[ Since publishing this, there's been quite a bit of movement from the Government - See links at bottom of post ]
I’m continually disappointed at the failure of those people who approve of abortion (who call themselves “Pro-Choice“, and are called “Pro-Abortion” by their opponents) and those people who do not approve of abortion (who call themselves “Pro-Life” and are called “Anti-Choice” by their opponents) to engage in any kind of constructive discourse which takes any notice at all of each other’s positions regarding abortion.
The “Pro-Life” argument is this : Human Life is sacred, and to take it away deliberately is an act of murder. Human Life begins at conception, therefore an abortion is the deliberate taking of life and is therefore an act of murder. That is why they oppose abortion.
The “Pro-Choice” argument is this : Human life may well be sacred – but the mother’s life is the one principally affected in the case of an unwanted pregnancy. Human life begins at the moment of birth, and an unborn child is therefore not alive, and an abortion is nothing more than a medical procedure to remove what is technically a part of the mother’s body. This is why they support a woman’s right to choose whether she has an abortion or not.
Now is it just me ?
I can see that there is an eloquent logic in both of these arguments. They are both reasoned positions, they are both admissible arguments, irrespective of whether you agree with either position. I find it easy to respect the thinking behind each of these arguments.
So why can’t the Anti-Choicers or the Pro-Abortionists ?
It’s really not so difficult to understand these arguments, but each side gets ever more deeply into the dismissing the other sides claims as “madness” or even “evil”.
It frankly bores me. There’s no attempt at accommodating each others position, no attempt at a move out of the impasse, no thought of synthesis or reconciliation – just ridicule and venom in equal measure, to and from both sides.
It seems very clear to me that the key issue separating the two sides of the argument is not over whether the mother or the child’s life is more important. It is about whether life begins at conception, or whether life begins at birth.
It seems though that neither side seem to want to address this fundamental difference of opinion. This saddens me.
It saddens me further that it seems highly likely to me that neither position is true. Human Life clearly does not start at birth – since births can be induced prematurely, and babies can be delivered by section, all without harm to the child – if performed at the right time. It’s also unlikely that Human Life begins at conception – other than in an abstract sense. Is a group of cells a person ? Does it have conciousness ? Does it possess – dare I say it – a soul ? I think it’s unlikely.
So the question of exactly when a foetus or embryo becomes a human being is an important one to ask. Unfortunately it’s not one we’re likely to get a definitive answer on – it involves complex moral, religious, and philosophical considerations, as well as complex issues of science and human biology. We might as well argue about angels dancing on the head of a pin.
For me though the argument around abortion becomes simpler when I consider this. Human Life clearly begins at some point between the moment of conception, and the moment of birth – which is quite a long time for a margin of error.
To me abortion doesn’t seem quite right. It seems that when we carry out abortions we are carrying out actions which are at least ethically questionable, and which many people find undesirable.
Neither though does it seem quite wrong. I can not believe that an abortionist, or a woman who has an abortion, is a murderer. They are clearly entering into a procedure in the firm belief that they are not taking a life, and there are many reasons why they should do so.
When it comes to the anecdotal heart string pulling stories that are wheeled out both for and against abortion, I think I’ve encountered most variations of them in my life.
I’ve had female friends who’ve had abortions, and never regretted it for a second, and I’ve had those who’ve spent the rest of their lives feeling guilty. I’ve known those who’ve considered abortion and rejected it, and been delighted with their baby. I’ve never known anyone say out right that they’ve regretted NOT having an abortion – but I’ve seen a few who don’t need to say it – it’s written all over their face frequently.
I could tell you wonderful stories – like my cousin who was told she was expecting a Down syndrome child, and advised to terminate the pregnancy. She did not – and her baby is loved by all the family – and doesn’t have Down syndrome.
A fairy tale ending – but not all of the stories have a happy ending. I’ve taught children with some of the most severe disabilities throughout my career – and though I’m particularly attuned to valuing the lives of all of these children however disabled they are, I also see some of the almost unbearable suffering that some of them endure – and see parents struggling to cope, year after year. I could not judge those parents if they decided to abort the pregnancy of a potentially disabled child.
I could tell you a story of a girl, abducted by soldiers in Africa, forced to become a sex slave, who then escaped to England, only to be pimped into prostitution on arrival and abandoned when it was realised she was pregnant. She had her baby who suffered severe brain damage and will have severe medical problems and learning difficulties throughout his life. She loves her son dearly but who could have blamed her for terminating that pregnancy ? And who can fail to be moved by her faith and strength of character in choosing not to abort ?
So I find that I’m someone who is pro-Life – I don’t like abortion. I want to promote life, not end it. Though many pregnancies are unwanted, most children are wanted – and I’d hope that my own daughter would be able to feel confident that she could have a child that she would be helped to provide for, should she find herself in the position of having an unwanted pregnancy – she’s 15 at the moment.
I’m also pro-Choice though. I don’t think these decisions are easy, I accept that I may be right or wrong on these issues, and I accept that there are situations which make the issue so complex that it is nigh on impossible to come to a reasoned conclusion one way or another. And I realise that ultimately it will be the woman carrying the child, who will need to make that decision – and will need to live with it afterwards. If that’s the decision my daughter came to, my wife and I would support her and help her all the way.
That the issue of abortion has risen to the surface on social media and in mainstream press in the last couple of days or so seems almost entirely due to the amendments proposed to the upcoming Health Bill made by Conservative MP Nadine Dorries, and Labour MP Frank Field which propose amongst other things, to prevent the existing agencies Marie Stopes, and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service giving counselling and advice to women considering abortion, on the grounds that as paid providers of abortion services they have a conflict of interest, and are not independent. It has been reported – notably in the Guardian Ministers back anti-abortion lobby reforms that the Government intend to implement this part of the proposals without legislation, in favour of independent advice – provided by agencies as yet unknown – but it’s widely thought that anti-abortion group Life will be invited to form part of this.
It’s understandable why this has caused a storm. On the one hand it seems entirely reasonable that women considering abortion should be able to avail themselves of as much advice and counselling as they can. On the other it seems ludicrous to brand esteemed organisations such as BPAS and Marie Stopes as biased, in comparison with the lop sided argument they are likely to receive from Life.
I feel that in any open debate this would not be seen as a way forward – there are many sources of truly independent advice which considers all options : The Brook charity for instance is one such source that is widely respected, and BPAS and Marie Stopes could well argue that they already provide impartial advice.
The thing is though that this is not going to be an open debate. It’s going to be tagged on to the much larger – and potentially much more important – debate regarding the Tory proposals to change the NHS. ( See Kerry McCarthy MP’s blog regarding this : Right to choose -v- right to know ) Any time spent discussing changes to abortion law in parliament, will be time not spent discussing the rest of the proposed legislation.
So we now come to see the real political opportunism that Nadine Dorries and Frank Field are using. They’ve managed to bring their proposals to such a state that they could potentially threaten to de-rail the Tories’ show piece legislation that is the Health and Social Care Bill. They know that MPs from all sides of the house will be clamouring to debate and de-rail their proposals on abortion. They know also that David Cameron’s government, can ill afford to waste time on this side show to the main event. They have thus apparently been successful in extracting a concession from the Government in the shape of the proposal to alter the provision of counselling and advice.
Both Field and Dorries are mavericks in their parties, Dorries in particular is a grandstander who delights in being controversial
While Pro-Choicers everywhere seem to be chomping at the bit to denounce them as mad fruitcakes, the pair seem to have pulled off a remarkable coup – extracting a change of policy without legislation from the Government, presumably in exchange for leaving the way clear in the commons to push through the changes to the NHS.
If you really believe in choice you might want to consider whether the new bill will give any of us greater or less choice in our lives, or indeed those of our unborn children
UPDATE : Since writing this it would appear that David Cameron has done a U-Turn on the promise to change the regulations on provision of counselling, without legislation. He’s now saying that this is NOT on the cards, and that Tory ( & Lib Dem) MP’s will be advised to vote against the amendments (although still allowed a free vote) – If they are debated . Quite how much time this will leave for debating the rest of the bill is by no means clear.
Full Details in this Guardian Article : Downing Street forces U-turn on Nadine Dorries abortion proposals . This analysis of the situation is also rather enlightening Abortion advice from Nadine Dorries is classic backstreet politics
This all leaves things in a rather uncertain state – perhaps the only certain thing is the Guardian’s assertion that
“The U-turn, stemming from No 10′s frustration about the health department’s handling of the situation, is another embarrassing blow for the health secretary, Andrew Lansley.”
Memories from 1981
Way back in 1981, I was a student, and set off on a Saturday in July to a Rock Against Racism event in Leeds. These were times when the Thatcher Government was in full swing, knowing that their unpopularity had plenty of time to abate, they were merrily presiding over an unemployed population quickly approaching 3 million.
Already that year there had been “riots” and mini-riots in places like Handsworth and Brixton, and the newspapers were still fresh with the news from the Toxteth riots in Liverpool. There’d also been disturbances in Chapeltown in Leeds. Though many of these disturbances were christened “race riots” – as a white working class young man I identified absolutely with the populations involved. Whether that was a real connection or one just in my own mind I don’t really know – but all my friends seemed to feel the same – and they were mostly white and mostly English.
The Specials – at the time, top of the charts with “Ghost Town” – were set to headline the ‘Carnival’ which was preceded by a march from Leeds City Centre, to the concert venue at Potternewton Park, Chapeltown. The venue had not been chosen coincidentally. It was in an area that had previously had problems with race relations and rioting.
If I’m honest we were half expecting some kind of riot or disturbance to occur that day. If I’m really honest we weren’t just expecting it – we were actually rather hoping for it. Why ? It’s hard to explain now – certainly there was lots of anger at the government, certainly unemployment played a part – although at the time neither me nor the friends that I went on the march with, were unemployed. A lot of the feeling though arose out of the excitement of being able to hit back at … well hit back at someone, be it the police or the Government or whoever, in a way that made the headlines, and felt invigorating and exciting. Maybe some of it was just because it was Summer, and there were hot nights when you wanted something a bit out of the ordinary to happen.
You might think well think that is pathetic.
I’m not saying it wasn’t – I’m telling you what we felt like – back then, when we were 20 years old.
The march got underway. There were lots of placards handed out – some of them round Anti-Nazi League “roundels”, and others with the legend “Socialist Worker : Black and White Unite and Fight “, We were given the latter, and immediately started doing what had become a habit – we started tearing off the bit that said Socialist Worker. We’d pretty much decided that the Socialist Worker Party were an extreme left version of the extreme right National Front, (that were more or less the reason we were here) and in many respects little better than them.
The irony did not hit us until some years later, that both the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism were formed by the SWP, and in many ways were a front and recruiting tool, for that organisation.
The cardboard didn’t tear off easily, and the sticks holding the placards came away before we could customise them. Great ! We now had some nice sticks to carry round – these would surely come in handy as we marched to the “front-line”. The police were way ahead of us though, and a few pleasant men in uniform came and took them from us “Why are you taking them off us ?” we angrily demanded. “Because we wouldn’t want to be arresting anybody for carrying offensive weapons if we didn’t need to” came back the genuinely cheery response.
As we approached Chapeltown, you could sense the tension – if things were going to kick off they would kick off here. The whole place felt different. Colourful, and slightly foreign. Yet also hyper local – terraced red-brick streets, with black people selling Red Stripe and Coca Cola from plastic dustbins filled with ice (which you tended to see when England played the West Indies at Headingley). A stall here and there selling stuff like Curry Goat and Rice & Peas. We were excited and a bit anxious. Were we going to be in a real riot ? If one had started we’d certainly have been part of the mob, and would have need little encouragement.
But no we- weren’t – the event was impeccably policed. Any sign of rowdiness politely and sensitively addressed by the boys in blue. They didn’t seem phased when we chanted “Bah-Bee-Lon Bah-Bee-Lon” at them, and we arrived at the park ready for the gig.
It was a sunny day, and we had a great time. In no time at all we’d hitched up with two girls from Manchester, and we had innocent youthful fun. We kissed and cuddled and flirted – but most of all we danced and danced and danced. The girls were young, pretty, intelligent, witty – but most of all they were black. In later years we’d question our values in deliberately trying to get girlfriends purely because they were black – but it wasn’t a thought that crossed our minds at the time. I don’t think either me or my friend could have felt any more “cool” than we did that afternoon. It’s more than probable also that the girls’ attraction to us, was also based more on our whiteness than on any other qualities we had. Whatever, at that precise moment, we didn’t see how life could get much better, we had sun, we had The Specials, we had cute black girls from Manchester – what more could anyone ask for ? Well to be honest we were still ever so slightly disappointed that we hadn’t seen any police cars torched – but you can’t everything
Highlight of the afternoon had to be The Specials singing “I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more” – which from that moment became the anthem of the Summer. Remember we weren’t actually unemployed, although we experienced unemployment, and knew lots of people who were.
The end of the day came, we kissed the girls goodbye at the coaches, and quickly exchanged addresses – we were going on holiday next week and would send them a postcard.
And so to the next week. We were going on holiday. Of sorts. We were planning to hitch hike to Cornwall, and see what we could find by the way of bed & breakfast – but we weren’t setting off until the following Saturday.
During the week though the riots which never happened in Leeds, started happening in other parts of the country. I can’t remember where it started first – perhaps Birmingham on the Wednesday night.
On the Thursday we picked up the NME – the New Musical Express – the bible for all young dudes like us who fancied themselves as urban guerrillas. It was full of the latest on all the riots and disturbances, and sure enough on Thursday night, there were lots more reports, of looting, rioting and other disturbances around the country – the expression “copy-cat rioting” started to be used, when we read about this in Friday’s press.
We didn’t do any copy-cat rioting on Friday night, as we were due to set off for Cornwall early in the morning, and found ourselves on the slip-road of the M62 at about 6.00 on Saturday. In no time we were in Manchester. Unfortunately though we didn’t seem to be able to get a lift on to the M6 southbound, and did a few fruitless journeys around the Greater Manchester area, ending up God knows where waiting for about an hour and a half before getting a ride anywhere.
Eventually someone picked us up, and took us to Manchester Airport. (I’ve never quite understood why). On the way though we realised something quite spooky, and the rest of the day sort of changed my life – it took me a good while to realise it though.
The street we were driving down in a stranger’s car, was in fact the street where the girls we’d met the previous week lived. A few other things were apparent :
For one thing there were bricks and broken glass, and various other debris strewn around the road. At one point there was a big box or something in the road. The driver slowed down – clearly wary about what must have gone down here. We looked round, the house numbers clearly indicated that we were bang outside the front door of one of the two girls. Across the road was a pub. It was boarded up completely and a sign pinned to the door just said “Closed”. It looked grim.
We progressed down the street. A little further on there was a shop – what would once have passed as a supermarket – but not a big one like we have now. It looked like it had once been a Co-op. It had no windows, no doors and no stock. It had clearly been subject to an attempt, mostly unsuccessful, to burn it down – and the charred stains ran up the wall at one end of the building. So this is what a looted store looked like.
In the distance we could see a huge plume of smoke rising from what we presumed must be the local shopping centre. We didn’t hang around to find out.
The eeriest thing though was the complete and utter silence – it felt like 6.30 on a Sunday morning. It wasn’t though – it was about 11.00 on a Saturday morning. A busy residential area like this should have been buzzing – but we were the only car on the street – there weren’t any parked up either. No people on the streets either. All inside.
I don’t know where we thought these girls lived – I think in our minds eye we were thinking somewhere like Chapeltown, somewhere vibrant and multicultural where you could nip out and get Ackee and Saltfish at three in the morning. This wasn’t like that – it was just like the council estates that we’d grown up on, only much bigger, and on this particular morning it was a horrible frightening place to be. The bonfire smell of burning building in the air only added to the chilling atmosphere.
The driver didn’t say much, but dropped us dutifully by the airport. What was the first thing we did ? Nip inside and buy a paper of course – and boy did it make salacious reading. It seemed that the whole country had erupted into spontaneous riots – there were riots everywhere – Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, London, Bristol, Birmingham – it seemed as if every centre of population had “kicked off” on the Friday night we’d stayed in. Smaller places were getting a mention too – including Dewsbury and Heckmondwike – where we came from.
Dewsbury and Heckmondwike ?
Riots ? Really ?
This seemed far fetched. Especially Heckmondwike. The Asian community would never risk losing their customer base for the numerous small shops, restaurants, take aways and taxi companies they ran by doing something as risky as rioting; and the white community could make most Friday nights end up with police vans in the market place, but when it came to “beating down Babylon” they really weren’t that clued up.
So for the first time we started to doubt the veracity of what we were being told by the news media. Even so, if things carried on at this rate, we’d presumably have a revolution by Monday. We felt slightly euphoric in the middle of this – on the one hand the riots that we’d have happily joined in with only a week earlier – if they’d happened – were now happening thick and fast, spreading at a speed that was difficult to comprehend.
On the other hand, what we’d just witnessed on a Manchester council estate, was giving us a proper reality check, and making us realise that riots were not a leisure activity, or a method of protest – but a frightening and violent crime.
Anyway, we were no nearer to Cornwall – we got a bus back into Manchester. It dropped us at a bus station, and by chance we realised we could get a bus to Devon in the morning. We booked tickets, and found a bed at the YMCA, got changed, and went off for a night on the town in Manchester.
Except our plan was once again thwarted. All the pubs were closed. Well, not all of them. Just most of them – and there was no one out on the lash – it was a very quiet night. We found a pub that was open close to the Arndale centre, and had a few pints – it closed just after 10 – mostly due to lack of business – there were only about 5 people in there. We set off looking for somewhere else to drink.
We got about 50 yards down the road and looked down a side street. What I saw there will stay with me forever. There were dozens upon dozens of police vans, all with grills on the front, and all with police in full riot gear waiting in side them . A bit further down the road, and the next side street was just the same, and the one after that. I have never, before or since, seen so many police men – and that’s quite something for a football supporter to say.
A policeman not in riot gear strolled up to us, and asked us where we were going – we told him we were looking for somewhere to get a drink – he directed us back to the pub we’d just come from. We told him it was closed, and he said “Yes most of the pubs are”. He asked us where we came from, and then where we staying, and advised to go back to the YMCA – which we did. He was perfectly polite. As far as I know there were no riots in Manchester that night.
The next morning we went to catch our bus to Torquay. Obviously we got the Sunday papers before we went. Strangely though, the revolution wasn’t happening. Or perhaps more to the point – if it was happening the papers were not reporting it. It became clear that some kind of block had been placed on the reporting of riots. Where the previous night virtually every town and city in the country had a riot, on Saturday night there were none. None reported.
Over the next week we kept checking the papers, there were no more reports of riots. We bought the NME on Thursday. There were no reports of riots. And strangely we found that “this town” wasn’t coming up a “ghost town” – Torquay was balmy in the late July heat, full of French students looking for adventures in England; Newquay was full of surfers by day and drinkers by night – which is what we decided to become.
We quickly forgot our angry youth status, and were no longer looking for a riot. It seemed pretty much the rest of the country did too – at least for a while.
I don’t think either of us ever viewed civil unrest with quite the same casual attitude again though. For my own part I decided that rioting, looting, destruction of property, is not a mode of protest. It’s not a means that is justified by any ends – it’s simply a way of trying to use violence to intimidate and frighten. It’s wrong – it has no place in politics. Neither is it about left wing or right wing politics – it’s just not acceptable.
So when I see the riots happening across London now, and the rumours of riots further afield, I remember back to 1981 – remembering that it was only by good fortune and good policing that I didn’t get sucked into becoming a rioter. I remember pretty black girls, and ugly glass strewn streets, and looted shops. I remember lines of police vans and deserted city centres.
And my advice to the people involved today is this – go home, switch the telly off, put the barbecue on, listen to some decent music, and forget about rioting. It’s just not worth the pain.
The Daily Mail apparently will run this front page in the morning : MPs to vote on death penalty
Perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that this is a little misleading.
You might be surprised to find out, just how wide of the mark it probably is.
The headline is a reference to the Government’s latest initiative – e-petitions.
This is an on-line method of petitioning parliament – you put a petition on-line, leave it for up to a year, and if it gets over 100,000 signatures, it becomes eligible to be debated in the House of Commons.
More specifically it’s a reference to high profile blogger Paul Staines, who “blogs” as Guido Fawkes, and his campaign to bring back the death penalty via an e-petition. Although clearly his intention is to embarrass parliament and increase his own notoriety as much as any desire to see criminals hung from Tyburn tree.
The Mail’s sub-heading is “MPs face being forced into a landmark vote on restoring the death penalty”
If the headline is misleading, then this statement is simply untrue.
Any petition placed on the site has to satisfy the conditions for eligibility http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/terms-and-conditions
One of the conditions is that it’s not allowed to be a “joke” – well Guido’s petition might fall there, but hey ho …
It then has to get 100,000 signatures – sadly Guido will have little trouble.
It then becomes “eligible” for debate.
It might be worth considering that ANYTHING is already eligible for debate by the House, should the House decide to debate it.
Just because it’s eligible though doesn’t mean it will be debated. The same is true for a petition on e-petitions with 100,000 signatures.
So who decides if it WILL be debated ?
That job falls to the Backbench Business Committee – who I’m sure will be excited by being
dumped with the job given the privilege of selecting which petitions get to be debated.
Note that they don’t have to select any of them. They can ignore them, and will ignore many. They can’t be forced to debate anything.
Even if they do debate it, they don’t have to have any kind of vote, and it doesn’t have to lead to any change in the law.
Pretty much the same as if nobody had signed the petition in the first place.
Oh and even if they did have a vote, don’t forget that there have been a great many votes on capital punishment in the commons since its abolition, and all have soundly rejected the idea. The last was in 1994 when re-introduction was opposed by 403 votes to 159, and there is little evidence to show that any other result would occur if such a vote were to take place in the current parliament (source UK Polling Report )
So no change there then.
- Speaker backs launch of e-petition website (guardian.co.uk)
- Government Launches e-Petitions Website Guido Submits “Restoration of Capital Punishment” Petition (order-order.com)
- Guido’s Petition to Bring Back Hanging: ‘What the Fawkes?’ (penalreform.net)
- (MONITOR) Tim Montgomerie: Should the centre right blogs unite behind a parliamentary petition campaign? (dreadnoughtuk.wordpress.com)
- The public may still want the death penalty, but it thinks the economy and pensions are more important (blogs.telegraph.co.uk)