In the lead up to this year’s federal election the Labor Party announced a national abortion policy that sought to make abortion easier and completely tax-payer subsidised. They threatened state health funding if abortion wasn’t available in all public hospitals, promised to build an abortion facility in Tasmania, and “encouraged” NSW to liberalise abortion laws.
Although Coalition politicians refused to be drawn on the controversial issue, the Australian Christian Lobby and Cherish Life campaigned against Labor’s policy. Labor lost the election, and Labor MP Ed Husic claimed that the campaign against abortion was a contributing factor to their miraculous defeat.
One week and one day later, the 26th of May, a significant anniversary in the timeless battle for the sanctity of life went by in Australia almost entirely unnoticed. It was the 50th anniversary of the first effective legalisation of abortion in any part of our nation, and nearly four years before the landmark Roe v Wade case in the Supreme Court of the United States in 1973.
On the 26th of May, 1969, in the Supreme Court of Victoria, Justice Menhennitt ruled that abortion might be considered lawfully justified if “necessary to protect the physical or mental health” of the mother. The Menhennitt ruling was later largely adopted by courts in NSW (1971) and Qld (1986) and was also influential in some other states. The Law Library of Victoria was one of the few to mark the 50th anniversary, calling the Menhennitt ruling “one of the best known cases of ‘Judge made law’“.
An unelected man single-handedly made law for the whole nation which has come to be so loosely defined by including the mental health of a mother that even unplanned pregnancies may be interpreted as damaging to her health. Today between 70,000 and 100,000 living humans are intentionally killed before they’re born in Australia. Around 95% of these are performed on healthy women with healthy babies.
In America in 1984, President Ronald Reagan issued a proclamation designating the 11th anniversary of the terrible Roe v Wade decision (22 January) the first National Sanctity of Human Life Day. Every Republican President since has issued similar proclamations. Churches around the United States use the day to celebrate God’s gift of life, commemorate the many lives lost to abortion, and commit themselves to protecting human life at every stage.
This is one of the Church’s most important roles, to speak against injustice and to declare God’s Truth in the public square. Isaiah 1:17 instructs us to seek justice and rebuke the oppressor. Isaiah 59:16 says God is amazed and appalled when no one intervenes where there is no justice. Jesus called us to be salt which changes the flavour of its environment and light which dispels darkness for everyone, like a city on a hill which refuses to be hidden in a dark world.
Rev Martin Luther King Jr echoed this teaching in his sermon, ‘A Knock At Midnight’. He preached, “If the Church will free itself from the shackles of a deadening status quo, and, recovering its great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, it will enkindle the imagination of mankind and fire the souls of men, imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth, justice, and peace. Men far and near will know the Church as a great fellowship of love that provides light and bread for lonely travellers at midnight.“
Likewise faced with the manifest evil of legislation and popular opinion treating living humans as disposable private property, William Wilberforce observed, “A private faith that does not act in the face of oppression is no faith at all,” and, “Surely the principles of Christianity lead to action as well as meditation.“
G. K. Chesterton commented, “We do not want a Church that will move with the world. We want a Church that will move the world.” Famous public critic and martyr of the Nazi regime, Dietrich Boenhoeffer exhorted fellow Christians, “We are not to simply bind the wounds of the victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.“
Why should Australian churches wait any longer for a national leader to declare a national day for awareness about the single largest cause of death in Australia, bigger than the top 3 causes of death combined, but easily preventable? Why don’t we have a national “Sanctity of Life Sunday” like other nations, whether official or not? The Christians of 1800 England created the world’s first grassroots human rights campaign and though it took many decades, they were instrumental in changing the culture and then the legislation which protected the slave industry.
I propose that we begin ourselves by marking the anniversary of the first legal precedent liberalising abortion in Australia with the Sunday nearest 26 May every year. Let’s petition the Prime Minister to make it official, but with or without official designation, mark Sunday 24 May 2020 in our calendars now as the first Australia-wide Sanctity of Life Sunday.
Fifty years of legal child sacrifice is too much. Commentary and religious meditation isn’t enough. We need action, and we need a public witness across all denominations to the sanctity of life. To sign the petition right now and see how you can participate or help grow the voice of the Church in the public square, please visit SanctityOfLifeSunday.com.au.