By Jonathon Van Maren
As another grandiose celebration of her ninetieth birthday approaches, the serene face of Queen Elizabeth II is again clogging news sites and social media feeds. All these years after her 1953 coronation, she still seems to be somehow above the fray. Her perpetual unflappability is even more impressive if one considers the sordid spectacle of divorces, affairs, and sexual escapades she has been forced to tolerate from her largely unimpressive brood over the past several decades. It is safe to say that of all the royals, only she has managed to remain entirely uncontroversial and with the exception of brief period after Princess Diana’s death, universally beloved.
In spite of the debauched royal soap opera the House of Windsor has played out on the national stage, always carefully documented by the media scribes, Queen Elizabeth II is often referred to admiringly by Christians as one of the last truly Christian monarchs. She is, after all, “Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, Queen, Defender of the Faith.” She also has a habit of making powerful and unapologetic Christian statements during her annual Christmas Day speeches:
Christmas Day speech, 2011:
God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are) – but a Saviour, with the power to forgive. Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.
Christmas Day speech, 2002:
I know just how much I rely on my own faith to guide me through the good times and the bad. Each day is a new beginning, I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God. Like others of you who draw inspiration from your own faith, I draw strength from the message of hope in the Christian gospel.
Christmas Day speech, 2000:
To many of us our beliefs are of fundamental importance. For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ’s words and example.
The Queen has always been said to place great importance on her faith, and many of her public statements seem to reflect that. For me, however, there will always be one enormous black mark on her long reign: her giving of Royal Assent to the 1967 Abortion Act, which has resulted in the violent destruction of more than six million pre-born boys and girls.
I can see many of my monarchist friends begin to roll their eyes. The Queen couldn’t have refused to sign without causing an enormous crisis, they could rightfully say. Why must it always be about abortion? many others would ask in tired tones. (I heard the same complaint when our anti-abortion truth truck crossed in front of Prince William and Princess Kate’s motorcade at the 2013 Calgary Stampede as they waved to the cheering crowds.) But to dismiss that assent as morally meaningless is to ignore what abortion is. Six million of Her Majesty’s tiniest subjects were cruelly snuffed out and discarded for the crime of being inconvenient, and regardless of her personal views on the matter, this was done with her official permission.
Not all European monarchs reacted to the undeniably intense pressure to rubber-stamp royal legitimacy onto abortion legislation in this fashion. In 1990, for instance, King Baudouin I of Belgium notified his cabinet that he could not, in good conscience, give his Royal Assent to proposed laws permitting abortion. In Belgium as in most other constitutional monarchies Royal Assent was considered to be a mere formality. But King Baudouin’s conscience did not permit him to put his signature on what he believed to be an unjust and immoral law, and his government was thus forced to come up with a novel solution. The New York Times, in an article titled “Belgian King, unable to sign Abortion Law, takes day off,” recorded how the strange situation played out:
The civilian Government temporarily suspended King Baudouin I from power today after he declared that he could not, in good conscience as a Roman Catholic, sign a new law permitting abortion.
After declaring the King ”unable to govern,” the Cabinet assumed the King’s powers and promulgated the abortion law, which was published in the official gazette. And it called the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate back from Easter vacation for a special session on Thursday.
The lawmakers will be asked to vote on the proposition that the 59-year-old King is once again able to govern.
The following day, the king was promptly reinstated. Unlike other European monarchs, including Elizabeth II, he had avoided becoming complicit in legalizing abortion—because he refused to abandon his principles.
Even more recently, the reigning Prince of Lichtenstein moved to block abortion legalization in 2012. From the Telegraph:
Prince Alois, a devout Roman Catholic, scuppered a referendum on abortion weeks before it was held by declaring he would veto a change in the law, so that many who wanted change concluded there was no point in their voting. The principality is one of the last places in Europe where abortion is illegal, forcing women to travel secretly to Switzerland and Austria to terminate unwanted pregnancies. In theory, they could be jailed if the authorities learn what they have done.
Many Liechtensteiners feel deeply uncomfortable with this law, and the reformers were confident they would win – until the prince intervened. The eventual result of the vote was 51.5 per cent to 48.5 to keep abortion illegal.
A follow-up campaign by angry abortion supporters to curtail the prince’s involvement in government failed miserably, with 76% of Liechtensteiners voting to uphold the prince’s power to veto future referendums. A royal leader refusing to give up his principles—and even threatening to leave the country over the situation—resulted in an unambiguous victory for the sanctity of life.
I write this not to get involved in the debate about the existence of the monarchy. I have very passionate friends on both sides of that debate, and both sides make a number of compelling points. I am simply trying to point out the obvious: that with great power comes great responsibility, and that the duty of a monarch is to all those living with within his or her borders, regardless of how old they are. We have seen European monarchs face the abortion juggernaut with courage and principle, and we have seen monarchs abandon their principles and their duties in order to avoid controversy or crisis precisely where such things should arise. Those actions, regardless of whether or not they are thought to be “formalities,” have had consequences. One can only wonder what might have been if more Kings and Queens acted in defence of their weakest subjects.