The recent debate about Nadine Dorries’ attempt to change the regulatory framework governing pre-abortion counselling has once again opened the debate about the 1967 Abortion Act. Whatever the rights and wrongs about the content of particular amendments, or the motives of their movers, or the tactics of some pro life groups, only when legislative challenges are made do we experience widespread public debate. The tragedy is that the debate is rarely rational, reasoned or humane but the need for the veil to be drawn back is underlined in the most recent abortion figures, given to me in a parliamentary reply ( http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201011/ldhansrd/text/110614w0001.htm#11061456000509 ). Since 1967 there have been 7 million abortions in Great Britain and these latest figures reveal that in the past 12 months there were 189,574 abortions. Even more disturbing, some 48,348 women have had more than one abortion and some as many as eight. Lord Steel, the author of the 1967 Act has rightly described this as “horrific” and has said there are “too many.” About that, at least, we should all agree.
Nadine Dorries spends a lot of her time (rather too much) insisting that she is not pro life. And her amendment – which was entirely discretionary, not mandatory, allowing women to decide on whether they wanted to use the independent counselling which she was promoting – was hardly striking at the foundations of the 1967 Act. Yet, as she quickly discovered, the abortion legislation has become the great untouchable. Anyone suggesting its modification, let alone its repeal, is immediately awarded pariah status and subjected to vitriolic calumny and character assassination.
But when a legislative proposal is made this does at least open a space into which a few brave souls can venture.
One such was Mary Wakefield, who wrote a brilliant and courageous piece for the The Spectator, ( http://www.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/7225458/who-cares-about-abortion.thtml%20%20 ). In it she passionately calls for a reappraisal of our abortion laws. She is a Catholic convert but states that she was deeply troubled by abortion “long before I considered the Church, and considered the Church because of it.” She also movingly describes her own experience as a premature baby, born just one week after the then upper time limit permitting abortion: “And so I feel this one personally, from the perspective of the voiceless pre-born. And I feel it’s crucial to keep this perspective in mind for fear of otherwise sleep-walking into some terrible normality.” Wakefield also points to the way in which abortion may be used as a search and destroy mission weeding out the less than “perfect”. An unborn baby with a disability – Downs Syndrome to cleft palate – may be aborted up to birth (so much for anti discrimination laws, human rights, and equality, but a quiet victory for eugenics). Others may be aborted up to 24 weeks in barbaric procedures. And, asks Wakefield, why do we speak up for every other species but our own:
“If you’re still convinced that all abortions, even the late ones for babies with hare-lips, are good, then here’s a question: how do you feel about killing kittens? I ask because it’s often abortion’s greatest fans who feel most indignant on behalf of animals. They’ll go to the wall to save a chicken-killing fox from hounds, but sod the babies.” Surely a profound and respectful public discourse about abortion would find some space for the baby and consider the status of the unborn child. For those who do not share a religious or philosophical belief in the sanctity of human life, could they not at least consider the science – that no serious embryologist will claim that human life begins anywhere other than fertilisation?
Along with Mary Wakefield’s articulate insistence that the abortion question needs to be fundamentally reappraised I was particularly struck by one other important testimony. On a party web site a Labour Party activist courageously described how he had been devastated to learn that his former girlfriend had aborted their child: http://www.labourlist.org/abortion-a-mans-perspectiveMovingly, he says:
“At home later that evening I cried uncontrollably in a way I haven’t done since I was a small child. The pain of knowing she had gone through it alone was unbearable – I felt I’d let her down. In all likeliness we would have gotten married and spent our lives together, but this secret had torn us apart and cast our lives in different directions…. And, given my own experience I’d add another: just because the woman has the right to choose doesn’t mean the man doesn’t have a moral right to know.”A rational national debate would consider the position of men like the anonymous Labour Party activist along with the physical and psychological effects of abortion on women whilst also examining both the status and the pain experienced during an abortion by a sentient unborn child.
A reasoned debate would also re-examine the specious premise that “my right to choose” trumps all other considerations.
As The Economist has pointed out this doctrine of choice has led to “gendercide” – the abortion of 160 million girls worldwide. As Chesterton remarked: “They cannot do a monstrous action and still see it is monstrous.”If Britain were ever able to look beyond the sloganeering and vitriol and have an open and mature debate about abortion it could hardly ignore these questions. Nor could it ignore the link between abortion providers, abortion advice, and vulnerable women – which generated some £60 million for the providers last year alone. In 1991 the NHS funded 9,197 abortions. By 2010 the number had risen to 111,775 (more than half of all abortions) – an increase of 1100%.
Imagine any other sector with such a blatant conflict of interest. MPs would be on their high horses demanding a separation.
Any organisation which depends for its income and salaries on selling and providing abortions should never be allowed to provide the counselling of vulnerable women. This multi million pound industry has become a law unto itself.
Some of the abortion providers claim that 20% of those who come to them do not then go ahead with an abortion but figures obtained by my office through Freedom of Information requests suggest that the figure is closer to 8% – and the inexorable rise of 1100% in private sector abortions more than confirms this. The current system links abortion provision to the generation of money. That cannot be right.
Mary Wakefield points out that
“In Germany the physician must be separate from the counsellor and a woman must wait three days between her decision and her op. Their abortion rate is half ours. So, what is wrong with offering independent counselling? But beyond the debate about counselling there is the still more fundamental question. What is it we permit with the full force of British law?
Pope John Paul II said that “a nation that kills its own children is a nation without hope” but we are also a nation in total denial; a nation which has come to see the ending of an innocent unborn life as a victory or triumph rather than a shocking defeat. Worse still, we grow more and more comfortable with it every passing day.