Who will be today's Wilberforce for unborn children?
Who was William Wilberforce?
William Wilberforce was born in 1759. An evangelical Christian and
Member of Parliament, he carried on a battle against slavery for many
years and finally succeeded in having it abolished throughout the
Although slavery had been abolished in Britain in 1772, it took
another 61 years to eliminate slavery in the colonies. The earlier
victory, led by Quakers, was due to the efforts of his friend Granville
Sharp. Thomas Clarkson was another of the small group of abolitionists
who fought alongside Wilberforce, and both lived to see the final
Slaves were commodities
A slave 200 years ago was not considered a person, a slave could
be disposed of like any commodity. Slaves could be killed at will by
their owners. An unborn child today is in much the same position.
A pregnant slave could be sold and her child within the womb was
part of the package. The father of her child could be sold to some
other party. The child within the womb is often treated with the same
contempt today. The promotion of abortion, rather than humane solutions
to the difficulties faced by expectant mothers, has eroded respect for
unborn children, their mothers, their fathers and the family.
Wilberforce could see clearly what others could not. He could see
the thousands of his "brothers and sisters" and their children
suffering on the coast of Africa, waiting in squalid enclosures to be
transported across the Atlantic. He could see the responsibility of
Parliament and its guilt in failing to end the evil practices. How many
people today can see abortion in the same light?
The principal motive of the slave trade 200 years ago was profit.
Captains of slave ships crammed 500 people into space for only 200 and
African chiefs sold captives from neighbouring tribes into slavery for
financial gain. The economic self-interest of western governments
causes unborn children to be killed in developing countries today.
These governments support organisations that are ideologically
committed to promoting abortion in every country of the world. This
destroys a nation's most precious resource -- its future citizens.
Why should slavery, which we now find intolerable, have been
accepted 200 years ago? There were many arguments for slavery, some as
frivolous as saying that the slave trade "nurtured sailors for time of
war", which implied that it desensitised them to the horrors of war.
Captain Robert Norris claimed his voyages were "pleasure cruises
for slaves" and the West Indian bloc in the House of Commons said that
the charges of cruelty in the slave trade were mere fictions. They
claimed that the happiest day in an African's life was when he was
shipped away from the "barbarism" of his homeland to the Americas. Is
this not like the suggestion that some unborn children (particularly
those with a disability) are better off being killed than being given
the chance to live?
See no evil
One speaker in Parliament went so far as to say that the wisest
thing to do about the slave trade was to "shut our eyes, stop our ears
and run away from the horrid sounds", without making further enquiry.
Today many people choose to avoid the truth about abortion.
Some pro-slavery advocates said that the slave trade had been
sanctioned by Parliament and they could not give it up without breaking
faith. Another said, "Men who would destroy the slave trade are
fanatical dreamers." The Duke of Clarence, the future king, agreed,
asserting that promoters of the abolition of slavery - including
Wilberforce - were "either fanatics or hypocrites". Pro-abortionists
often seek to discredit the pro-life case by portraying its proponents
as fanatics, rather than addressing their arguments.
Sir William Young said that the immediate abolition of slavery
would lead to the loss of the colonies. He also said that other nations
would simply seize the British share. Pro-abortionists persistently
claim that tightening the abortion law would "drive women to the back
streets", ignoring the evidence from countries such as Northern Ireland
and Poland that pro-life laws protect the lives of unborn children and
The Attorney General for the Leeward Islands, John Stanley,
claimed that Divine Providence intended one set of men always to be
slaves of another. Does this differ very much from the idea that some
humans, such as disabled children in the womb, are somehow less
deserving of life? One MP, citing the positive aspects of the slave
trade, drew a chilling comparison. It was not an amiable trade, he
admitted, but neither was the trade of a butcher, yet a mutton chop was
nevertheless a good thing.
Some pro-slavery advocates were converted by Wilberforce and his
friends, but Lord Sheffield switched to being pro-slavery when he
became MP for Bristol, a port that was deeply involved in the slave
trade. Do not some modern politicians lack integrity when they claim to
be "personally opposed" to abortion but will not vote to stop it?
Can't we keep out of politics?
Wilberforce and his friends fought for a legislative ban on
slavery. Today our unjust laws have led to widespread abortion, often
virtually "on demand". Some people shy away from supporting political
lobbying for changes in the law; but this battle must be fought. Other
areas of pro-life activity are vital, but are not sufficient on their
own. Would Wilberforce have done better by concentrating purely on
educating the public, or by going to the West Indies to care for
enslaved people? No. Education and caring work are essential elements
of the Christian response to abortion, but working in Parliament for
just laws is essential too.
Protecting the helpless
All human beings are entitled to the protection of the law.
Legislation is needed to save as many unborn lives as possible, and
ultimately to protect all unborn children from deliberate killing.
Wilberforce reminds us of the need to take a principled stand: "There
is a principle above everything that is political. And when I reflect
on the command that says, 'Thou shalt do no murder', believing the
authority to be divine, how can I dare set up any reasonings of my own
against it?" It took much talking, praying, arguing and deal making on
the part of Wilberforce and his friends before slavery was outlawed.
Bishop Porteus, an old friend of Wilberforce, described slavery as "the
most execrable and inhuman traffic that ever disgraced the Christian
world". Today, would not Bishop Porteus give abortion that description?
A large bloc in the House of Commons, led by Dundas, found slavery
and the slave trade intrinsically evil but stopped short of advocating
the most effective measures against it. In the meantime thousands of
slaves were dying on the ships crossing to the Americas, much like the
many thousands of unborn babies now dying every year because of a
similar failure to pass laws giving them effective protection.
In spite of numerous attacks on him over the years from all sides,
Wilberforce's campaign to end slavery in the colonies was successful.
Will you be a Wilberforce today for unborn children, taking a stand for
the sanctity of human life in your church, trade union or college?
Who will be today's Wilberforce for unborn children? is based on
a leaflet of the same title by Frank Kennedy, published by Interim
Publishing, Toronto, Canada, 1995. Sources: Robin Furneaux, William Wilberforce, Hamish Hamilton, 1974; John Pollock, William Wilberforce, Constable, 1977; Charles Colson, "Standing Against All Odds", Christianity Today, Sept.1985; The New Book of Knowledge, Grolier Inc.