There’s been a bit of a drama this morning about the fact that Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, has expressed his views that there should be a 12 week time limit on abortions. The Independent reports that in a Times interview he said:
Everyone looks at the evidence and comes to a view about when that moment is and my own view is that 12 weeks is the right point for it
Adding, rather scarily:
There are some issues that cut across health and morality, a bit like capital punishment does for crime.
Actually, I think capital punishment doesn’t cut across anything. It’s just plain wrong and should never happen. End of.
I tend to agree with Stephen Tall, who says that although he might disagree with Jeremy Hunt, he should be able to give his view. I’d rather know what I was dealing with and the last thing I’d want is to find out that Parliament had been filled by stealth with pro-lifers.
The drama this morning is probably unnecessary. We know fine what Jeremy Hunt thinks about abortion. His Commons voting record shows us that he voted for a 12 week limit 4 years ago when the matter was last debated. This is not a surprise. It’s also not a surprise that new Culture Secretary Maria Miller favours a limit of 20 weeks. The difference between 2008 and now is that these three individuals are in a position of power and have more of a profile to shape the debate.
This is where Jennie is right to be concerned. That’s what comes from having an early night last night and a lie in this norning. All the points I would have made have already been said. It does seem to be like a concerted push by Conservative ministers to get this issue on to the agenda – and to try to build a consensus around a cut in the time limit. They don’t have that far to go to get a parliamentary majority to cut the limit to 22 weeks and I believe that would be a disaster.
In 2008, the Commons voted against a cut to 22 weeks by 304 votes to 233. A mere 36 votes are required to change hands. That’s bloody scary. And let’s have a wee look at who voted for 22 weeks. There’s a fair old clutch of Lib Dems and Labour in there as well as Conservatives. A good whack of the Cabinet, including the Prime Minister, also voted for that change.
I am as pro-choice on this matter as they come. Let’s nail those colours to the mast straight away. I do not believe a woman should be forced to carry on with a pregnancy against her wishes. I do not want to see any decrease in the current time limit, nor do I want Nadine Dorries’ silly ideas about enforced counselling finding their way into law. Women know their own minds and their wishes should be paramount in this process.
Very few abortions take place after 13 weeks. Less than 1 in 10, in fact. And nobody would ever want to be in that situation, because it’s a hellish thing to go through. Some birth defects and conditions are not discovered until the 20 week scan. I know people who have been in that situation so I understand the shock and horror of it. They need to be given time and space to make an informed decision about what they do. It’s not something you want to rush into with the clock ticking.
Nothing new has happened today. Jeremy Hunt’s views were never going to have changed and I don’t think there’s anything he can do without the approval of Parliament to restrict women’s access to abortion.
We Liberal Democrats need to win the battle in our own party and try to persuade all our MPs on to the side of keeping the limit as it is.
If, however, pro-life camp is wanting to re-open the 1967 Act, then the pro-choice side should get in there too. A few months ago, the excellent Sophie Bridger used an article on Lib Dem Voice to launch her Your Choice campaign to get rid of the requirement for two doctors to agree before a woman can have her pregnancy terminated. She said:
Abortion is often a difficult decision, and certainly not one you forget making. But this shouldn’t be a debate about the ethics of abortion itself, but who should be given the power to make that decision. The state, the church and doctors all have claims, but as Sally Sheldon pointed out last week in the Guardian, women ‘are far better placed to understand the implications for themselves and their families’. So let’s start treating them like the autonomous individuals they are.
I find this requirement both patronising and paternalistic and I want it to be repealed. No other procedures require two doctors to agree – and often in practice it’s meaningless anyway.
Let’s just hope that the debate on abortion over here never degenerates into the basket case that exists in the States, where women who miscarry are arrested and charged with murder and those who die rather than have the abortion which would have saved their lives are exalted. Except that second example comes from the Catholic Herald here in the UK.
Those who care about the rights of women to have control over their own bodies must be vigilant.