How many signatures do you think William Wilberforce and his supporters gathered to present to parliament back in 1792 for the abolition of the slave trade? Bearing in mind that this was before e-petitions, email, social media, internet, telephones and, for that matter, most forms of mass communication that we are familiar with today. There likely wasn’t even a reliable (and certainly not a prompt) mail service. These were horse-and-carriage days.

How many signatures?

Let me tell you: more than 380,000 people signed those petitions (and as many as 400,000).

That’s a phenomenal number. Made more so for the amount of honest, hard work it took to gather so many people’s opinions. The London Abolition Committee was charged with the job, travelling throughout the country to distribute leaflets, deliver information and gather support. They knocked on doors, hand rapping on wood, to speak face-to-face with people, looking them in the eye and asking if they would take a stand against the slave trade. They approached people from all walks of life too, from those in humble circumstances to the labourers to the merchants to the clergymen and wealthy landowners. Women were not permitted participation at this point, but even they started their own women’s abolition groups to increase the groundswell of support.

What’s more, this muscular petition came after defeat. The abolitionists’ first bill was defeated in parliament in 1791 – which itself had a petition of 60-100,000 signatures – the largest Britain had seen at the time.

Why am I telling you this?

Because parts of Australia have become wearied by the push for abortion to be accepted as a part of our culture. Like having your tonsils out, or getting braces. Queensland is right now in the throes of a process to have abortion legalised to term, with the sign-off of two doctors. This comes after two previous attempts. After Queenslanders have already said no twice before, made explicit by 55,000 signatures and 2,700 submissions to parliament.

And the minority who are pedalling the pro-abortion agenda would be thrilled if we wearied of the fight. But we mustn’t do that. Instead, we must “do a Wilberforce” and draw energy and strength in supposed defeat to take up the ultimate victory. For the unborn, for women and for the culture of life in our nation.

What if Queensland’s current parliamentary petition – yes, there is a new petition – absolutely smashed all previous petition counts, both for and against the proposed changes? Imagine the message this would send to our lawmakers!

Portrait of William Wilberforce, by Karl Anton Hickel.

Imagine if we were all to “do a Wilberforce” and take this cause up with urgency and fervour.
Imagine if we knocked on doors and had hard conversations.
Imagine if we formed groups to make a difference.

We have the world at our fingertips. Today, it should be a million times easier to gather 380,000 signatures. We have email and Facebook and Instagram and Messenger and blogs and radio and television and telephones. This should be simple! It IS simple!

If we just do something.

Queenslanders: please sign the petition now, and think about how you can encourage your friends and family to do likewise.

And I’ll leave you with this excerpt. It’s part of William Wilberforce’s speech before the House of Commons on April 18, 1791, after the defeat of the first bill. Read it through the prism of our own struggles to acknowledge abortion as an unhealthy and unwanted part of our modern culture.

“Let us not despair; it is a blessed cause, and success, ere long, will crown our exertions. Already we have gained one victory; we have obtained, for these poor creatures, the recognition of their human nature, which, for a while was most shamefully denied. This is the first fruits of our efforts; let us persevere and our triumph will be complete. Never, never will we desist till we have wiped away this scandal from the Christian name, released ourselves from the load of guilt, under which we at present labour, and extinguished every trace of this bloody traffic, of which our posterity, looking back to the history of these enlightened times, will scarce believe that it has been suffered to exist so long a disgrace and dishonour to this country.”

 

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