Friday, October 21, 2005

Row about abortion

I outlined my views on this subject in a post a few months ago but I have just been drawn into a discussion about it on another blog.

I won't use other people's words, but if anyone who reads here wants to see, here are some of my comments on the thread:

I agree that this is not an issue that should be dragged into the party political arena (and so condemn Liam Fox for trying to do so) but at the end of the day no-one who goes for an abortion at around 20 weeks does so lightly. Those who do so are not going to be put off by the legality - the evidence both from pre 1967 and from other countries shows that a woman who wants an abortion will try to get one by any means possible.

As to abortion, no woman should be forced to carry inside her something against her will. And the evidence shows that women who need an abortion will seek one by any means necessary. The question is not some philosophical point about whether abortion is right or not but about the degree of provision. The only possible positions that can be adopted are either to pretend it doesn't happen, to make a futile attempt to erect unnecessary and painful barriers to access or to seek to ensure that the women involved receive the best possible care and safe access.

I think it is a good thing that abortion is not a party political matter. To reuse a post on my own blog from a few months ago:

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.

We're lucky that in this country the right to choose requires a majority of a 646 member Parliament to overturn it. In the US it could require as few as five Supreme Court Justices legislating from the bench (or whatever the politically acceptable term is for when it's in favour of the Bush Agenda). Opinions on abortion are usually rooted in philosophical and religious positions that do not fit within the party political structure. The idea that someone's ability to choose what to do with their body should depend upon which party is in power at the time revolts me.

You cite public opinion. But public opinion is so fickle. We do not have the death penalty in this country - again something public opinion would have otherwise. Merely letting public opinion alone determine issues would have kept homosexuality illegal. MPs are elected to bring their judgement on matters, not stick their fingers in the wind.

If the current status quo was "never passed by Parliament" then every legal challenge for breach of what was passed would have been brought and upheld by now.

The UK does not traditionally decide matters by referendum, but by representative assembly. Other than changing the terms of representation, I'm not persuaded that legislation by referendum works. So it's not a case of should it be a "public choice" but a political choice - and there have been umpteenth Bills over the years that have sought to change the 1967 Act, often generating strong debate. This is an issue that is most definitely debated politically, albeit not through parliamentary parties and as an issue that does not conform to party ideology that is no bad thing.

"Informed public opinion" is a very ambiguous term. One need only look at the drugs debate to see how the definition of "informed" changes rapidly, with numerous studies and information easily coming to wildly differing conclusions. Sometimes our politicians have to give a lead on thorny issues and protect minorities from the tyranny of the so-called majority for a day. (On other controversial matters I oppose the foxhunting ban and the now-abolished Section 28, despite both having opinion poll support.)

I don't deny that the decision about whether or not to keep the pregnancy is the hardest one that most women (and sometimes their partners) will ever have to make. There are alternatives but consideration takes time. Restricting the time limit does not reduce the time to have an abortion but reduces the time to have a legal abortion. Many women go through self-denial or find it difficult to take a decision easily - you seem to want them to take it in pressured circumstances. Any fair objective analysis of the situation has to accept that a woman who needs a termination will obtain one. That must be the starting point on this matter. Legal provision is a necessary evil.

No comments:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...