[ 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.”