josie-cunninghamA woman in the United Kingdom faces an unplanned pregnancy that prevents her from taking the next step in her career. She makes the choice to abort.

And Great Britain erupts in judgment and anger toward the woman.

What gives?

Why the outrage toward a woman exercising her “reproductive rights?”

In this case, the woman is Josie Cunningham, a model who was given the opportunity to appear on Big Brother. Her 18-week pregnancy would keep her out of the show and stifle her career plans. So she made a choice, and when asked, explained her rationale to The Sunday Mirror:

I’m finally on the verge of becoming famous and I’m not going to ruin it now. An abortion will further my career. This time next year I won’t have a baby. Instead, I’ll be famous, driving a bright pink Range Rover and buying a big house. Nothing will get in my way.

The subsequent torrent of tweets and personal attacks toward Josie Cunningham is surprising… and sickening. Here’s why:

Surprising

What’s surprising about the response is how much of the judgment is coming from self-professed pro-choice people. In other words, it’s the people who argue for a woman’s right to choose an abortion who are heaping ridicule and scorn on a woman who has done just that. A number of viewers have said they will boycott Big Brother if Cunningham is a contestant.

I don’t expect any of this outrage to translate into legal battles to make abortion less of an option, but I wonder what it tells us about the turning tide of cultural sensibilities. Is the pro-choice movement being chiseled away from the inside out? Does pro-choice now mean “abortion in extreme circumstances should be legal” rather than “abortion in any circumstance should be legal?”

In The Guardian, Martin Robbins, while not giving moral approval to Cunningham’s choice, defended her right and encouraged his readers to see the bigger issues at stake. He writes:

In reality, her actions are no different from those of thousands of women who exercise their reproductive rights in order to make informed choices about their future careers and families, yet because she uses the wrong language, because she talks “common”, and wants to be on Big Brother instead of working in a call centre, she has been subjected to a torrent of vile abuse and bullying. Much of it incited by the very newspapers that promote the celebrity lifestyle in the first place.

Robbins then goes on to explain the logical progression away from abortion rights:

What makes the “debate” around Josie Cunningham so disturbing is that it refuses to even acknowledge the idea that access to abortion is a basic human right, or that women are entitled to choose what they do with their own bodies. If we fail to defend Cunningham, then we accept that only those women who are “deserving” enough should be allowed to have an abortion. And if we accept that, then it’s only a matter of time before others are deemed undeserving as well.

Robbins is right about the consequences, of course, even while he is on the wrong side of the debate. Abortion is indeed about human rights, but not because abortion access is a human right (like Robbins asserts) but because abortion itself is an attack on the humanity of the unborn. Look at what online pregnancy journals tell us about the 18-week baby whose life was snuffed out in Cunningham’s womb:

He now may be large enough for you to feel him twisting, rolling, kicking, and punching his way around the womb. Plus, he’s developing yawning and hiccupping skills (you may feel those soon, too!) and his own unique set of toe and fingerprints.

Human rights are indeed at stake. Just not in the way Robbins thinks.

Sickening

The surprising response is also sickening. British society reacted with revulsion toward a woman who decided to sacrifice another human in order to further her career. (I use sacrificial terminology deliberately, since all idols demand sacrifices, and a career can function as an idol.)

What’s sickening is to see how society bullies and shames a woman who is following the script that society itself has given her. Over and over again, we are told that women’s rights hinge on access to abortion, that women can be equal to men only if they have full freedom over their reproductive choices, that women need to put themselves and their careers first. One woman follows the logic, and all hell breaks loose against her.

Other news outlets have reported on the vitriol, so I won’t link to the comments made about this woman, many too vile to print here. Abortion is dehumanizing toward the unborn. The treatment of Josie Cunningham is dehumanizing too. It makes her a monster, when in fact, the monstrous act of abortion is something we as a society have created and promoted. (I wonder if there is a reverse sacrifice going on here. Josie Cunningham sacrifices her child on the altar of her career ambitions, and then British society sacrifices Cunningham as a collective easing of the conscience of a society with blood on its hands.)

Absent from this discussion, sadly, is the baby’s father. Where is he? Who is he? We are quick to heap scorn and judgment on a woman, as if she is the only person responsible for this debacle. How is it that a society that promotes woman’s rights can so quickly demonize a woman? Meanwhile, the man walks away after his romantic fling without consequence. Far from elevating our view of women, the abortion culture has led to a sickening double standard.

So, yes, the outrage over Josie Cunningham’s abortion is both surprising and sickening. As Christians, we should weep for the baby who was lost and be encouraged by society’s shock at abortion for selfish gain, even as we shake our heads at the double standard on display in society’s demonization of a woman.

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37 thoughts on “The Surprising and Sickening Outrage over Josie Cunningham’s Abortion”

  1. John D'Elia says:

    Oh, Trevin. You’ve been slightly duped, I suspect by a link on the Drudge site? I’ve been a working pastor in London for the last 7+ years, and I’m a bit of a news junkie. I learned about this story from you. There is no outrage–there is no controversy over this woman. Quoting the Mirror is a little like quoting the National Enquirer (something matt Drudge is counting on Americans not knowing). Since that’s the case, using her as an example is just as cynical as the point you’re trying to make.

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      Actually, I saw this first referenced in The Guardian. This morning, “The Blaze” is including some comments defending Cunningham. http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2014/04/24/go-die-furor-rages-after-model-said-shed-have-an-abortion-to-get-on-reality-tv-but-some-are-staunchly-defending-her/

    2. Phil says:

      Ah, just give it time. Between Drudge/the right-wing media machine, let’s see if we cannot get this ginned-up by the end of the day (the day here, in the States).

      (It’s all about click-bait, anyway.)

      1. Trevin Wax says:

        That’s right, Phil. None of us really care about the unborn, or the merciless shaming of women. We just want page views.

        1. Phil says:

          Good point. My comment was wrong.

    3. Dave says:

      Evidently it’s not “just” a mirror story, or drudge. I found it on International Business Times from 4/22/14

      http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/josie-cunninghams-abortion-postponed-after-big-brother-snub-1445556

  2. Jonathan Smith says:

    I don’t find the response sickening. I am grateful that there has been a rare breakout of normally repressed emotion against such an act of repellent killing.

    1. Rachelle Cox says:

      Why? Why is her abortion worthy of outrage, and the millions of other abortions occurring all over the world are not?

      Either abortion is murder, and a sin requiring rebuke; or it’s not and thus doesn’t require out attention at all. People are only crying out because they disagree with her reasoning for getting an abortion in the first place, when the reality is her reasoning is the same as many other people who get an abortion.

      To get angry at THIS woman for HER abortion is hypocrisy. Plain and simple. Either all abortions grieve us, or none of them should.

      And the threats she’s been receiving on the internet (many of which are death threats and threats of rape) are completely absurd given the context they are being received. Threatening to kill someone over an abortion? No wonder we pro-lifers are seen as lunatics.

  3. Phil says:

    If the criticism of Josie Cunningham that is coming from pro-choice people is surprising to you, then my guess is that you don’t understand pro-choice very well.

    The right to have an abortion (that is, the right to your own bodily autonomy) includes a responsibility to use it well.

    There is nothing wrong with criticizing someone for failing to be responsible with their choices (that is, there is nothing wrong with criticizing someone for the reasons given for exercising the right to an abortion, if you believe that they were poor reasons), while still maintaining that the right to an abortion should be legal.

    Similarly, most everyone who is pro-choice would not want abortion used purely as a means of birth-control. (Remember, “safe, legal, and rare”?)

    In any event, this specific example seems to have to have A LOT to do with “celebrity” culture (model, reality tv, etc.), people who want to be famous for the sake of being famous, and people people love to hate. Abortion is largely just a prop here, to allow us to heap criticism on someone.

    This article seems to say that, if you are pro-choice, you have to be pro-any-reason to have an abortion. That is simply not true.

    1. Curtis Sheidler says:

      “The right to have an abortion (that is, the right to your own bodily autonomy) includes a responsibility to use it well….Similarly, most everyone who is pro-choice would not want abortion used primarily as a means of birth-control. (Remember, “safe, legal, and rare”?)”

      Sorry, Phil, but that’s nothing more than a clever way to sidestep the real issue here. If abortion really is what the vast majority of pro-aborts say it is–i.e., the destruction of a non-living, non-human person mass of cells and plasma–then there’s no reason to require that it be done responsibly or to wish that it were “safe, legal, and rare” at all. Would you consider getting a haircut or trimming your fingernails something that should require with it “a responsibility to do it well”? Would you wish that doing either of those things should be “safe, legal, and rare”?

      See: your response here indicates that for some reason the act of getting an abortion is fundamentally a deeply MORAL act. But why? Why is it so if what’s being destroyed isn’t a human person? On the other hand, if what’s being destroyed IS a human person, what possible motives could one have for doing so that would justify it?

      1. Phil says:

        Sorry, Phil, but that’s nothing more than a clever way to sidestep the real issue here. If abortion really is what the vast majority of pro-aborts say it is–i.e., the destruction of a non-living, non-human person mass of cells and plasma–then there’s no reason to require that it be done responsibly or to wish that it were “safe, legal, and rare” at all. Would you consider getting a haircut or trimming your fingernails something that should require with it “a responsibility to do it well”? Would you wish that doing either of those things should be “safe, legal, and rare”?

        As far as I know, “the vast majority” of “pro-aborts” don’t claim that the “mass of cells” is “non-living.” Can you cite to anything for this claim?

        See: your response here indicates that for some reason the act of getting an abortion is fundamentally a deeply MORAL act. But why? Why is it so if what’s being destroyed isn’t a human person? On the other hand, if what’s being destroyed IS a human person, what possible motives could one have for doing so that would justify it?

        Is killing a dog or cat a moral act? Why (or why not)? It isn’t a “human person.”

        1. Curtis Sheidler says:

          Phil,

          So you’re saying that an unborn child is “living” but not a “person”? Interesting. Tell me–what’s the magic age that gives an entity the right NOT to be murdered?

          Is killing a dog or cat a moral act? Why (or why not)? It isn’t a “human person.”

          That’d be a nice objection if you could credibly argue that an unborn child is a non-human animal. But that would involve you arguing that human beings procreate non-human animals that later become human beings, which I rather think is a pretty difficult argument for you to make, actually.

          1. Phil says:

            So you’re saying that an unborn child is “living” but not a “person”? Interesting. Tell me–what’s the magic age that gives an entity the right NOT to be murdered?

            Well, when there is continuous growth on a spectrum, reasonable people can disagree about exactly where the line is. But that doesn’t mean we cannot choose a line at all. (Just like we arbitrarily chose a line–the age of 18–for many rights now–like voting, etc.) There is nothing “magical” about the day someone turns 18. Indeed, why put the line at 18, and not 17 years old and 364 days?).

            Personally, I’d put the line somewhere around 20 weeks (and by “line”–I mean the point at which the fetus’ right to life outweighs the woman’s right to her own bodily autonomy.)

            That’d be a nice objection if you could credibly argue that an unborn child is a non-human animal. But that would involve you arguing that human beings procreate non-human animals that later become human beings, which I rather think is a pretty difficult argument for you to make, actually.

            I think my point was unclear. I was rejecting your idea that either we are aborting a human person (and thus abortion is a “moral” act), or we aborting a mass of cells (and thus there is nothing “immoral” or “moral”” about an abortion). Of course I can view an abortion as a moral act, without viewing the fetus as a human person. Just like I can view the killing of a stray dog as a moral act (even though the stray dog is not a person).

          2. Phil says:

            Another random thought:

            That’d be a nice objection if you could credibly argue that an unborn child is a non-human animal. But that would involve you arguing that human beings procreate non-human animals that later become human beings, which I rather think is a pretty difficult argument for you to make, actually.

            No one views a cadaver as a living person. But most everyone believes a cadaver has moral worth. Doing “something” with the cadaver is a moral act–and I would argue that doing “something” with a fetus is a moral act (saying, getting an abortion), even though a fetus, like a cadaver, is not a person.

  4. Jonathan Smith says:

    John D’Elia
    I think your characterisation of the Daily Mirror is incorrect. It’s lowbrow but left wing. I also think you must have missed a lot of comment in the UK on this across a lot of different media. People were repulsed by what she said.

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      John is right that this is not being discussed at the highest levels of British society, similar to the way you wouldn’t find Big Brother as the topic of conversation in the New York Times. Pop culture dust-ups do tell us something about the culture, however, and they give us a window into the pulse of common societal mores.

      1. Jonathan Smith says:

        I missed the bit where John said this is not being discussed at the *highest levels* of British society. I re-read his comment and I still can’t see it. He says, in absolute terms, that there is *no* outrage or controversy, which is wrong.

        1. Trevin Wax says:

          I was reading his comment charitably, assuming that’s what he meant (since the Twitter buzz proves there is at least some level of outrage).

  5. Dustin says:

    In response to “safe, legal, and rare” there have been over a billion small children murdered in the world due to abortion. This may have been legal, but it is not safe for the children killed, nor rare in any sense of the word. Being “responsible” about how many children are killed for the sake of their mothers does not make it morally acceptable any more than a small genocide is morally acceptable because it could have been bigger.

  6. Neo says:

    We do indeed shake our heads at abortion for selfish gain, but no biggie if it’s married Christians popping the pill to prevent unwanted pregnancies that would interfere with jobs or standard of living (e.g. selfish gain)

    1. Alan says:

      You see no difference in preventing a pregnancy and ending one? Not allowing an egg to be fertilized is much different than murdering an unborn child.

  7. Robin says:

    The double-standard of the pro-abortion movement isn’t that surprising, sadly. What I would like to comment on is the way the fathers in this article are assumed to be callous womanizers who have no interest in their babies. Both of my sons are single fathers who fought for their children. A male friend was heartbroken over his wife’s decision to abort their baby, but she went through with it anyway. Please don’t lump all men into such an ugly category. There are many men who are–or long to be–wonderful parents.

  8. Jim says:

    One of the most insightful pieces of analysis I’ve read in years…”Josie Cunningham sacrifices her child on the altar of her career ambitions, and then British society sacrifices Cunningham as a collective easing of the conscience of a society with blood on its hands.”

  9. Blake says:

    “Is the pro-choice movement being chiseled away from the inside out? Does pro-choice now mean “abortion in extreme circumstances should be legal” rather than “abortion in any circumstance should be legal?”

    The majority of pro-choice people have never held the position that abortion should be legal in “any circumstance”. It’s widely agreed that late term abortions should be illegal, for example, except in very special circumstances. I therefore find your phrasing here intellectually dishonest. (and in many other places)

    “Look at what online pregnancy journals tell us about the 18-week baby whose life was snuffed out in Cunningham’s womb:

    He now may be large enough for you to feel him twisting, rolling, kicking, and punching his way around the womb. Plus, he’s developing yawning and hiccupping skills (you may feel those soon, too!) and his own unique set of toe and fingerprints.”

    So? How is any of that morally relevant? Plants can move, so can ants, hell, some brain dead people still have partially moving bodies, their heart beats and they breath, oh and they have finger prints.
    You’re just trying to evoke emotion with cute imagery here instead of providing good reasoning. When it comes to whether its morally permissible to terminate a life form, people who aren’t religious tend to care about personhood: things like capacity to feel pain, self awareness, possession of desires, values and goals and so on. It’s well established that Fetuses have little to no personhood at 18 weeks and especially not before that. At a bare minimum, the capacity to merely feel pain, (yet alone having any significant amount of self awareness), requires a neocortex, which isn’t developed until going into the third trimester. You have to understand, not everyone believes in a magical soul. I don’t think its wrong to terminate ‘life’ that has no personhood. That’s why I’m generally ok with harvesting plants.

    There is much more in this article I find dishonest, but there’s one particular important point I want to end this post by focusing on. I think you know, and are being intellectually dishonest in ignoring, that the real reason lots of pro-choice people are angry at this woman is not because she had an abortion. It’s because they disagree with her other values, namely, they disagree with the kind of life she wants to lead instead of being a mother; her desired career route, the high value she places on fame and material goods and so on. Would these same people all be outraged if she had the abortion to pursue noble goals? I doubt it. So I really think you are desperately twisting this issue.

    1. JohnM says:

      “the real reason lots of pro-choice people are angry at this woman is not because she had an abortion. It’s because they disagree with her other values”

      Now where do they get off doing that? Her values are her business, and they should mind their own. Right?

    2. Blake says:

      Personally, although she is not the kind of person I would want to be friends with, because I have different values to her, I agree that as long as a person is not harming others or violating their rights, they have every right to value whatever they want and pursue those values. However, that doesn’t mean that there is no value in, or reason to criticize their values.

      Criticizing values can be a good thing, just like criticizing peoples views/speech/arguments (etc.) can be a good thing, its often how we make social progress over time.

      It’s important to understand that there is a big difference between criticizing someones values and advocating taking away their right to have or pursue those values. It’s the same with freedom of speech and other such rights. I can criticise what someone says without advocating that they shouldn’t be allowed to say it, that’s commonly accepted and understood. Likewise, people can criticize her values and life choices without advocating that she shouldn’t have the right to have those values or make those choices.

  10. Tony Whittaker says:

    Trevin, there was a similar outcry here in UK several months ago, when it was appeared that Indian-heritage women were having abortions after discovering they were carrying a female child rather than a wanted male. Even die-hard pro-choice people were appalled.

    Actually, I feel it helps if we can perceive people to be on a spectrum of attitudes to abortion, rather than being in binary yes/no categorization. Because people, individually and as a society, can be nudged along a spectrum, but rarely will they do an attitude flip. You can see this with smoking. Even 20 years ago (here in UK at any rate), it was normal to see people smoking everywhere – pubs, restaurants, in the street, places of work, etc. Now, not only do people not smoke in the places where it is banned, but it is surprisingly rare to see people smoking in the street where it is still legal. (Not in Poland though, by the way.) Society has been slowly nudged along a spectrum of what is acceptable and what is not.

    In democratic UK, I’d humbly suggest, we will never realistically return to banning abortion, and in any case, this would only drive it underground. (We may well manage to get a reduction in maximum time limit.) But if, instead of shrill screaming and placarding, the prolife movement could loosen up, and aim to nudge opinion, and individual choices, towards a different narrative, that would likely be much more effective. Using storytelling to help individual girls and women visualize alternate narratives for their lives.

  11. JohnM says:

    The hypocrisy, yes, is sickening. However, I see no reason to fret over Ms. Cunningham being shamed or “bullied” if that is even what is happening. Ironically, expressions of sympathy here strike me as rather close to conceding to abortion proponent’s characterization of women as victims of something or other.

  12. Simon says:

    This is surely a very sad incident.

    But isn’t this an opportunity for Christians to make the moral case against abortion instead of finger wagging? It seems that a very publicized incident like this has made society aware of the selfishness of abortion that they perhaps otherwise wouldn’t have been had they not been confronted with it. I would have thought we should say very humbly that this tragic situation is exactly why we can’t endorse abortion. Instead, I think this article plays the culture wars. Trevin is right. The outrage isn’t consistent with secular society’s views on abortion. However, we aren’t going to convince anyone with this scolding.

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  14. Alastair Manderson says:

    Unlike the United States, abortion laws in the UK are not made by judges but by politicians. That is why it will not translate into “legal battles”.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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