Speaking up for Zoe

Abortion statistics for the UK are eye-watering and outrageous. There are about 220,000 abortions per year. That is 25 every hour, of every day. At least one baby will have been murdered in the time taken to read this short review.

But sometimes the statistics are not enough to capture our hearts. If I Could Speak by Mark Jones imagines a series of letters from a female baby in the womb, roughly 20 weeks old, self-named Zoe, whose parents are considering an abortion.

She writes about her development from the fertilised egg, becoming the size of a poppy seed after four weeks, to having a beating heart at five weeks and, through the development stages, acquiring a nose, mouth, heart, lungs, brain and senses, until at 19 weeks this baby – now the size of a peach – can hear the voice of her mother. The text moves between the scientific and the emotional; Zoe imagines how life might be if she is allowed to live and questions her parents’ plan to abort her.

Accountable and responsible

To her mother she writes:

‘Am I an unwanted guest who arrived because of decisions you and my dad made? I don’t want to make you feel too guilty, but I do want to know why two rational, consenting adults can make a decision (for immediate enjoyment purposes) but also question whether they should be accountable for the possible effects of their actions… Do you not think it reasonable for me to simply ask you and Daddy whether you are both prepared to be responsible for putting me here in your belly?’

To her father she writes:

‘Many fathers, I am told, don’t always want the child they are responsible for. They wanted and enjoyed the sex that brings about children, but for some reason they think it is okay to pursue pleasure but not responsibility. A child wondrously emerges, yet we are merely viewed as a glob of cells without any real identity. Such a view helps many fathers avoid taking responsibility for their actions.’

Disturbing and moving

The letter entitled ‘I’m scared’ is the most disturbing, as Zoe anticipates in graphic detail the brutality of a surgical abortion. She writes that they will ‘insert instruments to dismember me and extract me from your uterus … the trickiest part of the abortion is finding, grasping and crushing my head … I will fight. But as a helpless, dependent baby I don’t stand much of a chance.’ She likens her fate to prisoners at a Nazi death camp. It is gut-wrenching reality.

Zoe’s final letter centres on forgiveness – even though her parents make the decision to kill her in the womb. The last chapter of all is a letter, not from the baby, but from the mother, and you will have to read the book yourself to see what she has to say. This is undoubtedly a deeply moving book. Giving Zoe a ‘voice’ works well; she is thus enabled to lead the reader through the scientific, moral and emotional arguments for her right to life.

The book ends with gospel hope – even for those who have been involved in abortion. If there was a criticism, I think it would be that the chapter on forgiveness, including a discussion on moral relativism, is quite complicated. I would also have appreciated some clearer challenge and comfort to those directly affected by the subject matter.

The book is well-produced and laid out with beautiful pictures to keep you turning its 69 pages. While it is not an easy read, it is a good one and I would warmly recommend it.

Graham Nicholls

Graham Nicholls, Director of Affinity and one of the Pastors of Christ Church Haywards Heath.

(This article was originally published in the Affinity Social Issues Bulletin for February 2020. The whole edition can be found at http://www.affinity.org.uk)