Thursday, June 30, 2005

The BMA rejects cutting the abortion time limit

Doctors at the British Medical Association conference in Manchester have voted against reducing the upper limit for abortion. Hopefully this will lead to a diminution of calls in other areas for a reduction in the time limit.

Abortion is one of the most heated issues imaginable. We're lucky in this country that the right to have an abortion is set down by a law and can only be removed by Parliament, unlike the US where it seems that a mere five Supreme Court Justices could do it. But it's still worrying when proposals to restrict availability come along.

I don't doubt that there many who support a reduction are driven by a genuine belief that the scientific evidence calls for it. However this is an issue to which there are no easy answers - indeed the famous US case Roe v. Wade notably states:

We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.
Despite this there is a strong strand of opinion that is determined to seize upon anything that will support their case in order to move towards virtual abolition of legal abortion.

It's also important to dispel a few myths. No woman who goes for an abortion at twenty or more weeks does so lightly - this is not a "lifestyle choice". Those who do have very strong reasons and if they aren't able to get a legal abortion here then they will search for one by other means - and that takes longer. For evidence look at the number of women from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland who travel to Great Britain to obtain an abortion (and they're disproportionately amongst the later abortions because of the time involved). Currently provision in this country needs improving - the reliance on the whims of two doctors (let alone the lack of legal provision in Northern Ireland) is a scandal.

There are some who have called for various major political parties to adopt a formal position on this. Given how the issue cuts across many personally held religious and philosophical viewpoints I feel rather uneasy about this. Preserving a woman's right to choose is essential, but one need only look at the US to see the dangers of allowing it to become a partisan issue. Repeated in this country we could risk the danger of availability depending upon whichever party was in power at the time, whilst both parties have a very wide range of opinion on the matter and would almost certainly be subjected to bitter internal struggles over policy. For the time being a free vote seems a better way to keep the issue out of the dangers of the partisan sphere.

1 comment:

christine said...

Babies live at 24 weeks. do you kill the baby first and then induce labour or you let it die after labour. I am not anti abortion, I fully support abortion up to 20 weeks, but my first live born child was born at 24 weeks and 6 days.That was in 1982. Doctors fought hard for her life & younger children than her now live. Doctors should not have to make that decision

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