Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, writes in the Observer commemorating the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Abortion act.

Many supporters of the 1967 Act started from a strong sense of taking for granted the wrongness of ending an unborn life. What people might now call their ‘default position’ was still that abortion was a profoundly undesirable thing and that a universal presumption of care for the foetus from the moment of conception was the norm.

But the rapidly spiralling statistics – nearly 200,000 abortions a year in England and Wales – tell their own story. We are not now dealing with a relatively small number of extreme cases (and clinical advances have in fact reduced the number of strictly medical dilemmas envisaged in 1967 act’s supporters). When we hear, as in a recent survey reported in the Lancet, that one-third of pregnancies in Europe end in abortion, we may well ask what has happened.

What happened actually started way back in 1930. Before 1930, the ‘default position’ of all the main Christian bodies was that contraception was wrong and constituted a grave evil. That was, of course, until the CofE decided that our god-given fecundity was something to be avoided and controlled. Many wise people at that time and in the decades following warned of the slippery slope that follows from separating the marital act (a quaint expression these days) from procreation. SO it should not really be a surprise to anyone to see how far we slid into the pit.

The Rev. Thomas J. Euteneuer finds irony in the Archbishop’s comments as well.

As a Roman Catholic priest I see a genuine irony in his comments. At one point Dr. Williams asks, ‘We may well ask what has happened’ in regard to this slippage. For a Roman Catholic what has happened is all too clear: In 1930 The Church of England was the first Christian church to allow the separation of procreation from the marital act in the Lambeth decision on contraception and gave endorsement, even if unwittingly, to future policies which would allow the killing of children. It’s a small step from excluding children from sex to expelling children from the womb.” Fr. Euteneuer said.

“The ‘slippage’ Dr. Williams speaks of is precisely what Pope Pius XI warned of in the Papal encyclical, Castii Conubii, issued in response to Lambeth, and what Pope Paul VI reiterated in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae. These popes said that the widespread use of contraception would lead to ‘a general lowering of morality’. By now we see this in our entire society. On the social as well as the personal levels, contraception and abortion are two sides of the same bad penny.” Fr. Euteneuer said.

So when these mainline protestant churches look at the horror of abortion and ask “how did this happen?’, they should know that a mirror would come in handy.