Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Was ex-UClan’s input necessary in abortion debate? Is there a more pressing issue?

First published at http://www.pluto-online.com/?p=840

The changes to abortion laws are all but made. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is now in the ‘ping pong’ stage- their words not mine (www.parliament.uk) – between the two Houses of Parliament, before it is given Royal ascent- or the Queen’s big rubber stamp.

Some of the changes were supported in a letter to The Times by, amongst others, the former head of Professional Ethics here at UClan, Ruth Chadwick.

Their letter urged change to the current qualifying conditions held in the Abortion Act 1967 so that the consent of two doctors will no longer be needed for an abortion, and in medically sound circumstances, where and by whom abortions could now be performed. This is because with medical advances, abortions no longer have to be performed just by doctors, and could be given in GP Practices.

The letter was hardly one of defiance at a divisive time in the debate (it was only printed on 17th October) or necessarily on the more controversial provisions of the Bill. But the letter did highlight a rational debate that has been lost in the more sensationalised, moral objections in newspapers and from Parliament.

The letter said:

“As academic medical lawyers and ethicists, we believe that the current restrictions on women’s reproductive autonomy during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy are not justified.”

But, just how autonomous is or should a woman’s reproduction be?

On one hand, it is your body, and you should be able to do want you want with it. If you become pregnant, at any time, you should by some argument, be allowed to terminate it.

The BMA, RCN and other royal colleges support the present 24-week time limit for abortions, saying: “There has been no significant improvement in the survival of pre-term infants below 24 weeks gestation in the last 18 years.”

So women have autonomy under the law, until the given time where it is seen by medical professionals to become and inhumane procedure. It is also notable that most abortions are performed earlier rather than later.

But, women’s reproductive autonomy can often come into conflict with the rights of the father. Some would argue that they also come into conflict with the rights of the unborn child. Can or should provisions be given under the law to them?

Can the law or other people really measure other factors- feelings, the relationship itself, and the situation?

There is a moral argument… but morals are relative. Should it be someone else’s morals? What if you have incredibly lax morals yourself?

Religious people, particularly the Catholic Church, are very vocal on abortion issues and have been throughout the discussion of the Bill. Nadine Dorris, a Catholic MP still calls for the time limit for abortions to be reduced from 24 to 20 weeks, although this flies in the face of medical advances and advice from the BMA.

In an almost secular country, but one religiously governed by the Church of England, should the Catholic Church be allowed to decide the outcome of unwanted pregnancies for non-believers?

And should Members of Parliament bring their religious views into their jobs, governing people who are not religious? Although, is it fair to ask them to keep them separate?

But do women actually know how to self-govern their reproduction? The number of abortions is on the increase. Do some women have irresponsible pregnancies because they don’t know or don’t care about contraception or consequences?

There is often a very loud voice when it comes to the pro-life/pro-choice debate, but is there a loud enough voice, with a clear message on how to stop so many women needing to have abortions? Or is there anyone in authority questioning why so many young women decide to have many children, often by different and numerous partners?

I think this is a much more pressing and obvious problem and whether the government feels intervention in such issues is their place or not, a consensus on how to control under-age sex and helping people to form proper, loving relationships is necessary.

Maybe energies could have been better spent trying to solve this after the Bill had already gone so far?

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