Friday, February 24, 2012

Abortion: were we all just not paying attention?

I've written before, ages ago, about the moral dilemma induced by the abortion debate. I've had two children since then, watched them wriggling on the ultrasounds and felt them kicking in my wife's tummy. Unsurprisingly, on a personal level, I'm veering ever more towards the Worstallite position that this is a baby, and that killing babies is wrong.

From a moral perspective then, the news that sex-selective abortions are happening in the UK is pretty unpleasant (especially as I have two daughters and, let's face it, it's usually the little girls who are getting killed here). But from a legal perspective? Theodore Dalrymple has an article in the Telegraph noting the obvious truth that whereas the wording of the Abortion Act 1967 seems restrictive (two doctors need to sign off; there needs to be risk to the health of the mother) the reality is that it has been interpreted so widely as to allow abortions below 24 weeks for any reason whatsoever.

If the consultants offering sexually selected abortions should be struck off the register, so should a probable majority of British practitioners. Their only extenuation is the fact that any termination of pregnancy is safer than a continuation of it: but this is surely sophistical, and not what the framers of the law intended.

This is probably true. My old law lecturer (for the namby-pamby CPE, rather than the full-blown Tabland experience) had this as one of his well-worn shop stories. He was sat next to Kenneth Robinson (Minister for Health in 1967, and the man who introduced the Abortion Act in the first place) at dinner shortly after the Act had been given assent. "So," he said, "abortion on demand eh? Quite a step."  "No, no, no," said Robinson, "you don't understand at all. There are all sorts of safeguards to prevent that. You need two doctors to sign off, and there must be a real health issue for it to be permissible - we don't want this to be some sort of post-facto contraception!" "Hmm," said John, "let's see how that turns out."

And he was right (with whatever degree of esprit d'escalier you care to attribute to him). The so-called safeguards are meaningless, if the point is accepted that any birth is riskier to the mother's health than termination. This is hardly a new point - the Act was passed more than 40 years ago, and the way it would be interpreted was clear very shortly afterwards. If people are genuinely shocked that women are getting abortions for sex-selection, then they really can't have been paying attention. If you don't need a reason to get an abortion, why should it matter what people's reasons are?


Anonymous David said...

And David Steele, the real force behind the Abortion Act 167, has recently admitted that he envsioned abortion on demand all along, in spite of frequent protestations to the contrary.
And they wonder why we don't trust them!

8:37 am  

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