UK Pro-Lifers React to Overturning of Roe v. Wade

NEWS ANALYSIS: How can the recent U.S. pro-life victory be translated into real change in Britain?

A man holds a crucifix during the March for Life in London.
A man holds a crucifix during the March for Life in London. (photo: Koca Vehbi / Shutterstock)

The news of the overturning of Roe v. Wade reverberated around the United Kingdom. 

It made headlines as British news media outlets immediately began to discuss the Supreme Court judgment in the Dobbs case. 

The implications of the ruling for the pro-life movement in the U.S. are still being played out and no doubt will be for many years to come. But what are the implications, if any, for the U.K.’s beleaguered pro-life movement? 

“This is a seismic shift in the abortion debate around the world,” said John Deighan, chief executive officer at Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC). “We have been expecting it since the draft decision was leaked, but it was a relief that it came through and overturned the dreadful decision, which has ushered in so many deaths.” 

Similarly, Bishop John Keenan of Paisley welcomed the end of Roe. “Studying the case as a law student in the ’80s, I remember there was a consensus among us that it had been more a judgment of convenience than [one] founded on a faithful interpretation of the Constitution,” he said. In that respect, he perceives that this latest judgment brings the U.S. closer to its founding principles found in the Declaration of Independence, namely, that all people are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. “In giving the right to life of every human being from the womb onwards, the court has cleared the way for the reestablishing of that one fundamental right on which every other depends,” he added. 

The “technical reality” of what the decision means is far less significant than the symbolic message it sends out at so many levels, Deighan observed. He sees the Dobbs ruling as “a defeat for the pro-abortion hegemony that has held an iron grip on public discourse on abortion for almost half a century.” He senses that “hegemony” is “rattled,” and the subsequent “fury in their response is indicative of the fear that they have.” He feels they have used “suppression and deceit” to keep the pro-life voice marginal in society while at the same time radicalized generations of young people to see abortion as “a totem of women’s freedom.” He said, “It is tragically ironic that abortion has been a tool for the oppression of women and the denigration of femininity. This news destabilizes all of that.” 

In the British context, Deighan feels that the court ruling has given hope to the pro-life movement. He feels it will create “space” for reasonable people to reassess the reality of abortion. “My common experience is that most people are absolutely ignorant of just about every dimension of abortion,” he continued, “the reasons women have them, the limit at which they are permitted, the nature of the development of the baby in the womb. The opening up of the issue from the landmark decision puts all of that up for consideration again.” 

The U.K. remains different from the U.S. in regard to abortion in that it barely registers as a political issue on this side of the Atlantic. The veteran U.K. pro-life campaigner Lord David Alton, on hearing the news, tweeted: “This decision demonstrates that abortion laws are not written in stone and that the insistence of the abortion industry that this is a ‘settled matter’ is delusional.” He went on to add: “We need to replace those laws with laws & resources that uphold both mother & child, medical ethics, and the pre-eminent human right: the very right to life itself — and on which all other rights are contingent.”  

Sentiments echoed in the House of Commons, when the chair for the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, Minister of Parliament Carla Lockhart reminded the house that abortion is not a human right in any binding international law and suggested that the British government consider “giving legal protection to the unborn [as] America has done just that, and I welcome the [decision].” While a handful of pro-life parliamentarians concurred with this view, their voices were largely drowned out by fellow parliamentarians decrying the U.S. Supreme Court decision and who instead used it as an opportunity to promote censorship zones around U.K. abortion facilities. Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, is currently attempting to make illegal any offers of help and alternatives to abortion outside such facilities throughout Scotland.  

Could the recent pro-life victory in Washington be translated into real change in Britain? 

“I think there are two lessons,” said Bishop Keenan. “The first is perhaps a wake-up call, following the negative reaction to the decision, that the pro-abortion movement in the U.K. is gaining in strength. … I think it is time for us on this side of the Atlantic to come together and put more focus and concerted effort into vindicating this most fundamental of human rights. The second is more hopeful when we consider how the pro-life movement in the U.S.A. itself began small and unfashionable in the early days, but with courage and persistence managed to convince many Americans to get on board and grow into a nationwide movement, which is now achieving what must have seemed impossible only a generation ago.” Above all, he feels, recent events in the U.S. have encouraged the U.K. pro-life movement to keep making the case for the right to life until the most innocent, vulnerable and voiceless human beings enjoy the same protection as any British citizen.

Any debate in the U.K. may be depressingly one-sided, but Deighan thinks the ongoing “shrill voices” of radical abortion ideologues are becoming increasingly “unconvincing.” 

“I think there are shoots of an awakening that the political debate has been framed by a tiny extreme minority. That minority is reeling at the threat to their obsessive demands for ever-expanding abortion regimes.” He added that the challenge for the abortion apologists is that they have “to keep the issue shrouded with lies.” While on the other hand, he explained, “the pro-life movement is aided by the scrutiny of reality and the exercise of reason and debate. The SCOTUS decision forces people to confront that debate.”

One person who has first-hand experience of importing U.S. pro-life tactics into the U.K. is Robert Colquhoun, director of international campaigns for 40 Days for Life. Welcoming the overturning of Roe, he feels that the decision could not have been possible without decades of “grassroots pro-life activism in the U.S.A.” He pointed out, “Never underestimate the ability we have to influence those around us. Don’t give up. Keep the abortion debate focused on abortion itself.” 

Despite many ongoing legal attempts to stifle prayer and other pro-life witness outside abortion facilities, Colquhoun is convinced that “sidewalk witness is the most incredible ministry saving lives on the local level through powerful personal witness.” He concluded, “It shows that demonic strongholds such as extreme abortion laws can collapse quickly and suddenly. [What has happened] is an enormous cultural shift that will have seismic repercussions around the world.”

A ‘Hobbit house’ is seen in Hobbiton, New Zealand

Joe Pearce on Hobbit Day and Tolkien Week (Sept. 23)

In the month of September, we mark the 50th anniversary of the passing of one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, J.R.R. Tolkien, and we celebrate this week both Hobbit Day and Tolkien Week. This week on Register Radio we talk to author and Tolkien expert Joseph Pearce about the legacy of the devoutly Catholic scholar and his masterwork, ‘The Lord of the Rings.’