Limits of thinking?

The debate surrounding the potential reduction in the 24 week abortion limit is very timely given the recent debate as to the merits of incrementalism on the Catholic blogosphere and Twitter.

Jeremy Hunt’s remarks, whilst perhaps not a distraction as previously thought, it seems that he was answering a straight question perfectly honestly, (even if primed by No 10) do seem indicative of a sea change in government thinking, in line with the views of the electorate. He has been applauded for his honesty even if many disagree with his thinking, although the outrage as to a politician expressing a genuinely held viewpoint is comical. People seem to have forgotten that Mr Hunt is the Secretary of State for health, he is an elected partisan politician and not a civil servant, therefore he is more than entitled to speak out about health matters according to his own personal and or political viewpoint.

What new scientific facts are there to prove that abortion after a certain period of time should be outlawed? Actually the science is to a certain degree irrelevant, life issues are never scientific but always ethical. We may use science to reinforce our ideological position but how we interpret the science will always be coloured by our philosophy. So for example you have pro-choicers at one end of the scale talking about the low survivability rates of babies of premature gestation and at the other, pro-lifers using the science to point out foetal development and sentience.

The issue of late-stage abortion shouldn’t pivot around the viability or survival rates of premature babies; whenever a baby is born alive every effort should be made to preserve its life. Ethically speaking the deliberate destruction of human life is equally grave whether we are talking about a 3 week old unborn baby or a terminally ill elderly patient with only a few weeks to live, but there is nonetheless something viscerally repellant about a late-stage abortion. David Alton goes into the detailed medical specifics but I defy anyone to read his description (no graphic photos) and not feel sick to their stomachs. It is undeniable that late stage abortion is repugnant and ought to be banned in any decent society.

No reputable vet would do this to a dog and yet it’s somehow acceptable to do it to unborn children, simply because as humans we are able to make a reasoned decision?! Not only do the babies die in agony, (note that the central nervous system is formed by six weeks) but being the recipient of such a violent procedure is also no good for women, either psychologically or physically. Typical injuries include scarring on the cervix, increasing the risks of infertility or problems in future pregnancies, infections and that’s before the psychological effects of having to give birth to a fully formed baby, or having been given medication whilst awake to cause the waters to break. No wonder women are reporting struggling with future wanted pregnancies, phobias about labour and giving birth and difficulty bonding with their newborns. In addition no specialist support is given to women experiencing pregnancy after a late-term abortion, unlike women who have had stillbirths. The abortion is deemed to have been their choice and many women report feeling too ashamed to be able to discuss things fully with their midwives.

The practice is utterly indefensible and needs to be stamped out. The death of the child, the moral evil, is exacerbated by the cruel and barbaric method by which it is executed.

This talk of limits is not simply just talk. Jeremy Hunt and Maria Miller have added their voices to a chorus of leading members of the Tory government who wish to cut the limit to 20 weeks, including Theresa May and David Cameron himself. Nadine Dorries indicated yesterday on Twitter that the issue could well come up, as back-benchers are again proposing a private members’ bill, although in her column in today’s Conservative Home, she has also stated that she believes the glut of Tory support to be a sop for some of the Tory grassroots Christians who have been alienated and outraged by the government’s determination to enact gay marriage in law, despite overwhelming opposition. Interestingly, Alex Neil, the Scottish minister for health has also now added his voice to the fray, pledging his support for a reduction in the 24 week limit.

Guido Fawkes points out that the Government is publishing its sexual health strategy in the autumn which will include contraception and abortion. A proposed limit cut could be on the cards. It is not simply media hype or a Twitter storm. David Cameron can state with total honesty that he has no plans to introduce legislation to reduce the abortion limit, however there is nothing to stop a private member’s bill from being introduced. Abortion has historically always been a conscience vote for individual MPs, and not a governmental or party policy, therefore we could see a bill being introduced before the end of this Parliament in 2015.

So what does that mean for pro-lifers? Can or should we support this? Can a Catholic pro-lifer support a politician who is lobbying for a reduction in the abortion time-limits? It requires some careful thinking.

SPUC have said this week’s events are just media hype, but it’s time to take a fresh look at the abortion issue. They are right up to a point, in that the way that the government funds the abortion and abortion-related industry certainly needs to be examined, especially the relationships between the DFID and Marie Stopes, who forcibly implement China’s one child policy and are expanding their global franchise.

The problem with taking a fresh look at the abortion issue is that this paves the way for pro-choicers to demand even more liberal abortion laws, such as removing the doctor’s second signature and making early stage abortion unrestricted. I won’t link to the more outrageous polemical pro-choice rants, but one “angry woman” went off on a hysterical flight of fancy where women were simply dropping like flies through coat hangers and so on and called for abortion to be available throughout the duration of pregnancy. “As long as it’s inside it can be aborted” she cried. Whilst the public would never sanction such a thing, public opinion is firmly on the side of the 20 week limit, the trouble with emphasising the human form of the 20 week old foetus, is that it can have the opposite effect of de-humanising the early stages of pregnancy, after all it’s quite difficult to go all gooey over a blastocyst and even the little bean with paddles doesn’t have quite the aw factor. By concentrating on the foetal pain and awareness issues, as well as the revolting procedure, one risks inadvertently endorsing early stage abortions, which could be seen as more humane.

As yet the public appetite is not yet in favour of a total ban, so what we could realistically see is yet another compromise, along the lines of the debacle in 1990, when following the filibustering of Alton’s 1988 bill, a bill was passed lowering the abortion limit to 24 weeks, but allowing it up until birth for disabled babies, including conditions such as Downs Syndrome and cleft palate. Pyrrhic victory is too trite a phrase to describe the devastating effects and implications for the disabled, following this concession.

Another issue is whether or not a cut to abortion limits could render an overall abolition unlikely? Is there a chance that having cut the limits, even to an unlikely 12 weeks in line with most other European countries, that the majority of the country will be satisfied and there is little opportunity to work so that no woman ever feels the need or compulsion to abort her unborn baby?

It’s very difficult not to fall into utilitarian thinking, whichever way one approaches the issues. I think the response from right-to-life campaigners has to be qualified support. If the intentions are to primarily save lives, such as the almost 2,000 healthy babies who would undoubtedly be saved by a simple 4 week cut in limit and to prevent suffering, then morally there can be no question that this is the right course of action. The politicians have explicitly stated that such a cut would exclude disabled children – a disgusting, disgraceful and disappointing decision. If there is the opportunity to save 2,000 lives with no additional cost, then of course this should be grasped, in the same way that we grasp the opportunity to save just a single life.

Where due caution has to be exercised is in ensuring that any such cut to the limits is not accompanied by liberalising of early stage abortion, which is a real danger. I wrote last year about the realities of early stage medical abortion in response to the proposed change to allow people to administer the pill at home. Fortunately common sense prevailed in the court room, but as the case of Jessie-Maye Barlow demonstrates, destruction of the unborn child aside, early stage abortion is not risk free, particularly when the abortion clinic is negligent in terms of follow-up care.

But provided right-to-lifers are clear, not only about the sanctity of all life, provided that they take care not to endorse, encourage or condone abortion at any stage, then, they can, in good conscience support any measure that seeks to reduce the number of those killed and wounded by abortion, whilst continuing to work for total abolition, not only via parliamentary means, (including the creation of social conditions as to make abortion unnecessary) but also via prayer, practical help, education and support.

Most Catholics and those who support a right-to-life are neither qualified moral theologians, political strategists or social scientists, but simply those seeking an acknowledgement of the humanity of the unborn. It is impossible to know with any certainty what effect a rate cut might have – more legal protection for the unborn is no bad thing, although the inequality of the disabled must not simply be ignored.

What we have to ask ourselves is on that terrible day of judgement when we are called to account, was when we had the opportunity to save lives, did we grasp this with both hands, did we engage in activity such as galvanising support and writing to our MP etc? Or were we paralysed by fear that this was the wrong strategy or so concerned by the unforeseen consequences that we passed up the opportunity to outlaw a barbaric practice, enshrine advances in thinking in favour of the humanity of the unborn and thus allowed lives to continue to be lost and suffering to continue unabated, whilst waiting for the perfect solution?

Distraction technique?

Jeremy Hunt has now added his voice to that of Maria Miller, only this time he’s gone even further, stating that he would like to see the abortion limit dropped to 12 weeks.

Whilst many of us are delighted to see abortion back up at the top of the political agenda, I can’t help but inwardly sigh at all the inevitable clichés that are going to be trotted out by all sides.

Abortion is an apolitical, secular issue which requires neither recourse to any sort of theism or tribal party loyalty of any description. It boils down to one very simple question: is it ever morally justified to take the life of an unborn child? A negative answer does not necessitate an appeal to God or any belief as to a free-market economy, as evidenced by the various commie, atheist and pagan members of the UK secular pro-life society.

Anyone care to guess how many articles are going to be churned out by the Guardian on this over the weekend? Smoke is already erupting from the keyboards of Diane Abbot and Sarah Ditum. Christian right wing, US tactics, culture wars, women’s health, blah blah.

Nope, just a bunch of people who think killing unborn children is quite wrong. Women do not need direct abortion for their health and how, in this instance late term abortion with all its horrors and side effects can be justified as healthy, is beyond me.

As far as pro-life is concerned, Andy Stephenson is quite correct, this is all a total irrelevance. Time limits and survival rates of premature babies are not the main issue here. The question is when does life begin? Not when does sentience start or when can the baby be said to be alive or philosophical beard stroking as to definitions of awareness, but when does human life begin? If not at conception when precisely does the unborn child suddenly become either human or alive?

The science is firmly on the side of the pro-lifers, even Ann Furedi of BPAS admits as much, writing that

“the question is not when does life begin but when does it begin to matter?”

The answer to that does not depend upon religious views or political leanings although of course they may influence one’s answer. I can’t reconcile myself with how the Labour party, once traditionally preoccupied with the protection of the poorest and most vulnerable in society, with its traditional ideology of solidarity, can ride roughshod over the rights of humanity on the grounds that it is not yet born. The lives of those humans who are yet to make the journey through the birth canal are not as important as those who have?

Abortion limits matter little when one is talking about the lives of the unborn. It is as abhorrent to kill a three week old unborn baby (who incidentally has a heartbeat) as it is one at twenty four weeks.

Whilst all pro lifers support measures that would reduce the amount of abortions being performed and suffering caused to women, actually what we want to see is an end to abortion.

Neither Jeremy Hunt, Maria Miller or even Nadine Dorries are pro life as they all support a lowering of limits and nothing more. It’s laughable when they are portrayed as pro-life bigots when the truth is that pro-lifers are crying out for politicians who openly support the cause and not what they believe to be achievable.

Personally, like many others I am in favour of a reduction in limits as it will save lives and avert terrible suffering, but there is the risk that such a measure could backfire. We know that women are often pressured and coerced by others, not least by the abortion industry itself. An early limit could in some cases cause a woman to rush her decision and make a mistake that she will regret for the rest of her life. It will however spare some women the agony of late term abortion and could force the unwanted pregnancy rate down.

There is no comparable statistical data available as to what happens when a country drastically reduces the limits on abortion after 40 years of effective abortion on demand, so whatever side of the debate you are on, pro choice, incrementalist or absolutist, the consequences are, to a great extent, guesswork.

It’s great to see the topic of abortion back in the spotlight, public opinion is beginning to change, but the cynic in me scents a distraction. Maria Miller and Jeremy Hunt have not proposed any such legislation or even consultation on the matter, this is simply their personal views. Cameron’s Conservatives are doing appallingly, his personal rating is at an all time low, Osborne is not doing much better, the department of Transport made a huge Horlicks last week, the re-shuffle was a damp squib, Ed Milipede has begun to emerge from his chrysalis, the government have made more u-turns than a motorist who’s switched their sat-nav to Apple maps and suddenly the focus is on private views held about abortion?

Either it’s a total distraction to keep the media and masses talking or they’ve run out of ideas and want the coalition government to be seen to have been decisive and achieved at least one thing over their disastrous tenure.

There is nonsensical talk emanating from the pro-choice lobby about an “abortion policy fit for the 21st century”. What does that mean, teleporting unborn children out of wombs? It’s a desperate attempt to make those who oppose the killing of our unborn seem out of touch, Victorian, paternalistic and uncaring. At least the Victorians actually took some responsibility for the poor and weak, as opposed to outwardly killing them off. What this talk is aimed at is reforming our abortion laws in order to enshrine abortion on demand as a right and removing current medical safeguards. What could happen in practice is we see a reduction in limits coupled with unrestricted early stage abortion, something that would neither be good for women or children, however politicians and members of the public would feel appeased by an intellectually dishonest and unsatisfying compromise.

If the government or an MP really wants to make a difference in terms of reducing abortion, they should stop funding the abortion clinics who make money off the back of women’s misery, not just in the UK but as in the case of Marie Stopes, in China. They’ll also stop funding organisations who promote abortion as being the main option for unplanned teen pregnancies. They’ll ban advertisements for abortion services and pour money into helping mothers, especially young or single mothers and heavily subsidise childcare for those in greatest need. They’ll also give pro life organisations funds to properly counsel and support frightened pregnant women.

Unless and until all of those things happen, it’s all tinkering around the edges, a lot of unnecessary conjecture and a contrived escalation of the perceived culture wars. Let’s face it, the government has firmly stuck its fingers in its ears over the overwhelming majority who do not wish marriage to be re-defined, why are they suddenly going to introduce legislation to cut abortion limits?

The fewer babies killed and women hurt the better, but let’s be honest, without the above measures, bringing limits down is of very little import if one’s ultimate destination is in the sluice of BPAS.

20 week limit – some facts

A 4D ultrasound of a baby at 20 weeks gestation

Maria Miller, the new minister for women, has courted controversy by stating that she supports a lowering of the legal abortion limit down to 20 weeks from the current deadline of 24 weeks.

No doubt anticipating the howls of outrage from the feminist lobby, she has valiantly attempted to reframe this as being a feminist issue, that it is in women’s best interests that the abortion limits are lowered. One has to admit that she has a point.

Medically and psychologically speaking it is certainly better for women who have an abortion to do so sooner, rather than later. The advice of the RCOG and the NHS is that around 10 weeks is the optimal time to terminate a pregnancy, in terms of minimising the risks to women. The procedure for a late-term abortion is especially gruesome and traumatic; either one is given massive doses of hormones to induce labour (which can last 6-12 hours) and then delivers a dead baby; alternatively the baby’s heart is stopped via an injection either vaginally or through the stomach, medication is given to soften the cervix and then 12-24 hours later woman is given a general anaesthetic and the dead baby is dismembered and removed surgically.

Those are the indisputable scientific facts. Medically, there is no question that if we are talking solely about female physical wellbeing, then an early stage abortion, though no picnic, has to be the less risky and traumatic option. No woman gives birth to a stillborn baby without experiencing a very deep level of trauma. Here’s some testimonies from women who have had late-stage abortions in the UK, from a non partisan women’s website.  The replies are well worth reading.

hi i had an abortion when i was 20 weeks pregnant
they didnt explain to me that i would have to give birth as i didnt really no anything about abortions at the time
its bin a year and half and i still struggle to get through the days, i regret what i have done but if i could turn back the clocks then i think i would, it was 4 the best but i cant live with my self for what i have done.

I had an abortion at 21weeks and 4days and it was the most horrible experience of my life…The clinic where i had the procedure done was horrible, it was clean… but it was just like a baby killing factory. A conveyor belt of women. I was upset and no-one cared. I was left alone for ages. I had to get a d and e procedure. I had something placed in me to dilate my cervix… i was lying in a small shut off room alone, when I felt gushing coming from me… I waited untill i was getting my temperature taken and told the nurse, that was my water breaking… I cried and cried when I was alone, then a short while later at 12.15pm I was taken and given my anesthetic an that was it over. Woke up in recovery. Was put back in my bed where my tempertaure and blood pressure was taken and that was it. No-one spoke to me untill i was being discharged, and given my anti-biotics. At the whole time i was there i wasnt asked why i wanted an abortion, if i was sure this is what i wanted… Just got on with it. I am not anti abortion, but I wish the option hadnt been there for me to get it so late.

As many of the late term abortion apologists cite the relatively low number of late term abortions in order to qualify them on medical grounds, it’s worth having a look at these figures. In 2011 2,729 late term abortions took place between 20-24 weeks. None were under ground F – to save the life of the pregnant woman, or Ground G – to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the mother. 778 were under Ground E – there was a ‘substantial risk of abnormalities, as to be seriously handicapped.’ So thats a total of 1951 healthy babies aborted between 20 and 24 weeks.

Let’s also remind ourselves of the findings of a recent symposium  comprised of 140 experts on maternal health in Dublin who ruled that direct abortion is never medically necessary to save the life of a mother.

The danger in defending the lowering of a 20 week limit is that it risks encouraging and endorsing early stage abortions as well as ignoring the disgusting discrimination against babies with disabilities, although if any such change to legislation is mooted, it would be an excellent opportunity to reexamine the law surrounding Ground E abortions.

Even those who feel that a woman should have a right to choose, baulk at the notion of a 20 week baby being killed, simply because a mother has left her decision too late. If people are uncomfortable with the idea of a fully formed baby being killed, then we need to ask why it is acceptable to dispose of disabled babies. What does that tell us about our society – are we saying that the lives and bodies of disabled people are of lesser value and worth? Anyone who feels intuitively uncomfortable about late stage abortions for social reasons, needs to re-examine their conscience as to why they feel they are acceptable for babies with disabilities.

As for the science of foetal pain, this is contentious. What we do know is that babies of 16 weeks gestation will recoil from a noxious substance in the womb and that babies born prematurely under 24 weeks will withdraw and cry if stabbed in the heel with a needle. Though the RCOG’s official position is that babies under 24 weeks do not feel pain, other experts feel that this is based on an outdated understanding of physiology.

There are also disturbing cases of babies born alive following attempted abortion. As Peter Saunders notes, “in a 2007 West Midlands study of 3,189 cases of termination for fetal anomaly, 102 (3.2%) babies were born alive. This included 65.7% of those between 20 and 24 weeks. Accounts such as these understandably upset people.”

Here’s Millie McDonagh thriving after being born at 22 weeks and 6 days. Amilia Taylor, the world’s most premature baby was born at 21+ 6 days. Baby Jayden was not so lucky. He was born at the same time and allowed. to die. A 20 week limit could ensure that treatment is attempted for all premature babies. Or do the feminist principles of equality for the weakest only apply to those who have the strongest chances of growing into adulthood without disability?

Three quarters of the public have expressed a desire to see the limit brought down to 20 weeks. If such a change is passed not only does it increase protection for the unborn but is a significant step towards recognising the humanity of all unborn children. Perhaps that’s why it is being opposed quite so vehemently?