My position on abortion


by Sunny
26th March, 2008 at 8:53 am    

This blog-post is more a matter of record and trying to explain my views on a subject, in case I need to refer people back to it, than simply a topic for discussion. I have a straightforward view on abortion. That is – a woman should be allowed control over her body to exercise an abortion if she wants. It is her choice.

Now, most people in this country are roughly pro-choice like I am, but they still prefer some sort of a limit on the rights of the woman versus the unborn child. I have a clear dividing line: the rights of the woman trump those of the unborn foetus every time. Once its born then it is a human being, but before that the law should make no attempt to rule over what she should or shouldn’t do. That is roughly my position. And to add, if the man who helped conceive it wants to keep the child but she doesn’t – tough luck, it’s her body.

I’m saying this partly because I wrote an article yesterday for CIF on the upcoming Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, and some commenters below it accused me of poor writing because it was more a call to arms (about the bill) than a rational look at when an abortion is right or not.

I’m not really interested at what precise point abortion is right or wrong because it has always been and will always remain an emotional issue with no real ‘rational’ basis on which it can be debated.

The debate is fundamentally about the law trying to rule over women’s bodies and frankly, given that society has been trying to do that for centuries, I think it should avoid that as much as possible. Hence my position. On a topic like abortion, liberals like myself have a perfect right to put forward an emotional argument, make a point, and then call for people to get organised (more on that soon).

Why the hell are left-liberals always obsessed about approaching everything clamly and rationally, as if emotional campaigning should be avoided at all costs? Right-wingers have been doing it for decades quite successfully, especially in the US, and there’s no reason why left-wingers shouldn’t get passionate too, and fight on that basis for their rights.


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  1. Ashik — on 26th March, 2008 at 10:22 am  

    I’m Pro-Choice and firmly believe that abortion is a very personal decision for the woman. The state and religious types should remain at a dignified distance, providing support where necessary.

    That said I find it somewhat distasteful that militant Pro-Choicers do not show sufficient regard that having an abortion is not the most advantageous position. Far better to use contraceptives and avoid an unwanted pregnancy and the psychological and physical trauma of undergoing this invasive procedure. Also, the foetus is a potential human being. Abortion should be a contingency of last resort and not a method of contraception. There is no need for ‘in-your-face’ triumphalism. It’s the undignified counterpart to the Right to Life types self righteousness.

  2. Rumbold — on 26th March, 2008 at 10:49 am  

    Sunny:

    Ashik makes some good points. I too am pro-choice, but I recognise that for some people this is a very important issue. The majority of people who oppose abortion don’t do so because they are control freaks, which you imply, but because thet believe that an unborn child has a right to life. If one believes that, then you are going to oppose abortion (otherwise you are condoning murder).

  3. douglas clark — on 26th March, 2008 at 11:18 am  

    Sunny,

    I have watched your piece on CiF being argued out on Liberal Conspiracy, at least the bare bones of it. And I agree with what you have to say, with the caveat that selection pro a disability, re deafness, is a freedom too far, no-one has the ‘right’, I think, to disable another human being. So, I disagree with that. But the rest of it was right on.

    There are two other possible ‘liberal’ positions re abortion, Bill Clintons’ ‘abortion should be safe, legal and rare’ and my own, which is that sex education should be a priority in all schools in the UK, and contraception should be available to everyone, perhaps through regular mail-shots.

    You can only get to Bill Clintons’ position by doing something radical such as my suggestion. Perhaps every female child should read about what men are, starting with Charles Bukowski. It would, perhaps be more transformative than reading Chaucer.

    I absolutely detest what Nadine Dorries and her ilk are about here, but it is up to us to counter with better arguements. Nadine Dorries does not strike me as the sort of MP who would be in favour of free discussion about sex in schools, nor perhaps contraceptive advice. I’d have thought that some of the feminists that comment here could have deconstructed her in a few sentences. She, it seems to me, is a cross-dresser for priests.

    I am, as you might imagine, of the opinion that abortion is necessary, but not right. I was however shocked that some commentator on your CiF thread said abortions were down to rapists. Some, maybe, but certainly not the majority.

  4. Rumbold — on 26th March, 2008 at 11:23 am  

    Douglas:

    “There are two other possible ‘liberal’ positions re abortion, Bill Clintons’ ‘abortion should be safe, legal and rare’ and my own, which is that sex education should be a priority in all schools in the UK, and contraception should be available to everyone, perhaps through regular mail-shots.”

    Sums up my position as well (a combination of the two). Well said.

  5. Unity — on 26th March, 2008 at 12:05 pm  

    Why the hell are left-liberals always obsessed about approaching everything clamly and rationally, as if emotional campaigning should be avoided at all costs?

    Because many consider rationality and an adherence to enlightenment values to be a defining characteristic of liberalism and are, therefore, more comfortable with that approach even if it makes for a very dry argument.

    There’s nothing wrong with emotional campaigning on this issue if its done well, as in the case of Abortion Rights focus on the stories of women who have had an abortion, and the added bonus of that approach is that there’s a fair few ‘ultras’ on the anti-abortion side who can’t help themselves when it comes to hurling abuse at women who are honest about having an abortion.

    It takes a strong stomach (and a hide like a rhino) to do it and its certainly not for every woman who chooses to speak out, but there would be some mileage in running a blog with comments enabled in which women could (anonymously) give a longer and more personal account of their experience, feelings and reasoning, etc. if only because such posts tend to be a guaranteed troll magnet of the kind that nicely exposes the intolerance and inhumanity of some anti-abortionists.

    The science/ethics side of the debate is, however, difficult to sell emotionally – people just don’t get emotional about the finer points of foetal neurobiology – but that doesn’t mean to say we can’t work an ‘emotional’ pull into thing. Dorries is an easy target for satire and ridicule because she brings it on herself and that could be used as an approach to engage people sufficiently to feed them the science.

    As a campaign device, something like a factsheet entitled ‘Nsdine Dorries: Science Abuse’ documenting and debunking her incessant stream of bullshit wouldn’t be a bad starting point.

  6. Parvinder Singh — on 26th March, 2008 at 12:13 pm  

    ‘but they still prefer some sort of a limit on the rights of the woman versus the unborn child. I have a clear dividing line: the rights of the woman trump those of the unborn foetus every time.’

    Sunny, so am I right in saying you don’t believe in the 24 week limit? I’m pro-choice too, but surely there should be a limit as per the 1967 Abortion Act? In regards to ‘substantial risk to the women’s life or foetal abnormalities’ there is, quite rightly no limit, but simply banging on about a women’s choice without stipulating a limit is surely giving ammunition to the ‘pro-life’ camp. Teenage abortions are at an all time high and some would argue that abortion is being used more as a contraceptive these days. And we all know that many of ‘our lot’ use it to abort girls.

    A 6-month plus foetus can survive outside the womb, however under-developed. This was the reason the limit was put at 24 weeks. One only has to go through the 9-month period as my partner and I did, from the first scans to the birth of a baby to realise the more we leave it later, the more life there is in the womb. By the 5th month, our son was kicking! Despite what I have said regarding teenagers, Asians and survival of the foetus I would still say that the 1967 Abortion Act should be sufficient.

  7. douglas clark — on 26th March, 2008 at 12:44 pm  

    Unity,

    It does not lead to a very dry arguement, at least not from where I sit. It is about emotionalism, ré the lie that Naddine Dorries MP, promulgated around the world, whilst we were on the back foot. You have got to see your enemies ammunition, else you cannot avoid it.

  8. Unity — on 26th March, 2008 at 1:12 pm  

    Douglas:

    I am referring specifically to the evidence-based side of the science debate, the unpicking of things like John Wyatt’s stats on survival rate at UCH, Sunny Anand’s work on foetal pain, that kind of that stuff.

    That is a pretty dry issue for most people because you do have to wade through a fair of technical material before you hit paydirt and understand exactly how the science is being misrepresented.

    The ‘hand of hope’ nonsense is, by comparison, a gift because you don’t need to make a judgement about the finer points of foetal surgery you just have to decide whether you believe the account given by an opportunistic evangelical photographer or the one given by the doctor who carried out the actual surgery.

    That’s a bona fide no-brainer and, together with Dorries abysmal, lying, attempt at a rebuttal, it should feature heavily in any public information campaign leading in to the vote, which should be some time in May.

    The same goes for her false allegation against Ben Goldacre and especially the manner in which she ran away and shut down her comments when challenged over it.

    There’s the ‘emotional’ focal point, Dorries lack of credibility, especially when linked back both to her use of a strategy taken wholesale from the US and even more so given that Cameron is on record as having met with her before he went public in support of a reduction to 20 weeks – after all what credibility can he have if he was seemingly persuaded to back a reduction on the strength of Dorries’ arguments.

    We can also rely on the Daily Mail to promote Dorries and her line, which bring into play its track record on another medical story, MMR, especially as Wakefield’s fitness to practice case is due to restart soon – before the HF&E debate comes to a head.

    One thing that is needed – and this is far more Sunny’s department – is to get after the MSM a bit more as its currently running far too many unquestioning puff pieces in which te only rent-a-quotes are Dorries and the guy from the Christian Medical Foundation.

  9. douglas clark — on 26th March, 2008 at 2:10 pm  

    Unity,

    Re this:

    I am referring specifically to the evidence-based side of the science debate, the unpicking of things like John Wyatt’s stats on survival rate at UCH, Sunny Anand’s work on foetal pain, that kind of that stuff.

    I know that. I agree with you.

    On this:

    The ‘hand of hope’ nonsense is, by comparison, a gift because you don’t need to make a judgement about the finer points of foetal surgery you just have to decide whether you believe the account given by an opportunistic evangelical photographer or the one given by the doctor who carried out the actual surgery.

    That’s a bona fide no-brainer and, together with Dorries abysmal, lying, attempt at a rebuttal, it should feature heavily in any public information campaign leading in to the vote, which should be some time in May.

    Obviously.

    Sure. But the prevalence of abortion is somewhat wrong. That is what I think, along with sex education for five year olds.

  10. Heresiarch — on 26th March, 2008 at 2:14 pm  

    The reason you got dumped on over at CIF, Sunny, was that you made the fatuous claim that those opposed to unlimited abortion rights were all Tories, while all those on the liberal-left took the same view you do.

    It may be the case, statistically, that those of a Conservative persuasion are more likely to want abortion controls, and those on the left are more likely to favour abortion on demand. But that doesn’t equate to a simplistic left-right battle. Your argument was absurd, your piece incoherent.

    You also made a deeply unfair accusation at David Cameron with regards to his position on termination of the severely disabled. Cameron, as the parent of a severely-disabled child, is in a much better position than you to know what he is talking about.

  11. douglas clark — on 26th March, 2008 at 2:23 pm  

    Heresiarch,

    You say this:

    It may be the case, statistically, that those of a Conservative persuasion are more likely to want abortion controls, and those on the left are more likely to favour abortion on demand. But that doesn’t equate to a simplistic left-right battle.

    I’d say it does.

  12. Heresiarch — on 26th March, 2008 at 2:32 pm  

    So, Douglas, what about those on the left opposed to abortion on demand? Or those on the right in favour? Did they accidentally walk into the wrong parties? Do they have some sort of sinsiter entryist agenda?

    Abortion is a moral question. Or, to be more precise, one of competing moral priorities. Grown-up people of all political persuasions realise this. That’s why there’s always free vote on the issue.

    Everything doesn’t come down to left-right name calling.

  13. Sunny — on 26th March, 2008 at 4:04 pm  

    Abortion should be a contingency of last resort and not a method of contraception.

    I agree, but no one is contradicting that. You’re stating the obvious. I don’t know any pro-choicers who go around touting abortion as a laugh and a joke or a lifestyle choice.

    Rumbold: but because thet believe that an unborn child has a right to life. If one believes that, then you are going to oppose abortion

    I was going to come on to this. No, I don’t believe this. Most anti-choice people seem to be anti-abortion because they think women who conduct them are stupid and callous people who can’t make the right decision.

    Why else would people have to state obvious things like abortion is the last option?

    which is that sex education should be a priority in all schools in the UK, and contraception should be available to everyone, perhaps through regular mail-shots.

    Any feminist, female or male, worth their salt should be in favour of this anyway. But that doesn’t mean you take away the choice.

    Unity:
    The science/ethics side of the debate is, however, difficult to sell emotionally – people just don’t get emotional about the finer points of foetal neurobiology – but that doesn’t mean to say we can’t work an ‘emotional’ pull into thing.

    And this is why pro-choicers are losing the argument increasingly in the US. As a means of swaying public opinion and getting legislators on side, the emotional side works way better than a dry rational approach. Rationality has space here too, but you have to understand abortion is and will remain a personal/emotional issue for many women. That can’t be ignored and shouldn’t be ignored.

    Heresiarch:
    was that you made the fatuous claim that those opposed to unlimited abortion rights were all Tories, while all those on the liberal-left took the same view you do.

    Right now the battle is very much on party/ideological lines. I showed how that was. Brown only backed down because some of his top brass are Catholics (a minority). If they were backbenchers he wouldn’t care.

    Parvinder: Sunny, so am I right in saying you don’t believe in the 24 week limit? I’m pro-choice too, but surely there should be a limit as per the 1967 Abortion Act?

    I think the 24 week limit is silly mainly because the amount of abortion that take place at that time-limit are less than miniscule. I think the limit allows society to feel better because they think women shold have some limits imposed on them, but frankly, it serves no practical purpose. Any woman who wants to abort past 24 weeks probably has a damn good reason for it.

  14. Parvinder Singh — on 26th March, 2008 at 4:52 pm  

    ‘I think the 24 week limit is silly mainly because the amount of abortion that take place at that time-limit are less than miniscule.’

    Although miniscule compared to the overall number of abortions, 3,000 aborted foetuses over 20 weeks, is this not a concern? I’m not in the habit of quoting the Daily Mail, but this is the sort of stuff that is driving the present pro-life arguments. To ignore these will not help our cause.
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/health/healthmain.html?in_article_id=512129&in_page_id=1774

  15. Sunny — on 26th March, 2008 at 5:32 pm  

    I don’t trust the Daily Mail on anything. Here’s a Times Leader:
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/leading_article/article2733462.ece

    There are, in any case, relatively few abortions at such a late stage – officially no more than 136 were performed last year at 24 weeks or more, and in almost all cases they were occasioned by the discovery of a life-threatening condition to either the mother or the foetus. Some 89 per cent of operations were carried out within 13 weeks and 68 per cent of those were under 10 weeks.

    And anyway, when you say its a ‘concern’, why is the concern only directed at the unborn foetuses? Why not at the women who have to have the late abortions?

  16. Katherine — on 26th March, 2008 at 7:56 pm  

    Ashik, seriously, which “militant pro-choicers” have said that abortion is always the most advantageous position? That’s a blatant straw-woman if ever I saw one. Most “militant pro-choicers”, I think you’ll find, will consider themselves to be militant reproductive rights generally, which includes militantly supporting access to contraception.

    Oddly, the people most often against contraception are frequently also the ones against abortion. The logical dissonance of this stance does not seem to occur to them.

  17. Katherine — on 26th March, 2008 at 10:15 pm  

    “One only has to go through the 9-month period as my partner and I did, from the first scans to the birth of a baby to realise the more we leave it later, the more life there is in the womb.

    Speaking as a woman who went through pregnancy recently (and has a wonderful daughter to show for it), believe me, the process made me more pro-choice (if that were possible) not less. The enormity of what you are part of really hits home. I never used to be of the view that if you haven’t been through it, then you can’t understand but I am now.

    If you don’t want an abortion don’t have one, but really, stay the hell away from my womb, thank you very much.

  18. Parvinder Singh — on 27th March, 2008 at 11:54 am  

    Sunny, I don’t dispute the figures you quoted as I was quoting the nearly 3,000 figure for over 20 weeks http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion_in_the_United_Kingdom
    Nevertheless, the article you have quoted also says the following:

    ‘Abortion was only ever, they said, to be a last resort. That principle has been dangerously undermined. Although the time limit has been reduced from 28 to 24 weeks, the number of abortions has been steadily rising. Last year there were 193,700, compared with 186,400 in 2005, and there is evidence that abortion is now seen in some quarters simply as a convenience, a cost-free way of dealing with irresponsibility over contraception. The remark by Lord Steel of Aikwood, the architect of the original Act, that too many abortions were now taking place is particularly telling. ‘

    Look, I’m not against abortion and have marched on many occasions when attempts by the anti-choice brigade (eg. ‘liberal’ MP David Alton and SPUC) were made to amend the 1967 Act. What I am saying though, is that views like those expressed above should be addressed. Something has gone wrong in my view if abortions are rising. And yes, I am concerned both for the women going through this but is it reactionary to say I’m also concerned about the unborn foetuses?

    We seriously need to look at the way we are educating boys and girls both about sex, the trauma of abortion and whether contraception is readily available in places like schools and colleges.

  19. Curly — on 29th March, 2008 at 10:44 am  

    There are some very strange and worrying concepts in this proposed legislation.
    A free vote over certain clauses is not enough, Brown should allow a free vote on the third reading too!

  20. zohra — on 31st March, 2008 at 11:16 pm  

    Sunny, well done on this post and all the comment-replies you’ve supplied thus far.

    On this ‘it has always been and will always remain an emotional issue with no real ‘rational’ basis on which it can be debated’, however, I’d disagree. I would be the first to say that there’s nothing wrong with an emotional argument. What I would object to is the idea that an argument is either emotional or rational. It’s a false binary. There’s plenty to discuss on abortion that is ‘rational’ and also emotionally charged. I’d like to think much of feminist politics is like that: v passionate and steeped in rational thought too.

  21. zohra — on 31st March, 2008 at 11:30 pm  

    douglas @3 on “Perhaps every female child should read about what men are, starting with Charles Bukowski.” Perhaps we could focus a little bit on the male child who will do the impregnating as well?

    Heresiarch @12 on ‘Abortion is a moral question. Or, to be more precise, one of competing moral priorities…. That’s why there’s always a free vote on the issue.’

    The reason there’s a free choice on the issue is much less to do with competing moral priorities than other agendas, otherwise virtually every vote in parliament would be free – as the whole point of politics is that it involves competing moral priorities (unless you think it wasn’t a moral question about whether to go to war in iraq, whether to intervene in the sudan, how to treat refugees, etc.).

    Did you see this by Polly Toynbee at all on the fallacy of the whole ‘abortion is a moral issue’ argument: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/mar/25/ethicsofscience.medicalresearch

    Parvinder Singh @18 on ‘the trauma of abortion’ – poetic, but sensationalist. Many women face no trauma at all from the actual abortion, but do from the aggro of others judging them and getting all up in their face about it.

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