Yesterday I put up a post on the issue of abortion, and where the line should be drawn. I don’t think there should be a line at all. A woman’s body is hers, and no one should have the right to tell her what to do with it. Most women, of course, who become pregnant, will act responsibly, but the fact that some may not does not give governments the right to intrude into women’s privacy, and to limit their freedoms. That it’s mainly a Christian issue is made clear by the Health Secretary’s claim that
[t]here’s an incredibly difficult question about the moment we should deem life to start. [see the Guardian here]
Hunt, just new to the health portfolio, since last month’s cabinet shuffle, has kept quiet about this until now, and though he says it has nothing to do with his Christian faith, there is reason to doubt the sincerity of the claim. Speaking to the Times (behind a paywall here) Hunt said
he had reached the conclusion after studying the evidence and denied that his stance was a consequence of his Christian belief.
In the Times interview he said:
It’s just my view about that incredibly difficult question about the moment that we should deem life to start. I don’t think the reason I have that view is for religious reasons.
But his claim about evidence found no backing from health professionals:
Dr Kate Guthrie, a spokeswoman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, questioned the basis for Hunt’s reference to making his decision after looking at evidence. “What evidence is he thinking of? I can’t think of anything.”
Which just shows how dependent Hunt’s views are on his Christian prejudices, and how endangered women’s reproductive freedoms are when faced by the idiocies of Christian meddling.
Of course, the so-called “pro-life” constituency are all cock-a-hoop over the sea change in the cabinet. After Hunt declared himself for a limit of 12 weeks (on some supposed evidence), another cabinet minister, the Home Secretary Theresa May, voiced her support for a lowering of the limit from 24 weeks to 20. The strange thing, to my mind, is that no one in the government seems at all concerned about the rights of women. None of those in favour of a reduction of the time limit has mentioned the women involved, and what implications the proposal would have for them. On the face of it this is astonishing. It’s almost as if the women are invisible, and the only thing that counts with these people is the potential life growing inside them. They seem quite prepared to limit access to abortion, even though it is entirely possible that abnormalities might show up much later, as Cathy Newman mentioned in her own story in the article cited yesterday. Newman’s experience, as she says, allowed her to see both sides of the story, and that’s just the side the politicians are complicit in ignoring, presumably for the sake of living up to their Christian principles. This is a clear example, despite Hunt’s denial, it seems to me, of religious meddling in public policy decisions where it does not belong.
According to the Times report,
the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists [RCOG] called the Health secretary’s intervention “insulting to women.”
As indeed it is. One of the things that would be put beyond reach by a 12 week limit would be testing for Down’s syndrome. And while Cameron did not agree with his new Health secretary, he said that he was entitled to his opinion, though the Prime Minister is in favour of a reduction to 20 weeks. I assume his reasons are also due to his Christian convictions.
This is surprising in a society that is largely post-Christian, and it indicates the depth of Christian influence in a country a majority of which do not even believe in God. According to the National Secular Society only 38% of Britons believe in God. The genuinely puzzling thing about this flurry of anti-choice activity by the Tories is that almost all abortions are early, and when they are late, they are late for good reasons, because the women are then often “in extremely challenging circumstances,” as the spokesperson for the RCOG said. And she went on to say:
The politicisation of women’s health is absolutely shocking. Politicians talk about putting patients at the centre, which is quite right. How is the woman at the centre of her healthcare with something like this?
If everybody had to have abortions by 12 weeks, my worry would be that women would be rushed into making decisions: ‘I have to have an abortion now or I can’t have one.’ That’s an absolute shocker. You will absolutely create mental health problems if you start dragooning women into making decisions before they have to. [my italics]
The important point to notice here, again, is that the anti-choice politicians are not standing on firm evidential ground, and by speaking, as he does of “issues that cut across health and morality,” Jeremy Hunt is, despite himself, expressing a religious view, for the morality in question here is religious morality. Hunt must know — and if he doesn’t, what is he doing in such an exalted position? — that, if the limit for abortion is lowered, then some women will, in desperation, seek the old-style “backstreet” abortion, with all the dangers to women’s health that this will portend. The only reason for forcing women into such a situation is a religious one, and Hunt, who is a Christian, though he does not broadcast the fact (as he says), is simply being disingenuous when he says that his Christianity has no bearing on his position. Since there is no scientific basis for his stand, the only other basis for taking such an extreme stand is religious.
You may wonder at my strong stand on this issue. The truth is that women’s right to abortion preceded my concern for assisted dying, and I held that a woman’s right to abortion throughout the years of my Christian ministry. I came more slowly to recognise people’s right to die, a good ten or twelve years after I had decided that the decision for abortion should be vested in the individual woman and in the individual woman alone. Hopefully, she will consult with her husband, if she is married, but he should have no controlling say in her decision. I can think of no good secular reason for intervening in a woman’s privacy and liberty interests for the sake of supposed foetal rights; and in an overpopulated world, lots of reasons to enforce, by abortion if necessary, as is done in China, a limitation on family size, for overpopulation is already putting too much stress on a seriously compromised environment, and spiralling population growth has serious implications for the future of the planet. The madness of Christians campaigning for the rights of foetuses, when our habitat is being destroyed by excessive population growth, should be evident. With the suddenness of the melting of the arctic icecap this year, and the likelihood of the methane being released from permafrost, there is every probability that our environment will suffer very sudden, sustained loss. We owe it to the future to curb population growth. Arguing about the morality of abortion in such a situation reminds me of Nero fiddling while Rome burned (which, it is said, he could not have done, the violin not having been invented yet — but he could have played a lyre!).