Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Marriage & protection of children in the womb: prophetic words from 20 years ago

Below is an article written 20 years ago, by solicitor Michael Bell, who was a member of the Association of Lawyers for the defence of the Unborn (ALDU). It's longer than our usual posts, but please do make the effort to read the whole thing. What Michael has to say is more urgent and relevant than ever before.

Abortion and Marriage
by Michael Bell, Solicitor


The purpose of this article is to suggest that if the pro-life movement wishes to reduce the number of abortions, it may be overlooking one effective way of doing so. It is generally accepted that, in the present climate of opinion, any legislation which has any chance of being enacted will have only a minimal effect on the overall number of abortions. Pro-life education, counselling and propaganda along present lines have been able to do little more than slow the rate of increase in the number of abortions. And this despite the fact that this country probably has the best organised pro- life propaganda, counselling and education of any developed country, and as a consequence has one of the lowest abortion rates in the developed world.

Nevertheless, there is one significant factor to which little attention has been given by the pro-life movement. This is the relationship between the rise in the number of abortions and the decline in the upholding of chastity and marriage. The permissive society of the sixties produced two changes of attitude in society which may not at first sight seem to be related. These were the change in people's attitudes towards their own sexuality, and the change in attitudes towards the sanctity of life. It is suggested that the first of these changes has contributed far more towards the rise in the number of abortions than has the second.

If this is true, it is curious that all the effort of the pro-life movement has been directed towards reversing the fall in respect for the sanctity of human life. The movement has made little or no effort to change people's attitudes towards their own sexuality and towards marriage, preferring to regard these issues as outside the scope of pro-life work. This is not to say, of course, that many people who are pro-life are unconcerned about these issues.

There is, however, no pro-chastity and pro-marriage lobby comparable to the pro-life lobby. There is no organisation with groups or branches in almost every town working to uphold chastity and marriage, which is in any way comparable in scale to the pro-life organisations with their numerous groups and branches. The latter have strong centralised structures which can effectively mobilise within days hundreds of branches or groups to support pro-life initiatives. No comparable organisations exist to mobilise pro-chastity and pro-marriage opinion, even if initiatives existed which required such a mobilisation, which on the whole they do not. This is in no way a criticism of the several excellent organisations which are concerned about these issues among others, including the Christian churches.

And yet, if marriage and chastity are in fact the key to reducing abortion, as will be argued here, it would seem reasonable that as great a proportion of the effort and expenditure of the pro-life movement should be devoted to promoting them as is currently devoted to promoting the concept of the sanctity of life. If promoting these ideas will lead directly and swiftly to a fall in the number of abortions, for how much longer can the pro-life movement continue to ignore them?

The background facts

Let us begin by considering some statistics. We must do this with caution, but when these figures are looked at in the light of fact-gathering which has been done to ascertain the reasons why women seek abortions, certain indications of what is actually taking place within our society seem fairly clear.

The first point we can look at is the comparative rates of abortion for single women and married women. Table I below shows the situation in 1975 and 1985, and in fact the trends shown are continuous, both back to the Abortion Act 1967 and on to the present day. Clearly the proportion of single adult women to married adult women is steadily increasing. This is due to the continuing decline in the number of first-time marriages. In 1966, the year before the passing of the Abortion Act, the marriage rate for single women was 89 per 1000, but by 1986 this had dropped to 55 per 1000. This is a fall of nearly 40% in the marriage rate for single women. (The "marriage rate" is the number of single women getting married per 1000 single persons aged 16 and over).

The second point which we may note from the table is that in 1985 there was a much higher probability of a single woman becoming pregnant than of a married woman becoming pregnant.

The third point to note is that more than 30% of the pregnancies of single women were terminated by abortion as compared with around 7% of the pregnancies of married women. The figures show that the increase in abortions over the period was entirely among single women, and that in fact abortions on married women actually fell in numbers. We also see that the proportion of conceptions ending in abortion was much the same in both years as regards unmarried women, and that the big increase in the number of abortions on unmarried women was a direct consequence of the big increase in the number of single women becoming pregnant.

If single women are much more likely to have abortions than are married women, and if the proportion of single women in the population increases, then one would expect the number of abortions to increase, and indeed this is exactly what happens.  Furthermore we can see that the number of conceptions among single women has increased at a considerably faster rate than has the number of single women, so that the increase in abortions is even greater than one would expect from merely looking at the increase in the number of single women.  In other words, not only are women remaining single in ever-increasing numbers, but (contraceptives and their availability notwithstanding) also those who do remain single are getting pregnant more frequently.  Many of these women will, of course, be living in what are sometimes called "stable relationships" with men.  In such situations there is a much greater probability of frequent sexual intercourse, and less social stigma and fewer practical problems attached to pregnancy.  Nevertheless the inescapable conclusion from the figures is that an 'illegitimate' baby is five times more likely to be aborted than is a 'legitimate' baby.
Table 1
England and Wales - numbers in thousands
Single women age 16-and over              
Married women age 16 and over            
Conceptions among single women        
Conceptions among married women        
Abortions among single women             
Abortions among married women          
[Statistics taken from publications of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys "Population Trends" 48 and 51 and "Trends in Conceptions" FM1 - 87/2]
The introduction of the contraceptive pill in 1958 undoubtedly changed attitudes to sexuality and marriage; and so did the National Health Service (Family Planning) Act and the Abortion Act, both passed in 1967.  These Acts not only gave women "control over their fertility", as the saying is, but also gave them a way out when the control failed, or was not attempted.

Among women born since 1967 one would expect to find the same trends as one sees in the population as a whole, but to a much greater degree.  Women who grew up in the pre-1967 era attached much greater importance to chastity and marriage, and of course many of them would have passed their child-bearing years by the time that the sexual revolution began to wreak its havoc.  Let us therefore look at the figures for young people between 1975 and 1985.  These are shown in Table 2.

The rejection of the institution of marriage by the children of the permissive generation is even more pronounced when one looks at the situation regarding teenage men.  In 1971 the marriage rate for teenage men (i.e., the number of men aged 16 to 19 who got married in that year per 1000 of the single teenage male population) was 26.  The comparable figure for 1986 was 6.  So, by 1986, the marriage rate had fallen to less than a quarter of what it was 15 vears earlier.  It is true that teenage marriages were less common in the first half of the 20th century than they were after 1950, but even in the early 1900s the majority of men got married between 20 and 25.   This is no longer happening.
Table 2
England and Wales: teenage girls 15 - 19
Single girls
Married girls
Single girls —conceptions
Married girls- conceptions
Single girls -abortions
Married girls- abortions
There are economic factors in this, but undoubtedly one factor which has influenced young people is that, as a result of the changes in the divorce laws since 1967, an ever- increasing proportion of teenagers come from broken homes.  They do not want to go through the trauma of divorce which they have seen in their parents.  Now the members of the community who have suffered most from this change in the attitude of young people towards marriage have undoubtedly been the unborn children.  Less than 4% of the children of married teenage girls are aborted, while for single girls, the figure is no less than 40%.

If we want to be even more precise and see where the greatest threat to the unborn child lies, we must make a distinction between children conceived where the couple ari. living together, and those conceived where they are not.  Although the abortion rate is undoubtedly higher among couples living together than among married couples, it is even higher where the young people have not set up home together and probably have no intention of doing so.
Table 3
England and Wales - numbers in thousands
IIllegitimate conceptions
These can be divided into
Legitimised (by marriage in 
Born illegitimate  
Of those born illegitimate, births were 
registered by:
                both parents  
                one parent
We can see from Table 3 that the percentage of illegitimate conceptions which were subsequently legitimised by marriage declined over the period.  However, if we lump together the percentages legitimised by marriage and those registered by both parents we see that there was in fact a slight increase.  At the same time we can see that the percentage of illegitimate conceptions, registered by one parent only, declined sharply over the period.

We know that the abortion rate among married people is around 8%.  If for the purposes of discussion we assume a similar rate among co-habiting couples, then out of the 283,500 illegitimate conceptions in 1985 about 90,000 occurred where the couple were co-habiting, of which 81,800 would have been registered by both parents and 8,200 would have been aborted.  Deducting these from the 105,000 abortions following illegitimate conceptions we are left with 96,800 abortions on single women w ho are not co-habiting.  This can be compared with the 44,400 babies who were registered by one parent.  The figures obviously must be very approximate, but they do give an indication that among single women who are not co-habiting two out of three pregnancies are terminated.

We may also note that 40% of abortions performed on single women are performed on teenagers, although teenagers make up less than 20% of women in the fertile years 15-44.  Nearly all these abortions take place in the four years 16-19, and nearly all of them are provided to girls who are not married.


These figures point to three clear and simple conclusions.   First, that faced with the prospect of bringing up a baby on their own, two out of three women nowadays opt for an abortion.  Secondly, exactly as one would expect from the first conclusion,  as the marriage rate has fallen so the abortion rate has risen.  Thirdly, the unborn child is at greatest risk where his or her mother is a teenager.  The figures leave no room for doubt that the abortion rate in this country could be halved, at the very least, if marriage could be restored to the position it held in 1967 and before.

It is also clear that the place to begin is with teenagers.   If the Government were prepared to spend as much money on promoting chastity and marriage among young people as it has spent on promoting condoms, we would not only save most of the hundreds of lives of men and women lost to sexually transmitted diseases, but also perhaps as many as 80,000 lives of unborn children now lost each year through abortions.

In the present climate of sexual permissiveness, however, it seems that the last thing any Government is likely to promote is chastity before marriage.  It is up to ordinary people to tackle the problem.  We must start to educate our M.P.s about what is at the root of the abortion problem, as well as of the AIDS problem and the divorce problem.  We must find ways of getting the message into schools and of teaching our young people the truth about the meaning and purpose and the beauty of their own sexuality.  They will not get the truth from the media, nor from the Department of Education nor from the Department of Health.   

Promoting pro-life legislation can be a valuable propaganda exercise, but we must face the fact that if we really want to save lives then we must tackle things in a different way.  The abortion rate will be most effectively reduced not by "gradualist" legislation, but when and only when extra-marital pregnancies are reduced, especially among the very young;  and that in turn awaits a new awareness of the value and meaning of chastity and marriage.

Action Point: Read SPUC literature on marriage, leaflet your area, and write/visit your MP. Thanks. 
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