Yesterday was the 250th anniversary of the birth of William Wilberforce, the campaigner against the slave trade. I'm sure that if he were alive today, or if abortion had been legal in his time, he would have supported an Amnesty for Babies before birth - please visit the Amnesty for Babies website to find out what you can do.
The following material is taken from a leaflet published by SPUC Evangelicals entitled Who will be today's Wilberforce for unborn children? (You can order copies by emailing me):
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 British Empire. 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 victory.
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 their mothers.
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.
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