LONDON Abortion is becoming commonplace and people are insufficiently troubled about terminating pregnancies, the Archbishop of Canterbury said on Sunday.
Writing on the eve of the 40th anniversary of Britain's Abortion Act, which legalized the procedure, the spiritual head of the world's 77 million Anglicans said people needed to think harder about the consequences of their actions.
"Recent discussion on making it simpler for women to administer abortion-inducing drugs at home underlines the growing belief that abortion is essentially a matter of individual decision and not the kind of major moral choice that should involve a sharing of perspective and judgment," Rowan Williams wrote in an article published in the Observer newspaper.
"Something has happened to our assumptions about the life of the unborn child."
There were nearly 200,000 abortions in England and Wales in 2005, according to the Department of Health, and a recent survey by the medical journal Lancet reported that one-third of pregnancies in Europe ends in abortion.
There have been calls in Britain for the upper time limit on abortions to be shortened from 24 weeks to 21 weeks but a recent parliamentary bill on the matter was defeated.
The archbishop made no direct call for legislation to be tightened, but he pointed out the paradox he saw between those who campaign for greater "fetal rights," condemning women who smoke during pregnancy, but fail to speak out about abortion.
Abortion is a far less politicized issue in Britain than in the United States. However, several bills have been introduced in parliament in recent months by legislators looking to tighten restrictions and prompt women to think harder about the issue.
Britain has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Europe, and many of those pregnancies end in abortion.
The archbishop said that when the Abortion Act was passed in 1967, it was never meant to usher in a period of "easy abortion," but to provide an option for women in extreme cases.
"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 fetus from the moment of conception was the norm."