The thin end of the wedge (strategy).

Yes, I know fisking Nadine Dorries is yet another exercise is shooting tuna in a bucket with a 12 gauge, but this nonsense on abortion fully deserves the complete works…

So, the Roman Catholic Church has gone nuclear on abortion.

What, they want to start nuking doctors?

As someone who currently has a bill running in the House of Commons to reduce the upper limit at which an abortion can take place from 24 to 20 weeks and to introduce a period of informed consent or cooling off period – (which is about to come back onto the floor of the House for its third reading in October, the month of the 40th anniversary of the Abortion Act), this is a position I should welcome. However, I have very mixed feelings.

Really? Mixed feelings about what exactly, Nadine?

Where has the Catholic Church, or for that matter, any Christian Church been for the last 40 years?

Well, the Catholic Church has been entirely consistent in its view on abortion over that period, has supported several efforts to place restrictions on availability, including the reduction in the upper time limit from 28 to 24 weeks gestation that did pass into law, and general campaigned against abortion at every available opportunity.

So why is Nadine railing against them all of a sudden? (all will be revealed shortly)

The Abortion Act of 1967 was introduced to legalise abortion in order to end the back street abortion racket.

Ooh, nice bit of ‘unspeak‘ there, Nadine.

Unspeak? Yes. Unspeak – the use of language as a weapon in politics, or if you prefer semantic propaganda.

Think for a moment about the implications of calling back street abortions a ‘racket’. What does the word ‘racket’ imply?

Well, for starters, the involvement of organised crime – racketeer was a commonly used synonym for ‘gangster’.

Of course, that not true, there was never an organised crime element to the provision of abortions prior to 1967, no secret Mafiosi-run clinics and certainly no hint that the Kray’s ever had a hand in the wire coathanger and hot water racket. Back street abortionists were almost always solo operators, sometimes former or failed medical practitioners, more often just a local women who, in earlier times, would have served the community in which she lived as the local midwife cum herbalist/healer.

Calling back street abortions a ‘racket’ does rather more than refer to the fact that they were illegal at the time, it actually seeks to elevate the level of illegality it entailed over and above that or ‘ordinary’ crime by playing on the public’s perception that crime in invariably a more serious matter when its ‘organised’ and carried out systematically by a criminal ‘underworld’.

‘Racket’ has another semantic connotation that’s equally relevant. A ‘racket’, colloquially, can also mean a fraud or deception, something dishonest and based on an element of trickery – think in terms of the classic Phil Silvers’ show and the character of Sgt. Ernie Bilko (or Top Cat, if you’re a bit younger).

Nadine, in choosing to describe back street abortions as a ‘racket’ is seeking to convey a false image of the practice, one that portrays the practice as a form of conscious exploitation of vulnerable women rather than as drastic, and extremely imperfect, response of a social need (or as some would contend, necessity). Women who sought out and used their services – which were the only ones available – are cast in the mould of being unwitting victims of exploitation, in effect they were ‘tricked’ into having abortions by unscrupulous individuals whose sole interest was in profiting from their miserable situation as if to suggest, almost, that its was the availability of of illegal abortions and not the lack of legal ones that was really the problem.

All an entirely false prospectus and a false account of the real social history of the time – if you want an honest picture of period, don’t listen to ‘Mad Nad’, go see Mike Leigh’s ‘Vera Drake‘ instead.

Illegal abortions were costing lives or leaving women with horrific physical consequences and infections. Something had to be done.

Pre 1967, abortion was a last resort, something a woman resorted to in the most desperate of situations. The reason being that the frightening alternative was the back street abortionist. Everyone knew someone who had a horror story to tell. Breaking the law was not something people undertook lightly either.

Today the Act is undoubtedly used as a form of contraception, and the law, as presently drafted, allows for this to be the case.

Abortion is NOT a means of contraception – and as Nadine was a nurse at one point in her life she damn well should know better than to make such a crass and inaccurate remark.

Contraception is specifically the prevention of conception or impregnation by artificial means – once a fertilised has implanted successfully in the womb then impregnation has taken place and the whole idea of contraception becomes meaningless, at least for so long as the pregnancy continue.

An abortion is an abortion. It is not as means of contraception, it is simply the termination of a preganancy.

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, one of the more despicable lines of argument deployed by the anti-abortion lobby. By deliberately conflating abortion with contraception, the intent is to portray the entirely false notion that legal access to abortion services makes abortion an ‘easy’ option, a meaningless lifestyle choice.

It isn’t – the only thing that easy here is the casual manner in which Nadine misrepresents the reality of difficulties that women face in reaching the difficult and heartrending decision to terminate a pregnancy, which she also compounds with a misbegotten eulogy the pre-legalisation days when the horrors of the backstreet abortionist served a useful social purpose in dissuading some women from making such a choice.

It is a fact that the law needs to be amended.

It is not a ‘fact’ that the law needs to be amended. A fact is something real, tangible. Something that actually has a verifiable existence. What Nadine is expressing here is not a fact, but a personal opinion. She calls it a fact simply in order to try an persuade her readers that they have no option but to agree with her – a fact is a fact and cannot be disputed, an opinion is simply a personal view which can be very much open to discussion and debate.

Calling an opinion a fact is simply an attempt to shut down the debate, an indication that Nadine is unwilling to debate her views on abortion with an open mind.

However, it is also the case that the public need to be made more aware of what is actually taking place with regard to abortion within society today.

The graphic 4D images which have been put into the public domain by Professor Campbell have assisted hugely with this process.

There has never been a pregnant woman who has not wished, at some stage of her pregnancy, that she had a window which she could peep through to see her unborn child. Professor Campbell and 4D screening has done just that, a miracle in itself. We can see the foetus at all stages of development to the point where we can watch a smile, a thumb being sucked, a hiccough, or even a little cry.

Now were onto the bad science.

Let’s start with ‘Professor Campbell’, which right from the off is a very basic appeal to authority, i.e. what I’m about to tell you comes from a scientist and scientists, as we all know, know best – not. I’m sure, the view of Professor Campbell, I should say, but rather the manner in Nadine presents, or rather misrepresents, his work.

Then there’s the matter of of his images, which are a ‘4D’ screening because, of course, a ‘4D’ image is much better than a 3D or a 2D one. The term ‘4D’ is, actually completely meaningless, of course, because what you actually see when you look at Campbell’s images is a two-dimensional image of a computer-generated three dimensional model which moves over time (the fourth dimension) – call it what you like, its still a piece of two dimensional video footage.

And is this a ‘miracle’?

Of course not. A miracle is an event in the physical world which cannot be explained in natural terms and is there ascribed to the workings of a supernatural force. Campbell’s images are nothing more than the product of a bit of clever imaging technology about which there is nothing in the least bit miraculous at all; but note, again, the semantic use of ‘miracle’ here. Campbell’s images, his use of technology, are ‘a miracle in itself’, i.e. a miracle alongside the other ‘miracle’ here, that of foetal development.

But then there’s nothing miraculous about that either. Life is an entirely natural process and there is nothing at all supernatural about reproduction – birds do it, bees do it, even single celled amoebas do it, albeit is rather different manner to vertebrates.

Nadine’s oblique reference to reproduction as a ‘miracle’ could be a simply colloquialism, but one suspect rather more that it betrays the theological basis of her thinking on the subject of abortion – and, of course, her efforts to restrict access to it – even if she unwilling to admit to that openly and chooses to conceal her real views out of simple political expediency.

Yes, Campbell’s images do show the exterior development of the foetus right up to the point at which one can see it apparently smile, suck its thumb, hiccough (an entirely a lousy example to cite in any case as even in full grown adults its stems from an entirely involuntary reflex) and even cry…

…and all that at TWENTY SIX WEEKS GESTATION, a full two weeks AFTER the upper limit for elective abortion on non-medical grounds.

What Campbell’s images don’t display, however, is the development of the frontal cortex of the brain, and therefore the capacity for consciousness, rational and abstract thought, understanding, comprehension, communication and control over bodily functions – all of which does not begin until the third trimester; i.e. from 24 weeks gestation onwards. All movements prior to that point are automatic and occur without conscious thought; they are merely reflexive physical movements that may or may not have some basis on autonomic responses to external or internal stimuli.

The anti-abortion lobby (let’s not buy in the whole ‘pro-life’ trope, which is yet more propaganda) actively promote images such as those produced by Professor Campbell in part because it creates a false veneer of scientific ‘respectability’ around their arguments. It creates the appearance that they are trying to argue their case for restrictions on access to abortion from a scientific base when, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth and the argument they are trying to deploy, here, is nothing more than a basic appeal to emotion.

You’re supposed, if not expected, to look at the images and think ‘awww, but its looks like a baby’ – its a hyperreality in which you are supposed to engage, emotionally and intellectual, with the apparent image of a baby exhibiting human and seemingly conscious behaviours and not the reality of foetus exhibiting entirely reflexive and autonomic responses with no conscious intent, feelings or thought whatsoever – because the physical capacity for such things has simply not begun to develop at the point at which the images were taken.

The comparison that the anti-abortion lobby wants people to make on viewing the images is between the apparent physical development and behaviours of the foetus in the image and those of newborn, healthy baby – in reality the correct comparator at that stage would be one between the foetus and a newborn with a condition called anencephaly (literally ‘brainlessness’) in which the baby is born without any capacity for higher brain functions or conscious thought and, in most cases, will die within a few weeks or months of being born.

Of course, when the anti-abortion lobby talk about the public needing to made more aware of the reality of abortion, that last – and far more scientifically valid comparator – is not really what they have in mind when it comes to putting Campbell’s images on public display as, for many, the moral and ethical dimensions of the argument would tend to be seen in a rather differently light were they rather better informed on the matter of the neurological development of the foetus.

Professor Campbell’s images, while fascinating and in some cases even illuminating – and all credit to him for his technical achievements – are being presented in a highly misleading and unscientific manner by those, like Nadine, who are opposed to abortion on purely moral grounds based, largely, in theological belief. They are being used as propaganda.

The idea that Campbell’s images constitute scientific evidence in support of placing restrictions on abortion is no more valid or accurate than the suggestion would be that an image taken at between 4 and 5 months gestation, at which point all foetuses develop a thin covering of hair over their entire bodies (which they then lose fairly rapidly – this, by the way, is yet more evidence for Darwinian evolution) would be proof that the expectant mother can expect to give birth to a baby Chimpanzee – and one would expect that Campbell, himself, is perfectly aware of that, even if ‘Mad Nad’ is not.

The reports which show that women who have abortions are three times more likely to suffer from depression later in life need to be constantly highlighted. It should be incumbent upon every GP who counsels a pregnant woman seeking an abortion to inform her of this fact.

‘The reports’? Which ones, the actual journal papers, such as this one from the BMJ (January 2002), which appears to the basis of this assertion?

No, of course not. Most people simply wouldn’t read such reports, let alone understand them fully because they are written for medical practitioners by medical practitioners and in the language of medical practioners. No, the reports Nadine is taking are the kind one sees in the Daily Mail or Daily Express which ‘report’ the findings of such research studies, typically in grossly oversimplified and sensationalised terms.

Why must these reports be ‘constantly highlighted’? Because they help facilitate informed debate? Don’t be silly.

This is about spreading propaganda and not conducting a rational public debate. The reports in question must be constantly highlighted to drive into the public consciousness the idea that abortion is a bad thing that has nasty side effects (specifically depression) because that supports Nadine’s ideological position on abortion.

Of course, if you prefer a rational public debate founded on the available evidence, then you would also publicise this, more recent, report from the BMJ (December 2005 – ‘rapid response’ discussion worth reading as well), which reassesses and reevaluates the data and methodology of the earlier report and finds that the evidence for a correlation between abortion and the incidence of depression in later life is inconclusive, and then add two further papers from New Zealand by the same research team, this on the mental health aspects (abstract only I’m afraid, due to subscription firewall) and this one on life outcomes post-abortion, from which I’ll quote part of David Ferguson’s discussion on his findings, which amounts to about the most sensible thing I’ve read on the subject of abortion in a very long time.

Debates about the advantages and liabilities of abortion have been dominated by the rhetoric and political ideologies of those holding prolife and prochoice positions. Those holding prolife positions have tended to depict abortion as having few advantages and many disadvantages, whereas those holding prochoice positions have promoted the opposite view. Our findings from this study and related work lead to conclusions that fall between these extremes. In a previous article, we showed that exposure to abortion was associated with a moderate increase in risks of subsequent mental health problems even when due allowance was made for confounding factors. The present analysis suggests that abortion may mitigate some of the educational disadvantages that have been linked to early pregnancy, but that similar benefits are not evident for economic or partnership outcomes. The discrepancies between these findings and the rhetoric of both prolife and prochoice arguments strongly underline the need for further research into the risks and benefits associated with abortion as a means of addressing the issues raised by unwanted or mistimed pregnancies. In general, there is a clear need for further study of the social, educational and related outcomes of the decision to terminate a pregnancy so that women may be properly informed of the potential consequences of this decision for their life course.

There’s two statements worth picking out here:

Debates about the advantages and liabilities of abortion have been dominated by the rhetoric and political ideologies of those holding prolife and prochoice positions.

And

The discrepancies between these findings and the rhetoric of both prolife and prochoice arguments strongly underline the need for further research into the risks and benefits associated with abortion as a means of addressing the issues raised by unwanted or mistimed pregnancies.

You got that?

The evidence DOES NOT fully support the ideological positions adopted on either side of the argument and the current debate is almost entirely dominated by the rhetorical and ideological oppositionalism of each side to the other, in which one very important thing is almost entire forgotten – the woman who actually faces the difficult decision as to whether or not to have an abortion.

600 abortions a day take place in the UK. This is an unacceptably high number within a civilised society.

Why is it ‘unacceptably high’ and of what relevance is the assumption that we live in a ‘civilised society’ to this debate?

How does one decide at which point the number of abortions taking place each year becomes too many, unless one has the entirely fixed view that too many equal any number other than zero or, at best, a figure based on some small concessions to ‘necessity’ derived from a bit of moral salami slicing around issues of rape and severe congenital disability?

(That last one has always rather puzzled me as its not entirely clear to me from where, in opponents of abortion, the justification for permitting abortion in cases of severe disability derives. The simple answer, I suppose, is pure expediency – a desire not to be seen to be complete ‘unreasonably’ but one also suspects that, at time, some of the thinking on this may be coloured by even less noble motives, amongst which may lie an awareness of the economic and social costs of bringing up a severely disabled child).

One could, I suppose, think in terms of considering the proportion of pregnancies that end in termination that might be though ‘avoidable’, i.e. those that are both unplanned and unwanted right from the outset but not all terminations arise from such circumstances. What, for example, of women who become pregnant because initially they do want a baby with their long-term and seemingly committed partner only then to see what they though was their ‘stable’ world fall apart around them, as does happen. What about those who fall pregnant because they are amongst the small, and unlucky, percentage of women for whom contraception fails – they clearly had no intention of falling pregnant and took steps to prevent that occurring only to find themselves facing impending motherhood in circumstances entirely outside their control.

How does one factor either of those scenarios into one’s calculations as to how many abortions is too many, or justify removing from those women the choice of an abortion is that is what they consider to be the best, and often only, option that satisfies their needs in such a situation?

As for this idea of a ‘civilised society’, aside from displaying an obvious and outdated, almost Victorian, sense of Eurocentricity – is China not also a civilised society, or India, perhaps – both have a far longer history of civilisation than Britain. In fact one cannot see such remarks without recalling Gandhi’s observation on being asked what he thought of Western Civilisation – ‘That would be a novel idea’.

And is it not also the case that the accessibility of abortion services is actually lowest, if not non-existent, in precisely the kind of societies that Nadine would appear to consider to be ‘uncivilised’, largely because these are the societies in which religious and legal prohibitions against abortion are still in place and hold the greatest sway. From that standpoint, are efforts to place greater restrictions on access to abortion services not, in reality, a retrograde step, a move away from ‘civilisation’, which tends to take a more liberal view of the necessity of such practices.

We have one of the highest rates of abortions within Europe along with the highest rates of teenage pregnancies.

Neither of which is an argument in favour of placing greater restrictions on abortion, although both are strong arguments in favour of improving sex education (including removing the right of parents to withdraw their children from sex education classes and consigning them to ignorance) and widening access to contraception – both of which the Catholic Church and some other religious groups oppose.

Restricting access to abortion does not automatically mean a reduction in the number of teenage pregnancies. What is probably would mean is an increase in both the number of teenage lone parents in receipt of welfare benefits and the number of unwanted children requiring foster care and adoption services, in addition to a wide range of other, hard to quantify, social and economic consequences, none of which I dare say Nadine has even bothered to think through.

Abortion has become a growth industry, facilitated and aided by the law.

Remember, Nadine started out be casting back street abortions after the fashion of a ‘racket’, as a form of organised crime/deception. Having been legalised, abortion is now an ‘industry’ and the ‘growth industry’ at that – yes its yet propaganda.

What does calling abortion an ‘industry’ actually imply?

That abortion has been mechanised and industrialised. That it’s now a production (or rather non-production) line where you just step up on the conveyor belt, open your legs nice and wide and let the machinery do the rest.

It suggests that Abortion services are cold, uncaring, profit-driven businesses interested only in vacuuming up your money as they vacuum away the foetuses. That abortion is quick, efficient, clinical process and requires neither thought or consideration on the part of woman seeking an abortion nor care and compassion on the part of medical practitioners carrying out the procedure.

And this, again, from a woman who used to be a nurse – politics may have raised Nadine’s public profile but its done nothing whatsoever for her sense of ethical standards.

The recent stance the Catholic Church has taken will assist in putting all of these facts into the public domain. I welcome the fact that it will heighten public awareness with regard to the sheer abuse of the Abortion Act and will once again push abortion up the public and political agenda.

And yet more propaganda – ‘sheer abuse of Abortion Act’ – whatever can she mean?

Actually its obvious when you think about it – remember in Mad Nad’s world, abortion is an ‘industry’ that is ‘facilitated and aided by the law’ – a law that is also now being ‘abused’.

The implication is a stark as it is both false and entirely despicable, what Nadine is trying to promote as justification for placing restrictions on access to abortion is the idea that the intent of parliament as expressed in the original 1967 Act has been perverted over the last 40 years for nothing more than commercial gain – that’s why the Act is being ‘abused’ and abortion is now and ‘industry’.

Of course this is all just more rhetoric and propaganda.

Public opinion has recently shifted with regard to abortion, but not to the position of the Catholic Church.

Has it?

Who says so and on what basis is the public view changing?

Because of their active participation in an informed and rational debate or because they are being bombarded with propaganda?

And in what sense is it right that public opinion should be the key determinant of access to, and the kind of restrictions placed on abortion services. Who are ‘the public’ to sit in judgement on such matters, what substantive understanding of the issues do they actually have? What capacity is there for ‘the public’ to make informed decisions on such matters?

Arguments based on ‘public opinion’ are inherently logical fallacies because they amount to an argumentum ad populum, an appeal to the people or majority – and yes that does imply that democracy is also rooted in the same basic fallacy, which was most notably explored by Plato who considered it the ‘tyranny of the majority’.

Who is to say on a matter as individual and personal as abortion that the majority public view is the right view – what do they know of the consequences to the individual of placing restrictions and limitations on access to abortion? What can they possibly know?

Little or nothing, of course?

They cannot even, if Ferguson is correct, make a genuinely informed assessment on the generalities of such a question because we simply do not know enough about the implications and long-term effects/impact of abortion to make adequate judgements on the subject.

The public agree that the upper limit should be reduced, that we should work to offer women alternatives, help them to think very clearly about what they are doing, and, where possible, help to provide another solution. But it hasn’t shifted so far that the public want to ban abortion altogether.

Nadine keeps going on about what the public think and agree, but on what evidence is she basing these assertions?

Actually, it turns out that her evidence lies in an opinion poll commissioned by the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (naturally) from Communicate Research, last year, to coincide with Nadine’s own attempt to introduce legislation restricting access to abortion, a poll that ranks amongst the most poorly constructed and obviously biased I’ve ever seen.

To give you a flavour of what I mean, questions 7 on the poll asks:

Q7 Almost half of the 200,000 yearly abortions in the UK are conducted in private clinics but paid for by the NHS. In light of this, do you agree or disagree with these statements?

– Women attending private clinics probably receive equally good care in private clinics as they would in NHS ones

– The financial relationship between private clinics and the NHS makes it less likely that women attending receive impartial advice

– It is acceptable for the NHS to pay private clinics to conduct abortions

Which leads neatly into question 8.

Q8 Would you support or oppose each of the following possible changes to the law on abortion?

– A compulsory cooling-off period between diagnosis of pregnancy and any abortion

– A woman’s right to be informed of the medical risks associated with abortion

– A legal duty on doctors to provide access to advice both from abortion providers and from organisations offering alternatives such as adoption

– A right for healthcare workers not to have to sign abortion forms or to assist abortions where this would conflict with their ethical views

And thence to question 9 to cap it all off…

Q9 It has been argued that since the government funds abortions in private clinics, it should also make funds available to organisations offering women alternatives to abortion such as adoption. Would you support or oppose this proposal?

Not only is that a blatantly leading sequence of questions, but in some cases the matters on which respondents were asked to give their views were entirely misleading and irrelevant – medical staff are already accorded the right to ‘cry off’ any involvement in the provision of abortion services on grounds of personal ethics and there is no need to legislate for a right to be informed of the medical risks associated with abortion, a doctor who fails to advise a patient of the risks associated with any medical procedure is in serious breach of their own professional ethical code and risking disciplinary action (and even being struck off) if caught.

Of course, the real ‘payload’ in this sequence of leading questions is question nine, in which respondents are asked whether they’d support the provision of funding to organisation offering woman alternatives such as adoption (???) but only after question 7 has been used to implant the idea that the NHS lacks impartiality because it commissions medical services from the private sector.

To give another example of SPUC’s efforts to bias the outcome of this research, one question asks whether respondants agree with the statement that ‘Abortion law hasn’t kept up with our knowledge of early development in the womb’, with which 62% agree – quite how many of this 62% are sufficiently knowledgeable on the subject of foetal development to make an informed judgement is (obviously) not a question that SPUC care to ask, although earlier in the survey they did ask whether respondents agreed with the statement that ‘A baby’s nervous system develops in the womb at around 12 weeks’, this being the only effort made to assess respondent’s understanding of early development.The more observant among you will notice right away that that last question is already ‘loaded’ simply in referring to a foetus of 12 weeks gestation as a ‘baby’ – strictly speaking a foetus does not become a baby until its actually born – but in any case the mere fact that a nervous system begins to develop at around 12 weeks gestation is entirely immaterial. For one thing, mere possession of a nervous system does not qualify one for the appellation ‘human’ – a planaria flatworm has a nervous system, as do all arthropods (insects and crustaceans) and all vertebrates – and as I’ve already noted, the capacity for higher brain functions does not begin to develop until 24 weeks gestation, in fact its only at 26-28 weeks gestation that the nervous system develops sufficient to afford the foetus any control over bodily functions at all.

The time at which the nervous system begins to develop is one of the anti-abortion lobby’s favorite tropes; one that they use to suggest that foetus can ‘feel’ pain if aborted after this point- this complete woolly-minded, unscientific, nonsense. Once the nervous system develops a foetus will respond automatically to external stimuli, including pain, however it cannot ‘feel’ in the sense that we, as conscious beings, understand the term for the simple reason that the act of ‘feeling’ requires a capacity for consciousness that is simply not present until the third trimester.

If, as a matter of principle, one of our objectives in regards to abortion must be to enable women to make ‘informed’ choices and give ‘informed’ consent, then it must surely follow that we should take public opinion into account in making policy only where what is given is ‘informed’ opinion, anything less is to permit ‘the public’ to limit a woman’s freedom of choice, even if fully ‘informed’, on the basis of ignorance

For some, the moral dilemma of subjecting women to become criminals and seek the services of the back street abortionist is as big a moral issue as abortion itself.

This is an interesting shift in emphasis – why, if all that’s being sought are revisions to existing abortion law, should the moral dimensions of back street abortion come back into play?

That is surely only relevant if the ultimate objective here is a return to a position where abortion is, if not completely illegal, at least so heavily restricted to the extent that is inaccessible in all but the most extreme circumstances.

All this will be considered by Roman Catholic MPs when discussing the dictat of the Church.

Personally, I wish the Church had taken in the bigger picture and had tried to see that seismic change isn’t going to happen overnight. I wish they had seen that the process of reducing the daily number of abortions needs to be approached from a number of angles.

Which now explains Nadine’s earlier expression of ‘mixed feelings’ – her problem with the Catholic Church here is that they’ve blown the gaff on her strategy of trying to subject the existing abortion law to ‘death by a thousand cuts’.

What Mad Nad and her supporters want is a return to the pre-1967 position, in which abortion was illegal – or at worst/best (depending on your perspective) to a position in which abortion is available only is extremely limited circumstances (and never on the basis of anything so mundane as social need/necessity).

All this has nothing whatsoever to do with bringing abortion laws into line with current medical/scientific advances or giving women alternatives to abortion, it is a ‘wedge strategy’ whose objective is nothing less than the complete or near complete repeal of the 1967 Abortion Act.

We need to address the fact that the reason why so many unwanted pregnancies occur is due to the fact that so many young people are having unprotected sex. They think it is cool to have sex from a very young age and the majority of teenage boys believe that the consequences of sex are not their responsibility.

Which, again, requires an investment is high quality education and access to contraception, although one has to suspect given Nadine’s evident prejudices on other matters that she perhaps harbours some half-baked notions about American-style ‘abstinence programmes’ none of which have ever been shown to work effectively – like Nancy Reagan’s ‘just say no’ nonsense on drugs, what one finds that the only young people who respond to such messages are the one’s would have said no even without any such ‘education’.

There is one other thing to consider here; something that rarely, if ever, crops up is this debate because it raises a number of rather discomforting sociological questions, and that’s the question of puberty – or rather the effects of improvements in public health and nutrition on the average age at which children go through puberty.

The fact of the matter is – and this is a fact, not an opinion – that the average age at which puberty occurs, particularly in girls, has fallen considerably over the last 160 years. In England, in the 1840’s, the average age of the first menarche (period) was 16.5 years, currently its around 12.5 to 12.75 years and still falling.

Why?

Diet and nutrition is a significant factor. The purpose of puberty, of course, is to ready the body for reproduction and in all mammals, including humans, one of the necessities of reproduction at any age is the availability of the metabolic fuels necessary to sustain the body through pregnancy.

As a society, our perceptions as to the nature of puberty and the transition from childhood to adulthood (and sexual maturity) are largely conditioned by our understanding and perception of children’s intellectual and emotional development – none of which has any real bearing on puberty itself, the triggers for which are purely biochemical – puberty can kick at any time from around 8 years of age onwards depending on whether the body has stored up sufficient metabolic fuel to sustain the reproductive process, and of the main (but not only) triggers is a hormone called ‘leptin’ which is secreted by white fat cells.

In short, as out children become ‘fatter’ (on average) the age at which puberty begins and at which children attain sexual maturity (in the biological sense) falls, even without then getting into the complicated business of factoring in environment oestrogens into our calculations.

It’s not just ‘cool’ for teenage girls to be entering sexual relationships at an earlier age, its also a function of biological imperatives that come into play much sooner in relation to the intellectual and emotional development of young people.

This is something that the anti-abortion lobby, and religion (generally) seems entirely unwilling to address, that in trying to promote a brand of sexual morality based on abstinence they’re not just trying to fight modern social conventions but our species’s most basic and primal biological drives and instincts; the drive to reproduce to the species – or at least engage in behaviours that would serve that function were it not for contraception.

To try to impose rigid and inflexible standards of sexual morality on young people is to fight a somewhat futile battle – you’re not going to beat biology – which means placing all the more of an emphasis on education and contraception – the Netherlands has a legal age of consent of 16, like Britain, but an effective age of consent of 12 as defined by its rape statute and the fact that minors aged between 12 and 16 are not prosecuted for engaging in consensual sexuality activity except where a complaint in made under the Dutch penal code, not even if a pregnancy results from such activity. The Netherlands also has a teenage pregnancy rate of between and a seventh of that of the UK and despite the somewhat laissez faire attitude in law to under age sex (provided that both participants are of a similarly age), Dutch children tend to have their first sexual relationships somewhat later, on average, that their British counterparts.

What makes the difference, here, is the quality of sex and relationship education given to Dutch children and young people and the extent to which Dutch children are empowered to make their informed choices about sex and sexual relationships – its also worth pointing out that teenage pregnancy rates in the Netherlands are less than a tenth those in the United States of America, where the public discourse (and public policy in recent years) on sexual morality and abortion is far more extensively driven by religious interest and religious views on sexual morality.

The morning after pill costs £25 from a chemist and is only free with an appointment from a GP. This can take up to four days, rendering such a solution useless.

Fine, so the answer there is simply to stop charging people £25 a time for it and make it much more widely available.

If you are a 16 year old in full time education or on benefits who realises that you may be pregnant you are faced with spending £25 or chancing your luck, you will probably chance your luck. Addressing the high number of abortions which take place is not just about making statements to ban abortion.

Dramatic gestures such as withholding the holy sacrament from MPs who don’t vote to ban abortion completely will only feed and galvanise the pro choice lobby. The comments made by Cardinal Keith O’Brien make the Roman Catholic Church look extreme and out of step with public opinion.

It is Eye-catching today. However, it is ammunition for the pro choice lobby to use for a long time to come.

See. What did I tell you.

Nadine’s problem with the Catholic Church is that they’ve been basically honest about their position on abortion at a time when other elements of the anti-abortion lobby have decided to try a more subtle and wholly disingenuous approach to achieving much the same basic goals. It amounts to no more that ‘shut up, you’re giving the game away.

The pro life lobby has achieved very little since the introduction of the 1967 Act as the rate of abortions continues to increase. It is a fact that the pro choice lobby are winning the battle.

This is another particularly nasty-minded piece of propaganda.

What does referring to the abortion ‘debate’ as a battle imply?

First that there are two opposing sides – ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’

Second that one can measure the ‘achievements’ (or lack thereof) of one of those sides – ‘pro-life’ – in terms of the rate at which abortions take place in very crude terms. Fewer abortions equals success for the ‘pro-life’ side, more equals failure, thereby implying that success for the ‘pro-choice’ side – ‘winning the battle’ – is the same as there being an increasing abortion rate.

It’s a false dichotomy that tries to present the ‘choice’ between ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ as a choice between fewer abortions and more abortions, which is completely untrue. No one who supports women’s right to access abortion services actually wants to see more abortions, they want to see fewer abortions but by a different means.

That actual choice between the two sides is a choice between prohibition (pro-life) and education and widespread access to contraception (pro-choice) but that’s not what Nadine wants you to see because it doesn’t fit the propaganda message on her side. Given the choice between prohibition and education, between being coerced and told what to do and being empowered to make informed decisions and choices, who in Britain, but a religious zealot would choose the former.

I would like to see the debate move away from the argument to ban abortion altogether and to approach the problem from a number of fronts, in a reasonable and considered manner. Free from political and religious dogma.

As I’ve shown, Nadine’s comments throughout this whole article are wrapped up in semantic propaganda and anything but free from political and religious dogma – this is sophistry based on expediency and nothing more.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the Roman Catholic Church has really assisted a great deal in this process.

No, you don’t say…

Maybe the Church could try knocking some big moral stakes into the ground which inform society of its position with regard to sex before marriage.

Or it could drop its dogmatic and entirely counter-productive views on sex education and contraception, which would be considerably more beneficial.

Then again, lets not forget that its only abortion that the Catholic Church are against – pregnancy is less of a problem so long as what you’re producing is more Catholics.

The church could, if it were adventurous enough, once again become a force to set the moral agenda within the communities it serves. But that is much harder work than making a grand statement.Meanwhile another 4200 abortions will take place this week. Maybe if those who wish to ban abortion thought a little harder about the heartache and the tears many of those girls and women will go through this week, not all, I know, but many, then maybe everyone will try just that bit harder to find a realistic solution.

A realistic solution to what, exactly?

You see, if some of the alternatives to abortion were really that much of a better option for women, given adequate information and availability then surely they should stand up on their own without the need for legislation that restricts access to abortion services.

One alternative is certainly better – that’s using contraception and not getting pregnant to begin with – but what of the others?

The only alternatives to abortion, lets not forget, are to have a baby and keep it, or have a baby and give it up for adoption. Neither option is free from long-term consequences and implications – Nadine’s very keen on promoting the idea that abortion leads to an increased risk of depression and mental illness in later life, but how does that compare with, for example, the psychological effects of having given up a child for adoption?

Interestingly, there is a significant amount of literature and official recognition for ‘post adoption depression’ as it affects adoptive parents, but seemingly very little on the effect of adoption on the woman giving up their child and not substantive research, as yet, on either. It seems that its just assumed that both parties get what they want and that’s an end to it.

But is it?

Somehow I doubt it very much, and if we are going to support women to make informed choices and see adoption as a viable alternative to abortion, as some would like, then surely we need to be looking at the effect of adoption on mental health and life outcomes in much the same way as these have been looked at in relation to abortion…

…before we start making changes to the existing law and placing more restrictions on access to abortion of the kind Nadine favours.

If the pro life lobby thought a little more about the pregnant woman, and if the pro choice lobby thought a little more about the baby – if everyone accepted that we don’t live in an ideal world yet, and everyone has to give a little, then maybe we might just begin to get somewhere near a solution that the majority of people who live within this society would like to see. A reduction in the number of abortions carried out each day achieved via a number of measures – a reduction in the upper limit from 24 to 20 weeks and a period of informed consent. Not ideal, I agree, but a massive improvement form where we are today.Whatever way you look at it, it boils down to the Roman Catholic Church blackmailing MPs. Almost as desperate a measure as resorting to a back street abortionist.

And no less desperate than your disingenuous efforts to deploy a wedge strategy to effect restrictions in existing services/rights, Nadine.

The idea that ‘everyone has to give a little’ sounds so seductive doesn’t it. It sounds ‘reasonable’ and ‘moderate’ but it is really?

If parliament does impose a reduction on the upper limit for abortions to 20 weeks, then what have opponents of abortion actually given? Nothing at all – after all they had no realistic prospect of getting the complete or near complete ban on abortions they want in the first place. Such a suggestion appears reasonable – or rather has been contrived to appear reasonable – on because it is presented as an alternative to a position that is entirely unreasonable, i.e. complete prohibition of abortion.

Its a con, just like the suggestion that the ‘pro-life’ lobby have achieved nothing in the last 40 years, even though in that time the upper limit for elective abortions has actually been reduced from the 28 week limit, set in 1967, to the present 24 weeks by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act in 1990.

And what about this business of ‘informed consent’, the mandatory ‘cooling off period’ that Nadine wants to impose so women can consider the alternatives to abortion. Will that also apply to adoption services as well? Will they be required to give advice on the availability and accessibility of abortion services so that women can, similarly, make an informed choice having been given information on all the alternatives?

What do you think?

Nadine claims that reducing the upper limit for abortions to 20 weeks gestation will reduce the number of abortions. On what basis does she make that claim? Where is the evidence to support such an assertion?

Reducing the upper limit for abortions to 20 weeks is actually unlikely to have any real impact on the number of abortions carried out for social reasons simply because reducing the upper limit does nothing whatsoever to reduce the need for such abortions, it merely give those who feel that they need an abortion on such grounds a bit less time to make their decision and go ahead with the procedure – and in any case 98% of all abortions in the UK take place before twenty weeks gestation.

If we look at the actual statistics for abortions that take place in the 20-23 week period, two things leap out at you immediately.

First, more than 70% of abortions carried out at this stage of pregnancy are for women aged 20 years and over, with most in the 20-34 age group.

Second, well over half the abortions that take place after 20 weeks gestation are classified under ground (E) of the 1967 Abortion Act, i.e. on grounds that the child would be born with a serious disability; and very few abortions take place, at all, after 24 weeks (around 250 in 2004). In the same year, the number of abortions carried on on women under 20, after 20 weeks gestation, was 824 out of 185,000 legal abortions.

So far as the statistics go, there seems little sign of any substantive evidence to support the idea that such a reduction will automatically lead to a reduction in the number of abortions, so is there, perhaps, any scientific evidence from data on premature births that might support an argument for a reduction in this upper limit?

The current position vis-a-vis survival in premature births is that a foetus born at 25 weeks gestation has a 50% chance of survival – which is fair odds.

At 24 weeks, that falls to 39% – at the current limit for abortions nearly two of every three foetuses born that that stage will die even if you throw even last piece of available medical technology you have to hand at trying to sustain their lives.

At 23 weeks, that figure falls again to 17% and the current record for survival – set last year, is 21 weeks. That one child, by the way, just one – and she suffered both digestive and respiratory problems and a brain haemorrage.

So any argument based on the notion that medical technology is pushing back the boundaries of survival in premature birth amounts to the suggestion that we should limit abortions to 20 weeks gestation just because just one foetus born a week’s gestation later has thus far survived with the assistance of everything within our society’s current medical capabilities.

Is that really a viable basis on which to make policy and legislate for restrictions in access to abortions -because one desperately wanted child beat the odds at 21 weeks?

No, of course it isn’t. It’s an absurd suggestion. Its like suggesting that we should ban air travel because of a single plane crash or ban the motor car because of a single car crash.

So what the actual evidence tells us is that, at best, a reduction in the upper limit on abortions will provide a cut in abortion rates of around 1% and that there’s little or no evidence on what is usually termed ‘viability’ i.e. survival rates in very early premature births to support the contention that we should lower the upper limit because some premature babies survive such early birth with the help of medical technology.

Hardly the ‘massive improvement’ that Nadine claims.

In my limited experience MPs don’t take well to being backed into a corner or having their independence challenged. Not a good move.

Oddly enough, I find that the public doesn’t much appreciate being fed bullshit either.

  • Superb post, Unity.

    Interesting, thought provoking and backed by evidence, though I’d like to ask where you found your statistics as I couldn’t see a reference to their source.

  • Stats on abortion rates are from Department of Health briefings based on data from the National Statistic Office other than the split on ground E abortions at 20 weeks plus, which is extrapolated from data from the BMA – about 33-35% of all terminations for foetal abnormality occur at 20 weeks or over for conditions which cannot be adequately diagnosed until the morphological ultrasound scan at 18-20 weeks.

    http://www.bma.org.uk/ap.nsf/Content/AbortionTimeLimits~Factors~Diagnosing

    Stats on survival rates are from BLISS – charity for parents of premature babies.

  • TinyHippo

    Superlative is all I can say about this entry. As you yourself mentioned, fisking Nadine is hardly a challenge given the amount of rhetoric she uses in place of facts, but your made it look oh-so-easy.

    As a trainee nurse I find it disgraceful that part of Mad Nad’s strategy involves making women keep babies they didn’t want and might not be able to look after – financially, physically and emotionally. Or having to go through 9 months only to give the child, no matter how unwanted or unneeded, away. There is not one women who I could look in the eye and propose either of these ‘solutions’.

    Indeed, you rightfully ripped to shreds her idea that women who have an abortion will suffer more/a greater degree of depression compared to those who give birth to unwanted babies or go through with the birth to only give the baby up for adoption.

    The points about puberty happening earlier (“You can’t fight biology” – indeed!) and how the Dutch handle sex education are well made, and something the pro-lifers would do well to think about. Not that they will.

    As AB commented, your post was both thought provoking with the big guns to back it up. Best pro-choice/life post I’ve read in years. And part of the desirable abortion debate, rather than a confrontational tirade of rhetoric the two ‘sides’ in the ‘battle’, as Nadine might put it, stick to.

  • albert

    My wife has recently had a baby so just from the point of view of scans she had one at 12 weeks basically to make sure there was something there and one at around 20 weeks. Putting the abortion limit back before the second scan seems daft if you are to allow abortion of disabled children. I assume the second scan is at 20 weeks as it balances between late enough to get a good look at how the pregnancy is developing and early enough to allow the parents or parent a little bit of time to consider the action to take after that scan. If you move the 2nd scan earlier and the legal limit earlier would you get more false negatives for disability and a larger number of abortions close to the legal limit of weeks?

  • Braxton hicks

    Glad to see you picked up on the Puberty angle 🙂

    I tend to view abortion/contraception in Anthropology terms – namely that women (and females in general) control their fertility as much as they can (It makes sense to ! ).

    Politically the questions are all about how as a society we help them (and men) do it.
    Our environment has developed in a way that we are driven biologically to engage in sex at an earlier age, but socially that we do not have more than 3 children and not until we are 28-31.
    Education,contraception and abortion seem the most civilised answer to this issue.

    By removing choices like abortion you open up unintended choices like infanticide ,accidental death and Birth abnormalities.

  • Laura

    Why so much abortion tho’ in a country with probably more free contraception than any other in the world?

    And why has adoption become such a dirty word? In what sense is it kinder to deny a child life than gift it to a desperate couple who are likely to love it every bit as much (if not more) than you would? Birth mothers can even keep in touch these days, so the bad old days of not knowing and no contact are gone. I would even say it’s an honourable thing to help a childless couple in this way, let alone anything shameful.

    What I object to re abortion is the waste, the waste of money, the waste of life, the trauma to all concerned (abortion is never the easy option portrayed). In addition women virtually NEVER receive neutral counselling exploring ALL their options, so many have huge regrets after, and ironically not a few find they cannot have children later on when they actually want them and turn into those seeking NHS fertility treatment.

  • Laura – I’d almost want to agree with you on the adoption point, if our orphanages were crying out for more inhabitants. Unfortunately, they’re not. I’m all for upping the image of adoption, but surely this should go hand-in-hand with bringing sex education and contraception further into the public eye, especially the eyes of youngsters?

  • Braxton hicks

    But is there a lot of abortion ?
    what are we comparing it with ?

    As I was saying above, the average british woman will have a sex life for 10-15 years before she feels ready for a baby. Contraception is not perfect.

    Females choosing to terminate a pregnancy is not unnatural it occurs regularly in a full range of species.Some animals (such as mice) are even capable of doing it physically themselves (they reabsorb the fetus into their wombs!)

    Much infanticide in traditional societies occurs immediately after birth and so is conceptually identical to very late stage abortion. The main reason is that it is simply safer for the mother than abortion.
    In the West the situation is reveresed because of medical advances – abortion is safer than birth.

    I take your point about adoption, It is clearly another important answer but I think it is also limited because it relies on Women carrying a Pregnany to Term that they do not want (and all the social/emotional pressures that entails)- A flip side is why many’infertile ‘couples prefer IVF to adoption.

    We need the full range of choices .

    I believe I am Pro-choice because I believe that Environmental and social factors heavily influence our beliefs and culture, I suspect that Anti-Abortion advocates dont tend to share my beliefs and that is the underlying reason why we disagree .

  • Well, I am 26 weeks pregnant and I can say with hand on my heart that I have not, so far, had any desire to have ‘a window which I could peep through to see my unborn child’. What sentimental trash.

    We went through a two year ‘clearance for adoption’ process before I suddenly fell pregnant btw – social services are pretty hot on keeping children with their parents these days, whatever issues either parent or child has. There are currently a tiny number of babies voluntarily given up for adoption in the UK. I have a sneaking suspicion that the advocates of the ‘gestate to term then give the baby away’ solution have a rosy-tinted view of happy 1950’s Stepford Couples taking a tiny baby in their lives and everyone living happily ever after; rather than the rather rougher scenario that includes attachment issues, counselling, contact visits and placement breakdown.

    And has anyone done any studies about subsequent depression suffered by women who were denied abortions rather than given them?

    Good fisk.

  • Bugger. Screwed up taking the italics off. Sorry.

  • A Jackson

    Thank you for taking the words out of my mouth. I was fuming. Best wishes.