THE Archbishop of Canterbury came under fire from pro-choice campaigners yesterday for speaking out on the abortion debate.
In a newspaper interview, he warned the public was in danger of losing its “moral focus” on abortion and was treating the procedure as normal rather than “an action of last resort”.
Following his comments, one of Britain’s leading family planning services criticised him for giving views “without having the knowledge to back it up”.
Dr Rowan Williams, claimed the British public is close to slipping towards a new “default” position on the procedure, while many supporters of the original act had taken for granted the “wrongness” of ending the life of an unborn child.
In comments preceding next week’s 40th anniversary of the Abortion Act, Dr Williams said, “What many people might call their ‘default position’ was still that abortion was a profoundly undesirable thing and that a universal presumption of the care for the foetus from the moment of conception was the norm.
“There has been an obvious weakening of the feeling that abortion is a last resort in cases of extreme danger or distress.”
The Archbishop added there was a “growing belief” that abortion was a matter for individual decision and questioned whether a woman’s decision to have an abortion was still one regarded as a major moral choice.
He also added that, while the pregnant woman who chose to smoke or drink heavily was widely regarded as infringing the rights of her unborn child, those who chose to have an abortion were not met with the same feeling.
The Archbishop, a former Archbishop of Wales who is a leading voice for almost 70 million Anglicans around the world, also called for a rethink on the present 24-week limit for abortion, stating the existing law was created at a time when medical science was less developed.
The Bishop of St Davids yesterday supported the Archbishop’s comments, and also called for an urgent review on the abortion law.
Bishop Carl Cooper said, “I welcome the Archbishop’s timely comments on the place of abortion in our society as we prepare to mark the 40th anniversary of the Abortion Act.
“I support the Archbishop’s view that the number of abortions year-on-year in Wales and in England indicates that this has become a matter of normal personal choice rather than a last resort decision. This was never the intention of the act and demonstrates that the Act is in serious need of review.”
The bishop, who is also a father of three children, added he would not welcome any attempt made to relax the current law on abortion. He said moves such as allowing one doctor rather than two to give consent for an abortion to go ahead would send the message that abortion was a “normal choice open to the individual,” and that society was in danger of “abdicating its corporate, moral responsibility for something as significant as life and death”.
Britain’s largest provider of abortion services and information to woman last night criticised the Archbishop’s comments, claiming these were made without medical knowledge or authority in the field.
Tony Kerridge , spokesman for Marie Stopes International (MSI) said, “The Archbishop is entitled to voice his opinions, but MSI has spoken to many women about the often distressing choices they make.
“We see one third of the case load in Wales and England every year, and we know that for the vast majority of these woman it is a difficult choice to make.
“These are not choices which are made flippantly.”
The spokesman said the Archbishop was making a statement “without having the knowledge to back it up”.
He added that a report by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the British Medical Association had just been submitted to the House of Commons science and technology committee stating there should be no change on the current 24-week limit.
He also said that women choosing to have an abortion during the second trimester of their pregnancy often have the most compelling reasons, and that some scans highlighting foetal abnormalities are not available until the 21st week of a pregnancy.