Monday, March 21, 2005

Hands up if you want a debate!

‘Would those who would like to discuss whether or not we have a debate please raise your hands now?’ Listening to the news this week I thought I’d been transported back to the Students’ Union. People from across the political spectrum were arguing about whether or not we should talk about abortion. Each morning I would turn on the radio anticipating that the debate would actually have started. Each morning I was disappointed. Just another hand raised in favour of debate.

If and when a debate does start let’s hope it’s a proper one. The early signs are not encouraging. The focus has been on whether the law should allow abortions at 24 weeks, 22 weeks or 20 weeks. This is tinkering around on the edges based on an unspoken consensus that a) we shouldn’t abort babies who might survive apart from their mother with the help of science and b) we shouldn’t abort babies who look like babies. The fact that if the parents waited another couple of weeks it would survive / look like a baby seems to be conveniently forgotten. If it was remembered the discussion seems almost irrelevant. A debate based on this consensus is a debate on quicksand.

We need an alternative starting point. A simple statistic can provide it. In the UK in 2003 were 695000 births and 181600 abortions. Factor in an estimated figure for miscarriages and 19% or almost one in five of recorded pregnancies in the UK is aborted.1 Whatever your view on a women’s right to choose or a baby’s right to life everyone should be able to agree that are too many abortions happening in this country. Whether a woman or couple choose to abort a baby or not the psychological trauma involved is huge and often life long.

I’m not sure I am in a position to tell a woman or couple whether or not they should have an abortion in a unique and difficult circumstance that they find themselves in. I do know that we need to find ways to reduce the number of women that face that choice in the first place. If we’re going to have a debate, these are the things we need to be talking about.

1. There are no official statistics on miscarriages, although approximately one in eight pregnancies miscarry, mostly before ten weeks.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Jon.

    I was shocked by your comparison of the number of abortions with the number of births, but then I wondered whether it was really a fair comparison. It happens that we live in a country where the birth rate is very low which makes the number of abortions seem very large in comparison. In fact, if the birthrate is low because people choose not to have children, one would actually expect the abortion rate to be high for the same reason. It would be fairer to compare it with the number of women of the appropriate age range, or the amount of sex they're having, but I doubt there are government statistics about that.

    Aside from the statistics, I agree that there are big issues that people miss while they argue about the tinkering around the edges. For instance, at some point science will be able to keep foetuses alive from extremely early on in artificial wombs or something. Then the viability argument becomes pointless.

    You're right that the early signs of the debate don't look good. The reason I'm less than enthusiastic about a having the debate is that it is likely to be dominated by people who are against abortion completely, and the women in the situation where they need it are unlikely to get a say at all.