I find the remarks made this week about wanting to restrict abortions to 12 weeks almost unbelievable.That so soon after an excellent debate in 2008 a group of yes Tory MPs should talk up a move to draw the line at 12 weeks is despairing. Parliament carefully considered and overwhelmingly and on a free vote rejected a motion to reduce the 24 week limit for abortion so why this move to draw the line at 12 weeks? I find it despairing.
Never forget this is basically being driven by the flawed thinking of the misnamed “pro-life lobby” whose long term objective remains to outlaw all abortion as essentially an act of murder. This is because on religious grounds and as a matter of faith they refuse to recognise the difference between a potential person – that is an unborn fetus without awareness and incable of suffering – and an actual real person, such as a young child conscious, aware and all too capable of suffering.
Again I think of one case I know personally that shows why it is so vital this distinction is recognised and that terminations should be carried out legally right up to the full 24 weeks.
A married young friend of ours, a highly qualified nurse, was keen with her husband, to have a second child and became pregnant. Towards the end of her pregnancy tests showed that she was carrying a very severely disabled fetus that if it were to be born alive would have a short, painful and miserable life. The options were put to her and she chose termination. The medical team showed her every sympathy. However it was now too late for any other procedure to be possible other than for the heart to be stopped and for her to go through a full birth experience – only for the baby to be born dead as in a miscarriage..
She had no doubt that her choice to terminate that life was the right thing, still it was traumatic and extremely painful for her as this was no unwanted pregnancy and she had so looked forward to having another child. She grieved a lot. Eighteen months later however she and her husband were pleased when she became pregnant again. She now has two lovely normal children. Her case is almost identical to that of Channel 4 newspresenter Cathy Newman who has told the Telegraph the story of her third pregnancy. She too was told the child she was carrying was extremely handicapped and she also chose an abortion.
If the “pro-lifers” had their way with a 12 week limit how different our friend and the life of Cathy Newman would have been. It would have started with the doctors involved having to tell her if they did tests after 12 weeks that she was carrying an extremely disabled fetus, but that it was now too late to terminate and nothing could be done about it.
To preserve their own careers they would have to treat this damaged fetus as a person and obey the new law.. More than that to preserve their reputations they would have to do everything possible to keep the seriously disabled fetus alive before and after birth..
The mother, the child when it was born and her family would then have been condemned to “make the best of it.” She would not be alone as more and more severly disabled children are born, each having been condemned to a limited and painful existence and each making a catastrophic impact on their families and siblings and each increasing the massive cost of providing decent care for them.
Certainly up and down the country more and more county councillors and education authoiries are concerned about the exploding costs of caring for seriously disabled children born as the result of medical advances..Such handicapped children once born, aware and able to suffer are persons. They deserve and have a right to our support. We should not however follow policies such as this 12 week step which will increase their numbers by forcing women to go through with pregnancies when the known outcome is so sad. Again would not the adoption of such a policy be grotesque and in its effects staggeringly cruel?
Yes, dissuade young people from embarking on full sexual relations before they are responsible adults. Yes, provide good moral and medical sex-education to help develop a sense of personal responsibility. Also provide access to birth control and the morning after pill for those who make mistakes. Yes, provide access to abortion for those not ready or willing to take on the responsibilities of parenting. Yes do everything possible to enable early counselling so women can reflect and make an informed choice so abortions can then take place as early in pregnancy as possible, but allow for the hard cases which currently are the reasons for such late abortions – the bearing of a severely handicapped embryo and cases of hidden pregnancies by very young girls.
Here is a report of what has been said so far by James Kirkup, Deputy Political Editor of the Daily Telegraph. 7:00AM BST 06 Oct 2012
The Health Secretary said he believed there is a moral case for cutting the current time limit of 24 weeks. Although he stressed that the Coalition has no plans to attempt changes in abortion rules, his comments will encourage MPs and campaigners pushing for a new Commons vote on the issue.
“Everyone looks at the evidence and comes to a view about when they think that moment is, and my own view is that 12 weeks is the right point for it,” Mr Hunt told The Times.
Mr Hunt, who was appointed to his post last month, denied that his view on abortion was based on religious belief. He said: “It’s just my view about this incredibly difficult question about the moment that we should deem life to start. I don’t think the reason I have that view is for religious reasons.”
The minister is the second senior Government minister this week to call for tightening of the rules on terminations.
Earlier this week, Maria Miller, the new minister for women, told the Daily Telegraph that she stands by her decision to vote in 2008 for a 20 week limit. Miss Miller said it was “common sense” to lower the legal limit at which a pregnancy can be terminated in order to “reflect the way science has moved on
Currently, 91 per cent of abortions take place before the first 12 weeks of pregnancy have elapsed. Doctors say a 12-week limit would severely curtail testing for conditions including Down’s syndrome.
Nadine Dorries MP last night said she was “delighted” with Mr Hunt’s stance and pledged to re-introduce her 2008 amendment to reduce the abortion limit to 20 weeks.
Tory MP Mark Pritchard, the vice chairman parliamentary pro-life group, said the existing limits “lag well behind recent breakthroughs in science”.
“Britain now executes abortions on an industrial scale,” he said. “The high numbers are a scar on Britain’s social landscape.”
Mr Hunt’s remarks are likely to be criticised by pro-choice groups, and could have an impact on the Conservatives’ attempts to boost their support among female voters.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists was last night reported to have called the Health Secretary’s intervention “insulting to women”.
Diane Abbott MP, Labour’s shadow public health minister, said: “I think women and families across the country will find it staggering that the priority for this government is playing politics with people’s lives, like this.
“We’re seeing a sustained ideological attack on the science, and the rights that British women and families have fought for.
“There is no evidence to support a reduction in the abortion time limit and this view is supported across the medical profession.”
Yvette Cooper, shadow home secretary said she was “chilled and appalled” by Mr Hunt’s statement, adding: “Has he any idea what that means for women’s health?”
In 2008, the last time the Commons considered the limit, Mr Hunt voted in favour of halving the limit from 24 weeks to 12.
Aides to Mr Hunt last night stressed that he was expressing a personal view and not signalling any change in Government policy. There are no plans to trigger a vote on abortion laws, they said.
Mr Hunt is “one of 646 MPs expressing his personal opinions – there is no new policy here,” said a source.
Abortion is traditionally a “free vote” issue, meaning MPs including ministers can vote however they want without being told to follow a Government line.
David Cameron has signalled that he would personally support a lowering of the limit to 22 weeks, but in office has made no move to bring about a Commons vote on the issue.
In 2008, the Commons rejected a cut in the time limit by a wide margin, voting with a majority of 71 to keep the limit at 24 weeks.
Mr Hunt voted for a 12-week limit in that debate.
Now however, a small number of Conservative backbenchers are keen to force a vote on the time limit.
They cite advances in care for children born very prematurely, which mean it is now possible for doctors in some cases to save the lives of babies born before 24 weeks.