Sunday, September 18, 2005

Why should restricting abortion to 12 weeks be a right wing issue? Doesn't the left care about human rights and a Surestart for every child?! Doesn't everyone know that even at 12 week the baby is highly developed?

I was delighted to hear the Tory leadership candidate, Dr Liam Fox MP courageously stating his belief that abortion should be restricted to 12 weeks, but I was also interested to see that the headline in The Telegraph read "Fox courts religious Right with plea to limit abortion to 12 weeks". Support for a major restriction in the abortion limit is widespread. A year ago, a number of commentators, some in spite of supporting some abortions, called for a restriction to 12 weeks in response to the ultrasound images which clearly show the baby moving in the womb at 12 weeks. In July 2004, Tony Blair said that he would consider a review of abortion law in response to new medical findings, which made the front page of The Times.

Every day there are 500 abortions, so there is considerable urgency to review and change the abortion limit and protect these babies which are currently being terminated. There is considerable support for a restriction in the time limit and in the numbers of abortions. As long ago as April 2004, Jasper Gerard in The Times while remaining pro-choice, called for a restriction to 12 weeks, saying that although the proabortion lobby says that the majority of abortions are carried out before 12 weeks, there are still 22,000 abortions after 12 weeks (3,000 after 20 weeks). Mark Henderson, the science correspondent of The Times also stated that there was medical support for a restriction in abortion after 12 weeks. The Daily Mail compared all the European countries showing that the UK is out of step with Europe with one of the latest time limits for aborting babies. David Steel, who introduced the private member's bill which legalised abortion, was widely reported calling for a restriction of abortion to 12 weeks (front page The Times, 4th July 2004 and The Scotsman

Mary Seighart's reflections on how her views of abortion have changed are interesting - from support to when she carried a child herself and felt "queasier" about abortion, to shock at hearing Ellie Lee, coordinator of the pro-choice forum argue for abortion up to and including birth. She does not agree with the absolute prolife position and suggests that earlier abortions are better than late ones and suggests that the abortion limit should be reduced to 22 weeks (,,1071-1172846,00.html
Mary Ann Sieghart, Abortion rights and wrongs are all a matter of timing July 09, 2004

I think aborting babies earlier to avoid aborting them later cannot be right. But the fact is that there is a growing consensus that 12 weeks should be the limit for abortions. It wouldn't make sense to leave it at 22 weeks given that babies can be born and survive at 21 weeks and babies have also survived abortions at 18 weeks, and anyone looking at the ultrasound pictures at 16 weeks and 14 weeks would have to admit it isn't possible to detect any significant difference in the intrinsic humanity of the baby at these gestations. Late second and third trimester terminations are so horrific that they have never been shown on TV. They must be stopped. This should be such a basic issue of humanity that it cannot belong to either side of the political spectrum, no more than we would expect our political system to be divided into those who support and oppose torture. Every political party should defend the right of children to life.


Blogger Anne-Marie said...

12 weeks is still pretty horrifying - I remember having an early scan at 4 weeks and being amazed to see a tiny heart beating.

2:23 AM  
Anonymous Gary Monro said...

I'm an atheist who has moved gradually towards the anti-abortion view simply by giving the topic some thought. I wouldn't claim to be anti-abortion but I'm glad Liam Fox has raised the topic in the way he has.

Not killing the unborn isn't simply a religious issue.

11:17 AM  
Blogger Tim Roll-Pickering said...

I agree that this is not an issue that should be dragged into the party political arena (and so condemn Liam Fox for trying to do so) but at the end of the day no-one who goes for an abortion at around 20 weeks does so lightly. Those who do so are not going to be put off by the legality - the evidence both from pre 1967 and from other countries shows that a woman who wants an abortion will try to get one by any means possible.

6:24 PM  
Blogger Fiona said...

hi Tim, thank you for your post. I should clarify my position - my point is that opposition to abortion is based on a widely accepted and uncontroversial human rights position, which is the logical basis for social justice, equality and a proper understanding of freedom. Therefore, the prolife position is the position which all political parties should hold which are committed to justice, equality and non-violence, whether they are parties of the left, centre or right.

Abortion cannot be outside party politics because it is impossible for any political party to have no position on abortion. After all, the Government facilitates and protects abortion agencies. The public has an absolute right in a democracy to know what is being carried out on the NHS, with public funding.

The only possible party positions on abortion are to:

1) oppose abortion
2) support some restriction
3) support abortion at a rate of 200,000 abortions a year.

The Abortion Act amended in 1990 never allowed abortion on demand, so position 3 has never been democratically passed by our parliament. The position in 1967 and 1990 was abortion for particular grounds, and is closer to position 2.

The majority of the public want a restriction of abortion which can only be achieved with Government backing. Every lobby group knows that political change only comes about through the parties taking a concerted position, not mumbling about it being a private matter. To keep abortion out of party politics protects the status quo. This may be what you want but is it democratic? and if you are confident of your view why not openly debate it? To hold that these are private matters for MPs stifles debate on this issue which the electorate have every right to in a democracy. It preempts debate and is a peculiar way to settle serious matters in a democracy!

If a political party holds the view that there are too many abortions every year, which the majority of the public do, then that political party needs a programme of action to restrict and reduce the numbers of abortions every year.

There is no democratic justification for keeping abortion out of party politics. Why should parties have positions on any number of far less grave issues yet not have an open and declared position on this issue? There will always be MPs who will dissent from the party line whatever the issue. This is not a reason for parties not having a party policy on anything.

The 20 week limit debate you raise is much more complex than can be dealt with here. How much information and support do women have anyway? Why are women so desperate and how can they be helped? All the abortion agencies do is use euphemisms. They are run by people who insist that abortion is a legitimate means of fertility control and support abortion up to and including birth. One prominent bioethicist said infanticide is acceptable.

Most people wouldn't share this extreme position. There is much more that could be done to support and help women so abortion is unnecessary.

You also do not factor in what an abortion at 20 weeks is and how highly developed the baby is. Most people would agree that the termination of a highly developed baby's life is indefensible, and that is why the abortion lobby have always censored the reality of abortion because it is indefensible.

6:10 AM  
Blogger Tim Roll-Pickering said...

As you may guess, I am nothing short of delighted that the last two in the Conservative leadership election are David Cameron, offering the party the chance to vote for forward looking, progressive, sensible One Nation Conservatism, and David Davis, offering the party the chance to vote against everything the public hates about it. The watershed is truly coming.

As to abortion, no woman should be forced to carry inside her something against her will. And the evidence shows that women who need an abortion will seek one by any means necessary. The question is not some philosophical point about whether abortion is right or not but about the degree of provision. The only possible positions that can be adopted are either to pretend it doesn't happen, to make a futile attempt to erect unnecesary and painful barriers to access or to seek to ensure that the women involved receive the best possible care and safe access.

I think it is a good thing that abortion is not a party political matter. To reuse a post on my own blog from a few months ago:

Given how the issue cuts across many personally held religious and philosophical viewpoints I feel rather uneasy about this. Preserving a woman's right to choose is essential, but one need only look at the US to see the dangers of allowing it to become a partisan issue. Repeated in this country we could risk the danger of availability depending upon whichever party was in power at the time, whilst both parties have a very wide range of opinion on the matter and would almost certainly be subjected to bitter internal struggles over policy. For the time being a free vote seems a better way to keep the issue out of the dangers of the partisan sphere.

We're lucky that in this country the right to choose requires a majority of a 646 member Parliament to overturn it. In the US it could require as few as five Supreme Court Justices legislating from the bench (or whatever the politically acceptable term is for when it's in favour of the Bush Agenda). Opinions on abortion are usually rooted in philosophical and religious poisitions that do not fit within the party political structure. The idea that someone's ability to choose what to do with their body should depend upon which party is in power at the time revolts me.

You cite public opinion. But public opinion is so fickle. We do not have the death penalty in this country - again something public opinion would have otherwise. Merely letting public opinion alone determine issues would have kept homosexuality illegal. MPs are elected to bring their judgement on matters, not stick their fingers in the wind.

If the current status quo was "never passed by Parliament" then every legal challenge for breach of what was passed would have been brought and upheld by now.

1:23 AM  
Blogger Fiona said...

I'm very happy for you that you have the choice of tory leadership candidates that you wanted. I notice that you are happy with a public choice on some matters but not others! I merely ask by analogy that the public can also have a choice and an open democratic debate on the issues I campaign about, rather than keeping these issues out of political debate, which is what you acknowledge you want to do. I appeal to you on democratic principles to admit that this is not fair.

I never cited public opinion in itself, but I argued for informed public opinion, based on the facts about the abortion procedure, including the development of a child, an issue which I see you do not consider at any point. Why not? It weakens your argument to ignore the development of the child and what abortion does to that child.

Opposition to abortion rests on the indisputable biological fact that this is a new human life. You cannot deny it. To conceal that fact is a lie. To allow the state to terminate children's lives is in contravention of the univeral declaration of human rights.

I am happy to acknowledge the point that women need much more support. It does not follow though that the right to do whatever you like with your own body extends to terminating the life of another human being, with intervention from third parties. Pregnancy is 9 months and there are alternatives to abortion, abortion is final for the child. Any fair objective weighting of choice v life has to accept that the protection of life has absolute precedence, later choices are predicated on life, there is no point in being free without being alive to exercise freedom.

5:46 AM  
Blogger Tim Roll-Pickering said...

The UK does not traditionally decide matters by referendum, but by representative assembly. Other than changing the terms of representation, I'm not persuaded that legislation by referendum works. So it's not a case of should it be a "public choice" but a political choice - and there have been umpteent Bills over the years that have sought to change the 1967 Act, often generating strong debate. This is an issue that is most definitely debated politically, albeit not through parliamentary parties and as an issue that does not conform to party ideology that is no bad thing.

"Informed public opinion" is a very ambiguous term. One need only look at the drugs debate to see how the definition of "informed" changes rapidly, with numerous studies and information easily coming to wildly differing conclusions. Sometimes our politicians have to give a lead on thorny issues and protect minorities from the tyranny of the so-called majority for a day. (On other controversial matters I oppose the foxhunting ban and the now-abolished Section 28, despite both having opinion poll support.)

I don't deny that the decision about whether or not to keep the pregnancy is the hardest one that most women (and sometimes their partners) will ever have to make. There are alternatives but consideration takes time. Restricting the time limit does not reduce the time to have an abortion but reduces the time to have a legal abortion. Many women go through self-denial or find it difficult to take a decision easily - you seem to want them to take it in pressured circumstances. Any fair objective analysis of the situation has to accept that a woman who needs a termination will obtain one. That must be the starting point on this matter. Legal provision is a necessary evil.

12:02 PM  
Blogger Fiona said...

I don't see how you can claim that parliament is "representive" if you presume what the electorate thinks without asking them or deny them information at election time. After all as I pointed out previously, all the political parties not only have party positions on any number of comparatively less serious issues but they also have party positions on abortion by default, even if they don't mention it, that sides with the status quo, so to pretend there is no party position (subject to conference amendment and media scrutiny) is not only unrepresentative but undemocratic as well.

Moreover, the electorate have been deliberately denied information about abortion at election time, without any of the political parties raising objections about the infringement of Article 10 of the Human Rights Act (despite all the political parties vocal commitment to freedom of speech). This happened in the case of the ProLife Alliance 1997 and 2001 general election broadcast which was censored by the Independent Television Commission on the grounds that it was too terrible to be seen on TV. The ProLife Alliance stated "If something is too terrible to be seen on TV, then perhaps we should not be tolerating it".

After a long court battle, three Court of Appeal judges ruled unanimously that the broadcast should not have been censored, that the pictures were piteous and that it was non-sensationalised, factual and a reasonable approach to show images of abortion in order to prove unequivocally that abortion is wrong because it is a child and the abortion procedure at a glance is brutal (this was subsequently and illogically overturned by the House of Lords).

I was angry at the BBC's censorship in 1997. It struck me forcefully that it is wrong for information to be withheld from the electorate at election time and that the suppression of information is not the kind of activity that a public service broadcaster should be engaging in in a democracy. I felt patronised as though someone had made the decision about who I should vote for by denying me information on the cabinet and shadow cabinet's position. One of the Court of Appeal judges made exactly the same point, that censorship of abortion images treats the electorate like children.

Censorship proves the prolife case. These images are too terrible to be seen. Abortion is not an abstract philosophical position. It is blindingly obvious that abortion terminates the lives of recognisable babies. So why is it still legal?

You say there have been umpteen bills. Whatever issue you think merits being the top party political issue, imagine there was no party political position on that because it was deemed a matter of individual conscience. And imagine if you wanted to change the law on this issue would you seriously prefer the private members ballot to a Government backed bill?

I disagree with your last point that women are inevitably pressurised into abortion. If you take a pro-choice position, then you should oppose pressure on women to have an abortion as much as I do. Leaving aside for a moment for the sake of debate the most extreme cases, I do not believe that any woman ever "needs" an abortion (I need to breathe, I need to sleep, I need to eat food, I do not need to have an abortion, except in the very rare case that my life depended on it, but that's another debate about doing the utmost to save both mother and child). To say that people may break a law is not a very good reason for not having any laws. If it was we'd have to abolish lots of laws. If the life of the child matters then the law should step in to protect the child and society must endeavour to prevent illegal abortions.

Everything should be done to eliminate these pressures so that the woman can continue with pregnancy and the child is protected. I mean serious financial support, counselling support, adoption, fostering, whatever it takes, if as a society we are genuinely committed to feminism and children's rights and a "surestart for every child" we should make sure that it is every child, not just children after a certain age, and at the very heart of it there should be a genuine ethic that is feminist in the real meaning of the term of genuine equality, where no group is victimised and denied basic human rights by a stronger group because of their relative weakness.

5:26 PM  
Blogger Tim Roll-Pickering said...

Parliament is representative in the sense that we elect MPs to take decisions on our behalf, based on the information available to them rather than merely voting in line with an opinion poll, and if we don't like the decisions they make we can change the MPs. (Maybe there is a case for bringing a representative recall procedure, similar to that in the US.)

Making an issue a matter of conscience that is decided by free vote is not the same as enforcing a status quo position. When has the party machine hindered attempts to change the law, or made it a factor in selections and promotions? This "status quo by default" is a false attribution.

You call for party lines. Would you rather the Labour Party took an official position based on the views of "Emily's List" and the Conservatives adopted a formal position of individual freedom and choice in favour of provision?

As for whether or not certain propaganda is censored, did the Pro Life Alliance take a position on whether or not the BNP party election broadcasts could go out in the party's preferred form in those elections? And was this a consistent position argued before the Pro Life broadcast encountered problems? The whole "if it's too terrible to show on prime time television it's too terrible to be legal" argument strikes me as somewhat false. There are many, many legal actions that few right-thinking people have a problem with, yet were they to be shown on prime time television many would be disgusted to see them. Would you want a 6pm broadcast of some S&M?

I did not refer to women being pressurised (something which I oppose strongly - my position is pro choice not pro abotion) but to those who wan to obtain one. You need only look at the way many women cross jurisdictions and borders to obtain one, or at the attempts at self-abortion and backstreet abortion when/where it is illegal. Law cannot impose a vision of human conduct on people. A law that is unenforcable or one that drives people to take dangerous actions is a bad law. As for pressures, do you condemn the gauntlet of anti-abortion protesters, some dressed as the Grim Reaper, that many women have had to endure when they go to abotion clinics? You say you want to remove pressure but at the same time you want to encourage women not to have an abortion (and make it impossible for them to get it legally). What is that if not pressure?

3:39 AM  
Blogger Fiona said...

Regarding your definition of Parliament being representative, that's fine insofar as it goes, but you know as well as I do that the electorate votes on party lines and on the basis of the case made in the party manifesto, so arguably Parliament cannot represent the public on abortion because the public have never been consulted.

I do not in the least oppose politicians voting on conscience - I hope they vote with their conscience on every political issue! There are obviously many Labour backbenchers who have rebelled against the Government and ministers have resigned from the Cabinet as they oppose Government policy.

I agree that party political debate should be conducted respectfully and these issues raise particularly sensitive and personal issues, but isn't that an argument for raising the tone of debate rather than excluding the issue altogether, which isn't really much of a democratic solution? We have different views but this has been entirely respectful and abortion is essentially an empirical and practical matter subject to the same type of arguments as any other serious policy issue, and the Government needs a mandate for continuing for its policies, including allocation of resources etc, just as it did just before sending troops off to the war, and abortion needs as much political scrutiny as any other serious policy.

I think it is obviously untrue to say as you do that law "cannot impose a vision of human conduct", after all, the law has an incentive/deterrent aspect to it, and since abortion was legalised, the abortion rates have escalated every year so that we are now terminating the lives of 200,000 babies. Every year the numbers of abortions go up. As the Sun asked three years ago, why are so many women choosing to terminate their children?

Just because politicians have the right to dissent from the party line does not mean that abortion should have no part in party politics, and there is, as I have already said, inescapably a party position on abortion whether it is openly acknowledged or not.

If the Labour party took a formal proabortion position it could be open to more scrutiny. I have already argued that along party ideologies, whether on social justice terms or the principle of freedom there is only one position that can be logically taken on abortion, and that is the protection of life. As Ben Bradshaw said on Questiontime a few weeks ago, the most important civil liberty is the right to life. What good is liberty without the protection of life?

You ask when has the party machine hindered attempts to change the law. Well, obviously they have hindered attempts by not making time for debate and not bringing in a Government bill to restrict abortion, which Blair acknowledged would be reasonable when he responded to a question in PMQs in July 2004. Despite significant calls for a review by senior politicians, the media and medics, what has happened?

The Government currently have many pro-abortion positions, including the funding of abortion provision, and piloting of abortions at home. Why shouldn't the public have the right to scrutinise the performance of the Government at election time in how they are implementing abortion policy, and wouldn't this be more democratic than having abortion policy made behind the scenes in the civil service?

I write here in an entirely personal capacity, and do not speak for any organisation. It is clear that in a democracy it is essential that political expression is protected never more so than during an election, upon which depends the selection of the Government for the next five years. My view is in agreement probably with anyone else who seriously upholds freedom of political expression - that there needs to be extremely serious grounds for the suppression of political speech and that taste and decency was extremely poor grounds in the broadcasters case, especially given the content of many broadcast programmes. The incitement of violence is commonly understood to be a legitimate means for restricting freedom of speech, but this does not in any way apply to the showing of a legal operation in what the Court of Appeal acknowledged was totally non-sensationalised and factually accurate.

Regarding your point that it is legitimate to censor what is legal but disgusting, I would question what is the basis for the disgust. Is the disgust generated by something so shocking to our basic humanity? Is it because of the nature of the tiny victim and the lack of consent involved? I am disgusted and horrified by pictures of children starving in Africa and these pictures are routinely on the news and rightly so, to ensure proper public awareness of the issue. Abortion needs to be highlighted and understood. I cannot believe that the same public that wants children to stop dying needlessly in developing countries from lack of basic medicines are happy with the destruction of children in abortion.

The Court of Appeal ruling acknowledged that the ProLife broadcast was non-gratuitious, non-sensationalised and it was reasonable to show these images on TV for the specific purpose of political campaigning. It was not entertainment, it is a major and legitimate matter for society. The very controversy of abortion is based on the nature of what abortion is (is it the termination of life?) and what it does to the child (is it a child?). Showing abortion is empirical proof that can answer that question.

I assumed you were referring to women being pressurised into abortion when you referred to abortion being "one of the hardest decision women will have to make". Why is it hard? Because of pressure presumably. Doesn't this point to the fact that abortion is serious because it is the termination of a life and where it is possible to avoid terminating the child's life it should be avoided?

My point is that women should not face pressures to have abortions, they should be helped to continue with the pregnancy. The accounts I have heard from women who have sought abortions only highlight to me how absent help and support to continue with pregnancy was for them. There was no counselling, no support. One woman's comment, published by Marie Stopes International, was that she did not want to have an abortion, she believed it was murder, she wanted the baby, but that she felt she couldn't cope financially. How can Marie Stopes facilitate abortion in these circumstances rather than helping the woman to continue with the pregnancy?

My heart goes out to any woman in this situation. I believe women need help, proper information, real support, this isn't about campaigning outside abortion clinics, it is trying to convince people that even if we hold different views on abortion we can all agree that women have the right to information, help to continue with pregnancy and abortion should be avoided and made rare.

10:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Im a life long revolutuonary socialist and opposed in abortion and believe reduction of the time limit with robust safeguards is long overdue. This position has the majority of public support. Why does the UK at 24 weeks have the highest time limit in Europe?
As far as im concerned this IS a socialist issue. I differ from the pro abortionists who dominate the left in the UK. In my opinion they hold a colonialist euro centric view in the world. Outside of Northern Europe and North America pro life lefties are a lot more common and acceped if not the majority of the working class left.
After all the progressive Governments of Allendes Chile in the 1970s and Nicaragua in the 1980s didnt legalise abortion as far as i know. Instead money was made available for better education, childcare etc. Which are basic issues for mose socialists.
Abortion is a political issue and the sooner its debated again the better.

10:56 AM  
Blogger Ken said...

Well, the obvious comment is that the reason it is a subject untouched in Britain is that it smacks of the religious right in America. Whether we like it or not, abortion is one of the clearest delineating issues between Democrats and Republicans. Bloggers are almost certainly aware of how badly Republicans are received here; it smacks of overt Americanism and that's never going to appeal to the left.

As for the merits of the case for restricting abortion rights, I'm never really convinced by either side. The one thing I am sure about is that I am very grateful that the decision to have an abortion is never going to have to be taken by me personally.

Clinton probably had the best line on it, when he said abortion should be "legal, safe, and rare". The problem isn't whether access to abortion should be available on the NHS, the problem is whether people will seek to have an abortion otherwise. If we take a look back to the 1960s, it seems probable that women will choose to have abortions anyway. In a culture where abortions are considered part and parcel of society to a greater or lesser extent, then the desire to have back-street abortions may be even greater than 1960s levels.

There are serious consequences with this. An NHS that is legally unable to provide abortions is also an NHS that people will not turn to for counselling at such a point in their lives. That may even increase the number of people seeking abortions, as they are unable to get proper professional advice on the subject. That's something that I think is far more dangerous than actually having abortion as a legal and safe option. If we believe cutting down on the number of abortions is a good idea (and I do - Fox is certainly right when he uses his line that it is often an extra form of contraception), then we have to change the culture.

1:19 PM  
Blogger Tim Roll-Pickering said...


Abortion is not an issue that easily fits into the party divide One need only look at the rows when the Liberal Democrats did adopt a party position to show how ideologically it cut through the normal lines. Furthermore it does take us back to the dangerous idea that access to abortion will change depending on who the party in power is. No party should seek to impose some view of "morality" on the country.

And the divides in the party are such that this is not an issue that would be workable in a manifesto. This issue is best kept out of party politics for both high and low reasons. Many of the great reforms have come from pressure from individuals in all parties, rather than from official party manifestos.

As to the law, no law can work if there is widespread disdain for it. The Poll Tax failed as much because it was simply unworkable due to massive public refusal to comply. Government requires the consent of the governed, not just a big enough stick to impose things upon them. Look at what happens in the countries where abortion is more restricted than here. Many women look outside the country to obtain an abortion or seek one through discreet means. Neither is a safe solution.

You point to the current statistics . Society is not what it was before the 1960s. Do you really think that restricting or outlawing abortion in Great Britain will lead to greater abstinence, wider use of condoms and the morning after pill and women will not seek to terminate at all?

Parliamentary time is limited and the government should be legislating less than it presently does. Why should the government bring a bill on a conscience matter where there is no official line (they are following the law as it stands and leaving it to individual choice as to whether the law is changed - this is not taking a position) and prioritise this over other matters?

Yes the Government funds the provision of abortion and is investigating ways of delivery. That's because abortion is allowed by law and trying to restrict it on the sly would be wrong and the courts will not allow it. Should the Government ignore the law?

I agree the broadcasters are inconsistent, but nevertheless there are numerous broadcast guidelines on taste and decency. Other party political broadcasts have run into problems when they have physically disgusted people and the broadcasters have to tread a balance in line with this. They cannot just abdicate everything and hand over total control for five minutes. In this case the courts found that the broadcasters had got it wrong and that the propaganda (labelling it as "proof" is a dubious distortion on a highly debated matter) should have been broadcast.

When I referred to abortion being one of the hardest choices of all for a woman, I did not specifically mean pressure to have an abortion, or for that matter pressure to not have one (which I note you did not mention) but the very difficult nature of the decision because opinion upon it is so widespread (some of the greatest stress comes from when they encounter the more extreme anti-choice position whilst trying to decide) and the lasting consequences.

"Helped to continue the prgenancy" is all well and good but sometimes it can turn into pressure not to have an abortion. Having spoken with many I have found that this has often been one of the toughest pressures on them, with many being bombarded with reasons to keep the pregnancy in a distinctly directional way.


Well said.

6:58 AM  
Blogger Fiona said...

Thanks for your comments Bolshie much appreciated. I think you probably need to explain it a bit more because people don't seem to get it, even though your point of view seems pretty obvious to me, and it is beyond me how people can think it is compatible to terminate the lives of children yet espouse social justice/human rights.

Ken - interestingly, we seem to agree at least on the making abortion rare part. And although you say that you've never been convinced by the merits of either side of the argument, you do seem uncomfortable with abortion, which is closer to my position surely than the proabortion side. I'm also glad that you say that you support cutting down the numbers of abortions.

I can only add that some of your fears about increasing the numbers of abortions due to a change in the law seems entirely speculative to me, you yourself use the words "it seems probable" and "may". Society has a duty to do what it can rather than washing its hands off the issue, and I can't see how providing alternative support and the political will would lead to more abortions, if the law was implemented alongside a proper information campaign and proper resources.

Clinton's rhetoric as quoted by you sounds good insofar as he says make abortion rare. I dispute that abortion can ever be safe for the child. But did abortions go up or down under Clinton? I've skimread his autobiography and I couldn't believe that any one could justify abortion who has even the slightest understanding of the role of the law or basic biology for that matter, and his record as President was abysmal. Even if people aren't absolutely prolife they would surely be as appalled as I am that in the States they have partial birth abortion, which involves the baby being partially removed while still alive from the womb, and its skull is punctured or crushed. In the UK, according to comments made by proabortionists, many doctors refuse to carry out late second trimester abortions (18-20 weeks and over) because they are so appalling that few doctors want to do them, even though the UK abortion limit is currently 24 weeks, or up to birth on grounds of disability. In contrast to this, in the States, Clinton supports the most extreme abortion practices. He vetoed attempts to ban partial birth abortion, when the baby is practically born, he facilitated more abortions, and he gave federal funding to UNFPA, an organisation which facilitated forced abortion in China, which President Bush stopped after seeing evidence from a Congressional inquiry of forced abortions and forced sterilisations.

Regarding people turning to the NHS for counselling, that is non-existent as far as I am aware, but I would be delighted if it was the case that genuine counselling and information was available to women. The latest information on this in the public domain is that doctors are breaking the law by signing referral forms without even seeing women. So much for counselling or professional advice.

Tim - it might please you to note that I agree with half of your first sentence! In fact, my original post did in fact say that abortion isn't a right or a left wing issue, but that all parties should be prolife by definition because of the human rights aspect, without which any commitment to education, health, transport, sport, welfare or any other policy area is futile. If you're killing your unborn citizens they aren't benefiting from all your policy initiatives.

Interesting point that the Government is merely implementing a law rather than taking a position, but I disagree that they are merely implementing it as the abortion stats go up year after year and politicians who voted for the 1990 amendment have publicly said that they do not agree with the way the law is being implemented currently. There are also doctors on record admitting that the law is routinely flouted.

Moving on, yes I agree that the Government should implement laws which have public backing and polling shows that the public support a restriction in abortion. Most people don't have a clue what a second trimester abortion involves but if people were to say look, the baby is very highly developed, here's the ultrasound to prove it, and medical science makes it clear that we cannot be terminating babies at this age, then I'm sure the public would accept it.

I don't buy the argument that we should allow everything in Britain that people might want to go abroad to do. If it is wrong, it should be banned. Some children's lives will be saved and at least we aren't complicit in it. I don't want abortion happening in my name. I don't want to pay taxes for abortion to be carried out. Child abuse happens, we don't say let's make it legal because it will happen anyway, or people will go abroad.

Parliamentary time is ample if the Government got its priorities straight. How many hundreds of hours were spent on foxhunting while 500 children are being killed every day in hospitals?

On the broadcasting censorship issue, the Court of Appeal judges had a profound understanding of the issue of political expression and the seriousness of censorship. I don't think any person has the right to set themselves up as the judge on what the electorate can or cannot see at a time as crucial as an election on a subject as crucial as abortion.

To describe the images of abortion as empirical proof of the prolife position was not rhetoric but a description in all honesty of how I see it. The abortion controversy hinges on is it a baby? Absolutely yes. Is abortion barbaric? Absolutely yes. I'm concerned about the use of euphemism to obscure the facts.

In terms of your final two paragraphs, you do not seem to factor in at all any protection for the baby. Do you not agree that there should be some consideration on behalf of the child? Do you think that abortion is ever wrong? For example, do you think that it would be wrong to abort a healthy baby because it is a girl and the parents want a boy? or to abort a healthy baby during the 8th month of pregnancy? or to abort a baby that has a treatable condition or minor defect? do you hold the view John Harris does that it is ok to abort a child at the moment of birth and that infanticide is acceptable? Do you condemn the case of the woman who was quoted by Marie Stopes International as saying she didn't want to have an abortion, she knew it was murder, she wanted to continue with the pregnancy but she didn't have the financial support. Do you think that Marie Stopes should have proceeded with abortion in those circumstances? These are just examples, I'm just wondering how proabortion you are.

Interested to see you say "well said" to Ken, but his answer ends that the numbers of abortions should be reduced and that abortion should not be used as another means of contraception. Do you hold this view too then?

4:43 PM  
Blogger Tim Roll-Pickering said...


I think the increased use of abortion reflects wider social trends than a government drive. Yes there are politicians who can be found who supported the 1967 and/or 1990 legislation who now say that they did not intend this, but that is true of many laws when they turn out to have consequences not all are happy to defend. Had the votes been by secret ballot I suspect the declarations would not match the voting figures. If the law as it stands really isn't being implemented properly then why not test it in the courts?

So the executive government should ignore laws that have no opinion poll support behind them and only implement the ones that do? This is an interesting theory of representative democratic government and not one that is really terribly workable. You can get opinion polls to say almost anything. Sometimes politicians have to step above the way the wind of public opinion is blowing and give a lead and this is one of them.

I agree the foxhunting bill was a waste of parliamentary time, and only conceded because Blair needed to appease both his backbenchers and the pressure on him within Number 10. But even without that pathetic display of class warfare that had no place in the last century let alone this one, parliamentary time is still heavily restricted and not every single measure can be brought.

The BBC is funded by the licence fee and is bound by statutory regulation, as are the other channels. They cannot simply turn over full editorial control to evry party that meets the criteria for a PEB. Yes it's an important issue to many voters, but that doesn't mean that anything and everything can be simply shown with no regard. Would you have no objection to screening the aftermath of a backstreet abortion gone wrong on prime time television?

I am not "proabortion" but pro choice - a very different thing. I want all women to have the right to chose what is inside their body, not have this decision foisted upon them. I want them to have non-directional advice and support, not pressure to make a decision one way or the other. I want those who chose to have an abortion to have access to safe treatment and not be forced to search the backstreets and overseas for an extorionate and dangerous option, or to feel they have no resort but to turn to trying to self-abort, one of the most horrific sights anyone could ever see. By all means something should be done so that fewer cases reach the need for abortion, as Ken says, but by no means should that choice be removed when it reaches that stage.

To answer your questions, yes I do think that there should be some consideration for the child in the decision taken. There are times when abortion is wrong, such as when women are forced into it against their will (and if there has been undue pressure upon an individual, I condemn it, it is not a position of individual choice), forced to do it because of the state, carried out for reasons such as a child's sex or because of its disability. I'm not familiar with the John Harris you refer to but I don't agree with aborting upon birth.

5:29 AM  
Blogger Fiona said...

Tom, I don't think you get the points I'm making about democracy.
But to answer your specific question about broadcasting a backstreet abortion, there are several points to this, the first is that it would be a gross distortion to put this on TV when the reality today is that 500 babies have been killed, and there are no backstreet abortions. Why dramatise what is not happening today and prevent the electorate from seeing the reality of the abortions that are happening today?

Secondly, if abortion was to made illegal then the backstreet abortions that people argue would be carried out would use modern abortion techniques and would be equivalent to legal abortion today. So it's misleading to argue on the basis of some fictitious notion of backstreet abortions. In any case, if the consequences of backstreet abortions were so horrific for women, then doesn't the responsibility for this horror rest firmly with the quacks and other abortionists who harmed women? They are responsible for the damage that is done to entirely healthy women carrying entirely healthy pregnancies. If the women were driven by desperation then there is only one question that must be asked, why didn't society stop victimising women and help them continue with pregnancy instead? If pregnancy outside marriage was so shameful, then isn't the feminist solution to liberate women so they can continue with pregnancy, not force them to be victimised further by society?

Thirdly, I support freedom of political expression, and showing the aftermath of a backstreet abortion graphically yet again makes the feminist and human rights case to me that abortion is intrinsically appallng and that no woman should go through this, and I think the public would feel the same seeing the harm to the woman and the aborted baby from the backstreet abortion too.

Your comments about choice make no sense at all to me. There is always an alternative choice to abortion and where a life hangs in the balance it is not a legitimate choice to destroy it.

Please could you tell me if you don't agree with abortion up to birth what you think the time limit should be for abortion to be legal. Thanks in advance.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Fiona said...

sorry for typing Tom instead of Tim!

12:53 PM  
Blogger Tim Roll-Pickering said...

The reason there are few backstreet abortions today is because of legal provision. But since you want to broadcast images to support a call for a change, why not equally broadcast images to support the status quo? They could be present day images from another country with a more restricted provision. They would not be a distortion as it would be a clear "if we change, this is what would happen".

As for the consequences you seem to think that all women who have an abortion are forced into it by pressures beyond them and that given the choice they wouldn't. Yes the quacks who offer dangerous treatment are in the wrong, but so too would be a legal system that makes it impossible to have a safe abortion. Demand will be met by supply. The law should recognise this, not pretend that it can legislate wishes away.

We can dispute forever just what impact screening the consequences of back street abortion would have. A lot of this would depend on how the broadcast is constructed, the message given and the target audience.

Your comments on choice confuse me! "There is always an alternative choice to abortion..." so do you support having a choice or not?!

As for the time limit I will admit this is not an easy question to answer. But it's clear that many who support a reduction are driven not by scientific evidence but by a determination to claw back provision as much as possible and would abandon scientific evidence the moment it no longer supports the case. I would go with the current BMA position and oppose the reduction of the current time limit.

3:26 PM  
Blogger Fiona said...

The last sentence of your first paragraph is untrue for the reason I have already stated as the second point of my previous post. Anyway, regardless of the obvious point that illegal backstreet abortions in the UK could be made "safe" for the mother, (although this too is contentious given the impact of abortion on women's physical and mental health), abortion will never be safe for the child. It's a euphemism and a lie to refer to "safe abortion".

It is false to argue as though society has to choose between women's lives and children's lives. We can actually save both and help both. They aren't exclusive. Abortion kills the child (and I would argue harms the mother), but there is no equivalent lethal harm to the mother with continuing with pregnancy. Who knows how many women who abort might actually have changed their mind if they had continued with the pregnancy and be proud mothers? I cannot see why illegal abortions would happen if women were given support and society adopted a much more consistent human rights approach. Abortion isn't inevitable. It isn't medically indicated and if it is a genuine choice, then society should positively opt for life.

The point about choosing abortion is that women cannot meaningfully be said to choose an abortion if they are under pressure to abort their child. To take a pro-choice position on abortion you have to acknowledge that women must be free to exercise the alternative choice to abortion, and as soon as you advocate the existence of an alternative choice (though in fact none of the prominent proabortionists in this country who present themselves as being pro-choice have ever shown any concerted programme to support women to choose against abortion), there is a morally compelling reason for this option to be picked. I advocate that all women should be free to continue with their pregnancies and that this is the only legitimate choice. Just because choice exists, for example, I could choose to shoplift or do any number of things, doesn't mean that it is legitimate to opt for that choice.

This concept of liberty and choice is well established, ie. liberty only extends insofar as you don't hurt someone else. This is an overarching and compelling principle that we can all accept that overrides "women should have the right to do whatever they like with what is inside their body" which is invented purely for the purposes of justifying abortion, and is in direct conflict with axiomatic principles like it is always wrong to kill and children should always be protected.

I'll come back to the time limit point later, but I want to pick up on something you said earlier. You said that you think it would be wrong to abort a girl, on the basis of gender, and that it would be wrong to abort a baby for disability. Do you hold the view that it is wrong to abort a baby on the basis that it is a girl not a boy, or a disabled baby, at any point during the pregnancy?

5:57 AM  
Blogger Tim Roll-Pickering said...

So basically because you don't argree with the argument you think that those who oppose restrictions in the law should not be allowed to broadcast such images? That's how it comes across to me.

I'd like to know how exactly a black market can be regulated and made safe. And it is not just the backstreet abortions that we have to worry about but also attempts at self-abortion. Do not underestimate the determination of a desperate woman.

Society is not the one making the choice, it is the individual woman (unless you think that society should impose its views and den choice - and where does the logical extension of this end?). If you think a society that gave support would mean no woman would want an abortion then can you explain the pre 1960s experience in Britain, or the way that woman in both Northern Ireland and Ireland seek them outside the country?

You assume that all women who choose to abort are under pressure to do so. That is simply not the case. It is a choice they make, not one that is pushed upon them. Women can exercise the alternative. There should be more support for those who do, and also other methods to tackle the problem (such as those recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence today) but the option should not be wothdrawn.

If women have no alternative then they would not be "free to continue with their pregnancies". And when have the courts ruled that a fetus is a child already? This disagreement is at the root of the whole debate.

You ask my personal views on how a choice would be made. I doubt I will ever be in a position to offer advice on such a choice but my comments above still stand.

3:42 AM  
Blogger Fiona said...

I've already said I support freedom of political expression. I don't know why that is unclear.

I'm not interested in discussing backstreet abortion as I don't want abortion to happen at all. I have already explained twice that your description of backstreet abortions would not happen now because modern methods of termination exist. However this debate is a distraction to the real issue of whether abortion is justified, and if it isn't, it should be prevented from happening, through the criminal justice system. Just because many crimes will happen - murder, robbery etc - isn't a reason to legalise it or give up trying to minimise the incidence of these crimes, through strategies ranging from deterrence to education.

Obviously society is involved in abortion, facilitating and carrying out abortions in hospitals etc and has a legitimate duty to intervene to protect life. As I've said before there is no neutral position on abortion. You either faciliate or oppose it.

I've never said all women are forced into abortion. Some women are, some aren't. I don't think it is justifiable to have coerced abortion or abortion as a means of fertility control. Women deserve better, and the right to life takes precedence over choice for reasons already stated.

Re whether the feotus is a child, I'm willing to have this debate and there is only one answer of course it is! Even at 8 weeks gestation the baby is fully formed with heart, hands, feet, head, etc etc.

6:58 AM  
Anonymous Andrea said...

I find it ironic that many people who say "A woman has complete say over what goes on in her own body" also are against the legalisation of all drugs. Or how about the mentally ill? Should they just be allowed to self harm and commit suicide with no move made to stop them?

It just doesn't wash as an argument I'm afraid.

3:47 AM  
Blogger Fiona said...

Andrea, good point!! thanks for posting. best wishes.

4:16 AM  
Blogger Tim Roll-Pickering said...

You gave the impression that you would be opposed to a pro choice group being allowed to broadcast on prime time television images of backstreet abortions (as carried out today in jurisdictions where there is no proper legal provision of abortion, such as Ireland).

You repeatedly claim that all backstreet abortions would be like current legal ones. Can you honestly say this is the case when women in Northern Ireland have died from backstreet abortions gone wrong in the years since abortion was legalised this side of the Irish Sea? You cannot control the illegal and unregulated.

The law has long upheld the principle of abortion in cases where the mother's life is at risk or rape, and did so long before the 1967 Act. Once the key principle was conceded in the earlier laws and rulings then the keystone of the argument - that the fetus is an independent lifeform capable of survival at that point - falls away as the law has given the mother priority.

By all means seek to discourage the number of unwanted pregnancies (I didn't spot an answer to my question about the NICHE recommendations) but one cannot credibly cut off all provision. Once you have any legal provision the law does not recognise your argument as the primary one.

I completely reject the "guilty by association" you place on society. Society should not be judging and controlling the individual's life when the individual is able to make an independent decision. Society has the duty to work with things as they are, not seek to create some utopia, and facilitate that in a safe way. (Also you are trying to play the "opinion polls want something else" card which by the extension of your logic would be saying society did not want it - which is it?)

With regards the point about drugs, addiction means that the individual loses the right of choice and the option of an easy exit point. The mentally ill are often not in a position to take a decision for themselves at the time and sometimes external authorities have to step in and take decisions on behalf of those who cannot.

6:16 AM  
Anonymous Andrea said...

What if I had never taken drugs before? Would it be right for me to take cocaine, as my mind is unclouded by addictions?

And what if I was pregnant at the time? After all my baby would just be a "foetus" not a life to you. If as a result of my actions in taking drugs its whole future existance was scarred, that's fine isn't it, because its my body?

6:38 AM  
Blogger Fiona said...

Tim, let me clarify my position on freedom of political expression. I support it and I think there has to be very serious grounds for suppression of freedom of political speech in a democracy. Therefore in principle I would not oppose freedom of expression, as long as there is equality of treatment for opposing views (which is definitvely absent at the moment) and as long as there was the opportunity for debate and criticism. Freedom of political expression does not exclude me having an opinion about the content of the broadcast. It does not mean that all critical faculties are suspended. It is vital that there is a rigorous debate without censorship.

I still hold the view that under the conditions I advocate - thorough and open debate - it would still be obvious to any fair person that abortion is horrific for women and children.

Given that the ProLife Alliance was involved in a seven year court battle for the basic right to freedom of speech, and your suggested broadcast is entirely hypothetical, and there were 2 million abortions between 1997 and 2005, it is simply bizarre that you oppose the ProLife Alliance uncensored broadcast yet are pushing for a broadcast that does not reflect UK practice, would be sensationalist and distorting for the reasons I have already pointed out.

If you are concerned about backstreet abortions then the answer would be to prevent them from happening altogether by widespread information to women about the dangers and serious penalties for anyone engaging in this behaviour.

I doubt you apply your statement "You cannot control the illegal and unregulated" to any other type of crime prevention. Society's response to crime is to eliminate its incidence. As a principle, if abortion is a crime, why should abortion be an exception?

In response to your point that abortion in the case of saving the life of the mother and in the case of rape justifies abortion, I simply do not understand how you get from one to the other. Leaving aside hard cases (rape is only responsible for 10 cases out of 200,000 abortions a year, and should not be allowed to cloud the issue), isn't the fact that you need such serious grounds for abortion, the exact opposite of your point that the baby's life is disposable? in fact, that it is so precious that only something as urgent as another life (the mother's) hanging in the balance, can possibly provide justification (and even then there might be alternatives to abortion here)?

Contraception is a separate issue and I may put up a separate discussion on this at some point. Abortion is the termination of life and one friend who has read our exchange observed that this is a point that you seem to be skirting.

Frankly, society does have a responsibility for programmes that it oversees and facilitates. We have debates about the management of hospitals, A & E waiting times, etc etc, why should abortion be outside of political debate? In any case abortion involves a child and a third party to terminate the child. It isn't an individual matter that only affects the woman. If society has a coherent approach to child protection even when this conflicts with parents, why should society not intervene in the case of children before birth?

My vision of politics is that it has a duty to make the world a better place. I find it strange that you don't share this view.

I'll leave Andrea to comment on drugs.

I noticed you dodged my point about whether you support abortion if it is a girl at any point, and you also didn't comment on the fact that the baby is obviously a baby even at 8 weeks.

9:29 AM  
Blogger Ken said...


I think that Tim's point about backstreet abortions is actually a valid one. Whilst there may be modern methods that are less horrific than practices in the 1960s, do you really think that modern techniques are going to be remotely cheap or easy to come by for what would be an illegal organisation? The level of sophistication needed would cause problems for any organisation carrying out illegal abortions, due to the need for secrecy.

The problem is that no matter how undesirable people may consider abortion to be, that is almost irrelevant as to the efficacy and justice of banning outright access to abortion. There are legal issues of protection, and services to citizens that have to be addressed.

Personally, I don't think we will achieve anything by making abortions go underground. It won't achieve the desired end, and it will make the whole decision a lot more dangerous. And I'm not sure that's a decision any politician should be making, if he takes seriously the duty of care to his constituents.

10:53 AM  
Blogger Tim Roll-Pickering said...

Andrea - where could a legally enforcable line be drawn? At what point could the law say "okay, that's enough, now you're addicted"? The nearest to the only workable one for cocaine is a total ban.

As I oppose drugs I don't quite see your second point.

Fiona - I threw out the example as a devil's advocate counter point. I support the broadcasters in following the taste and decency guidelines and not handing over free reign for five minutes. Sometimes they get it wrong and that's what the courts are there for. As for the specifics, your point about "UK current practice" is irrelevant as we're not talking about what is but would would be. Backstreet abortions are not going to automatically follow the practice of those legally provided, as Ken wisely details below and as the Northern Irish experience shows. Again past and present experience strongly suggests that widespread information is not going to deter women from taking the risk, whether physical or legal - look at the experience in the Republic of Ireland when it was legally difficult to even give information about how to obtain an abortion in Great Britain.

As I do not regard abortion as a crime, I do not see the need to apply the theory to crimes.

With regards rape I take severe exception to the statistics you quote. Many many rapes are not formally reported. The circumstances and the trauma make it difficult for many women to admit they have happened. Many do not want to go through the pain of failed prosecution. Many who have been raped by their partners do not want to have their relationships raked over and/or still have desires to restore the relationship. The result is that many abortions are not formally recorded as taking place due to rape. There has been complicity on this because doctors have been acting in the interests of the women's mental health and not to provide a more accurate offical statistic for this argument.

You ask where the legal basis is and I have shown it. Once the courts declined to uphold the argument that the foetus is automatically a child then legally the main basis for opposition collapsed.

I'm surprised you avoided the contraception question completely and yet elsewhere want to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. You're not as extreme as the pro life campaigner at my first university who believed that if all contraception was banned then people would stop having sex are you?

I agree that politics should aim to make society a better place but this is not grounds for parties to adopt formal positions on an issue that cuts through the distinctive ideologies.

I have already answered the question about abortion on the grounds of gender:

There are times when abortion is wrong, such as when ... carried out for reasons such as a child's sex

In such circumstances I think abortion would be the wrong choice to make.

1:18 PM  
Blogger Fiona said...

Ken and Tim - both of you are entirely missing the point. Rather than jumping to the end conclusion and discussing what might happen if abortion was illegal, we should be looking at is abortion right or wrong in the first place.

If abortion is the killing of a human being then your arguments about backstreet abortions are completely missing the point, because the protection of the child's life and the awfulness of the state being involved in deliberately terminating children's lives must be outlawed.

I feel very angry when I hear about abuses of women's rights such as human trafficking, and I think the full weight of the law should come crushing down on any one implicated in the abuse of women. If you use the same flawed logic that you have used about backstreet abortions to the trafficking of women for prostitution you will see how absurd only looking at the consequences of actions being illegal is. Using your logic, it would be safer for these women if trafficking was legal, there might be a lower incidence of mortality, but it does not in any way remove the awfulness of the original abuse to women, does it? By the same logic, making an abuse of human rights legal does not remove the abuse of human rights.

Neither of you have provided any convincing evidence that the baby before birth is not a baby. As I have already said it is fully formed as early as 8 weeks. It is impossible not to acknowledge that the embryo or foetus is just the technical term for the baby at this stage of its development and a baby has absolute human rights.

2:25 AM  
Anonymous Andrea said...

Tim, my point about drugs is the same as the one about abortion. It's more than a choice about what someone does with their own body. If you say "It's a woman's own body, she can do what she likes with it" then you can't say yes to abortion and no to drugs. Not to mention a host of other things.

Using the a woman's body is her own argument just doesn't work for me. And yes, for those that don't know me, I am a woman (Andrea Bocelli does confuse that issue!).

2:42 AM  
Blogger Tim Roll-Pickering said...

Andrea - it's the addiction factor for drugs that delineates the issues for me. At what point can one credibly and practically draw a workable barrier?

Fiona - The key point is that a woman who is determined to have an abortion will seek one by any means. You want "society" to impose itself upon her and make it near impossible, putting her life at risk needlessly.

I don't agree on the basic point you make and nor does the law. The foetus is not able to live on its own at that stage, detached from any other human being. So I do not regard it as a human rights violation.

7:07 AM  
Blogger Fiona said...

Tim, if you applied your reasoning to any other criminal activity you would see that logically it doesn't follow. To say that just because someone will seek to do something by any means does not make it right, in itself, otherwise all laws would have to be repealed because people will continue to murder, burgle, etc etc.

In any case, I dispute the fact that 200,000 women would seek abortions if abortion became illegal. I think a very great number of these women are being encouraged to abort now due to social pressures which should be removed, and as a result of proabortion agencies promoting abortion as a means to control their fertility and as a choice.

The question must be, is abortion right or wrong in itself, (we can't rely on the law being right otherwise there would be never any purpose in debating any law) and the answer has to be no because abortion is killing a child. You say you don't agree with my basic point, that the child is a child before birth. Please could you tell me what it is if the foetus is not a human being? This isn't a matter of opinion. It's a matter of fact. A foetus is a child at the developmental stage between conception and birth, where foetus is just another name for human development beginning with embryo, descriptive of a stage of life just like the following terms - newborn, toddler, teenage and adult.

A newborn would not be able to survive without help either, but it is wrong to kill newborns, no matter how helpless and dependent they are, so on the same basis we should protect unborn babies.

You said earlier that you didn't agree with abortion up to and including birth. So if you defend the child's right to life before birth then why not defend the child's life throughout all of pregnancy?

9:20 AM  
Blogger Tim Roll-Pickering said...

As I have said several times, I do not consider this to be a crim so the logic does not follow.

What exactly are these "social pressures" and how would you seek to remove them? (I know you said you didn't want to discuss contraception but isn't this a clearly related point?) You repeatedly cite only "proabortion" agencies as bringing pressure and ignore the prolife pressure that exists.

As a group of wise men once pointed out, biologists, theologians and philosophers are in disagreement about the point at which life commences. To trumpet one opinion in such a dispute matter as a hard fact and then hinge the entire basis of proscriptive law on that is fundamentally flawed. The fetus cannot survive as an independent entity - there is a clear distinction between being biologically and socially separate - and so is it an independent life?

5:56 PM  
Blogger Fiona said...

You are using crime in the moral sense. You may not think that abortion is a (moral) crime, and I may think it is a crime, however, that's irrelevant - if we are talking about crime in the legal sense, then yes, if abortion was prohibited which is what we were discussing, illegal abortions are crimes and the usual principles of criminal justice apply. You cannot say that just because you do not think abortion is a (moral) crime that you or those involved in illegal abortions (if abortion was prohibited) are above the law or just because people will want to break it, in some cases, the law should cease to exist. There would be no point in the criminal justice system at all if we took that defeatist "people will do it anyway" approach. The law should exist to protect the weak against those who could hurt them.

Social pressures include employment discrimination against women who are pregnant, as reported by the Equal Opportunities Commission; students who feel forced to abort their child in order to avoid dropping out of university (which a pro-choice student I knew admitted happened); women who are pressurised by their partner to have an abortion (I've met women who have told me this happened to them); women who are pressurised by the medical profession that their baby is going to be disabled and that they should abort the baby; girls who abort because of the pressures or fears of how their parents will react. The solutions are for society to debate but financial, emotional and practical help with pregnancy and parenting are not beyond the ingenuity of a society genuinely committed to human rights, equality, feminism and child protection.

Contraception is a separate issue because it precedes conception. It may be right or wrong for other reasons but I'd prefer this discussion to remain focused on the termination of life of a child, highly developed even at 8 weeks gestation. The question here is whether the termination of life is acceptable.

I do not agree that your chosen group of philosophers and scientists are wise at all! Let's not forget that the received wisdom at one point was that slavery was acceptable, that whites were superior to blacks and a very respectable school of science in the 19th Century believed they had scientific proof that the size of your head determined your intellect and human worth! I can come up with my own group of "wise" philosophers and scientists who support the fact that life begins at conception. But let's interrogate the facts ourselves. How is it logical that life begins at some point during gestation, when it is clear that any fixed day or week you choose as the beginning of life, requires the previous days and weeks before the embryo/foetus/baby reaches your chosen point? How can any philosophical understanding of the human person exist in a fanciful bubble without the development of the human body? We are not bodiless beings.

You answered your question about independent life and human rights when you said you disagreed with abortion on the basis of gender and disability, and up to and including birth. You've already acknowledged the child in the womb's right to protection, you can't now backtrack and deny the unborn child this right. What would be the point of human rights if they only applied to the strong who had no need of them and dependency was a reason to remove human rights?

10:25 AM  
Blogger Tim Roll-Pickering said...

The law requires the acceptance of the public to work. In this case this would be an immoral law. There have been other bad laws, now repealed, that I cited earlier in this thread. Do you want them restored?

The law you want does not yet exist. And there are times when considering the law when the effects of the existing one must be taken into account. It would be disgraceful for the law to force people, especially the weak, into such a situation.

You talk about the social pressures forcing people to make choices (and I do not condone those), but the solution should be to address them, not to change to the law to remove the right to choose.

I think contraception is relevant to the matter because it comes at the starting point. If you're talking about solutions then a major one must be provision of contraception.

I did not chose the group but was referring to a classic pronouncement by the US Supreme Court where it declined to bring judges into this debate.

My answers were that I didn't think that making the choice for abortion on those particular grounds were right and that I would never make that choice (not that I would ever be in a position to make such a choice).

4:18 AM  
Blogger Fiona said...

A significant section of the public and the medical profession do back a restriction of the law on abortion. Abortion agencies themselves say that it is difficult to get doctors to carry out abortions after 18 weeks. Your presumption that the public would not back a law prohibiting abortion is presumption and nothing else.

Your assertion that a law restricting or abolishing abortion is an immoral law makes me question how you are defining immoral! but whatever your logic, this is mere unproven assertion. I think the reverse. Given that my view is based on the universally accepted human rights principle that everyone has the right to life, I would argue that my interpretation is correct and a law allowing abortion is a gross violation of human rights.

What are you doing to remove social pressures that drive women to abortion? As I already said, Marie Stopes international actually published a comment from a student who said she did not want to have an abortion, she thought it was murder but she had no choice, and Marie Stopes carried out the abortion on this poor woman. The prolife groups I am involved with campaign for help for women so no woman is forced into an abortion.

On contraception, proabortion groups actually admit that it wouldn't make much of a difference to the abortion statistics to increase contraception use as most unplanned pregnancies at the moment that end in termination of pregnancy involved the couple using one form of contraception or another.

Regarding the US Supreme Court, my point was human beings can get it badly wrong, as the history of slavery, racism and eugenics prove. The idea that it is acceptable to kill a child in the womb is basically size/age discrimination and just as flawed as discrimination based on the colour of someone's skin.

Your last point fails to respond to my point. You have accepted that it is wrong to terminate a pregnancy, so it is a contradiction to argue at the same time that termination is acceptable on babies at the same gestation. In other words, if you think it is wrong for a couple to abort a girl because they wanted a boy, or terminate a child with a disability, at any stage during pregnancy, then it must always be wrong to terminate babies of this gestation. It cannot at the same time be acceptable and not acceptable.

6:29 AM  
Blogger Tim Roll-Pickering said...

It is not a question of whether or not there is an opinion poll in favour of such a law but whether it could operate in practice. The pre 1967 experience in Britain and the experiences in both Nothern Ireland and Ireland since then shows that many will seek provision come what may. Whether that comes in the form of the backstreets here or trying to seek one abroad, both highly risky ventures, that is non-acceptance of a ban. It is not numerical majorities but broad acceptance that is crucial. It would be immoral to impose one's views upon a woman and force her into such a position.

If "a law allowing abortion is a gross violation of human rights" then why has it not been successfully challenged under the Human Rights Act?

You can cite individual cases of women being pressured into making a choice one way or another but that is not a case for removing choice altogether, which is what you are seeking. Most women are not "forced into an abortion". They make a choice.

You ducked the question about other bad laws in the past - do you or do you not want to see them restored?

Yes human beings get it wrong, as shown by the misguided actions of prolifers.

As to the last point, I stated that it is not a grounds on which I would ever make a choice, not that I believe that my view should impose such a choice on others.

6:52 AM  
Blogger Fiona said...

Tim, whether or not something will work in practice is often a question of political will and resources and social trends follow. If there is an imperative to make it work then it can work. I think that policy and law has to start with principles, (the protection of life and liberty), and not just ignore principles altogether and focus instead on the worst sort of pragmatic defeatism.

Even if you want to be pragmatic, I think your calculation is simply inaccurate. What do you really know about the broad majority's view on the termination of second and third trimester babies? You are presuming a hypothetical outcome that fits your argument. I argue the opposite, that the public backs a restriction and would be supportive of this law if it was brought in properly with public information and support structures. If the vast majority of abortions were prohibited and did not happen and there were some illegal abortions, this is comparable to any other criminal law, where crimes still happen - this in no way justifies decriminalisation of crimes like murder, child abuse, etc etc.

On your question on the Human Rights Act, legal action is much more complicated than your question implies. However, we can all easily analyse the arguments. Perhaps you could explain to me how Article 2 is compatible with legal abortion: "1. Everyone's right to life shall be protected by law. No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction of a crime for which this penalty is provided by law."

Regarding women being forced into abortion, if we at least agree on this, surely we can at least work to stop these abortions happening. For example, forced abortion in China has been in the news recently. To unite with prolifers and end forced abortion is separable from prohibiting abortion altogether. To turn a blind eye to forced abortions or coerced abortions in this country cannot be justified. It doesn't say a lot for abortion rights activists that they are willing to allow women to be treated in this way.

I wonder what your evidence base is for saying "women are not forced into abortion, They make a choice". How can you possibly make this presumption without knowing their circumstances? I think it's logical to think that women will choose abortions for a combination of reasons and along a spectrum of coercion to controlling their fertility. How can you make any more exact comments about how many women are compelled into abortion by financial and emotional pressures against their will?

I didn't deliberately duck any question about whether bad laws that have been repealed should be reimplemented. I don't know which laws you are talking about and I think this discussion should focus on abortion law without getting sidetracked onto other issues. In principle, if by "bad laws" you mean laws that are accepted unanimously and unequivocally as bad laws, and there is no reason to suppose I would support them, then I don't see how this is any more than a rhetorical question and how it tells us anything about the abortion law, which I consider to be a bad law and you consider to be a good law, and so the only solution is to work out whether it is bad or good by looking at what it is, and it is the killing of a child therefore it is a bad law.

Your second last sentence isn't an argument! I was talking about the history of eugenics and racism which proves my point and undermines yours about the philosophers referred to by the US supreme court having a monopoly on wisdom.
If you apply your last point to political decisions about policy then there should be no laws against anything. Not only is this not how politics works (the politicians are mandated to think about issues in which they themselves may not be directly affected and to provide a legal framework) but it also suggests a flaw in your initial reasoning. If you are correct to believe abortion is not justified on the basis of gender or disability, and therefore abortion in these circumstances is in your view unjust kiling, then it is unclear why this should not be public policy.

4:43 AM  

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