There’s much more to the abortion limit argument than 24, 20 or 12 weeks

Since Maria Miller the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, as well as also being the minister for women, revealed in a Telegraph interview that she would vote for the legal limit for abortions to be reduced from 24 weeks to 20 weeks, there have been a whole host of articles commenting on her words.   I’m afraid I’ve decided to jump on the bandwagon too.

The slightly odd thing about this is that what Mrs Miller said isn’t news at all. When parliament voted on Nadine Dorries motion back in 2008 to reduce the abortion limit to 20 weeks, she voted in favour of it (as an aside, so did new Jeremy Hunt who is now Secretary of State for Health.   Since Mrs Miller’s comments, he has gone further suggesting the limit should be reduced to 12 weeks).  Despite the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists this week restated their view that there is no scientific evidence to justify a lower limit, and Parliament’s decision not to lower it in 2008, there is currently plenty of support for a change.  Maria Miller’s reasoning is that it would be  “common sense” to lower the limit from 24 weeks to 22 weeks because medical science has “moved on” and babies are surviving at ever-younger gestational ages.  She explained that she was “riven by the very practical impact that late-term abortion has on women”.  This piece by Caroline Farrow goes into more detail on the effects of late abortions.

According to Dr Peter Saunders’ Christian Medical Comment blog, Nearly two thirds of the public and more than three-quarters of women support a reduction in the 24-week upper age limit. 76% of the public think that aborting a baby at six months is cruel. Furthermore a 2007 poll by Marie Stopes International found that two thirds of GPs wanted a reduction from 24 weeks.  Across the rest of Europe Union the average abortion limit is 12 weeks or less.  We are only one of five countries to have the limit set at or above 24 weeks.

All this would suggest that Maria Miller is talking sense.  However, despite having read plenty of this week’s articles on the subject, I think almost all commentators are missing an important point in the 20/24 week limit debate.  It all revolves around what would happen if a baby was born during this time period.  Would it survive or not?  The thing is with abortion is that the baby never survives, so in one sense it makes no difference to the foetus at what point it is destroyed, be it 8, 20, 24 or 36 weeks.  The only difference is how much pain it is likely to experience in the process.

We can argue endlessly about where the limit should lie, but this is just the visible face of a deeper argument regarding the ethics of abortion.  Do those who campaign for a reduction in the limit do so mainly because the foetus could have survived if it had been born or because of the increased risk of psychological trauma to the mother?  These are both important and valid reasons, but I suspect the underlying one for the majority is that  they don’t believe abortion is acceptable in most cases.  In the current political climate, to publicly declare that abortion is wrong leaves you open to a huge amount of criticism.  To look to minimise the number of abortions by reducing the time limit is a realistic compromise and gives a more credible argument than, “I believe it is wrong” which is often founded on religious convictions.

On the other side of the fence, if you believe that abortion is acceptable because a woman should be in control of her body, then logically that means later abortions should theoretically be justifiable.  Giving potential medical reasons for not reducing the limit where it is again gives a more defensible standpoint.

And so the battle lines are drawn with the aim of making your side look like it has the moral high ground.  Jemima Lewis’ article in Wednesday’s Telegraph sums this up well:

Both sides in the abortion debate tend to favour a medieval style of battle: pull up the drawbridge, lob balls of fiery wrath at the enemy, decapitate anyone whose loyalty is in doubt. But the truth is that we are all in a muddle. Unless you believe in God – which many people in this country don’t – the only way through this moral thicket is to put our faith in science and the laws of the land. Increasingly, the science suggests that the law needs tweaking.

She is right about us being in a muddle unless we believe in God.  Without that higher authority the problem is who we trust to have the right views and opinions on this subject.  Who are the moral guardians in our society if we reject biblical or other faith teachings?  It’s an argument that will never be won because it can never be fully objective if we don’t know or understand how to value human life beyond our own ideologies.

Rowan Williams was asked about abortion on Monday evening at the Theos Annual Lecture in London.  This was his response:

“You are not going to solve ethical issues like abortion by saying it is like having a tooth out, or it is simply a material transaction. Nor are you going to sort it out by saying ‘We’ve got to work out when the soul enters the body, and somehow it’s all right before and it’s not all right after’.

“I would say that as soon as there is what you would call an individual there, we have something that begins to make the claim of a person.

“That may still leave open all kinds of complex issues about when abortion is the lesser evil. I just don’t want us to gloss over the fact that we are talking about personal relational realities here.”

When you see an unborn child through God’s eyes, you have to give it value and respect.  There are more than enough good reasons to lower the abortion limit below 24 weeks, but even if that does happen sometime in the future it won’t solve any of the arguments.  Only a realisation that the unborn child’s interests must always come first will do that.

Categories: Abortion, Government, Morals & ethics

Tags: , , , , , , ,

8 replies

  1. Two points. One the reason and two the prevention of unwanted pregnancies.
    The first point is that some one use abortion as a form of contraception – I am not talking about the after sex pill. This is wrong. The second point is that there is absolutely no excuse what so ever in the UK for women to get pregnant if they do not want to. Accidents happen – after sex pill is available. Prevention is always better than cure. Sex without responsibility is not exciting or fun. It is irresponsible, causes distress to those concerned and brings pregnancy to become a commodity to be disposed of as one wishes. The harrowing photos of aborted babies is a must watch for all women and men – girls and boys. Sex is a commodity [that is how many people see it] that should not be taken lightly. The outfall and increased numbers of STDs and abortions is ridiculous and if those acting out unsafe sex could see pictures of the results then I think a shock to the system would be good for them. A shriven scabby penis and a foetus trying to fight for its life as it is being dragged via abortion out would temper most normal peoples sensibility and actions.

    There will always be mistakes and accidents, along with rape which is traumatic and has consequences above and beyond the norm of two consensual people having sex, but they should be few and far between.

    As far as I am concerned 8 weeks is still too late. But I do accept that there will always be abortions carried out as demanded. Lets try to promote prevention as well.

  2. I have heard and read in the media that the reason for high unwanted pregnancy rates is mainly due to a lack of education around contraception. My Daughter ( Aged 20 ) recently told me though,that throughout her school years, in magazines on the internet etc she received high levels of information on all aspects of sex education. There just seems to be an emotional disconnect between the sex act and the consequence of pregnancy. We seem to view sex somehow as a leisure activity like going shopping. It would be interesting to know how many abortions were the result of casual sex as opposed to within long term loving relationships and also to what extent Alcohol was a factor. We are also in denial about the effect that abortion has on women emotionally and spiritually before we even get to the moral questions of sanctity of life and foetal pain. The abortion act was brought in to end the curse of backstreet abortion but has evolved into a lifestyle ,pro choice, on demand procedure and we brush under the carpet the whole business of personal cost ( i don’t mean money ) The same thing will happen with Euthanasia if we allow it. One of the problems in the debate is that women’s choice is held paramount and those who have advocated independent counselling in an effort to promote informed choice have been denounced in some quarters. The real tragedy is that many women regret the decision and suffer guilt ,depression, anxiety and other psychological problems later. I agree efgd we need to be more open about the effects of abortion, value women’s testimony, not stifle the debate. As a man it is not for me to preach because Women naturally want the decision over what happens to their own bodies. Any talk about the biblical context for sex will immediately attract labels such as traditional, dinosaur, conservative, right wing, oppressive, repressive, moralistic, killjoy etc but truth is,when we stray from Gods pattern for sex there is often trouble ahead but i think we resent and ignore these things, muddle through the consequences simply because we value our autonomy even more. This is why God wants us to humble ourselves because the attitude of ego and self often harms us.

    • I agree Graham.

      We need to debate and discuss abortion on a level that interacts with women and the stress, angst and other psychological affects that abortion has on women.

      I know women who have used abortion as a method out of fear and guilt, because they did not want another child, because they were not ready to have a child for whatever reason or because it was seen as a form of contraception after the fact.

      These issues must be debated openly without blame and preaching.

      Men must also be encouraged to take responsibility for their actions.

      It is a shame that men do not have to take pills to become fertile or that woman have to or both. Proper decisions might be then be made about child birth. Of course we may not be well populated 🙂

      Sadly, as it is, we have to counter the “so what” and “whatever” attitude that has become prevalent in today’s society. Not just from those involved but from parents, teachers and leaders.

  3. I agree with much of what has been said. Fact is, abortion is a major problem in our society and it poses a moral dilemma, whichever way we look at it, as to how our doctors and politicians should cope with it. But yes, the real problem lies upstream of the debate.
    I cannot help but say this: life itself is a miracle of God and the conception of each and every baby is an individual miracle. The circumstances surrounding the conception may vary enormously, but whatever the circumstances, nothing alters the fact that a life has been created. That is an awesome truth from which we cannot escape.
    Clearly, in our secular world, sex has become an entity in itself, quite separated from the context for which it was designed. In many cases one fears that the spontaneity of the moment may carry little thought for the enormity of the outcome.
    Abortion is a tragedy and, ultimately, an offence against our very creation. The distress it causes is entirely understandable, particularly to the mother. Whatever her beliefs or religion (if any) it is something that cuts right across the maternal instinct with which woman was created.
    We need a complete and utter rethink, a revival of our thinking, to get back to the basics of who we are and what life really means.

  4. When I was researching this piece I found some images of aborted foetuses and they were traumatic to look at thinking these were babues who had had their lives ripped away. I don’t always think that shock tactics are the best method to get people to change their thinkin, but as you’ve been saying, sex is so divorced from pregnancy in many people’s minds that an encounter with reality is maybe what’s needed. Social abortions are far, far higher than they should ever be and it doesn’t do anyone any good for this to be the case.

  5. Reblogged this on BecomingEllipsisMark and commented:
    The final paragraph is the most important part. Read it all and share.

  6. The fact is that the experts on this subject are pro-choice. The Royal College of Obstetrici­ans and Gynaecolog­ists has said “medical advancements have improved neonatal survival rates. However, there is currently a limit to successful interventions for premature babies which improve their survival rates. The abortion time limit should therefore stay at 24 weeks.” What’s more the majority of people in the UK do not want the limit changed. According to the most recent YouGov poll, conducted just after the Conservative minister had mooted the lowering of the time limit, only 6% want abortion banned; 47% favour keeping the law as it is and a further 4% would support extending the limit beyond 24 weeks. Of those who want the limit lowered, the majority only want it taken down to between 18-20 weeks.


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