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Archive for the ‘Abortion’ Category

A few weeks ago I wrote an article published by Mercatornet comparing how abortion, which was brought onto UK statute books, supposedly for emergency and desperate case circumstances only, with the so-called safeguard of requiring the signature of two  independent doctors, has been automatically built into the health care system, meaning that in all stages in pregnancy women are presented with the virtue of our age – choice.

It’s inevitable that if assisted suicide is eventually enacted into legislation, euthanasia will drift exactly the same way. Any decent or civilised society should not be putting the option of whether or not to kill another person on the table, let alone committing the act for you.

I mentioned before how this incorporation of abortion into part of the package of ‘health care’ options offered to pregnant women, not only violates the Abortion Act itself, under the terms of which one might expect the request to be led by the woman herself, rather than suggested by the clinicians. My experience of the past few weeks, which to be fair is no different or more outrageous than in previous pregnancies, more than illustrates this.

This time I have been fortunate, there has been no doctor or midwife attempting to hector or pressure me into considering abortion on the grounds of not having adequate spacing between the children. Two years ago, I remember sitting in tears in the midwife’s office as she loudly tutted and suggested that I really ought to think about what I was doing and consider counselling for abortion and sterilisation while I attempted to pacify two bored and noisy toddlers as I hadn’t been able to arrange childcare for that particular appointment and had been told that there wouldn’t be another slot available for another 5 weeks. In the pregancy prior to that a self-identifying Catholic GP had proceeded to lecture me about how the Church was wrong about contraception and abortion and again suggested abortion, this time as a cure for acute morning sickness.

So actually this time has been a picnic, but nonetheless abortion has been subtly suggested as an easily accessible and acceptable pathway. Many readers will note this approvingly, however when so many women find this such a difficult and heart-wrenching decision and suffer agonising physical and emotional consequences, it is worth asking on those grounds alone, along with the  irrefutable fact that abortion ends a life, whether it ought to be treated so lightly on the NHS. It’s always there, always looming over you as an option, and for most women has the effect of adding pressure and really having to justify continuing with a pregnancy.

So let’s consider what happened to date. Firstly, I couldn’t manage to get the obligatory GP appointment wherein I turn up and say “OK doc I’m pregnant, I’ve done a positive test” and they say “right okay and you are fine with that?”, I confirm, it gets typed in on the computer screen along with dates, and from there I am allowed to proceed to book in with the midwife. The GP appointment does nothing useful for the pregnant woman, there are no blood tests, no care plan suggested, it’s nothing other than a gatekeeper appointment for those who have perhaps experienced an unplanned pregnancy or are undecided. If you are pregnant, happy about it and want to proceed straight to midwife, in my surgery, it is not allowed. With 4 children and a lot on my plate, it’s an unnecessary hassle.

Due to holidays and an early threatened miscarriage I managed to circumvent that particular rigmarole, helped by the fact that I had presented at the Early Pregnancy Unit who had directly booked me in for a 12 week scan, rather than having to go via midwife. It meant that a swift appointment needed to be found with a midwife to ensure that I had a set of notes with me and so they managed to slot me into a cancellation without first seeing a GP.

But even at the Early Pregnancy Unit, before I had even been scanned to find out what was actually happening with my uterus, the very first question I was asked, was whether or not the pregnancy was planned, which seems something of an insensitive irrelevance when a woman wants to know exactly what the status of the embryo or foetus (from 8 weeks) is.

I wanted to know whether or not the baby was miscarrying. Did it really matter at that point whether or not it was planned, or would it have affected my treatment? The only possible reason for that question was to discuss abortion options if necessary or work out whether or not it was worth attempting any preventative action which could save the baby.

The next question was “do you accept the pregnancy?”, which was fatuous. Either a woman is pregnant or she is not, regardless of whether or not she accepts the fact. It’s a clear euphemism and again presents an option on the table for a woman to think about. Why should the first thing that a woman anxious that she might be miscarrying a baby be asked, is whether or not she planned her pregnancy and whether or not she ‘accepts’ the baby.

I’ve said before, this question always reminds me of the questions asked of parents in Baptism and is for me a public confirmation and affirmation of the life inside, but nonetheless it was a disconcerting irrelevance. Would this happen in the diagnosis of a terminal disease. “Do you accept the prognosis and traditional plan of palliative care?”. Putting a big fat elephant in the room as to whether or not you are truly making a ‘moral’ choice by selfishly continuing with your life until its natural end.

From there on everything proceeded smoothly and as I said earlier in the week on Conservative Woman, I declined the option for Downs Syndrome screening.

One of the comments in which a woman claimed that I had no idea what I was talking about, did give me pause for thought as she outlined how a diagnosis could be helpful even if you were not planning on abortion, as Downs carries lots of risks for the child in utero. Technically a care plan should be tailored to ensure the safety of both mother and child, but when you are faced with the screening options, this is never specifically outlined in terms of your decision making and many women report being given very little in the way of positive support or information when told that their child has a genetic abnormality.

 Indeed the leaflet warns that once you have had the screening, you cannot turn the clock back and that unless you are prepared to cope with the stress of knowing that you have an increased likelihood of a child with Downs, or are prepared to consider a further diagnostic test (with a 1-2% chance of miscarriage) then you might be better off not having the screening at all.

Screenshot 2014-08-29 10.08.10

I declined because I didn’t want to be worrying about it. If the baby has Downs then while it will be far from easy, especially  as I already have a number of children. I’d rather meet the challenges and difficulties as and when they come, rather than spend sleepless nights worrying about hypothetical scenarios. Furthermore the leaflet states that the primary purpose of all the risky invasive tests is to detect Downs Syndrome, although other conditions may be discovered.

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So the scan went ahead yesterday. As predicted, I was asked to confirm whether or not I wished for the nuchal translucency test for Downs, which combines a screen result with a further blood test. When I said no, I was pretty candid about it, stating that the only thing that I was hoping to see on the monitor was a live baby after what happened last year.

The sonographer was very sympathetic, but nonetheless they said that she would still measure the nuchal translucency, i.e. the amount of fluid behind the baby’s neck to see whether it was within normal parameters. An increased amount of fluid is a strong indicator of Downs Syndrome. If the measurement was high, she would inform me in order to give me the option to change my mind about having the full screening!

It turned out that the measurement was well within normal limits. That doesn’t mean that the baby definitely does not have Downs Syndrome, but in all probability there is a lower risk.

I’ve been left feeling disconcerted as though I somehow went back on my word. When they told me that they would measure the fluid anyway, I should have firmly stated “look I’m not interested either way” but at that point, when you are lying on the table, there is a sense of having ceded control and powerlessness. I just wanted them to hurry up and switch on the equipment so I could see whether or not there was still a heartbeat.

I also have to confess to a slight sense of relief which goes to show that even the most pro-life amongst us are not immune from the insidious pressure and notion that a Downs Syndrome diagnosis is a catastrophic thing. All of which adds to the stigma, both for sufferers themselves and their parents, which Dawkins did his best to stoke, adding unrepentantly that he’d only upset a small minority, in any event. If the NHS didn’t make such an issue of flagging up Downs Screen for pregnant women, going so far as to suggest that it can be such a problem that women ought to consider risking their baby’s life, most probably wouldn’t give it much of a thought.

It’s not that I reject the idea of pre-natal screening or wish to demonise those who opt for it, but surely it ought to be offered purely for theraputic reasons, to alleviate and treat conditions, either in utero if possible, or to prepare future healthcare strategies and plans for mother and child, rather than continually  present the issue of whether or not the child ought to live. Screening the unborn for disabilities does nothing to help advance research into therapies to help sufferers.

It doesn’t feel as though the NHS has got the balance right, when they are being so proactive in terms of continually presenting abortion as a consideration.

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It’s that time of year again  – the UK abortion stats have been released for 2013, which will be carefully crafted into a positive press release by agencies with a commercial interest and so we can expect to see cheerful headlines about the increase in early abortion and the declining abortion rate in women aged 15-44.

The real story is rather more complicated. The rate of women aged 15-44 having an abortion has declined to 15.9 per 1,000 and is indeed at its lowest for 16 years. But the overall total of abortions performed in the UK in 2013 has slightly increased from last years figure and is 2.3% higher than 10 years ago. The amount of women choosing to have an abortion might be in decline, but all is not lost for the private clinics – those who do have an abortion are likely to be repeat customers. In any event we shouldn’t forget that despite being at its lowest level for some time, in 2013 the rate of women having an abortion was double that of 1970.

The pro-choice, pro lots of lovely sex ed and contraception lobby find themselves in something of a bind. There is the very welcome news that abortion rate for the under-16s and the under 18s shows a steady decline, in common with teen pregnancies. “See, hooray look, lots of education and access to contraception in schools is the answer” they will cry, with collective pats on the back, affirming blogposts and accompanying PR about ‘evidence-based’ choice. Indeed the rate of abortions performed on those under the age of 22 is declining. Fewer young people going through the agony of abortion is something that folk on all sides of the debate will applaud.

But here’s the rub: the numbers of those aged 22 and above having an abortion remains static from 2012. Which means that either people are suddenly forgetting what teacher told them about the banana and the condom and the handy over-the-counter pill back in 4B, or that they are taking more risks, or as is most likely to be the case, that this is the age where regular sexual activity is the norm. A 22 year old is far more likely to be cohabiting or having sex on a more frequent basis than a 16 year old whose sex life will probably consist of sporadic chaotic fumbles. By the time you’ve got to 22, most young women will have imbibed the mantras of Cosmpolitan and the like and be aiming for some sort of quality and consistency in their intimate life.

And why shouldn’t they, will be the riposte of the feminists. What’s the point of equality if you can’t have multiple orgasms and demand that a partner gives you 100% satisfaction, and obey your whims 100% of the time, just for the privilege of being with you?!

I digress, but what this cultural demand and expectation that women really ought to be demanding marvellous sex lives means (and I’m all for the latter, trust me, I just don’t believe that the vision women are being sold leads to anything other than narcissist, paranoid and ultimately frustrating intimate encounters) is that it makes women entirely reliant on contraception. If you know that pregnancy would spell a disaster then it’s the ‘responsible’ thing to use contraception because you know, swinging from the chandeliers and achieving orgasms in double figures is your birthright as a woman. If you’re not having lots of juicy sex ,then let’s face it you’re probably a freak, there’s something wrong with you and nobody would want to be with you anyway!

So all these emancipated young women are totally dependent on their contraception, which is a bit of a problem considering that no method is 100% effective! Which is where the kindly ‘abortions for only £700 a time charged directly to your local NHS trust’, BPAS come in, with their reassuring campaigns that you are not alone, 1 in 3 women will need an abortion in their lifetime and that around 66% of their clients have managed to conceive while using contraception. Still, once you’ve had an abortion the clinics will kindly advise you on future contraception to guarantee repeat custom, under the guise of altruism, selling the expectation that you won’t once again end up in that 66% bracket.

If you think I’m being just an itsy bitsy bit cynical, then it’s worth remembering that the 2013 abortion figures demonstrate that the number of abortions performed in private clinics which are paid for by the NHS are at an all-time high of 64%, up on 62% of the previous year.

The repeat abortion figures are in fact, astonishingly high, 44% of all women aged 25-29  ending their pregnancies in 2013 underwent a repeat abortion, a figure which rose to 47% in the 30-34 age bracket and then dipped to 45% in the over 35’s. It seems that once you have had one abortion, you are more than likely to have another.

With repeat abortions at 37% amongst all women in 2013, compared to 32% in 2012, it’s no wonder that the clinics describe it as a ‘need’. Almost 50,000 women who had an abortion last year, had already had one. Black or Black British women and those of mixed race were more likely to have had an abortion than white women and other groups. Interestingly Asian and Chinese women have the lowest preponderance of repeat abortions, despite the fact that Asian women are likely to be more affected by the issue of gendercide – perhaps this is indicative the rise of the professional Asian class in the UK.

At a time Catholics are being blamed for their attitudes towards sex and stigmatising of single mothers in twentieth century Ireland, not much has changed. Around 81% of abortions were performed in 2013 upon single women, a number which has risen slowly from 76%, ten years ago in 2003.

Another statistic to be vaunted will be the number of abortions carried out under 13 weeks,  comprising 91% of the total, same as last year, but that abortions under 10 weeks had risen to 79% compared with 77% in 2012 and 59% in 2003.

The subtext here is that the earlier an abortion the better, both for mother and child alike (although a dead baby is a dead baby at whatever stage it’s at) but the complication rates seem to have risen in that 11% of women having an abortion under 10 weeks needed a stay of at least 1 night in hospital. The rate of complications obviously rises the further progressed you are in pregnancy, 25% of abortions of 13-19 weeks required a hospital stay, rising to 57% of those more than 20 weeks or more. We shouldn’t forget that complications experienced once you have left the clinic premises are not recorded.

The rise in early abortions, and medical abortions indicate that women are making their decision earlier than ever before. This once again raises the contentious issue of counselling – if 64% of all abortions are being carried out in private clinics on behalf of the NHS, then it’s imperative that women are not rushed into making a decision due to the time limits of one particular method.

The high number of abortions being carried out by private providers using NHS funds highlights the need for accountability to the public by abortion clinics along with the organisations which they fund to go into schools. This week we’ve seen that well over half of the abortions carried out on the grounds that the baby had Downs Syndrome were not properly recorded, with most information being lost. Add in the fact that doctors caught pre-signing abortion forms without seeing a patient were neither prosecuted nor did they have to face a fitness to practice hearing, despite being in breach of the law, then one has to wonder at the wisdom of yet further liberalising the practice of abortion law.

The clinics have not yet shown that they can be trusted. It will be interesting to see if there is any variation in these figures now the government have clarified that the practice of gender selective abortion is illegal.

One final stat here. So often we hear that late stage abortions are a necessary option for those who discover that their baby has a terrible anomaly.

Leaving aside the arguments about whether or not we ought to impose our vision of what constitutes quality of life to justify depriving another of life, ‘feticide’ was the word which jumped out at me while looking at the table which outlined the methods used to abort the baby, admitting that direct action to end the life of the baby was performed prior to their forced evacuation from the womb.

Of those who aborted their babies between the ages of 20-24 weeks, 904 were on the grounds of fetal anomaly, which means 1,659 babies were aborted at a time when the mother was over-half way through her pregnancy, the baby was fully formed, waving, kicking, smiling and the mother would have felt the movements, simply because they were no longer wanted.

To put that figure in some kind of context, that’s more than the 1,491 live births to women aged 38-39 from 7,500 cycles of IVF. Or how about comparing the 8,500 abortions performed in 2013 on women in the over-40 age bracket with the 6,355 cycles of IVF resulting in 822 births in women in the age 40-42 cohort. What kind of a pickle have we got ourselves into?

When is society going to wake up to the screwy schizophrenia surrounding female fertility instead of patting ourselves on how well we are doing at educating people into a pattern of repeat abortions.

It’s not about regulating others’ sex lives or controlling their bodies but recognising that not only does this take the life of an unborn child but it also causes irreparable pain and suffering to so many women. I don’t which is more depressing. That nothing has changed, the lives lost to abortion in 2013 or that this time next year I’ll be saying exactly the same thing.

 

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A few years ago I was riled into writing about SPUC in less than complimentary terms following some less than charitable remarks about Catholic Voices, the organisation of which I am proud to be a part, not being orthodox enough. Writing on his blog back in 2011, John Smeaton, Director of SPUC called for the voices of ‘real Catholics’ instead of our appeasing liberal heterodox ones.

Admittedly I was less than charitable in my reply, my irritation and indignation fuelled in part by pregnancy hormones. The accusations of heterodoxy and attacks upon Catholic Voices coming from John Smeaton, did cease, for which I think we are all grateful – after all when it came to the thorny topic of the redefinition of marriage, it was clear that we were all on the same side.

And when it comes to the aims of SPUC, I think we’re all on their side, we all wish for a successful pro-life lobby group in this country. It is very disappointing for ordinary Catholics in the pews that by and large our leadership seems to be quiet on the subject of abortion, with a few notable exceptions and that there seems to be no specifically Catholic pro-life organisation, which is why SPUC occupy a weird hybrid position, ostensibly being a secular lobby group and not a registered charity, with no official Catholic endorsement. To be fair to SPUC they are simply filling a gap.

SPUC has two problems, the first one being that in order to gain any serious political traction, any pro-life movement, be that in the realms of abortion or euthanasia should not be perceived as a purely religious movement. To use the cliche, if I had a penny for every time I’ve trotted out the phrase that life issues, including contraception and IVF for that matter, don’t actually require any sort of religious belief or recourse to theism to be valid ethical positions, neither do they fit into any sort of left/right-wing praxis, then I’d be a seriously rich woman by now.

One of the accusations trotted out by those angered by my original post was that my criticism came from self-interest, I had my eye on staging some sort of coup and emerging as a female pro-life leader. One of the reasons that I have absolutely no intention or desire to lead any sort of movement (aside from the fact I am not a natural leader and have never been comfortable in these sorts of positions and have more than enough on my plate at present) is because as a lesser-known Catholic, I’d never be able to move beyond the ‘religious agenda’ template. The future of pro-life in the political sphere in any event, needs to be able to bust the religious zealot/wingnut frame and led by someone who has kept below the radar.

LifeCharity has a Catholic founder and chairman in Jack Scarisbrick and admittedly employs practicing Christians of all denominations, but it also employs those of other faiths and none. It is this wholly secular, non-religious flavour of the organisation which has enabled it to make some inroads in terms of being invited to participate in policy forums. It is precisely Life’s lack of overt religiosity, it refuses to endorse or alternatively condemn 40 Days for Life for example which makes the pro-choice lobby spit with fury as the tired accusations and tropes simply don’t work. This is why organisations such as Education for Choice, do their damnest to undermine them in other fields, such as pregnancy counselling and education. It isn’t LIFE’s secular nature that protects them from such attacks, let’s face it, there’s a whole plethora of people whom it would suit, from professional lobby groups to big Pharma groups or anyone with any sort of financial interests in contraception and abortion, who want pro-lifers kicked out of schools and not being allowed anywhere near a woman with an unplanned pregnancy. The lack of religiosity makes the smear merchants’ job much harder as well as enabling LIFE to reach a wider audience who would perhaps be more willing to lay their prejudices about religious organisations aside and listen.

The second problem is that the UK Catholic church should have a dedicated pro-life movement throughout the country. It’s very hard for Catholics to donate to secular pro-life charities who make appeals in church, when they emphasize the non-religious nature of their work. Now there’s no reason why religion should come into fields such as crisis pregnancy counselling or sex education especially for the wider world, but neither should Catholicism be excluded, particularly when we are talking about Catholic schools or parishioners.

I’m proud to publicly state my support for 40 days for life (as has Pope Francis), I believe that respectful, dignified silent prayer vigils with specialist trained and experienced crisis pregnancy outreach workers are an excellent witness to the faith. But it’s very hard to support an organisation who comes into my church and says ‘we don’t stand outside the abortion clinics’ in lofty tones signifying disproval.

There is a need for a Catholic organisation not only to support prayer vigils, but to do all of the grass-roots and outreach work to change hearts and minds which is every bit as vital as the politics. SPUC are quite good at some of this. My father-in-law is a member and is always exercised into action by the literature that comes dropping through his letterbox at regular intervasl from SPUC. He made an appointment to see his MP about same-sex marriage on their advice, rang them up and had a ‘very long helpful conversation for at least half an hour with a girl from there’ which briefed him in terms of what to say and what to expect.

Thing is though, as I said before, I’m still not convinced that this was the best use of their time and resources, it’s fighting a battle on too many fronts. Too many members of the general public were baffled by SPUC’s response to same-sex marriage whose point was that anything that undermines marriage therefore leads to the collapse of family life which then results in social consequences such as abortion, was too sophisticated and nuanced to work effectively. Marriage had already been weakened over the past few decades, notably with the introduction of no-fault divorce – an adulterer’s charter, there are consequences for the unborn child in terms of trying to state that every couple has the right to marriage and children, but most people could not see beyond the straw-man argument of causation and asked how two men or women getting married would then cause a third party to have an abortion.

The work that SPUC did in terms of briefing my father-in-law, could and should have been done by a different agency. If we’d had a cohesive official Catholic life movement, then they would have been able to pick up the slack.

The trouble is that because John Smeaton seems to spend a disproportionate amount of time attacking the Catholic bishops and hierarchy on his blog along with LGBT issues, it doesn’t make the Catholic church inclined to work with him, further fuelling his annoyance and thus the cycle of recrimination continues and nothing gets done.

No doubt lots of people will say to me in the coms box, yeah Caroline, but John Smeaton was right to criticise the bishops because of xyz. Specifically on this issue of Archbishop Peter Smith’s statement asking the government not to automatically convert civil partnerships into marriage and abolish them, which John Smeaton has blogged about, I would have a slightly different take. Yes, the CDF did issue guidelines against civil partnerships back in 2003, identifying correctly that they would lead to the introduction of marriage. The Archbishop was however speaking in the context of 2014, when civil partnerships are a reality. His point was the same as it was back in their introduction in 2003, being that civil partnerships do afford some important legal protections for same-sex couples. You really would need to be an unreasonable bigot to deny people the right to live with whom they choose and to be able to have that person given a special legal status as a significant companion, regardless of whether or not they are having an intimate sexual relationship. It isn’t beyond the bounds of imagination to suggest that there could be some Catholics living a chaste life within a civil partnership who do not wish to see them become marriages.

After attacking the Archbishop for his perceived deviation from Catholic teaching about civil partnerships, John then goes into a long diatribe about the lack of condemnation for homosexuality or homosexual acts from Peter Smith and whether or not civil partnerships or gay marriages are deemed to be sexual in nature, quoting an Anglican barrister for support!

It frankly appears prurient and petty minded. We know that there are problems with the legal definition of gay marriage, sexual consummation is necessarily missing, but the Archbishop was neither promoting gay marriage nor encouraging people to have extra marital sex. Stating the legal protections of civil partnerships is not the same as encouraging people to enter them. Does an Archbishop really need to take every opportunity to specifically denounce and reiterate Catholic teaching on homosexual acts? Aren’t we all already more than aware of what the Church says about sex outside of marriage? Besides which the Catholic church welcomed the Wolfenden Report which led to the de-criminalisation of homosexuality in the UK and have also called for homosexuality to be de-criminalised throughout the world, as acts of private morality should not be subject to criminal sanctions.

People are rarely converted to Christianity simply by preaching; clever reasoned, compelling and logical arguments are all very well, but there also needs to be some element of personal encounter as St Paul demonstrates. I recently attended a session with the Catholic Labour MP Rob Flello, who entered the Commons as an atheist, where he talked movingly about a very personal encounter with Christ which led to his conversion.

Continually preaching about homosexuality or reiterating Catholic teaching on it does nothing to bring about the joy of Christ. Surely these discussions are best held on a one-to-one personal basis? In any event context is everything, at a time when Catholics are fighting to have our voices heard in the public square, denouncements of homosexual acts as immoral and disordered in a document concerned with protecting the legal rights of those in civil partnerships is not only irrelevant, but risks any remaining credibility or opportunity to be heard.

But to get back to the point, SPUC have done some good work and do number some good people in their organisation. It’s just a tragedy to see them continually arguing themselves into irrelevance and alienating themselves from official Catholic endorsement and support with their leader’s relentless focus upon homosexuality which is often picked up on by mainstream media, along with criticism of the Catholic bishops. I’m not saying that the bishops should be exempt from criticism where it is merited, but as ever it really isn’t the remit of a secular lobby group.

Catholics cannot deny the link between abortion and the deviation from God’s plan for human flourishing. Perhaps it’s time for the UK church to propose that case a lot better than in the past and then maybe SPUC can concentrate solely on how best they can fulfil their remit of specifically protecting the life of the unborn child, for which purpose they solicit donations and support.

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One example of female decision making in pregnancy

One example of female decision-making in pregnancy

Imagine if I rocked up to the doctor and said look “I’m really unhappy with the fact that after having four babies, I’ve got a few flabby bits, my breasts have lost some of their youthful perkiness and so I need you to refer me to a cosmetic surgeon as soon as possible as I just can’t cope with the body that I’ve got”.

Their response would register somewhere on the scale between amusement and exasperation, and even if I professed a suicidal intent or poor quality of life due to dissatisfaction with my post-childbirth figure, most likely they would advise other measures such as diet and exercise alongside psychological counselling to get to the root of the problem. The same would apply in the case of serious body or gender dysmorphia; no doctor would refer a patient for an amputation as an instant salve for a distorted body image or would straightaway prescribe hormonal treatment for a woman who believed she should have been born a male.

But what if in any of these cases the woman wailed “but I’m a woman, it’s my body and I know my body and healthcare needs better than you and your years of medical training. I know that I need this procedure now and the NHS needs to provide me with it”? The answer would still be a resounding no, although patient intuition, rationale and desires should never be excluded when forming a clinical judgement, the role of the doctor or medic should be to objectively examine the facts of the case and use their medical expertise and experience to determine the appropriate outcome, which will at times be at odds with what the patient was hoping for.

Factors such as gender, sexuality or race are only ever considerations, never the determining factor. You can’t just go to the doctor with a set of expectations which you believe should be met on the basis of your sex.

Yet this is precisely what BPAS, one of the UK’s largest abortion providers are aiming for with their ‘trust women’ campaign, expounded here by Clare Murphy one of their directors, which has the express purpose of formally liberalising the abortion law. When a decision involves fertility and reproduction, then the woman’s gender should take precedence in the decision, regardless of whether or not she may be misinformed in some way, or whether or not her decision is a sensible or even moral one.

The argument is slickly framed in the usual compassionate terms about women getting the care that they need and deserve and is superficially reasonable and appealing – a woman should be able to decide the course of action that is right for her, but the massive elephant in the room, is the unborn baby who as ever, is conspicuous by their absence.

If the decisions about reproduction didn’t involve an unborn child, no reasonable person would attempt to dictate to a woman what she should do with her body (although they could make a reasonable case as to whether or not the NHS ought to fund such decisions), but there is not simply one body involved in the case of pregnancy.

The simple fact of the matter is that an unborn child is not a part of the woman’s body, it has an entirely separate genetic code, often a separate blood type or race and crucially it is possible for a foetus to die while a mother lives and vice versa. This would not be possible if the mother and baby were one and the same. Even the late atheist Christopher Hitchens who was himself an abortion advocate admitted that embryology conceded morality, stating that an ‘uborn child, even when used in a politicized manner, is a material reality’.

The existence of an unborn child undermines the entire crux of this argument which is wholly centred around a woman’s body. ‘Trust me to make the decision as to whether or not to kill my unborn baby, because I’m a woman.’

I’d love to see how a similar campaign waged by males would play out. “Trust me as to whether or not I want to pay child support, or form a relationship with my child, I’m a male and therefore best placed to know whether or not I want to be a father. Only men can determine the extent to which they should be involved in their children’s lives”.

Perhaps the most disingenuous and ironic aspect of the campaign is the attempt to conflate decisions about childbirth with abortion when the aims and outcomes of both procedures are in direct contravention of each other. Murphy convincingly argues that “women should have access to unbiased, evidenced-based information about all their options, delivered in a way that seeks to inform, but not persuade a woman with all modes of delivery on the table”.

It sounds all very wonderful and idealistic, but the reality is that childbirth is a messy, unpredictable business with the potential for things to go disastrously wrong and therefore while women should be informed of their options, there are instances where certain scenarios should be off the table, especially when we are talking about a taxpayer-funded health care system and taking into account that there are two lives at stake.

When it comes to giving birth, it is important that a woman is in as comfortable and stress-free environment as possible, but the choice of surroundings or pain relief should never endanger her safety or that of her unborn baby. Unusually perhaps for a woman who has never managed to give birth without direct medical intervention, I am a big advocate of home births and natural births where at all possible and wary of the over-medicalisation of childbirth, which in my case has led to a cascade of cesarean sections.

But when, as in my case, a midwifery supervisor tells you that if you were to give birth at home, it’s likely that you would bleed to death due to a previous history of hemorrhage, and that she cannot sanction it, is that unbiased and not persuasive? Does that really leave all options on the table? What about when an obstetrician informs you that your baby is presenting in a transverse or oblique position and cannot therefore be born naturally without killing you both?

As every mother knows, you can do all the reading you like, be as informed as possible, but when it comes to childbirth you need to be flexible enough to rip up that treasured dream of floating in a pool of candlelit water and do whatever is necessary to get the child out as safely as possible.

If abortion is to be compared with birth, then the doctor’s assessment of best interests is paramount. The idea that a woman’s gender makes her judgement and decisions unimpeachable is infantalising dangerous baloney, which does women no favours whatsoever. Since when did being a women render one’s medical and moral judgement infallible? Where is the evidence demonstrating that being in possession of specific set of reproductive organs improves one’s critical thinking or decision making skills?

If it’s true that we might not always like or approve of certain reproductive decisions, whether childbirth or abortion related, then it is certainly legitimate to question whether or not the NHS funded by the taxpayer, ought to encourage and endorse them. We know for example, that all other things being equal, that a cesarean section is a much riskier, more complicated and costlier method of delivery than normal childbirth. An elective c-section ought not to be offered as a standard choice for women, unless there are compelling medical reasons which would make a natural delivery unsafe. Equally it is not the general public who should challenge a woman’s decision to home-deliver a complicated pregnancy, as Clare Murphy suggests, but rather her medical team.

The same goes with abortions. In a staggering admission, this director of BPAS says that there are women who might have abortions for reasons which are not quite good enough, but those decisions must still be respected, because it is the woman who has to bear the consequences of those choices. So it’s alright to stand on the sidelines and watch a woman take a disastrous decision because any negative repercussions and resulting suffering is hers alone? She’ll have to cope with it if it all goes wrong and we should make no attempt to interfere, in the same way that presumably we should not attempt to dissuade people from setting off on other destructive courses of actions. All that matters in life is that people have come to their own decisions about their bodies, even if they are bad ones?

In short then, a woman can abort a perfectly healthy baby until 24 weeks on whatever grounds she likes. such as the gender of the baby, or that she’s had an unexpected holiday invite, she wants to appear on the television or even because to continue with the pregnancy puts her at fear of violence or reprisals from her partner or family. A woman’s decision must always be trusted, supported, encouraged and paid for, even if it is born of dubious motives or self-interest. A woman aborting her healthy twins at 23 weeks  whom she’d previously decided to keep, because of family pressures, is the price we have to pay?

Even if the decision is blatantly flawed, unjust and terminates the life of another for no good reason (not that there ever can be a good reason to kill), society must turn a blind eye for the greater good of the (female) cause. Now where else have we seen this logic employed? It all sounds eerily familiar.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPxL59537e4

This morning, I was invited back on to breakfast television to reprise the argument I made on the programme last year regarding the NICE guidelines which recommended that infertile couples should be given 3 cycles of IVF on the NHS.

Since then it transpires that over three quarters of NHS trusts are disregarding the guidance, leading NICE to issue even stronger advice forcing Clinical Commissioning Groups to implement their IVF guidelines, to end the ‘postcode lottery’ system which produces massive inequality in terms of how qualifying couples are treated.

In this instance inequality is not an inappropriate description of the situation. The NHS should provide an equal standard of care across the country – if it has determined that infertile couples should be afforded 3 cycles of IVF treatment then that should apply to you regardless of whether you live within affluent city suburbs, in a remote part of the country or on a run-down council estate.

If IVF is an accepted medical treatment on a par with chemotherapy for example, then it should not be withheld from anyone because their local health trust has decided that they cannot afford it and their priorities lie elsewhere.

The trouble is, of course, that whilst IVF is a medical treatment, opinion is massively and legitimately divided as to whether or not this ought to be funded by the NHS, given that infertility in and of itself is not a fatal, life-threatening or even life-limiting condition, unless one extends the medical definition of life-limiting to encompass quality of life issues.

That’s not to downplay the devastating effects of infertility which can undoubtedly cause emotional ill-health, but simply to note that an inability to conceive won’t actually kill you neither is there any research to prove that it might shorten your lifespan.

This certainly seems to be the view that various CCGs have taken faced with increasing budget constraints and difficult decisions as to where to channel their funds, and its one with which many of us will have sympathy. If the choice is between paying for drugs to extend the lifespan of a cancer patient, a hip operation or heart bypass for an elderly patient and whether or not to fund a form of therapy which could lead to a couple having a much wanted child, then for most right-thinking people, the choice is clear. Our priority should be with assisting the already-living and vulnerable rather than ignoring them in favour of creating their replacements.

As I pointed out last year, NICE guidelines have a habit of becoming quasi-legislation and thus last week former health secretary Andrew Lansley (responsible for the stealthy and undemocratic liberalisation of abortion law) has said that CCGs have a responsibility to obey NICE rules despite the fact that they are not actual pieces of legislation. Spot the inconsistency. In the eyes of Mr Lansley, NICE comes before the letter and spirit of the law.

So slowly but surely, British law has introduced and supported the notion that a child is something that every single person or couple should have a right to and for which the state  should pay. Consider the language of Sarah Norcross, co-chairman of the National Infertility Awareness Campaign who says “it’s high time that patients were allowed to access the treatment that they were entitled to”.

The ethics of entitlement and so-called equality therefore override any other considerations. If you are entitled to medical treatment on the NHS, then you should be given it regardless of other factors. If not being able to have a child is automatically designated as being a medical issue, because it takes clinical measures to achieve one, then it’s some kind of ‘ist’ or phobic to deny the treatment to someone, taking into account their lifestyle or individual circumstances. The needs of the adult are paramount, the needs of the child secondary – all that’s needed is love and the desire to access costly and gruelling treatment is sufficient evidence of suitability and should overcome all other considerations.

Apologies for beating the same allegedly homphobic drum, but recent HFEA stats show that there was a 36% increase in lesbian couples using IVF between 2010 and 2012. No matter how much sympathy one may or may not have for two women deciding to disregard a child’s right to a father, it’s not bigoted to ask whether or not this is really the sort of thing Bevan had in mind when he put in place the founding principles of the NHS? Should a single man or woman have the same right to access this treatment as married opposite gender couple? If resources are scarce, and IVF is going to be an accepted treatment, is it really so heinous to prioritise the married couple in a stable relationship who have been trying to conceive over a number years and have suffered a number of miscarriages over other scenarios? Or does the defining zeitgeist of equality mean that all situations and circumstances have to be treated equally regardless of merit? To say that one person may be more deserving of another, whether that be in the field of IVF or the even more controversial field of welfare and benefits, is today’s unspeakable heresy. In our relativistic world no one set of circumstances must ever be judged as being better or worse than another.

Another unpalatable fact that no-one seems to want to discuss when discussing the ethics of IVF on the NHS is the ethics of IVF itself. So when I attempted to point out that for every live birth that comes about due to IVF, another 30 embryos are created and that of the 4 million embryos created since 1991, only a tiny proportion have made it through to birth – this point was brushed aside. The discussion has to centre around the ethics of the treatment being made available for free, regardless of whether the treatment is in itself ethical.

I don’t know what is more frustrating, the entitlement culture, the disregard for the welfare of children or the wilful short-sightedness. Any other expensive treatment costing around £3.5K to £5K a time which had a less than 25% chance of success would not see NICE attempting to impose it upon CCGs as a matter of routine, especially when the treatment itself is so physically and emotionally demanding. It would instead be allocated according to individual circumstances.

As I said on the programme, it seems that we’ve got ourselves in something of a pickle with regards to fertility. On the one hand there’s couples crying out for IVF and the opportunity for a biological child of their own, on the other almost 200,000 abortions take place in the UK every year. Added to which abortion rates amongst women in their ‘30s and ‘40s are rising as women believe that they are no longer fertile.

It’s time for some joined-up social policy thinking on this issue. We know that with a little bit of training women can be trained to monitor and track their monthly cycles and pinpoint with a high degree of accuracy the fertile periods every month.

Women are given so many mixed messages and conflicting signals about their own fertility it’s not surprising that so many of us fail to navigate successfully through the reproductive minefield. Instead of teaching young women how to avoid pregnancy and that sex can be devoid of consequences how about teaching girls (and boys for that matter) the specifics of how to track female fertility. Instead of teaching them that fertility is an obstacle which must be suppressed via chemical hormones and abortion a useful and necessary back-up, why not help them to empower themselves in terms of learning the ebbs and flows of their own unique monthly cycle.

Armed with that information, they can then make the decisions which they feel are most appropriate, especially during the window of peak fertility. Tracking monthly cycles has another advantage in that it enables abnormal cycles or potential issues and barriers to conception to be identified and treated.

If the NHS is serious about wanting to tackle infertility, then instead of chucking money at what is a not very effective sticking plaster, a more pragmatic and cost-effective solution is to enable both women and medical practitioners to become specialists in natural female fertility instead of attempting to artificially suppress it until such time as it might be needed and then attempting to employ a costly treatment with a 75% chance of failure.

Even more radical, instead of teaching young girls that pregnancy is to be avoided until an indeterminate date in the distant future, how about education that focuses their minds on real family planning and the pros and cons of early versus late motherhood? How about going a step further and implementing far better childcare and maternity solutions and options for university students. While we’re at it why not chuck in cheap starter homes for young couples and measures to make life more attractive and conducive for young families?

Unfortunately the genie is out of the bottle when it comes to IVF and it would take a heart of stone not to sympathise with women like Jessica Hepburn who was interviewed alongside me earlier. What I wouldn’t do to be able to wave a wand and give her a baby and find a method that was successful, devoid of harmful physical side-effects and didn’t involve the destruction of life. Disagreeing with the use of technology does not extend to blaming or shaming those who want to avail themselves of it.

Heartbreaking, unexplained and untreatable cases of infertility cannot be completely eliminated, but with a bit more joined up thinking, the need for both IVF and at the other end of the spectrum abortion, could be drastically reduced.

Catholics reading this might be aware that today marks the start of a novena to Mary, Undoer of Knots. Dedicating it to couples facing the pain of infertility seems a good place to start.

 

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Kudos to the BBC. Earlier on today I once again participated in BBC World Have Your Say, where the topic of Emily Letts, the woman who filmed her abortion was under discussion. The programme has to be one of the most pro-life broadcasts I’ve ever heard on mainstream media, which would not have been their intention.

In order to act as a counter-balance to Emily (who had the lion’s share of airtime and dominated proceedings at the beginning) they invited on 4 other post-abortive women, including Catherine Adair, a former Planned Parenthood clinic worker, who was able to tell listeners the parts of the abortion procedure that Emily Lett’s video left out such as counting up and bagging up the missing body parts and Nancy from Silent No More, who was able to tell of the effect that abortion had upon her life.

Listening to these women’s brave testimonies was incredibly powerful and moving. From a Catholic perspective it once again struck me how much potential the pro-life movement has in terms of drawing people back into the faith. Pro-choicers talk about judgemental religious bigots and yet there are so many men and women who open their hearts to grace and allow their tragedy to bring them closer to God. I’ve never experienced any shaming, judgement or snarky asides from orthodox Catholics and Christians about my abortion. Anyone whom I have discussed it with have let me know how sorry they are that this happened, and offered unconditional love and prayer. Of course the sacrament of confession by its very nature means that you will approach in a spirit of penitence, but the priest won’t bellow “you did what”, neither will he tell anyone and neither will he force you to make some kind of public reparation. Confession for us Catholics is about reconciling and forgiveness. When my kids look up at me, knowing they have been very naughty and say sorry, it isn’t my job to make them feel worse, even if they have done something they know they were expressly forbidden to do. God is pretty similar and so are the priests whom he uses. They are just happy that you’re there and want to help you. If confession involved shaming, you wouldn’t see the queue of young people waiting outside the confessional at Westminster Cathedral, giving up their lunch break for a good ear-bashing! Nor indeed would anyone go ever, if priests piled on the guilt.

When you listen to former clinic worker Abbey Johnson, she tells of how when she left her employment as an abortion clinic director, she said to 40 Days for Life founder Sean Carney, ‘look I might have left the industry, but sure as anything I’m not becoming a Catholic’. Two years later she was received into the Church. Catholic teaching in this area is what draws so many back to the church and who are then able to convince other hearts and minds. The vineyard is rich – which is why anyone who speaks up either on abortion or human sexuality will find themselves under a form of attack at some point. This is spiritual warfare where souls can so easily be led astray.

One of the many things that irked me about Emily’s testimony (once again I had no idea that she would be defending herself on the show, I was gobsmacked to discover she was a fellow guest 5 minutes before we went on air) was that when it came to the topic of post-abortive healing, she kept urging people to go to abortion-related and/or secular organisations where they wouldn’t be ‘shamed.’

Had the mic come back to me I would have picked her up on this. Pro-life counsellors NEVER shame post-abortive women and neither does the Catholic Church. The only shaming I can see going on, is the shaming of those who feel shame. Counselling should be an opportunity to explore and examine your feelings and how to harness negativity to a positive effect. A woman should be allowed to discuss, own and explore feelings of shame. While a counsellor should never seek to make a woman feel ashamed, they can help her to explore and discover for herself if her shame or guilt is justified. Ultimately no-one can or should tell another person what to ‘feel’.

It is not the role of any counsellor to remove a woman’s feelings of shame, but work out how she might best resolve those feelings. Furthermore shame is an emotionally loaded word, implying social stigma, whereas in many women the feeling is not shame, but regret. A counsellor can help a woman to realise that there may well have been mitigating circumstances surrounding her decision to abort, but it isn’t their job to suppress whatever a woman is feeling or to remove her instincts, rather to help them resolve them.

I’d be extremely concerned by a post-abortive counsellor trying to tell a woman that her feelings are wrong or misguided. We cannot help how we feel, while we cannot or should not dwell unhealthily upon negative feelings, we do at least need to acknowledge and resolve them.

While we’re on the subject of counselling, just as pro-choicers throw their hands up in horror at pro-lifers carrying out pre-abortion counselling, I’m equally concerned by a woman who thinks that abortion is a happy, awesome, dopamine fuelled experience telling women not to worry about it, it’s all fine. There may not be cutting involved in an early stage surgical abortion but it still entails intimate surgery which is the main source of anxiety for women, along with the risk of damage to the cervix and uterus. If a pro-life counsellor were to have been filmed telling a woman how physically harrowing many women find an abortion procedure, there would be uproar. Why then is someone employed by a clinic who stand to profit from a woman having an abortion, allowed to tell them it’s all a shiny happy thing of joy and love?

I’m with the Anchoress on this one. To my mind this was counter-productive. It wasn’t a happy video at all, Emily looked strained and displayed signs of self-deception, such as by repeating her words, she parroted glib catch-phrases and seemed lacking in conviction. When it came to the procedure itself, there was no disguising it was traumatic – note the lift muzak to disguise the noise of the suction machine and the clink of surgical instruments. Emily’s singing was forced – it reminded me of a recording I once heard of the Captain of doomed Saudi flight 163, who was heard on the flight recorders singing and humming to himself, instead of taking the decisive action needed which would have undoubtedly saved the lives of 301 souls on board who all perished unnecessarily. Emily’s singing and expressions of “I’m such a lucky girl” were coping strategies to distract herself from what was really going on down there.

Interestingly Emily’s catchphrases were about women who shouldn’t have to suffer in silence – suffering, pain, grieving and loss were her key themes. Having an allegedly vaguely bearable abortion procedure doesn’t somehow circumnavigate those issues that many women really do face. For those women who have faced heartbreak over a reluctant decision to abort, feeling that there really was no other option, this video is a slap in the face, making light of what is for many, a tragic and unwanted last resort.

There were plenty of ways of getting people talking about abortion, sacrificing her own baby’s life, without much thought and without consulting the father, doesn’t seem to be the most constructive way of doing so. Hey I’ve got you all talking she said, gushing over how beautiful and awesome we all were, in perhaps the way that only Americans can. Fact is Emily, I’d much rather have shut my mouth if it had meant that your baby lived. There are plenty of other stories out there which all need to be heard. If abortion is about suffering, then why aren’t we doing what we can to avoid it, rather than false attempts to sanitise and gloss over what is at the very least, an emotionally raw experience?

Emily said that she didn’t mean to get pregnant but also that she was not bothering to use birth control either, she was haphazardly monitoring her ovulation cycles. Were she to have been doing that, then she would have known fine well when she was fertile, so one has to wonder what this was all about. She had no long term partner, but ‘things happen’ and she wound up pregnant! And this was a sex educator?! She could have chosen to go down the same route that I did and use the pill, which is normally advised at her stage in pregnancy when someone is dead set, but after talking to a friend who had already videoed herself using this method, opted for surgery.

When Josie Cunningham used the prospect of abortion to gain fame, she was demonised around the world and yet by and large Emily is feted and admired for her ‘bravery’. What’s the difference between the two women who both used abortion as a form of self-publicity which makes one the target of admiration and the other the lowest of the low? Probably the time limit had something to do with this, but also class and that the middle-class college-girl liberal activist making a feminist political point is more pleasing on the eye. Josie Cunningham has spade loads more courage than Emily, nonetheless. It isn’t brave to film yourself doing something that you were planning to do anyway and edit out the nasty parts to mislead  your audience. Raising an unplanned baby alone – now there’s selfless courage!

Emily’s repeated on-air exclamations of how great, awesome and inspiring abortion is, deeply unsettled me, because they sounded so hollow and empty. “Hey, yeah wow, abortion, awesome, trust women”. Women make mistakes with their bodies just the same as men. Gender doesn’t sanctify or validate an unwise decision. Trust women, cos they like never ever get anything wrong about their reproductive decisions, like err unexpectedly getting themselves pregnant in the first place. (And no, that’s not shaming, it’s fact. There’s a reproductive decision, that Emily got wrong).

With that in mind, I do wish her all the best and hope this conflicted young lady  doesn’t have a rough ride in the future, either in terms of future fertility or suffering from an emotional fall-out. Today was only the second time I’ve discussed my abortion on air and the first time I did so in any great detail. Putting yourself out there like that is tough, I hope Emily finds the support that she needs, whatever the outcome.

When Emily said that were her apartment to catch fire, the scan photograph of her baby would be the first thing she would grab, it underlined her dissonance. That she is marvelling over her (God-given) ability to make life and that she likes to be reminded of the fact that she made a life either makes her a complete psychopath or a tragic victim of the deceptive and destructive sophistry that seeks to uphold abortion as a good.

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Back in January I asked,  ‘what has changed since the 1967 Abortion Act?’ What has so fundamentally changed about abortion which makes people believe that it is a woman’s human right as opposed to the spirit of the act which allowed for abortion in certain strictly proscribed circumstances to prevent a woman from having to suffer consequences from extreme social deprivation, to serious physical or mental injury and death.

In one sense, nothing has changed. An unborn child is still an unborn child, regardless of whether or not you refer to it as a foetus. The biology hasn’t changed, the consensus amongst embryologists is that human life begins at conception. When  sperm and ovum fuse a zygote is created which fulfils the four criteria needed to establish biological life:  metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction. The zygote is comprised of human DNA, it is unique from any other human being in creation and the DNA will not only guide early development but determine hereditary traits. Even at its earliest stage in development the zygote exhibits characteristics which categorise it as a human organism, not merely a cluster of cells. The debate around abortion is purely philosophical, it revolves around the value that should be placed upon human life in its earliest form. 

The change in thinking and the practice of abortion has come about purely as a result of scientific technologies which have helped to shaped attitudes. In many ways pro-lifers have benefited from this. The introduction of sophisticated sonography techniques makes it very difficult to dispute the humanity of the foetus; even at 12 weeks we see what is undeniably a baby in glorious 3D technicolor. A foetal heartbeat is able to be detected at around the 6 week mark, by the age of 42 days brain waves have been recorded and the baby even has taste and teeth buds.

Logically attitudes against abortion should have hardened, however the advances have also allowed for foetal disabilities to be accurately detected which means that parents are now faced with the daunting and terrifying prospect of a child who will have an uncertain future, one that is potentially filled with traumatic medical intervention, who may never be able to enjoy a degree of independent living and whose existence will place a lot of pressure on existing family circumstances. Abortion can seem the most ‘compassionate’ course of action in these situations, medics talk only in terms of pathology and potential scenarios and rarely in terms of the equal value of all life and how even a profoundly disabled child can lead a fulfilled life and be a source of great joy and happiness. Which is why we now allow for abortion right up until birth on the basis of disability with even minor conditions such as cleft palate and club foot, qualifying as legitimate reasons to terminate a fully-formed viable infant.

Advances in reproductive technology have also softened attitudes because people will overlook ethical dilemmas or seek to justify them with superficial reasoning in their understandable desperation for children. Life beginning at conception is uncomfortable prospect for those with an interest in the many hundreds of thousands of stored and destroyed embryos. No-one wants to admit to being complicit in the denial of human rights towards the most vulnerable which is the inevitable consequence of admitting the humanity of the embryo – the lack of discernible human form is soothing balm to a pricked conscience.

And it is this lack of human form, combined with the development of the pill to induce miscarriage which helps to fool people into believing that an abortion does not really constitute the taking of human life, at least at the early stages.

This is really the major change since the 1967 act which has been one of the contributing factors which led to the huge increase in abortions.  Back in 1967 a abortion could only be carried out through surgical intervention; a prospect which daunts most women. Early stage medical abortions now account for 42% of all abortions, compared to 14% back in 2002. More women are opting for a non-surgical abortion than ever before. The same is true of first trimester abortions – 91% of all abortions in 2012 were performed under 13 weeks, compared with 57% in 2002. Pregnancy tests are also more sensitive than ever before. Tests available on the high street allow a woman to discover that she is pregnant as early as six days before her period is due.

Combined with the development of the morning-after pill and the original contraceptive pill which can act as an abortifacient, and indeed the coil, women have been conditioned or duped into believing that abortion is little more than an exercise in pill-popping to rid themselves of the potential of a baby, as opposed to what it really is: the taking of a human life.

What the recent controversy surrounding the wannabe Big Brother contestant Josie Cunningham demonstrated is that the public is still largely in tune with the spirit of the 1967 Abortion Act, although attitudes have moved on. The expressions of revulsion and hatred were not from pro-lifers but from professing pro-choicers. The overwhelming sentiment was that while a woman should be able to access an abortion, she ought to have an extremely good or ‘worthy’ reason for so doing and it should be done as soon as possible. No-one was comfortable with the idea of an abortion for a fleeting and in all likelihood damaging, brush with fame, made all the worse at the late stage of 18 week. This interview with Josie, who fortunately changed her mind, highlights quite how advanced she was in her pregnancy, she was clearly visibly pregnant and had felt the baby’s violent movements. Yet under UK law she had another 5 or 6 weeks in which to end her baby’s life.

Having participated in the debate  numerous times online now, cutting my teeth on the baby forums of doom predominated by a disproportionate liberal mindset, the prevalent attitude even amongst liberal women is that abortion is a necessary social evil which shouldn’t really be available after the first trimester unless there are compelling reasons. Polling data demonstrates that woman are far more in favour of restrictions upon abortion than men. Guardian columnist Martin Robbins tries to rationalise the difference between male and female attitudes, searching for a sociological or cultural explanation rooted in patriarchy or oppression. The answer is far simpler – women intuitively and instinctively know that abortion constitutes the taking of a human life and is bad for mother and baby alike. Which is why the pro-choice crowd seek to shout so loud and define it as a fundamental human right.

A number of recent scandals, including that of Josie Cunningham have demonstrated quite what a mess the UK abortion law is in. This was brought to a head by the pre-signing of abortion forms uncovered by both a Daily Telegraph investigation which was followed up by the Care Quality Commission. The GMC have produced a welcome clarification and response as to why no professional charges were brought – they deemed this not to be in the public interest as there had been no prosecutions.

While we can fulminate over the sorry state of affairs and lack of consequences, actually what is important is that the GMC have now clarified that the practice of pre-signing of abortion forms is not only unlawful but unacceptable. They have demanded assurances that doctors will no longer be complicit in such a practice and have warned of severe consequences. If, as the GMC contends, this pre-signing was standard clinical practice, it shows how far medical practice had slipped from the spirit of the legislation. Those campaigning for legalisation of assisted suicide ought to look at how far the practice of abortion had deviated from the medical checks and balances. Sir David Steel said that it was always intended that two doctors would see the woman, yet now we have a situation in which the second signature is nothing more than a rubber-stamp and that a woman’s wish to terminate her pregnancy should override all other considerations, including that of the right to life of her unborn child.

The good news from the GMC is that the doctors complicit in gender-selective abortions now face serious sanctions. There is a world of difference between someone who believed that they were following generally accepted clinical practice who might face losing their career and someone who wilfully ignored the letter and spirit of the law.

The GMC note that much has changed in terms of abortion since 1967, which must be dealt with by Parliament and society. Writing in the Telegraph last week, pro-choice doctor Max Pemberton has said that the law surrounding abortion is vague, paternalistic and needs updating. Equally media feminists such as Laurie Penny have said to me that they believe that the abortion law needs to change. They may well have a point, a re-examination certainly seems prudent, even if it is the source of anxiety. But the point of any re-examination must not be simply to exonerate doctors in breach of the law. If the law is indeed an ass, why is this?

The pro-life movement experienced a stagnation in the past fifteen to twenty years, although it is now undergoing a renaissance which is causing the pro-choice/pro-abortion to reignite the cultural wars and cliches about violent, judgemental, women-hating, religiously deranged pro-lifers, led by men. Part of the reason for this stagnation was the succession of  unsuccessful Parliamentary debates which brought into being legislation which gave with the one hand, lowering the age of viability from 28 to 24 weeks which had the effect of lowering the age at which a social abortion under ground C could be performed, but on the other – allowed for abortion to take place up until birth. Combined with an unsuccessful challenge to changes in the HFEA Act in 2007 and Nadine Dorries’ failed proposals regarding abortion counselling in 2011, it has seemed like Parliamentary endeavours are a lost cause.

Things are beginning to change however, not least due to a number of pertinent questions being posed by MPs from the All-Party Parliamentary Pro Life group in both houses, which are highlighting discrepancies and abuses of the law, such as the doctors who faced no action for acting with impunity.

Pro-lifers have been reluctant to engage in any more potentially damaging politics due to fear of defeat and not wanting the agenda to be dictated to by the pro-choice groups and abortion industry. And look where that has got us. A situation in which the government are planning to stealthily introduce the largest, most wholesale change to the Abortion Act since 1967, radically changing and reinterpreting the law, without any sort of public debate or consensus.

A few years ago I would have talked about the pro-life lobby tearing itself to pieces with internecine feuds. By and large, slowly but surely people are beginning to get themselves together and many groups, especially those on the ground actively helping women in crisis pregnancies, just ignore any false outrage whipped up by the abortion-supporting press and get on with their mission.

But there is still the big incrementalism versus absolutism elephant in the room. Every single Catholic and pro-lifer is agreed that abortion is a dreadful thing and therefore most are scared of the public debate because of what it might mean. Could a massive public debate and consultation surrounding the UK’s abortion law lead to further liberalisation in some form or another? Isn’t it better they argue, to keep the uneasy status quo, while working to change attitudes at a grass roots level.

Those pro-lifers who are Catholic cannot act in any way which might appear to be advocating or sanctioning abortion at any stage. But that said, it’s clear that the law is in a total mess. Ensuring that it is complied with is a great place to start and neither should we refuse the chance to participate in a debate which could lead to firmer legislation which reflects the will of the public, which is predominantly far more pro-life than pro-choice in nature. Of course there is the risk that any tightening in one area could lead to  liberalisation elsewhere, but that does not prevent the important grass-roots work from going on, nor does a support for any strengthening give implicit acceptance of early stage abortions nor consent to their liberalisation which should also be fought against. I’ve had an allegedly easy early-stage abortion, packaged as little more than a pill popping episode to bring on a heavy period – there is no way that I would advocate turning a blind eye to a liberalisation of such a horrific and damaging procedure which indisputably ended a life and threatened to destroy mine.

There are two equal and opposite errors when considering how to address the injustices of the 1967 Abortion Act.  One is too foolishly rush in with a set of unfeasible and unrealistic demands which have no chance of ever being passed into law and validate the notion of aggressive vindictive pro-lifers. The other is to stick our heads in the sand until such time as it is believed that the time is ripe for abolition; a task which gets harder with each passing year.

We should not be afraid to call for a debate which examines the issue of abortion and the law in the twenty-first century and the light of new medicine and scientific techniques. The questions for society as a whole are still as they were in 1967. Is abortion ever a right? When, if ever is it acceptable; at what stage and for what reasons?

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