Abortion – let’s end all these meaningless ‘limits’

October 15, 2012 by
Blog   No Comments Yet

Abortion. From 12 weeks to 16, 20 weeks to 24 – everyone seems to have their limits up to when it should be allowed. From the Minister for Magic Jeremy Hunt favouring 12 weeks to the official line of 24 weeks, to the many doctors and health care professionals who suffer disquiet- as Max Pemberton so thoughtfully pointed out this morning in his @Telegraph column here – at the thought of ‘late’ abortions performed on the same or neighbouring wards where their colleagues are trying to stabilise and promote life in babies born at the same gestational age.

Max says: ‘It is not something we openly discuss, because we know it is a highly emotive area. But privately, many doctors will express discomfort that the current legislation is inherently illogical and inconsistent. Any doctor who has found themselves in the neonatal intensive care unit of a hospital will be acutely aware of it. In the same hospital where doctors are trying to save a premature baby born at, say, 23 weeks, a woman down the corridor is legally allowed to undergo a late-stage abortion on a foetus of the same gestation. So on the one hand we throw considerable money and resources to try to save a baby’s life, while on the other we sanction its destruction.’

Like many women in the UK, I have personal experience of termination – which I’ve written about for various newspapers (here in the Daily Mail) – and been criticised for too. As everyone is who ventures an opinion on abortion. in practice, my experience was awful on many levels – especially emotional. But at least it was carried out at 13 weeks.

Yes, Jeremy Hunt would criminalise women like me who terminate a pregnancy due to medical need. Really nice to know he favours sound bite over empathy.

I hated my abortion and have many regrets. But at least I have and had the choice to make that decision and to make my feelings known.  My position – let’s be clear – is not common (although I know from my post bag it is not uncommon either).

But legislation should not be drawn up on personal experience – not mine, not yours. This is a decision we as a society need to make – and let’s be honest – we made it didn’t we?

I don’t think many women rejoice in terminations of pregnancy – but we all need the free option to make that choice in as uncomplicated, unemotional way possible – and to have brilliant support afterwards if we want that.

So firstly – I don’t think this should be a Free Choice issue for MPs. Why should 600-odd disparate people be allowed to exercise their free choice to define (and possibly limit) my free choice? Surely some mistake.  I also think it a dereliction of party duty. Keen to hold a line on so many minor issues, this major decision should be decided at respective conference.

Secondly, and crucially, if we can’t agree on limits, why have them at all?

If you’re from the all-life-is-sacred approach, logic says that conception is the start of the journey so we either switch on or off.  Limits are irrelevant.

And if you are Pro-Choice, limits are a distraction too.

Given that most women who fall pregnant do not choose to end their pregnancies, isn’t it time we started respecting those who do as mature individuals who reach their decision with due process?

Most will want to end their pregnancies at 12 weeks for the eminently sensible reason that the surgical or pharma procedure is relatively painless and quick.  Few women, Jeremy Hunt may be surprised to learn, want to end a pregnancy after 12/13 weeks as at this point they will generally be expected to deliver the foetus (whose heart will have been stopped) the traditional way. Traumatic, painful, messy – do Pro-Lifers really think any female would relish that opportunity?

That’s why so few women have terminations post 24 weeks. And the ones who do are not there for what is quaintly called ‘social’ reasons. Their motives are heartbreaking – tales of babies with previously undetected chromosomal defects which are incompatible with life longer than 2 or 3 weeks; cases where the mother’s mental health has not allowed her to accept her condition; late-onset physical conditions; even twin reductions – where only one can survive.

Why not drop these abitrary limits altogether, place a much greater emphasis on maternity and sex education in the groups which rely on abortion most; invest more in counselling skills; give our gynaecologists and specialist nurses the ethical support to help women and their partners make the best, safest choices for their individual circumstances.

Perhaps this would also mean that women whose unborn babies have Down’s syndrome or other conditions will also find the support they need to (sometimes) keep their unborn children – and not be bustled into terminations they don’t want.

Urban planners have found time and again that when road markings and instructions are removed from our streets, drivers are more cautious and there are fewer accidents.  Perhaps, if we take a truly libertarian approach, remove the limits altogether and let women and their doctors decide what is right based not on statistics or dates, but on reality and individual circumstance, we may find abortion figures actually drop.  Abortions, after all, are not a ‘treat’ that women have earned for going out to work or being sexually liberated – they are simply a medical procedure.  Let’s take the fight out of them.

About the Author

Victoria Lambert has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and specialises in health and medical matters. She writes for the Telegraph, the Times, the Sunday Times, the Guardian, the Mail and the Mail on Sunday. She contributes to Saga, Geographical and First Eleven magazines – where she is the agony aunt.

View all posts by

Leave a Comment

comm comm comm