to go through for the third time, Christian Medical Fellowship’s Jennie Pollock explains why this is good news, but also why we need to change how we petition our MPs.
I had something of a déjà vu moment last week, when I received a flood of emails from pro-life organisations that I often partner with in my work at the Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF). They were thanking supporters and prayer partners for their help in ensuring that an amendment seeking to decriminalise abortion was not added to the Health and Care Bill.
It seemed awfully familiar.
And it was – I’d had similar emails in July, and before that, in July 2020. On each of these occasions, Diana Johnson MP had attempted to attach this amendment to a different piece of legislation (The Domestic Abuse Bill in 2020 and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in July 2021). Each time it has not been taken up.
So what is it all about?
Abortion is currently legal in the UK up to 24 weeks’ gestation. It is legal beyond that only in a few limited circumstances, such as if it is necessary to save the mother’s life or if the baby would be born with a severe disability. Before 24 weeks, requests for abortion must meet certain grounds – you can’t technically abort a baby because you wanted one of a different sex, for example – but these grounds are interpreted very broadly. In 2020, 98% of all abortions in England and Wales were carried out under ‘Ground C’, meaning there was a risk, if the pregnancy continued, of ‘injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman’. Almost all of these (99.9%) were reportedly performed due to the risk to the woman’s mental health. (So it would be possible to argue that having a child of a given sex would be so stressful as to constitute a mental health risk, and thus effectively have a sex-selective abortion.)
The Johnson amendment seeks to remove the criminal sanctions for anyone breaking these laws. Supporters of the amendment argue that women seeking abortions are living in fear of prosecution. This is nonsense. There are more than 200,000 abortions every year, and any criminal investigations undertaken are to do with situations where there has been a genuine breach of the law – such as when an abusive partner has forced a woman to abort her baby against her will. Obtaining an abortion is relatively easy, though with safeguards appropriate to the seriousness of ending a human life.
It is necessary for those who oppose the amendment to keep letting their MPs know.
Supporters of decriminalisation argue that abortion providers would still be subject to professional regulations, so they couldn’t just terminate a pregnancy at any time for any reason. However, removing the criminal sanctions would send a message that those lives are not worthy of legal protection.
What can we do?
Some of CMF’s members have asked us if Ms Johnson is really serious about her amendment, and if it is really worth writing repeatedly to our MPs about it. I think the fact that she has tried it three times now suggests that she really is serious about it. Even if she doesn’t expect it to be adopted on any of these bills, she would like it to be. I suspect that she is also hoping to shift opinion on it towards her point of view by repetition of the claims behind it.
This is one reason why it is necessary for those who oppose the amendment to keep letting their MPs know – if they only hear her side and never any opposition, it is more likely they will be won over.
In addition, it is good for MPs to get a sense of the public’s opinion on this. If we don’t write, how will they know we care? After July’s attempt we heard from several MPs that they had been ‘deluged’ by letters and emails from their constituents asking them to oppose this amendment if it went to a vote. They can be in no doubt of the strength of public opposition to this proposed change.
Let’s do more than just complain
However, MPs also tell us that the only time they hear from Christians is when they are being asked to oppose something. We’ve all come across people who seem to do nothing but moan, complain or criticise, and they’re not much fun to be around. Over the past few years, my dad has made a point of writing to his MP on a range of subjects – reading his updates, getting to know what he cares about, thanking him for the positive contributions he makes, congratulating him on new roles in government, and praying for him regularly. It means that now when Dad writes to oppose something, his MP is more likely to listen sympathetically.
MPs also tell us that the only time they hear from Christians is when they are being asked to oppose something.
Our elected representatives have a tough job – just recently Sir David Amess MP was murdered while carrying out a regular surgery. He was doing his job, meeting his constituents and trying to serve them well, and lost his life for it. We can be salt and light by writing to encourage and thank our MPs and supporting the good things they do, as well as making our opposition known on these other subjects.
Why not add your MP to your Christmas card list this year, and thank them for serving you through this incredibly challenging year? You can find their contact details on this website. If they have social media accounts or websites, consider following them so you can learn more about what they are doing and what their priorities are.
I know my MP disagrees with me on the issue of abortion. I may never be able to change her mind, but I’m more likely to get a sympathetic hearing if she knows I’m for her and care about a range of other issues, too. I’m making an early New Year’s resolution to find out what we agree on and write to her with thanks and support. But first, a Christmas card.