In July 2017, a month after the last General Election, some of the top figures in Britain’s abortion industry were in ebullient mood.
One of the most outspoken of them, Ann Furedi, the chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), the largest private provider of NHS abortions in the country, wrote in an article for Spiked that “many of us are humming along to that dodgy disco classic ‘Ain’t No Stopping Us Now’. We are indeed on the move”.
The McFadden and Whitehead tune that was ringing around her head, she explained, was born of the joy that Parliament was now, for the first time since 1967, as pro-abortion as it was when David Steel introduced his Private Member’s Bill. “Politicians now see bending to pro-choice, rather than anti-abortion, opinion as expedient,” she proclaimed.
So, naturally, for the abortion lobby the time is ripe to push for swingeing liberalisation of the law. Top of their wishlist is decriminalisation.
A head of steam is now building up. Although two attempts by Diana Johnson, the Labour MP for Hull North, to introduce legislation to strip criminal sanctions from abortion laws have failed in as many years, a parallel campaign to persuade the medical profession has been more fruitful.
The Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Nurses and the British Medical Association have each declared support for liberalisation, over the protests of members.
At the same time the Arts and Humanities Research Council, a quango, has given £512,000 of public money to Prof Sally Sheldon, a trustee of Furedi’s organisation, to write a “biographical study” of the 1967 Abortion Act. It wouldn’t take Sherlock Holmes to work out how this work is likely to conclude.
So everything seems in place except the will of the Government (which denied the Johnson Bill time to progress) and public opinion, with a ComRes poll of May 2017 revealing that just one per cent of British women supported the practice of abortion on demand, compared to about 70 per cent who wish to see greater restrictions.
Undeterred, the activists will try again – assuming this Parliament lasts – to liberalise the law, this time via amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill published last week. Whether they succeed remains to be seen. But a law which received Royal Assent in the Isle of Man this month might serve as an indication of what to expect if it does.
The law permits abortion on demand up to 14 weeks (though the original intention was up to 24) and then in restricted circumstances between 15 and 23 weeks. Abortions may be performed up to birth when the baby is disabled or the life of the mother is at risk. Abortion pills may be distributed by nurses, pharmacists and midwives as well as doctors.
Clare McCarthy of the Right to Life pressure group said: “What the new law means for the Isle of Man is the formal legalisation of sex-selective abortion from seven to 14 weeks and the removal of protections for unborn babies to be born alive and cared for after late-term abortions.”
McCarthy described the law as “a sad step backwards for the Isle of Man and a warning to the rest of the UK”. She said forthcoming amendments would seek the wholesale removal of legal safeguards on abortion in England and Wales, and the imposition of abortion on Northern Ireland (something which the Government is already resisting).
McCarthy added: “Should these extreme amendments ever reach the stages of legislative debate in the House, we urge the public to be ready to help, by writing to your MP and encouraging them to vote against these radical amendments.
“It is vital that your MP is aware of the extreme nature of the amendments and that they know that many constituents are encouraging them to vote against them.”
There are about 200,000 abortions performed in Britain each year, the vast majority within 24 weeks of pregnancy and the law is interpreted to allow abortion virtually on demand. It means that Britain already has one of the most liberal regimes in the world. Most European countries do not permit abortions beyond 12 weeks.
So what is the point of further liberalising such permissive practice? Pro-abortion campaigners hold a philosophical belief in the absolute autonomy of a mother to do as she wishes with her body. The same ideology informs similar drives to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide or to self-determine one’s gender. Abortion, they believe, should not simply be tolerated but asserted as a universal reproductive human right.
But to others this represents an aberration of the meaning of true freedom, the denial of the humanity of the unborn child and of the dignity of women and an assault on the common good of society. It amounts to what Pope St John Paul II called “the culture of death” and has the capacity to create the confusion between good and evil that he said in Veritatis Splendor was the “most dangerous crisis which can afflict man”. For Christians, of course, it always wrong to take an innocent’s life.
Such liberalisation of the abortion laws must be vigorously resisted.