This book’s cover, like its content, has the potential to divide, offend, and challenge. The simple fact is that Abortion is a controversial, emotive, and often misunderstood. It is for exactly these reasons (and the fact that this book is, to be blunt, a gd’un) that I am reviewing and recommending this slim book, ‘Abortion: Breaking the Silence in the Church’. Jonathan Jeffes is a crisis pregnancy counsellor, and is deeply invested in the stories of those who have experience abortion in their lives, and those who love and surround them. Written as theological reflection and construction on experience, then, this is a powerful book, yet not one that shies away from echoing and proclaiming the radical truth of the Christian tradition.
The headline stats on the back cover say it all, in many ways – 34% of British women will have an abortion, 10% will have more than one – this is a pressing and comprehensive issue. Yet Jeffes starts in an interesting place, echoing his subtitle – in the church. Using statistics and common sense, the author engages with the stories of those who have abortions and are part of local churches – from those on the fringe to those in the heart, and he has interesting comments to those who argue that ‘the only moral abortion is my abortion’. The mission of this book is to break that silence, in many ways, and so this is an immensely practical book, even as it is profound and clearly well-researched.
Jeffes does not shy away from making his opinion known, and headline hunters will need to read around his statements that ‘a foetus is fully human and has an independent right to life. Abortion is therefore the equivalen to an act of murder and should be made illegal‘, otherwise they will miss the statement on the facing page (Which is arguably more reflective of Jeffes’ writing in general) that ‘what we say needs to be sensitive and compassionate, not rooted in extreme or fearful thinking‘. This is a book that is grounded in Christian theology of the human being, the elusive imago Dei, and yet is sensitive and non-dogmatic. Some of the pastoral advice here has challenged me about the way I should talk and write about this subject.
As alluded to above, Jeffes is helpful at giving genuinely practical advice, rather than just the theology. There are, among other things, suggestions for prayers, sermon plans, as well as more detailed plans of action for bringing the issue to the attention and passion of a church in a way that does not exclude those whose stories include abortion, and calls the church to be a place and people of healing. The fruit of Jeffes’ 25 years in this ministry is clear – with a compassionate balance in this book between grace and truth. Those looking for an extended discussion of the ethics or philosophy of the issue should search elsewhere (though that is not to say, at all, that this is not thoughtful and careful) – for example I am hoping to get round to reading (does anyone fancy purchasing it for me?) James Mumford’s “Ethics at the Beginning of Life“, an Oxford University Press monograph.
It is worth noting that, in addition to the helpful and thoughtful pastoral/practical advice, this book includes three excellent appendices to the main body of work. Throughout, Jeffes is well aware of the oft-termed ‘hard cases’ of rape and disability in relation to the ethics of abortion. Thus, the first appendix sensitively and carefully – with the inclusion of women’s stories – deals with the topic of rape and abortion. The second, again expertly, engages with the question of disability, with an interesting emphasis on pre-natal screening and abortion. The final appendix deals with the important question ‘Are there psychological risks to an abortion?’, and is immensely helpful.
In conclusion, then, this is not an easy book to read, because of the subject matter. That said, Jeffes writes well, with a confident humility that is appropriate to the topic at hand. I would recommend this book to church leaders thinking through how to engage their churches/groups with this tricky topic, and also as a model of careful theological reflection with practical implication. I look forward to reading around the topic, but in my reading thus far, this is a book with immense value, and the appendices alone are worth the price of admission. Highly recommended.