Abortion statistics 2013 – the underlying narratives

My column from the Catholic Universe – 21 July 2013

The abortion statistics for women living in England and Wales were released this week, with the picture looking decidedly mixed. A total of 185, 122 lives were lost to abortion in 2012, a drop of 2.5% from 2011, with a marked drop in the number of abortions performed upon the under-18 age group, in line with the reduced teenage pregnancy figures in this age cohort.

There is little to celebrate however, though more lives were spared than in previous years, the number of overall annual abortions equates to 185,000 women who felt that they lacked the ability, resources or desire to have a child and instead chose to terminate their baby’s life. That so many women felt that they had no option other than abortion indicates that something is seriously wrong in our society where so little value is placed both on the life of the unborn and motherhood itself. Moreover the raw data shows little improvement, around 16.4 per thousand women had an abortion in 2012, the same number of women as in 1997. As an aside, it’s interesting to note that the number of abortions jumped and then rose steadily since the Labour government came to power in 1997, but has begun to decline since the Coalition took power in 2010. Austerity does not seem to be causing any spikes in the abortion rate which feels counter-intuitive; the UK fertility rate is now one of the highest in Europe, thanks to an increase in immigration and changes in the timing of childbearing, maternity units across the country are bursting at the seams.

Another upsetting narrative to emerge was the sharp increase in the number of pregnancies aborted due to fetal abnormality, which had risen by 17% last year. Our pro-life attitude only extends so far as being able to cheer on our paralympians in a fit of self-indulgent patriotic and patronising bonhomie. We’ll happily wave flags and give a pat on the head to those who manage to overcome the odds and perform almost superhuman feats of courage and endurance, but not actually get our hands dirty and be prepared to do the dirty work of looking after a child with physically demanding special needs. Perhaps I’m being unfair, I know of many such generous families and I also accept that for many the decision to abort a disabled child is a tortuous and heartbreaking process, but it’s a tragic irony that the year which did so much to raise the profile and potential and prospects of those with disabilities, also saw such a marked increase in disabled babies being denied the opportunity to live.

But what the abortion statistics do highlight, as does Ann Furedi, Head of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), is that contraception is not the failsafe panacea promoted by the various industries and agencies with vested interests. By far the largest group of women who presented for an abortion last year, were those in the 20-24 age bracket, of whom it cannot be argued do not know the birds and the bees! Either they are engaging in irresponsible sexual behaviour, or their contraception is failing and perhaps both.

If Ann Furedi is admitting that ‘abortion is a fact of life…women from all ages and all walks of life experience unplanned pregnancy’ then this should cause us to question whether women really do have the much vaunted sexual freedom and whether or not abortion, the taking the life of a child, should be seen as an inevitable and acceptable consequence of a sexually permissive society? Does sexual libertinism come at too high a price? Lord Steele, one of the original architects and proponents of the 1967 Abortion Act dramatically intervened prior to the publication of these figures, saying that ‘it was never the purpose’ that women would use abortion as a form of contraception.’ For all Ann Furedi’s denial that abortion is used for this purpose, her insistence that there is ‘no right number of abortions’ belies her stance. The rise in repeat abortion would also undermine that claim – 37% of all abortions carried our last year were repeat procedures. More than 4,500 women had had at least four.

No wonder Ireland’s pro-life movement which has just seen a bill passed allowing for termination of pregnancy right up until birth for women deemed to be suicidal, are looking at the UK with such dismay and horror. The bitter irony is that this will reverse the abortion traffic back across the Irish Sea as a UK woman unable to procure a late stage abortion here need only to jump on a ferry or plane and claim she is suicidal in order to access the procedure over there.

Meanwhile our cousins over the pond in Texas have had considerable success in passing a bill which bans abortion from 20 weeks onwards as well as having the effect of closing many state clinics who are unwilling and/or unable to meet tight medical and sanitary regulations to ensure the protection of women.

Reading the heated debates on the matter, my attention was drawn to a polemic written by an ernest young man, enjoining his brothers to fight for the abortion rights of his sisters and setting out the reasons why. Amongst them were these:

“This bill will force men into unplanned fatherhood…Your sex life is at stake…Don’t be surprised if casual sex outside relationships becomes far more difficult to come by.”

A great own goal for the pro-choice movement demonstrating that abortion encourages men to shirk responsibility, leaving women with little other choice.


12 thoughts on “Abortion statistics 2013 – the underlying narratives

  1. I find the Catholic approach to abortion very confusing. I understand that a lot of Catholic belief is self-generated by the Vatican and that it doesn’t need to rest on anything the Bible says, but with so many indications throughout the holy book of Christians that the god God is pro-abortion, I struggle to understand where any part of the Christian anti-abortion movement derives its case. I read an excellent post today which sums up the evidence available regarding the approach of your deity to this topic:

    1. A belief that all human life is of equal value and should be protected from conception to natural death doesn’t necessitate recourse to a deity.

      In any case I suggest you do a little research before commenting further and have a think about how Christians may apply the 5th commandment.

      1. Why from conception? A cluster of cells isn’t a human being. It’s a potential human being, as is an egg or sperm. The death of living organisms such as sperm is equally destructive. There is nothing in the Bible that indicates that your god considers embryos to be fully formed human beings.

        Besides which, the ‘Do not kill’ comes loaded with additional queries. Can you kill other animals? If it’s just related to homo sapiens, can you kill in self defense or to protect others? Can you switch off a machine that is keeping a terminally ill person in pain alive against their will? How can the god God command people not to kill and then encourage “pregnant women ripped open” (Hosea 13:16) or allow rabbis to induce abortions on women who have cheated on their husbands (Numbers 5:11-21)?

        The Bible directly gives instructions about a lack of care for even heavily pregnant women that I don’t see reflected in the Christian anti-abortion movement. It’s confusing for non-believers to understand where your stance originates. Are there any Bible passages that can back up the anti-abortion point of view? And if there are, how do the fit with the whole host of abortions encouraged by your god?

      2. Biology or science even, shows us that from the very beginning this is human life with its own separate DNA.

        A key tenet of Christianity is to love thy neighbour as thyself, whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.

        There is a cogent humanist and theistic case for the protection of human life. As Catholics we do not believe in sola scriptura (ie Bible alone) but here’s a good summary of why Catholics oppose abortion.


  2. Violet, are you angry that we Christians are not more violent? That we don’t call down the Judgement of God on sinners/enemies, like in Luke 9:54-55? That we don’t condemn you more often and more violently? Your Old Testament citations refer to brutal times in Ancient Jewish history. Times of war and hardship where the Jewish people were constantly at risk of being wiped out. The point is, what you are citing is history, as the Bible includes the good and the bad – it doesn’t clean things up and give us a sanitary, Walt Disney version of what happened. It shows us, for instance, how the great King David succumbed to lust and envy and committed an atrocious act against his friend in order to steal his wife. All of this violence and sin shows why humanity needs a Savior, who is Jesus Christ.

    It is not our “belief” that life begins at conception. That is science. It was discovered about 150 years ago that a new life is formed when a sperm combines with an ovum. However there are some Biblical passages that reinforce this. Luke 1:39-45 and Jeremiah 1:5 are the most commonly cited.

    So why do we defend innocent life from being killed? Taking care of the weak and the oppressed was a common theme for Jesus Christ. It is stated over and over in Scripture that we are to help the poor, feed the hungry, and lift up the downtrodden. Matthew 10:8, Matthew 25:34-40, Luke 10:25-37, Mark 6:34-44

    1. Hi John, I’m relieved that Christians aren’t more violent, as there is definitely the basis for being so from the direct actions of the deity presented in your holy book.

      It is your ‘belief’ that human life begins at conception. All organisms are living, therefore the human eggs and sperm are just as appropriately labelled potential human life. More commonly science sees human life beginning when a heart begins to beat, the central nervous system is matured, when brain waves appear in the cerebral cortex or when the fetus is viable outside the womb.

      “Taking care of the weak and the oppressed was a common theme for Jesus Christ.”
      I do agree with this and believe it’s a worthy objective. With regard to the consequences of unwanted pregnancies the most effective measures are access to birth control and unbiased sex education. Obviously with regard to taking care of weak and oppressed women who found themselves pregnant, usually due to rape, pressure or ignorance, the Catholic Church has an atrocious record. An atrocious record which it continues by denying its adherents birth control and effective sex education.

      1. “It is your ‘belief’ that human life begins at conception. All organisms are living, therefore the human eggs and sperm are just as appropriately labelled potential human life. More commonly science sees human life beginning when a heart begins to beat, the central nervous system is matured, when brain waves appear in the cerebral cortex or when the fetus is viable outside the womb.”

        This is false.

        Science tests for life by (brushing off my GCSE Biology here) seeing what processes happen in the organism – the following processes identify a living organism:

        Whilst the embryo does not reproduce, perfectly reasonable as it is not yet at that stage of life, it does however exhibit the other signs of life. Science is clear on this matter – the ‘debate’ about when life starts is actually a debate about when we should start to value life, using terms like ‘personhood’ and ‘potential’ to get around the fact that every abortion results in a death, a death for our convenience.

        The only real scientific debate around life is whether or not viruses are alive. Science applies the same standards in determining life to bacteria and mammals, to parasites and hosts, to plants and aliens. Humans do not have a special kind of life that only starts when the heart begins to beat (18 days after conception), the central nervous system is matured (9 weeks after conception), brain waves appear in the cerebral cortex (6 weeks after conception) or when the fetus is viable outside the womb (21-28 weeks, how are we defining this? what country are we in?). As the last example shows, humans do not have a special kind of life that can be dead and then alive again simply by moving between countries (ie viability dependent on local medical skills/equipment/cost controls).

  3. A cluster of cells? I’ve never heard such ignorance. Why argue with barbarians? If you had an abortion, you committed murderer. No babbling will alter that. And here’s a little secret – to someone who doesn’t like you – you are nothing more than a “cluster of cells”.

  4. Thanks for this piece. It’s little publicised that the percentage of under-16 pregnancies ending in abortion has gone from 4 in 10 to 6 in 10 in ten years.

  5. As the topic of abortion is one fueled by so much emotion, and I’ll be honest it has always been an unconformable subject, for me also,for various reasons, why oh why don’t ALL religious organisations come together and at least promote birth control?
    This is by far the most honest way of tackling the moral ethical and traumatic circumstances surrounding abortion.
    It has been going on since people first started having sex and will continue until a way is found to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

    Do away with church dogma and ensure everyone with a religious bent throws their weight behind education and contraception.

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