Pro-lifers need to accept it’s time for the abortion law to be reviewed

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?

7 thoughts on “Pro-lifers need to accept it’s time for the abortion law to be reviewed

  1. I think we need to go further back and protest the liberalisation of sex. The media and medical profession portray the sex act as no more important than a video game or buying a magazine. What about the horrible perversion of online porn? All these attitudes contribute to abortion statistics because women are no longer ‘respected’. They become expendable emotionless playthings for men. This attitude is messing us all up, casting aside instinct and societal norms for ‘pleasure’. As a result everything is falling apart, no-one is called to duty or responsibility and a sense of family and community is lost. We mustn’t allow ourselves to be dictated to by hedonistic selfish ‘media types’ in deciding the fate of humans. Life is special as are human relationships.

  2. The abortion act does not need to be reviewed. It needs to be abolished and protection to be given to all the unborn. The prolife movement lost its credibility in the past when it made concessions, conceding that earlier abortions could take place if only later ones were banned – with a further concession allowing abortion if the child were disabled.

    Enough of these concessions, compromises, political tomfooleries.

    The prolife movement must stand firm on its principles.

    The prolife movement must not seek “firmer legislation which reflects the will of the public” as you request. It must seek legislation that is prolife. For heaven’s sake, we’re a prolife movement not a movement that seeks to reflect ‘the will of the public.’

    The last thing the prolife movement is to go on making the same mistakes over and over again. This article is fundamentally flawed.

    1. Maria, re-read the last sentence. We are not a movement which seeks to reflect the will of the public but to change hearts and minds.

      The question posed is this? What has changed since 1967 which has allowed for such a wholesale disregard for and liberal application of the law?

      The Josie Cunningham case has proved a fascinating barometer of attitudes.

      A re-examination of the law does not rule out its abolition, but the time is right to re-open discussion.

      There is cross party political consensus that gendercide should not be permitted. If no concessions are allowed does that mean we cannot support any move to codify this under the law?

      Pro-life can certainly use public attitudes towards abortion in any debate as well as seek to persuade people of the moral coherence of our position.

      Hence the question what is abortion and when, jf ever, can it be permitted? Has the 1967 Act actually achieved its purpose?

  3. Conversion to Christ and the awareness of the dignity of human life is the only way to convince people that the Abortion Law is immoral, and in the eyes of God, illegal. Great Britain also has the huge problem of a populace, including Catholics, who think contraception is OK, which is it not.

    The contraceptive mentality is connected to the acceptance of abortion. Morality is found both in natural law, no longer taught in law schools, btw, for the most part, and in the revealed Law of God. One cannot attack abortion as if it is apart from an entire pro-family, pro-life ethos.

    Great Britain is not like the States, which has a federal government wherein individual states can control abortion independently of the government out of Washington.

    And, you have ignored the real force behind ALL laws in Great Britain, the EU, which has an agenda and has been pushing this for years.

    Do you honestly think that GB acts separately from The Hague?

    Do you honestly believe that a secular country where in the vast majority do not attend any church and where many people no longer believe in marriage and the family will change its abortion law?

    I personally believe that incremental change is no longer an option for GB. Being a country run by practical atheists, one may just as well realize that only constant working for a complete pro-life philosophy is the only way.

    And anyone in the Church who is practicing or teaching contraception adds to the evil, and this needs to be taught from the pulpit and in the so-called Catholic schools.

  4. “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.”

    I know that we both want the same thing and so I am sorry to criticise but I am afraid that your words above underline why we have made so little progress. Before we can try to change the law we have to understand what the law says. I am not quite sure what you mean by the “age of viability” in this context but if you are referring to a 28 week time limit for abortion, there never has been any such limit in our law.

    The 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act introduced a time limit – 24 weeks in some cases and date of birth in others – but both of these time limits amounted to an increase on the legal limits beforehand.

    Because pro-lifers and MPs at the time did not understand this (in other words they did not understand the law), they believed that they had won a great concession when in fact they had lost everything and the abortionists had all that they desired. And still we hear about the non-existent ‘reduction’ in the time limit.

    Having said that, repeal of the Abortion Act is almost a red herring. The passing of the Abortion Act in 1967 woke up right minded people to what was happening – too late sadly. What we need is a law that says that killing any child is illegal. We need to ask our country and the world as a whole, “To what question is killing a child the right answer?”

    1. Constructive criticism is always welcome.

      I understand that there was never a 28 week limit but that it was determined by viability which was in practice 28 weeks. Hence the 1990 Act effectively lowered what was happening in practice whilst legally codifying a higher limit

      This piece isn’t specifically arguing for reduction in time limits but actually an entire re-examination of the 1967 Act, what has it achieved, is it fit for purpose or do we even need an abortion law?

      We shouldn’t be afraid to address these things.

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