Pro-Life Heroes and Heroines, No. 2: Jack Scarisbrick

by Oxford Students for Life

As he contemplates the task before him, Frodo admits to Gandalf: ‘I wish it need not have happened in my time.’ And Gandalf replies: ‘So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’

Jack Scarisbrick was born in 1928. The great catastrophe of his adult lifetime was the 1967 Abortion Act, whose results have even shocked the man who steered it through Parliament. Most of us, faced with great catastrophes, like to sit around grumbling about the degeneracy of the times and wishing we had been born in nineteenth-century Paris, or something, when life was so much simpler. But Jack Scarisbrick did something with the time that was given him. In 1970, he and his wife Nuala founded LIFE, Britain’s biggest pro-life organisation.

The wisdom of LIFE is that they understand both the simplicity and the complexity of abortion. It is a simple matter because everyone has a right to live, even if they are very small. That is LIFE’s policy, and it motivates their invaluable work in education. But of course, few terminations are carried out for trivial reasons: every abortion represents an immensely complex human situation. And LIFE recognise this, too. Their trained counsellors offer support and non-directive counselling; their houses are there for mothers and children who have nowhere else to turn.

ScarisbrickJack Scarisbrick himself is something of a Gandalf figure, so genial and scholarly that you are tempted to underestimate him. Compared to, say, our previous pro-life heroine, he is an unusual sort of activist: a top-ranking academic historian who wrote the standard biography of Henry VIII and is Emeritus Professor at Warwick. Apparently his university colleagues have always been too embarrassed to bring up the subject of what Scarisbrick does out of hours.

He describes himself as ‘a rather unsubtle sort of chap’, an example of unconvincing self-deprecation so perfect that you can almost hear it being spoken with a twinkle by Ian McKellen. On the cause which has defined his life he is more forthright: ‘I believe that truth will out eventually,’ he says. ‘I think there is a deep sense of justice still lurking in the human being. We are creatures who have a response to the transcendent moral law; and a society which professes human rights is living a lie if it denies the fundamental right to life.’

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