More rubbish over ‘abortion debate’


by Sunny
24th October, 2007 at 1:41 am    

A few weeks ago Libby Brooks wrote in the Guardian about how women’s right to have the choice on abortion was “under covert attack”. And she is right, except that the attacks are not very covert.

Then, this story emerged in the Guardian ten days ago:

At least eight submissions of written evidence have come from medical professionals who have not disclosed their membership of Christian groups opposed to abortion on faith grounds. Six of the doctors are members or activists with the Christian Medical Fellowship, an organisation that has given its own evidence to the inquiry.

Suspicion that contributors had not been transparent about their affiliations has led the clerk of the committee to take the unusual step of writing to all those who gave evidence asking them to disclose their links to any relevant organisations.

This has since bubbled away in the letters sections. Who doesn’t want to see more transparency over what organisations these contributors are linked to? Surely transparency is the hallmark of a vibrant democracy?

Clearly not Nadine Dorries MP, who declares that asking for people’s affiliations is a sign of “anti-faith prejudice“. And then she goes on to write a blog post of calling the bodies involved part of the “abortion industry” and saying that they have a financial interest in “ensuring that the number of abortions which take place in the UK remains amongst the highest in Europe“.

There’s only one word for it – callous. Clearly, there’s an army of doctors out there egging on women to have abortions just so they can keep the dollars flowing in. It just shows how debased this debate is within the Tory anti-abortion lobby that they use such fatuous arguments. Also, unsurprising we also find that Iain Dale is happily promoting such disgusting attitudes on his own blog using the same terminology – “abortion industry”. Is that the way to have a rational debate Iain? If you want to have an emotionally charged slagging match instead, by all means go ahead because you’re doing a fine job of taking that route.


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  1. Letters From A Tory — on 24th October, 2007 at 7:55 am  

    I very much agree with the move to keep religion out of this debate. I don’t want anyone religious affiliations clouding what is supposed to be an entirely medical decision on the basis of foetal survival rates, brain activity and the mother’s well-being (both physical and psychological).

    http://lettersfromatory.wordpress.com

  2. SajiniW — on 24th October, 2007 at 8:37 am  

    It looks like the CMF and their cronies are taking hints from the MCB ;)

    Anti-Christian prejudice – I think not.

    In a land where almost every schoolchild is encouraged to sing hymns in assembly; where Christian TV programming is a staple of every Sunday; where Christianity is the predominantly taught religion at secondary school level; Christians are not being discriminated.

  3. SajiniW — on 24th October, 2007 at 8:39 am  

    PS The Silver Ring case has echoes of Shamina Begum.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6229098.stm

  4. Cassilis — on 24th October, 2007 at 8:41 am  

    This is a little more subtle than that – the relationship between personal faith and subsequent scientific study isn’t a direct one and the suggestion that the latter can be discredited because of the former is nonsense.

  5. newmania — on 24th October, 2007 at 9:27 am  

    If I may be allowed to express an opinion,…. the phrase” Abortion Industry” refers loosely to the ease of the “conveyor belt” to abortion which young women are set upon , not the medical profession and it is you that are upping the ante by either delibertaely or foolishly misunderstanding the remark.

    I do not see how you keep religion out of this debate as we are discussing a moral and metaphysical beliefs about the value of life and what it consists of.
    I have some sympathy with the Guardian`s concern , which is that poltical or moral views are masqerading as scientific views. I would appreciate it if the same forensic scrutiny was applied to enviroment science , safety science , government statistics and the numerous other ways to which the usually spurious label ” Science” is attached to opinion.

    Sadly we are unlikely to reach a blessed state where the cultural and poltival input of science is transparent and I therefore wonder why these people should be especially earmarked .

    Like others they would argue there private beliefs donot effect their findings and as this is the generally accepted position …..

    Live with it

  6. sahil — on 24th October, 2007 at 10:01 am  

    “I do not see how you keep religion out of this debate as we are discussing a moral and metaphysical beliefs about the value of life and what it consists of.”

    You were just screaming on the other thread that Muzzies should keep their beliefs out of the public sphere, but you have ignored this or at least discounted it when people with other morals bring in their latent beliefs into serious public policy issues. What is wrong with you?? Can’t you see this massive blind spot in your thinking??

    “Sadly we are unlikely to reach a blessed state where the cultural and poltival input of science is transparent”

    Scientific Journals, peer reviewed studies should be the basis of a scientific argument!! That’s what upset a lot of people about Watson’s remarks, his argument went against all scientific peer reviewed work concerning ‘intelligence’ whatever that abstract concept is. In his own words:

    “That is not what I meant. More importantly, there is no scientific basis for such a belief.”

    But the number of people who have latched onto Watson’s comments as a sign of their brilliance because they happened to be born of a certain colour is astounding. If Watson could at least refer to some peer reviewed Journal at least there would be some ‘transparent’ scienctific evidence to examine, but there was none. His statement was simply an opinion that has no basis in science.

  7. Rumbold — on 24th October, 2007 at 10:19 am  

    Most people agree that abortion should be legal. Most people agree that there should be some time restriction on the abortion (so you cannot have it at 35 weeks, for example). Therefore, wanting to lower the abortion time threshold from 24 to 20 weeks is not anti-abortion, as the threshold has always been based (loosely) on medical science. It will affect very few women, as only around 1.5% of abortions are carried out beyond 20 weeks.

    I think abortion should be legal for practical purposes, but do not approve of it. Therefore I have no problem if people say they want to reduce the number of abortions.

  8. Morgoth — on 24th October, 2007 at 11:13 am  

    “keep your rosaries off our ovaries”

    – sums up my position on the subject. With abortion, I, as a man, cannot tell a woman what she can or cannot do with her body. Its as simple as that.

  9. ChrisC — on 24th October, 2007 at 11:57 am  

    “keep your rosaries off our ovaries”

    (NB Conception doesn’t take place in the ovary, does it?)

    This line of argument only makes sense if you believe that the foetus/baby is part of a woman’s body until the very moment of birth?
    (Even then – how would you define that?)

    “I think abortion should be legal for practical purposes, but do not approve of it. Therefore I have no problem if people say they want to reduce the number of abortions.”

    I agree. Abortion is not “murder” – which is normally defined as unlawful killing – but it is killing.
    It should of course be legal, but it is killing.
    It is not like having a cyst removed is it?
    If you are not profoundly disturbed by pictures of aborted babies then I’m not sure what you are likely to be disturbed by.

    David Steel is right – there was no intention for abortion to become a commonplace form of ex-post contraception which is clearly what it has become.

    And as medical science advances so it is perfectly right for the time limit to be reduced.

  10. Sunny — on 24th October, 2007 at 1:23 pm  

    only makes sense if you believe that the foetus/baby is part of a woman’s body until the very moment of birth?

    as opposed to… society’s property? property of the church of england?

  11. Cassilis — on 24th October, 2007 at 1:29 pm  

    Sunny @ 13.23

    “as opposed to… society’s property? property of the church of england?”

    As opposed to a human being?

  12. ChrisC — on 24th October, 2007 at 2:23 pm  

    “as opposed to… society’s property? property of the church of england?”

    “As opposed to a human being?”

    Not a bad start. Surely at least you have to say a *potential* human being.

    Or, Sunny, do you regard a foetus in the same way as you regard (say) a cyst? To be cut out at will.
    Is a foetus no more than a “body part” until the very moment of birth? The very moment the cord is cut?

    Not many would say so. In which case society clearly has a duty to the unborn child just as it has to all children.

    The question then is indeed one of time limits.
    A perfectly legitimate question, and one which is likely to change and surely should change as the science proceeds.

    That there are people (religious or otherwise) for whom the moment of conception would be the “limit” – not my own view – does not mean that those who wish to see a lower limit *as and when the scientific evidence suggest* are talking rubbish.

  13. Sunny — on 24th October, 2007 at 2:27 pm  

    Or, Sunny, do you regard a foetus in the same way as you regard (say) a cyst

    To me that argument is irrelevant because I think to deny a woman the choice to have an abortion, i.e. to let her have some control over her own life, is a human rights violation. Similarly I support euthanasia and suicide as legally permissible and don’t think the state should be legislating on that. The state’s job is to provide info and healthcare in this context.

    This is business as usual for religious fundamentalists – they want to rule over other people’s lives.

  14. Cassilis — on 24th October, 2007 at 2:41 pm  

    Not sure what ChrisC’s position is but for the record I’m not opposed to abortion and completely accept womens reproductive rights.

    The issue though (and it’s one that Sunny appears curiously reluctant to engage with) is at what point do we introduce the concept of rights for the foetus / child / baby (the terms are loaded but arguing over them is a distraction)? The whole abortion issue largely revolves around this tension so a refusal to engage with it (or the constant efforts to suggest it’s religious obsession) undermine the debate.

    So Sunny – when does the foetus acquire rights, how robust are they and how do we roncile them with the mothers?

  15. ChrisC — on 24th October, 2007 at 2:57 pm  

    Sunny is avoiding your question, unless he supports the right to abort right up to the last minute, which is at least a *consistent* position, even if it has few other virtues!

    I would rather avoid the language of “rights” and rather say that we (society) have a *duty* to the unborn child which *at some stage* trumps the right to an abortion. The question is at what stage of the pregnancy.

    (I am with Dawkins and Hitchens on religion, by the way.)

  16. Sunny — on 24th October, 2007 at 3:01 pm  

    is at what point do we introduce the concept of rights for the foetus / child / baby

    At the point of conception me thinks. Otherwise we’re just fighting over very vaguely defined borders. That is the point at which the state recognises a human being and that is the point at which the being is accorded some rights by the state (for protection when needed). So it seems logical to me that is the point.

    Secondly, by trying to define the cut-off point when the foetus is still inside the woman, we are (in my opinion) violating her rights over that of the child. I haven’t seen convincing reasoning as to why religious bodies or the state should be allowed to do that.

  17. Cassilis — on 24th October, 2007 at 3:08 pm  

    This tension between rights (or ‘duty’ as ChrisC suggests) is key to the whole debate but your position seems to be that the woman’s rights are paramount up to *but not beyond* the point of birth and that amounts to a case for partial birth abortion Sunny – an ethically consistent (if in my view abhorrent) position

    If that’s where you stand fair enough, the debate ends there but you seem reluctant to articulate that.

  18. Sunny — on 24th October, 2007 at 3:12 pm  

    are paramount up to *but not beyond* the point of birth

    I didn’t say a woman’s duties were not paramount beyond the point of birth. How do you infer that?

  19. Cassilis — on 24th October, 2007 at 3:16 pm  

    C’mon Sunny – that would imply approval of infanticide!

    Your dodging the question again and sometimes that’s more illuminating than any answer could be.

  20. Sunny — on 24th October, 2007 at 3:27 pm  

    What question am I dodging exactly? You ask me one, I’ll answer it, if I think I have an answer.

    How does that imply the approval of infanticide exactly? Once the baby is born, it is conferred rights as a citizen. The mother has duties but she cannot have rights to kill it at that point.

    Also, on abortion it depends on the context in some cases for me. For example, I’m opposed to foeticide when women abort babies because its a girl and society values a boy much more. Otherwise, in fairly gender-equal societies a woman should have the right. Now, please point out the inconsistencies and I’ll think about them.

  21. Sofia — on 24th October, 2007 at 3:55 pm  

    I would think there are more than just the individuals’ rights to think about when looking at suicide, euthanasia and abortion.
    There are issues of misuse and legislation over this…also is it ok to abort a child over gender at all? ie. if A in England did not want another girl after successfully having 5 girls, would it be wrong of A to abort a female baby? This does not mean she does not value girls but just doesn’t want another one?

  22. Ismaeel — on 24th October, 2007 at 4:03 pm  

    “Also, unsurprising we also find that Iain Dale is happily promoting such disgusting attitudes on his own blog using the same terminology – “abortion industry”. Is that the way to have a rational debate Iain? If you want to have an emotionally charged slagging match instead, by all means go ahead because you’re doing a fine job of taking that route.”

    Sunny Hundall recognises the need for civility and not clouding rational arguments in emotionally laden language. Interesting.

  23. ChrisC — on 24th October, 2007 at 4:06 pm  

    Sunny – OK, using the language of rights you say that a foetus acquires rights at the point of conception, while the mother also has the right to abort.
    So there are competing rights.
    I think we all agree about that.
    The simple question is at what point the foetus’s right to life (assuming that is one the rights you believe it acquires at conception) trumps the woman’s right to abort.
    Or is there no such point for you, before birth?

  24. Sunny — on 24th October, 2007 at 4:38 pm  

    Or is there no such point for you, before birth?

    Right now my position is that until the baby is born, the woman’s rights trump over those rights of the unborn foetus. Of course, it is an issue of competing rights, as for example we discuss the expression of religion in the public sphere.

    We get bizarre people complaining that a woman wearing a niqab is an infringement on their rights, which is ludicrous. The rights of one has to trump over the others in this case.

    I take the mother’s side for two reasons. Firstly I think if she is going for a late abortion then there has to be a strong reason for that. This “abortions industry” argument that Dorris MP makes is extremely callous and suggests that women are stupid and inhumane and so are doctors. Given its the mother who will live with the decision to abort a late baby, she must have a very strong reason and I’m happy to take that side generally. Unless you want to sanction a body that makes decision case by case?

    Secondly, since the unborn foetus has not got rights yet, I don’t see why the state should intefere in what is a highly personal decision. The anti-abortion lobbby, in previous decades and now, treat women as stupid beings who must be dictated to on decisions regarding their bodies.

  25. ChrisC — on 24th October, 2007 at 4:54 pm  

    “Of course, it is an issue of competing rights…” then later
    “…since the unborn foetus has not got rights yet…”

    Iwas going to ask you to make up your mind as to whether you believe the foetus has rights or not, but it is in fact clear that you believe it has none, no matter how late.
    Indeed, there is not much point in having any rights at all if your right to life can be trumped to suit another’s convenience.

  26. ChrisC — on 24th October, 2007 at 4:58 pm  

    And are women who have abortions “stupid”?
    Well, leaving the obvious exceptions aside whom I would assume would want a termination asap, they probably are either stupid or impulsive or both if they cannot take basic contraceptive precautions.
    Is that not why (from Freakonomics) it appears that legalised abortion brought about a lagged reduction in crime – the stupid and impulsive started to produce fewer children.

  27. Rumbold — on 24th October, 2007 at 5:04 pm  

    Sunny:

    I think that a misunderstanding has arisen over your use of ‘conception’. Conception is when the foetus is conceived/made/fertilised, not when it is born. You first said that:

    “At the point of conception me thinks. Otherwise we’re just fighting over very vaguely defined borders. That is the point at which the state recognises a human being and that is the point at which the being is accorded some rights by the state (for protection when needed). So it seems logical to me that is the point.”

    then…

    “Secondly, since the unborn foetus has not got rights yet, I don’t see why the state should intefere in what is a highly personal decision.”

    As ChrisC says, the two statements are contradictory.

  28. Ruby — on 24th October, 2007 at 5:16 pm  

    A good place to start woul be to not believe all those who want a debate about abortion are right wing fascists.

  29. Sunny — on 24th October, 2007 at 5:21 pm  

    Indeed, there is not much point in having any rights at all if your right to life can be trumped to suit another’s convenience.

    I’m not sure where I see the contradiction lies.

    I don’t believe that any ‘rights’ conferred on to an unborn foetus should trump those of the mother doing the conceiving. It’s still inside her body and its her body that a state is legislating to interfere with.

    Either way, I haven’t heard a convincing argument as to why the rights of the unborn life trumps those of the woman in question.

  30. Ruby — on 24th October, 2007 at 5:23 pm  

    28 weeks is the limit for abortion. And yet babies born prematurely at 28 weeks and lower can be saved by modern medical technology and grow into healthy human beings. If the law says that until 28 weeks, the entity in the womb is not human, then morally, if somebody walked into the room where the incubator in which a 27 week old premature girl or boy was, and strangled that foetus-baby, he would not be guilty of a crime of murder, because it would not be categorised as human for another week.

    Saying that anyone who thinks that in light of medical advances and other things, we should have a debate taking into account these things, saying that person is a right wing misogynist, is really unfair and wrong.

  31. ChrisC — on 24th October, 2007 at 5:29 pm  

    “Either way, I haven’t heard a convincing argument as to why the rights of the unborn life trumps those of the woman in question.”

    That is a completely consistent position.

    But would you really say that the woman’s rights should trump those of a foetus one day away from birth?
    Really?

  32. Rumbold — on 24th October, 2007 at 5:34 pm  

    Sunny:

    “Either way, I haven’t heard a convincing argument as to why the rights of the unborn life trumps those of the woman in question.”

    Some people argue that an unborn child has a right to life. Now, this is not meant to trump the woman’s right to life, rather to trump a lesser right, of whether or not to have a baby.

  33. douglas clark — on 24th October, 2007 at 7:18 pm  
  34. Elaine — on 24th October, 2007 at 8:17 pm  

    Well said Chris C at no. 26. I can’t understand why I am still reading so many discussions about abortion. (The discussions by the way are usually pointless as the same arguments are simply repeated.) But what nobody is addressing is the question WHY are abortions so common now when contraception is almost freely available to anyone? Back in my day, you had to pretend you were married to even get a cap, now everything is available over the counter. As Chric C says, apart from the obvious exceptions (rape, danger to the mother’s life etc.) it really does seem to be a case of fecklessness.

  35. fugstar — on 24th October, 2007 at 11:50 pm  

    200 000 abortions a year..
    Doctors becoming unable to exercise their intimate beliefs in a moral life/death matter..

    This goes deeper that any cut and paste rights approach can manage. Yeah abdicate responsibility to really know what the matter is, shoot of your prepackaged ‘views’, it’s just a headless chicken blogocratic self pleasurement of course.

    Almost trumps the crudeness of initial comments on the spirit21 article on here.

  36. Cath — on 25th October, 2007 at 12:26 am  

    Well said Sunny, I completely agree with your position on this.

    Elaine. I’m intrigued by your use of the term ‘fecklessness’. What exactly do you mean by it? The recent discourse regarding so-called ‘feckless’ women, including David Steel’s remarks earlier today (which incidentally I heard him claim this afternoon were taken completely out of context by the Guardian headline) is yet another attempt to place all responsibility for sexual relations on to women and to deny them their own moral agency. The implication is that if women keep having abortions at these rates they obviously aren’t responsible enough to be left to their own devices, so we need to guide and pronounce upon their sexual behaviour like Victorian patriarchs.

    The fact that women are now able to access abortion services is not a bad thing; it’s certainly not a reason to start advocating a tightening up of the law or any other kind of restrictions. Personally I think it’s great that 200,000 women were able to deal with their unintended pregnancies, the alternatives if they hadn’t been able to access the service don’t bear thinking about.

  37. Ravi Naik — on 25th October, 2007 at 1:09 am  

    “Also, on abortion it depends on the context in some cases for me. For example, I’m opposed to foeticide when women abort babies because…”

    Sunny, so you are saying that in countries like Britain, women have the right to choose whatever happens inside her – no questions asked – because otherwise it would be a human-rights violation. But in countries like India, women do not have that right to choose what happens inside her.

    I find this argument very inconsistent in the sense that human-rights are supposed to be universal.

    On the other hand, the idea that a baby has rights immediately after being born, but not 5 minutes before when it was inside the mother’s womb… that is somewhat puzzling. Given that a baby needs to be fed and sheltered after being born, I don’t see what is the fundamental change when the baby is inside the womb and already having all organs formed as a human being. Surely, a human being exists at some point inside the womb.

  38. sonia — on 25th October, 2007 at 1:36 am  

    good points sunny.

    fecklessness or not – whose going to look after the baby?
    since everyone is so concerned about the baby’s rights, think about that for a moment. if the mother is feckless, maybe she won’t be such a great ma. are you all going to look after the baby? no.

    frankly, where are the misanthropes when you need ‘em – bringing a baby into this crappy world seems like not such a good idea to me. if i were a baby id be demanding my rights to be unborn.

  39. zohra — on 25th October, 2007 at 1:43 am  

    To Elaine @ 34 on why women have abortions: sometimes contraception fails. See first response to ChrisC below for more on this.

    To Elaine @ 34 on why you’re ‘still reading so many discussions on abortion’: this week marks the 40th anniversary of the Abortion Act, Parliament is currently reviewing evidence on scientific developments relating to the Act which is what Sunny’s post stemmed from, and the Human Tissue and Embryo Bill will be before Parliament in November and has already taken evidence on abortion issues. All sides of the debate are in high mobilization-mode because the chance to make changes to the law is now.

    To ChrisC @ 26 who thinks women who have abortions are generally either ‘stupid or impulsive or both’ (the ‘generally’ captures your exceptions) because ‘they cannot take basic contraceptive precautions’: does that make the men who got them pregnant even stupider or even more impulsive or both since they didn’t take the responsibility on themselves? Or is it worth checking why 3/4 of women who find they are pregnant didn’t have unprotected sex: http://www.guardian.co.uk/medicine/story/0,,1950090,00.html

    To Rumbold @7 on the suggestion that it might be ok to lower the time limit because ‘only around 1.5% of abortions are carried out beyond 20 weeks’ and ‘affects very few women’: why not ask the fundamental questions – which women are caught in the 20-24 week time frame and would be most affected by a lowering of the limit and why are they opting for later abortions in the first place? Find some answers here: http://www.mariestopes.org.uk/pdf/late-abortion.pdf and http://www.soton.ac.uk/mediacentre/news/2007/apr/07_54.shtml

  40. sonia — on 25th October, 2007 at 1:46 am  

    well ravi it is a human rights violation in india too that women don’t have that choice!

    anyway, its easy for the men to talk, you aren’t the ones to have to go through childbirth, neither is it is hard on the child, its the mother that has to do all the work, and suffer that pain. why should she have to go through it if she doesn’t want to? where have all these moralisers come from? the argument i’m hearing seems to be, you’ve made your bed, lie on it. we used to hear that about divorce as well.

    who actually benefits if a woman is forced to carry a baby to fullterm which is not wanted? all the moralisers who are happy a life has not been taken? why is it about them?

    anyway, history has shown that regardless of abortion being legal or not, women have always gone for them. and you just end up with a black market.

    and by the way, i dont believe this thing about the religious influence being about the value of life. there’s no direct correlation – a lot of religious people are pro-death sentence. as far as i can see – its the sex angle – “how dare those people think they can have sex and not deal with the consequences!”

  41. zohra — on 25th October, 2007 at 1:47 am  

    To Rumbold @7 and ChrisC @12 who think/assert (respectively) that the ‘debate’ on dropping the ‘threshold’ to 20 weeks is about medical science: the last three attempts to start a ‘debate’ on abortion in Parliament were made by Conservative MPs tabling Bills that were largely about introducing delays and obstacles to women’s abilities to choose an abortion and treating women as incapable of making informed decisions on their own, and not by new evidence from the medical establishment.

    1) October 2006 by MP Nadine Dorries: Bill introduced a compulsory 10-day delay in women’s access to abortion called a ‘cooling off period’ which would include compulsory counselling, while simultaneously reducing the time limit to 21 weeks (you do the math!)

    2) March 2007 by MP Angela Watkinson: Bill repealed the right to confidentiality for young women seeking abortions

    3) June 2007 by MP Ann Winterton: Bill imposed compulsory counselling for women seeking abortion coupled with a compulsory 7-day delay in women’s access to abortion

    See: http://www.abortionrights.org.uk/content/view/209/105/ for background.

    Meanwhile, as of today, all three of the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Nursing still think that the upper limit for abortions should remain at 24 weeks: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/article2733711.ece


    For anyone on this blog who is pro-choice and wants to do something to show it – this is the week to do it as it’s Pro-Choice Week of Action. For some background and then ways to get involved: http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2007/october#001252

  42. sonia — on 25th October, 2007 at 1:58 am  

    thanks for the information and links zohra,

  43. Ravi Naik — on 25th October, 2007 at 3:19 am  

    “anyway, its easy for the men to talk, you aren’t the ones to have to go through childbirth, neither is it is hard on the child, its the mother that has to do all the work, and suffer that pain.”

    The mother for the first 9 months. And then both parents for the next 16 years. In particular, in the first years, taking care of a baby is a full-time job, long hours without sleeping, and full-time supervision… it’s hard work.

    “who actually benefits if a woman is forced to carry a baby to fullterm which is not wanted? all the moralisers who are happy a life has not been taken? why is it about them?”

    Ok, let me ask you this: who actually benefits if a mother or father kills their 2-year old baby because it is hard work and too much trouble? Do you have a problem with that? Who actually benefits if a couple is forced to keep a baby alive if it is not wanted? All the moralisers who are happy a life has not been taken? why is it about them?

    So you see, it is not about morals or religion, it is just that I and many others believe that at one point in the pregnancy, a human-being exists inside the mother’s womb. And thus all arguments that apply for the 2-year old baby become relevant in this case. To say that it is a human only in the moment it is born, and not 5 minutes before, doesn’t sound right at all.

    I do consider myself as pro-choice, as I believe that a human is not formed at conception, and so women should have the right to abort in the first stages of the pregnancy… which is the time most women do anyways.

  44. Elaine — on 25th October, 2007 at 5:04 am  

    Clair: I didn’t say it was only the women involved who were feckless. For what it’s worth, I support abortion and I do think men are equally responsible, only unfortunately it’s a fact of life that they can just walk away from a pregnancy, which a woman can’t. But nobody seems to be addressing my main point: why are there so many abortions, when good contraception is easily obtainable. Yes I know contraception can fail, but that doesn’t explain the large numbers. I remember backstreet abortions and I remember when the pill was introduced, and we really thought that the latter would be the end of the former. What happened?

  45. bikhair aka taqiyyah — on 25th October, 2007 at 6:59 am  

    Morgoth,

    “- sums up my position on the subject. With abortion, I, as a man, cannot tell a woman what she can or cannot do with her body. Its as simple as that.”

    Cowardly. What about that part of her body, that isnt hers at all but is an entirely different being that she can sue you for, for its maintainence?

  46. ChrisC — on 25th October, 2007 at 9:27 am  

    Cath – “…is yet another attempt to place all responsibility for sexual relations on to women and to deny them their own moral agency.”

    Not all responsibility, but what lawyers I think would call “joint and several” responsibility.
    We deny many people moral agency all the time and for goos reasons.

    Zobra – interesting article.
    “Of the women who were seeking abortions, only a quarter were because of unprotected sex. Most of the respondents blamed a missed pill or split condom. The results also revealed that a relatively small proportion of both groups of women had taken the morning-after pill, bought over the counter, even when they knew they had risked a pregnancy.”

    Yep – stupid it is.

  47. Morgoth — on 25th October, 2007 at 9:51 am  

    Cowardly.

    You’re calling the fact that I don’t try and tell women what they can do with their own bodies “cowardly”? Ye gods, woman, you’re utterly twisted.

    In any case, #40 and #41 are two of the best posts on this thread.

  48. Unity — on 25th October, 2007 at 12:40 pm  

    Let’s get into this:

    As far as ‘rights’ are concerned, any pregnancy creates a situation in which two fundamental rights, those of the foetuses notion right to life and the mother’s right to sovereignty over their own body are conjoined and inseparable until the conclusion of the pregnancy.

    In the case of a woman seeking an abortion those rights become incommensurable such that all that one can do is seek to balance those rights in a manner that one considers leads to the least harm.

    In terms of rights theory that position is derived from the works of Isaiah Berlin and JS Mill and for anyone who considers themselves a liberal, there is your philosophical starting point.

    Medical science and scientific evidence can, at best, inform the debate and assist in arriving at a view of where the ‘least harm’ may lie. So far as such evidence is concerned, that I find most compelling is the clear evidence that the basic capacity for consciousness, sentience and self-awareness does not begin to function at even a rudimentary level until 26-28 weeks gestation.

    My view of what I value as most human is bound up in the capacity for consciousness and sentience. Cogito Ergo Sum. And as such when it comes to minimising harm in a situation where some degree of harm is necessary then if one is to terminate the development of a foetus then at least do so before the capacity for conscious thought and sentience begins to develop.

    I am, therefore, comfortable with the current 24 week upper limit, but for preference wish to see access to abortion before that point expedited – if a woman is to have an abortion, make it as early as possible, where the procedure itself is at its simplest, safest and least physically traumatic.

    And, of course, we should be doing everything possible to prevent unwanted pregnancies via health/social education and access to contraception. The one period in which the number of abortions actually fell, markedly was during the early 1990s where, for 4-5 years the number of abortions ran at around 20,000 a year less than the prevailing trend before and after this period. This was the period immediately following the massive government funded information campaign around HIV/AIDS which extensively promoted ‘safe sex’ and the use of condoms and clearly validates, for me, the importance of education and easy access to contraception.

    This requires a lot of work, but free NHS condoms in all pharmacies would be a quick and useful starting point, and we can take the rest from there.

    The viability argument is unsatisfactory and unilluminating. Sorry but I don’t, and won’t define my notions of humanity and the value of human life by reference to medical technology and clinical intervention.

    And as for the foetal pain argument, that again offers no insight into the concept of humanity, it is, at best, an argument for the use of anaesthesia in later second trimester abortions in the interests of making the procedure as humane as possible, both for the foetus and for the mother in terms of the reassurance that may offer that the foetus did not experience pain during the procedure – even though the notion of of pain at this stage is confined to purely physiological reactions. Foetuses do not ‘feel’ pain in any conscious sense before (again) the third trimester because the brain and nervous system are insufficiently developed and connect to induce such ‘feelings’ at a conscious level. In that sense, the use of anaesthesia on the foetus is more a placebo for the mother than anything else.

    ‘Moral’ arguments, especially those derived from religious belief, carry very limited weight with me.

    As an atheist, arguments derived from the alleged opinions of a god I don’t consider to exist are hardly going to be compelling and, frankly, if someone has a moral or ethical objection to abortion then that objection can happily be satisfied and put into practice by the simple expedient of them not having an abortion.

    We should, in the wider socio-political debate, take such views into account but then need to put into their proper context, as philosophical arguments and abstractions, and be weighted accordingly.

    Abortion has personal, social, cultural political and economic costs and consequences and these need to be weighed and evaluated. However, alternatives like adoption and, of course, the continuation of a pregnancy to term, have their costs and consequences also, and one cannot debate this issue properly without consideration of all these factors.

    What concerns me most about the current debate is that the single most important ‘voice’ in this, that of women who have faced the difficult and painful choice of whether to have an abortion is too seldom heard and given far too little regard and consideration.

    This is, at least in part, because the law as it stands classifies ‘social’ abortions under a quasi-clinical category of giving rise to risk of physical or mental harm to the mother.

    This actively discourages substantive social research in the UK into the reasons why women elect to have abortions and the factors that influence their decisions, not to mention the difficulties they face in making such decisions, information that is critical to our understanding and proper consideration of the issues raised by abortion and denies women a necessary and important voice in the overall debate.

    As a liberalising measure, I fully support the withdrawal of this category and the legal recognition of ‘social’ abortion as a legitimate and non-clinical ground on which abortions can be carried out. This should be backed up with government funding for substantive and detailed research in this field to inform future reviews/debates around abortion.

    If we do not understand why women have abortions, how they arrive at such decisions, what factors most influence the decision making process and how this may affect them psychologically, etc. then we cannot have the full and informed debate that is necessary if we are to arrive at a humane and rational legal framework for abortion.

    That said, one aspect of the current debate that I do dislike – actually despise is a better word – is the view that is being advanced that ‘feckless’ women are using abortion as a stop-gap form of contraception.

    There may be some specific instances in which there is a slim element of truth to such an assertion, but in the vast majority of cases the circumstances in which the woman falls pregnant have little of no bearing on the difficulty or complexity of the decision they face and have to make.

    We should also not be swayed in our judgement on the question of establishing a just and humane framework for legal abortion by crude and judgemental arguments as to the moral character of women to who do elect to have an abortion and should certainly never use this as a basis for limiting access to abortion for individual women.

    In legal terms, such references have the same basic character as the practice of using information about a woman’s sexual history to call into question her moral character in the context of a rape trial and as a basis for a clinical decision it is akin to suggesting that a doctor should have the right to carry out a sterilisation on a woman, without her consent, because she continues to get pregnant and have children while living on welfare benefits.

    The correct legal basis for ‘social’ abortions is that of informed consent and the only sound and justifiable basis for overriding the decision to have an abortion made on such a basis is where there is a legitimate question of legal competence, in which case the matter should be remitted immediately to a court of law and a decision rendered as quickly as possible. but under the presumption that the woman in competent unless proven otherwise.

    My personal view on the current debate is, therefore, that:

    a) There is no substantive case for a reduction in the current upper time limit for legal abortion.

    b) There is a case for some liberalising measures that expedite abortions, ensuring that as many as possible as conducted inside 12-13 week gestation, and for the legal recognition of ‘social’ abortions without reference to the current quasi-clinical method of classification.

    There is, therefore, a case for such measures to be debated in Parliament and for modest amendments to the current law.

    These should be followed by:

    a) a government funded social research programme into abortion, one that endeavours to understand why women have abortions, what factors most influence their decisions and what the various social, etc. costs and consequences of abortion (and alternatives) are, and

    b) a clear moratorium on further attempts to legislate in the area of abortion until this research programme has been completed, at which point a comprehensive review of abortion and abortion law should be carried out by means of a Royal Commission which will take evidence and consider the full range of evidence and opinion – scientific, philosophical, moral/ethical and social/psychological.

    The recommendations of this Royal Commission would then inform Parliament as to whether any further legislative changes might be necessary or advisable to ensure that the UK’s abortion laws are kept up to date and are fit for purpose.

    That’s my position, and while its not a perfect solution by any means – such a solution is not, in my estimation, possible – it is one I consider to be rational, balanced, human and humane and to provide the best possible (for me) accommodation of the many complex and contending interests surrounding this issues.

  49. true outsider — on 25th October, 2007 at 4:39 pm  

    Got this dubious post through Gracchi a few short points

    a) The point is that people’s religious views should be relevant to their testimony. So if Harries actually thought this was an issue he should have tried to establish the religious view of every testifier. His failure to do so speaks volumes.

    b) In terms of organisations- why not then ask everyone what organisations they belong to that take a stance on the abortion law? Note the CMF doesn’t even require its members to be anti-abortion so it’s not like its equivalent to abortion position. Again Harries did not do so – II)) I suspect because it would show most of the witnesses belong to pro abortion organisations and) because it would show the witnesses his prejudice against actually probably belong to pro abortion organisations (egg the BMA).

    c) In any case what matters surely is people actual views the Labour party has being pro-choice in their constriction yet Jim Dobbin would not be biased in favour of abortion linearization! , the Catholic Church is anti-abortion yet many Catholic mps would not be biased against it (e.g. Sien Fein ones).

    d) So what harries should be doing is writing to every witness to find out their view on abortion- he hasn’t done so -obvio07s because he fears.

    e) So given his inconstancy he is either engaging in smears and/or is reflex his vie that Christians should be persecuted and treated second class ( the fact this is not the case in every way at the moment in the UK does not mean that is not Harries views)

    f) As for “abortion industry” well lots of people work in organisation based around an industrial process of abortion? Why’s it wrong to call it an abortion industry? Is the arms industry a biased term? The steel industry?

    g) And do you really think that conflict of interest does not exist? So if people from arms companies or huntsmen’s unions testified on the science of their subject they would not just do so impartially (which they might do so) but one could not even take any notice of their conflict of industry

    h) Lots of people today make a living in the UK by carrying out abortions or supplement their earnings by doing so. To point out this is no more unreasonable than pointing out that arms manifestos or hospital builders. Gain or lose by changes in certain laws and expenditures.

    d) As for unity’s post I’ll just say this – if human intellect is what gives people personhood then what about small babies who are definitely dumber than say a dog? What bout a person in a temporary coma or asleep? And given the difference in intellect between say Gordon Brown/ David Camouern/ Watson/ Steven Pinker/Rowan Williams/ Richard Dawkins and people of very low IQ does that imply that the latter should subsidise the former since the former are more persons?

  50. Matt W — on 25th October, 2007 at 5:10 pm  

    I’m somewhat bemused as to why religion has been introduced into the debate, when – in Dr Harris’s own words – it is a “specifically scientific and medical enquiry”.

    Surely his Committee is capable of evaluating “scientific” evidence on its merits, no matter who it comes from? if “religion” (or for that matter “secularism”) has infiltrated the evidence, then I expect a committee of Parliamentarians to be capable of detecting that fact.

    Leaving that aside, the attempt in the Terms of Reference to separate medicine from ethics is risible.

    I’m also not sure what the protocol is where the names of witnesses can be published before the report comes out (can you help here, Unity?).

    On the “abortion industry” point and the advisory bodies to the committee – I smell something fishy, and I think that Nadine Dorries has a very strong case

    For e.g., one of the advisers – the British Pregnancy Advisory Service people (who’s keywords on every page of their website I saw are: “Abortion, Abortion Help, abortion advice, Abortion clinic, Abortion care, Abortion choice, Abortion hotline” ROFL :-) reports the following income figures for 2005-6:

    Revenue from services (i.e., abortions and other birth control services): 21.17 million
    Revenue from donations: 1,000 ukp.

    Quite how they can be an objective adviser leaves me baffled.

    Compare it – for example – with the furore from Greenpeace and co if a scientist did one project funded by an industry body 5 years ago.

    Something rotten in the state of this enquiry.

  51. Matt W — on 25th October, 2007 at 5:12 pm  

    Sorry – slight typos but I think the enquiry is clear.

  52. zohra — on 25th October, 2007 at 5:38 pm  

    ChrisC @ 46, you’ve read one of my links (and have selectively quoted), but you haven’t answered my question: where are the men in your ‘stupid’ and ‘impulsive’ labelling? Takes two to make a baby, should take two to prevent a pregnancy.

    Are the men who rely on women to take responsibility for their (the men’s) choices stupid and impulsive?

  53. bikhair aka taqiyyah — on 26th October, 2007 at 1:44 am  

    Mogroth,

    “You’re calling the fact that I don’t try and tell women what they can do with their own bodies “cowardly”? Ye gods, woman, you’re utterly twisted.”

    No it would be stupid to tell a woman what to do with her body. However we are talking about a woman who is pregnant with another body. I’m suspicious as to why some men constantly encourage women to have abortions, if they want to, because after all it is her body and her decision. Their just trying to use womens empowerment to abdicate their responsibility of raising the child they so carelessly created.

  54. ChrisC — on 26th October, 2007 at 9:15 am  

    “Are the men who rely on women to take responsibility for their (the men’s) choices stupid and impulsive?”

    Of course. But that doesn’t make the women any less stupid and impulsive, does it?

  55. Unity — on 26th October, 2007 at 10:37 am  

    >>> I’m also not sure what the protocol is where the names of witnesses can be published before the report comes out (can you help here, Unity?).

    With a few, mostly national security related exceptions (and the odd bit of quasi-judicial work) all formal proceedings in Parliament are conducted in public.

    A list of witnesses will, therefore, be available from the point at which formal notice of business is posted, and oral testimony is transcribed and posted to the Parliament website on the same basis that the proceedings of the House are reported by Hansard.

    On the point about ‘advisory bodies’ to the committee, I’m afraid that Nadine is grossly misrepresenting the committee process and procedure, Matt.

    How these committee’s actually work is that once it has been decided to scrutinise a particular question/issue, an open brief is prepared and published, which explains what the committee is seeking to review and what kind of evidence it would like.

    After that, anyone with an interest (and hopefully the relevant expertise) is entitled to make a written submission to the committee putting forward their views, evidence, etc.

    From there, the committee does have some latitude in terms of the witnesses they call, because time is limited, but such decisions should be made based on the submissions and not on political and ideological considerations taking into account expertise, relevance to the question at hand and any duplication/repetition. If they get 10 submissions all making identical points, then take one as being representative of what particular view, etc.

    There are no standing ‘advisory bodies’ only witnesses.

    As for the ‘abortion industry’ claim, the BPAS are primarily an abortion provider and hardly representative of either the full range of opinion or of all ‘pro-choice’ groups. Marie Stopes also provide abortion clinics, but also a comprehensive range of related services including contraception, cervical screening and screening for STDs.

    I agree that you cannot ultimately separate the ethical from the medical, but that’s not necessarily a weakness in this case. The committee’s brief is to review the scientific evidence as an aide to further debate in parliament, not to make a definitive decision on the merits of the current limits.

    The reality is, Matt, that:

    a) the current medical evidence really doesn’t support, on its own, a reduction in the current upper time limit – and the medical arguments (as Ive explained at length over at MoT) are problematic anyway, and

    b) majority public support for legal abortion is solid at around 65-70% and has been for years.

    The ‘pro-life’ lobby know this, which is why they’re resorting to smears, misrepresentation and attempts to discredit the committee and pro-choice organisations in lieu of actually debating the issues.

  56. sonia — on 26th October, 2007 at 11:42 am  

    no one is telling a woman to have an abortion, just like by having a hospital you aren’t saying people should get sick. but if they do, it might be sensible to have some way of dealing with that.

  57. sonia — on 31st October, 2007 at 11:20 am  
  58. sonia — on 31st October, 2007 at 11:21 am  

    from epolitix i meant to say..
    interesting news

  59. jdc — on 1st November, 2007 at 2:24 pm  

    Nadine Dorries has been awful on this issue – she has called for an enquiry into how (publicly available!) information came to be revealed in a Guardian article (Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science). The next thing she did was to block comments on her blog – after having let through all the supportive ones and blocked anything vaguely negative. Absolutely disgraceful behaviour in my view.

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