After eleven defeats and a myriad of obstacles, William Wilberforce, an evangelical member of the parliament, won the fight to abolish the African slave trade in Britain. The battle to abolish slave trade and slavery consumed his life for almost forty six years. In the midst of the setbacks and oppositions – most from the traders who derived financial benefits and others due to political interests – Wilberforce was unwavering in his quest. According to Jonathan Aitken, a British author and former Member of Parliament, “Wilberforce’s legislative perseverance was not, like most politicians before and since, to pass laws that would bring benefits to society.” Rather says Aitken, “[I]t was to pass laws to eradicate the activities of society that were offensive to God.” Indeed, Wilberforce was not a political pragmatist. He saw slavery for what it was – a societal injustice. This fueled his fight right up to his death bed.
Centuries after Wilberforce, the legislature remains the battleground for making and enacting laws – which reveal, shape, transform, and dictate the moral compass of society. People often say, “You can’t legislate morality.” Yet, all legislature – immigration, health care, and defense – come from a desire for society to function in a certain way. Sweeping across the world is the notion of progressivism; that society, and humanity, has to be reformed especially through laws. Thus, the legislature is key to this.
The vote in Argentina
On December 30 2020, Argentina’s senate voted 38-29 to legalize abortion up to the 14th week. The vote which makes Argentina the largest Latin American nation to legalize abortion, was received with wild jubilation – thousands of pro-choice activists, feminists, and women rights champions gathered in Buenos Aires holding hands, crying, and exhibiting ecstasy as the news broke. President Fernández of Argentina tweeted: “Today, we’re a better society, which widens women’s rights and guarantees public health.” While campaigning for the presidency, he argued that although he was a Roman Catholic, he had to legislate for everyone. Indeed, legislate for everyone, except babies.
As expected, the media was agog. Aljazeera described it as a road “paved with the sweat, tears and devotion of women who spent much of their lives fighting for change.” The New York Times attributed the success to more women being voted into parliament. Senator Lucila Crexell who voted against the bill in 2018 told the NYT, “Society at large started to understand the debate in more moderate, less fanatic terms.” DW’s Veronica Marchiaro called it a triumph of reason over religion and a decision based on facts – a poor attempt to draw a dichotomy between religion and reason. She asserts that the issue “is not about ideology but about public health.” One can only wonder why an ideology not built on reason is being championed and each victory celebrated.
Public health, reproduction freedom, and reproductive justice are few of the ‘glowing’ terms used by the media to obfuscate what abortion truly is: the murder of an unborn child. In 2019, Steve Jacobs, a researcher at the University of Chicago, asked thousands of biologists where life begins. He revealed that 96% of the 5,577 biologists who responded, affirmed the view that a human life begins at fertilization. It is staggering to see the demography of the respondents: very pro-choice (69-90%), very pro-life (92-97%), very liberal (70-91%), very conservative (94-96%), strong Democrats (74-91%), and strong Republicans (89-94%). Given such a consensus, it is without question that what is being debated is not if the fetus is a life – a number of scientists who are pro-choice would affirm this – but as Marchiaro notes, “[Argentina’s] vote was about giving women a legal, safe and free way to terminate pregnancies, if they so choose.” That is a moral question; not a scientific or “reason-based” question. Abortion is indeed, a moral issue.
The fight for Africa
In September 2013, the Governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, was forced to repeal a bill which permitted women in the state to obtain abortion at will. According to section 40 of the bill, “Every woman shall have the rights to take decisions about her health needs and requirement. In particular, she shall have the right to determine the process concerning reproduction in her body.” Like many such cases, Western donors – such as the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, Swedish International Development Agency, the Danish International Development Agency, the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Global Fund for Women – responded to the bill with celebration and urged other states in Nigeria to follow suit. After days of protests and pressure from religious leaders, Okorocha made a public apology and repealed the bill.
The Imo bill is only one incident amidst many where the legislature in Africa, and Nigeria, have been pressured by Western donors to legalize abortion. As these African countries face economic and health challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, they have been forced to look to developed countries for aid and relief. Aid from Western countries and the United Nations often come with the condition that “the right to sexual and reproductive health includes women’s freedom to decide whether to be pregnant, how many children to have, and to space pregnancies,” must be paramount. Reflecting on this fierce attempt to use the pandemic as an avenue to push abortion rights, Obianuju Ekeocha, author and biomedical scientist, stated in a recent documentary that “at a time when there is dire, basic human need like food and medicines, donors seem to be much more concerned with furthering the territories of the abortion movement.” Indeed, African governments who refuse to acquiescence will be denied such relief.
The Bible states that every single person is created in God’s image; the creator knows and knits everyone in their mother’s wombs – this bestows an irrevocable worth and dignity to every life. Those who fight the ills of tribalism, must also disavow the horror of abortion. If a child is of no value in the womb, it is of no value anywhere else. Sooner or later Nigeria would be faced with a decision between justice and injustice, life and death, good and evil. The choice would depend on the personal moral convictions of lawmakers – convictions which are not swayed by monetary gains or popular opinion. The hope is that there would be ‘Wilberforces’ at the doorpost.