Tuesday, 17 May 2016

How the RCM Stance on Abortion Could Be A Covert Attack Upon Women's Rights

A 31 week old foetus. 

The Royal College of Midwives' position statement on abortion calls for the decriminalisation of abortion at any stage.

On the face of it, to me it is a madness that defies comprehension. Abortion is already available pretty freely (and in practice, on demand) up to 12 weeks. It is available with further safeguards up to 24 weeks. It is available for medical reasons up to full term.

What IS illegal is self-induced abortion, and abortion by someone other than a registered medical practitioner. The only prosecution I can find anywhere of self-induced abortion outside of Northern Ireland is of a woman who used medication bought online to induce her own abortion in the third trimester, so after 28 weeks.

So what will legalising abortion up to full term, and by anyone, achieve? I think to answer this, we also need to look at attitudes to abortion.

As I was growing up in the 70s and early 80s, if a teenager got pregnant, the assumption was that she would abort the baby. It was one of those things that went unspoken but was known. Having a baby in your teens was frowned upon, and so it very rarely happened. Then this happened:

In 1985, 16 year old Michelle Fowler became pregnant on Eastenders. Against all the odds and expectations, she refused an abortion and went on to have her baby. I don't think it is any exaggeration to say that this was the point where everything changed - the point at which having an abortion as a pregnant teen began to become the frowned-upon option. The time when this attitude began to spread to all abortions, so that 'you've had an abortion' became some sort of shameful abuse you could throw at the 'enemy' on Jeremy Kyle, whereas going through with the pregnancy and struggling to cope with the baby was something that the audience would cheer.

In my own experience, women of the generations that followed my own have become less approving of abortion. The expectation now is that a teenager getting pregnant would be expected to have the baby rather than the abortion - an expectation reflected in soap operas nowadays too - no-one would be shocked at Michelle's decision today. It's almost as though a woman has to have a 'good reason' to not have a baby. Attitudes are hardened in a way the law isn't.

My personal view, if it matters, is that I think we need to get rid if the pussy-footing around and make abortion on demand legal up to 12 weeks. Otherwise I think the law has it pretty much right, although there is a case to be made for lowering the 24-week general limit to 22 weeks, given technological advances. To allow unrestricted abortion up to term is nothing short of legalised infanticide, however you dress it up.

To decriminalise late abortion and abortion outside of medical supervision - well, just who are we trying to help? The mentally ill? The under-age? Those with learning disabilities? The otherwise vulnerable? All of these groups would be treated sympathetically by the courts - IF they were prosecuted. The situation seems to be that if these cases are happening, they are not being brought to court. The potential back-street abortionists and online drug distributors? Surely every woman deserves protection from those? That only leaves the cruel and psychopathic - and of course, everyone likes to think that such people don't exist, but they do. The We Trust Women campaign blithely disregards their very existence. There are women I wouldn't trust with a cat's life, let alone a baby's. Infanticide is rare, but it doesn't mean it should be legal, and so surely the same applies to self-induced late-term abortion? 

So what would happen if this decriminalisation were to take place? Someone like me, who is pro-choice, could no longer enthusiastically take that stance. I would no longer feel able to speak up against the pro-lifers, because I could not justify a law that was allowing abortion of a child. It isn't a foetus if it is capable of surviving birth - it's a baby. It isn't abortion if it is at 38 weeks - it's murder. It's one thing if two doctors say there are good medical reasons for that murder to take place with the mother's agreement. But for a woman to be able to decide that without safeguard or consequence? 

I won't be the only one to feel this way. So what this campaign is doing is fighting for a change in the law that would ultimately harden attitudes AGAINST abortion. That isn't good for women, and the consequences could be frightening, because pro-lifers have a startling propensity to throw the baby out with the bathwater (sorry). What seems to be a stand for women's rights could turn out to be the first step back to the dark ages. 

I can't help thinking it would also be detrimental to the fight for women's rights over their own bodies in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The old 'look, you legalise abortion and it will be a slippery slope down a mountain of dead babies, like in England' argument will be all the more powerful. 

Things are never as simple as they seem. Call me paranoid, but it doesn't mean the establishment isn't out to get us.