The Abortion Debate: Is Politics Making It Undignified?

In recent weeks the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has expressed views that the cut-off for ending a pregnancy, twenty-four weeks, is too high. In his opinion, twelve weeks would be more appropriate. This is the limit set in other parts of Europe, for example Germany. The Netherlands also insists on a maximum thirteen weeks.

However, Hunt has explicitly said he has no intention of re-mounding current UK statute to resemble his own personal view.

It is hard to see the direction that Hunt is coming from. If you take the religious argument of an eternal ‘soul’ seriously than abortion should be outrightly outlawed. If Hunt wishes to follow “scientific advice,” as he recently said on the radio, than perhaps around eighteen weeks should be the limit as this is the point at which experts reckon foetuses are not sentient. Alternatively, it could be the point at which a foetus could not possibly survive a premature birth.

Though many ‘pro-life’ commentators highlighted the lack of medical evidence, those on left and liberal side of the spectrum alloyed this reasonable argument with undue hysteria at Hunt’s declaration. Labour MP Diane Abbott called Hunt’s view “frightening” and “shocking and alarming.” Abbott could justify such emotive words if Hunt were to propose legislation threatening a women’s right to choose; however, given that they were his personal opinions rather than public policies, it seems opportunistic of Abbot to attach panic-inducing labels on Hunt’s statement.

To quote the late polemicist Christopher Hitchens, it is possible to “keep two sets of books.” Hitchens was openly pro-life in his personal dimension yet he insisted pro-choice law is paramount to a civil society. I’d like to think Hunt shares Hitchens’ necessary cognitive dissonance.

However, Hunt is a Tory. When a socialist ‘comes out’ there seems to be discomforting sense of betrayal. Recently prominent journalist Medhi Hassan wrote an article in the Huffington Post entitled “Being Pro-Life Doesn’t Make Me Any Less of a Lefty” to a vitriolic reaction. Former Labour staffer Hopi Sen called the former New Statesman editor a “self-righteous little prick” and the Twitter-sphere similarly erupted.

Insults such as these fail to help the pro-choice cause and instead lose it sympathy. It unnecessarily draws attention to commentators and politicians rather than the women who have required late abortions for a myriad of moral reasons. Likewise, it lowers the discourse on abortion to political point-scoring.

A person’s stand on abortion shouldn’t be the monopoly of any one ideology. Being left of centre shouldn’t suggest that a person is ‘pro-choice’ in the same way being right of centre shouldn’t evoke a ‘pro-life’ mentality. After all, the right-wing often cites individualism as pillar of their ideology; the same argument used by the left in defence of abortion rights.

Personal views on abortion should be removed from the theatre of politics; whether a person considers a foetus a collection of cells, non-sentient mass or a genuine life, another person shouldn’t assume their political leanings on that point alone. The time when the ‘pro-choice’ community should vocalise their scorn for a ‘pro-life’ sentiment is when, and if, it seriously threatens to reverse progress in the statute books – not merely when a conservative starts to ramble.

Jeremy Dobson

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One Comment
  • Sarah
    30 October 2012 at 16:51
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    Hear hear!

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