In 2008, fifteen Shadow ministers who are in the Cabinet today voted to cut the right to choose abortion to 22 weeks. (David Cameron: also Chris Grayling, William Hague, Philip Hammond, Jeremy Hunt, Andrew Lansley, Oliver Letwin, Francis Maude, Theresa May, Patrick McLoughlin, David Mundell, Owen Paterson, and Eric Pickles.)
David Davies, Liam Fox, Damian Green, Patrick McLoughlin, Owen Paterson – in all twenty front bench Conservative MPs, including Jeremy Hunt – had earlier voted in favour of cutting the right to choose abortion to 12 weeks.
In October 2010, Jeremy Hunt was happy to “elaborate” on the role of Tory cuts in denying people on a low income support for large familes:
“The number of children that you have is a choice and what we’re saying is that if people are living on benefits, then they make choices but they also have to have responsibility for those choices,” Hunt said on Wednesday’s Newsnight. “It’s not going to be the role of the state to finance those choices.”
He added: “You can have children but if you are going to ask for support that is more than the average wage that people earn, then we’re saying no, the state shouldn’t support that … That’s not fair on working people who have to pay the taxes to pay those benefits.”
We all know now what that means. It means “savings” made at the expense of disabled people and their carers. It means thirty-two people dying every week because their benefits were withdrawn after an ATOS assessment declared them “fit for work”. It means 1.6 million children growing up in severe poverty in the UK:
living in homes lacking the most basic things the rest of us take for granted.
Children from these families could end up going to school hungry because they don’t get a proper breakfast; go through winter without a warm coat or a decent pair of shoes. Some even have to sleep on a damp mattress on the floor because they don’t have their own bed.
The combination of fervid eagerness to limit and restrict a woman’s right to decide for herself whether and when she will have children, and passionate support for policies that ensure children grow up in poverty and illhealth, may seem paradoxical.
The front page headline of The Times on 6th October presented as “news” the story that Jeremy Hunt still believes the limit on abortion should be 12 weeks. “Speaking to The Times on the eve of Conservative Party conference, Mr Hunt said he had reached the conclusion after studying the evidence and denied that his stance was a consequence of his Christian belief.”
— Neil Henderson (@hendopolis) October 5, 2012
I think Hunt is telling the truth, there: I don’t think his desire to force women through pregnancy against their will is a consequence of his religion, but a consequence of his beliefs as a cheap-work conservative:
- Cheap-work conservatives oppose a woman’s right to choose. Why. Unwanted children are an economic burden that put poor women “over a barrel”, forcing them to work cheap.
- Cheap-work conservatives constantly bray about “morality”, “virtue”, “respect for authority”, “hard work” and other “values”. Why. So they can blame your being “over a barrel” on your own “immorality”, lack of “values” and “poor choices”.
- Cheap-work conservatives encourage racism, misogyny, homophobia and other forms of bigotry. Why? Bigotry among wage earners distracts them, and keeps them from recognizing their common interests as wage earners.
Many people have strong feelings about abortion. The point of being prochoice is not that you unquestioningly support every woman’s reasons for having an abortion under any circumstances whatsoever: it’s that you acknowledge that whoever’s the best person to make the decision for each individual case, it’s really not a Hunt like Jeremy.
Every woman who needs an abortion should be able to have it safely and legally, and if she’s in the UK, on the NHS.
Who gets to decide “need” shouldn’t be the courts, shouldn’t be MPs and lawyers and judges making sweeping decisions: it should be the woman herself and her medical advisors, making a decision based on the individual facts of the situation. No one else is qualified to decide.
Well, anyhow, 12 weeks – it’s a nice round figure. A pleasant coincidence with the milestone which, if you’re experiencing a wanted pregnancy, you focus on desperately as point at which things might (but still might not) become “safe”. A point at which, if you’re experiencing an unwanted pregnancy and have an irregular menstrual cycle, implantation bleeding or just lose track of these things, you still might not even know you’re pregnant. A randomly selected limit, with nothing to do with religion, science or philosophy, but one which will prevent many women from being able to access safe, legal abortions. Well done, Jeremy. But the trouble is, human life is more than a heartbeat. Half of all babies born will grow to be people who could potentially carry babies themselves. What is the worth of them and their bodies and minds? Over what should you hold jurisdiction? If these human beings should have obligations which others do not share, can you tell us why? All of this should form part of “the evidence”. I think you still have some explaining to do.
Stavvers has A Modest Proposal for Preventing Jeremy Hunt From Being a Burden on Parents or Country (nothing could make him Beneficial to the Publick) and advocates Let’s Scrap The Abortion Time Limit Altogether.
My position on this:
The vast majority of abortions in the UK are carried out under 15 weeks – this is usually the case even for Irish women and other EU guests coming here for help their governments will not provide. No one has a late-term abortion just for fun – and the Daily Telegraph in its sting operation was unable to discover any evidence that women are having sex-selective abortions after the 20-week scan. (NHS prenatal care routinely offers a scan at 20 weeks which will discover any physical abnormalities in the foetus: a skilled operative may also be able to discover the physical sex of the foetus at this point.)
The Telegraph discovered that a number of doctors and other health clinic employees gave the wrong answer to suspicious-minded Telegraph reporters asking leading questions. But if you’re under investigation without your knowledge and the investigator asks you a leading question and you give an answer that could be interpreted as an admission of guilt – this is not normally accepted as real evidence by any reasonable person. Anti-choice campaigners are not reasonable.
There is no evidence why women should not continue to be trusted with the right to decide whether to terminate the pregnancy at any point – and there is evidence that doing so would prevent a handful of tragedies where a woman is denied a legal abortion and takes action.
But, an abortion after 24 weeks is not a minor medical event. Hospital resources, a skilled and experienced doctor and nurses, will be needed to perform it. If performing an abortion is still to be kept as a matter of conscience in law, then it follows that after 24 weeks, it is a reasonable compromise to say that while the impetus and the final decision to go ahead has to be the pregnant woman, the medical personnel who will be responsible for the abortion have to agree that this abortion is necessary.
That’s not quite what the law says – the law does not allow that a nurse practitioner would be as good a medical witness as a doctor – but I hope that it is the way in which the law is regarded by pro-choice doctors. It’s a working compromise which results in no medical personnel having to perform abortions they don’t think are advisable, and only a very few dead women and babies as a direct result. It puts medical conscience very slightly ahead of the patient’s right to life, health, and wellbeing.
And after 24 weeks, while the girls and women most affected are the most tragic cases of damaged and dying foetuses, children raped and uncomprehending, these most tragic cases are a tiny minority of all abortions. Tabloid newspapers like tragical tiny minorities, but Murdoch’s papers have never yet gone to war on a politician for the sake of women needing abortions, so no government in the page 3 era has ever cared. I don’t think it’s a good limit: I think that for forty-five years it has served as a very practical limit.
But Stavvers is right. Anti-choice campaigners don’t sit down and accept that 24 weeks is a reasonable compromise. They keep pushing. They won’t be reasonable and as the Tories in the Cabinet prove, they don’t care about health, welfare, or quality of life for women or children – especially not for anyone with a disability. They just want to keep women under control, and one of the most effective ways of doing that is to regulate, control, limit, and destroy women’s access to abortion and contraception. The abortion wars in the US prove that if the right get their way on abortion, they will smile joyously and continue to make war on contraception.
So, should we make an end to accepting that reasonable-compromise 24 week limit, and fight instead for no limits – let each decision on abortion be entirely up to the woman in consultation with her medical advisors?
I think we should.