Abortion is in the news again in Britain, reminding us of the cowardice of Irish politicians

4 September, 2011

In Britain, Labour MP Frank Field and Conservative MP Nadine Dorries have tabled amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill which, if accepted, could result in a delay to women seeking an abortion.

The amendment will require GPs to refer women with  “crisis pregnancies” to independent organisations who do not themselves carry out the abortions, rather than refer them directly to an abortion provider. The proposal’s alleged aim is to ensure that advice and counselling is not carried out by organisations which may have a  “vested financial interest” in women going ahead with abortions, and to ensure that women are presented with  “all the information” by unbiased organisations.

However, Marie Stopes International believe that the proposed amendments risk limiting women’s access to expert counsellors who are trained in sexual and reproductive health.  They reminded politicians that the critical point was that women have rapid access to impartial, non-directive and expert advice from trained counsellors, if they decide they want it.

Last week, Suzanne Moore in The Guardian wrote an angry (and very frank) piece about the proposed changes and what she sees as their sinister motivation (It’s the same old game. Get your rosaries off my ovaries, as we used to say.)  Below is an extract.

This whole debate around counselling pivots on the idea of deep and private shame, positing the idea of counselling being used to sell an evil procedure. Women are always “vulnerable” dupes, never simply adults who have made decisions. Some weird pension analogy has been brought in, though health care is nothing like it as advice and services do often come from the same people  ie: doctors.

The truth is that, in theory, the argument about abortion is won. Most people, however uncomfortably, support a woman’s right to choose.  We feel that pushing a woman to give birth to a child she does not want is heartless. We know the lengths women go to. The moral cowardice of the Irish polity results in those women, often alone and shivery, whom you see on Ryanair flights.

There is little point trying to persuade those who are religiously opposed to abortion (though I am intrigued at the Catholic attitude to the foetus – miscarried babies are not buried as they are not baptised) but we can simply remind ourselves we are living in a largely secular democracy.

The secular democracy she refers to is, of course, Britain and not Ireland.  Irish politicians have dodged this issue for decades, leaving the Supreme Court to make all the running, and leaving gaps in the process.

As I commented previously, even in Ireland we implicitly, and necessarily,  recognise that the death of a foetus does not warrant the same legal protection as the death of a child or adult.  For otherwise our law would require that, every time a woman becomes pregnant but fails to deliver a live baby in due course, there would be a full and formal legal Inquest into the “death” of the “person” .   Under Irish law, an Inquest must be held if a coroner has reasonable cause to believe that a death occurred suddenly and/or from unknown causes.  That we don’t subject women to such a ridiculous process every time there is a miscarriage during a pregnancy demonstrates that even in Ireland we are prepared to accept that in practice a foetus does not warrant the same legal due process and protection as a fully formed human being.

But too many people continue to pretend otherwise.  For them, I finish with Suzanne Moore’s bitter comment:  “Loving the unborn more than the born is politically convenient, as the unborn do not have to be housed or educated or parented.”

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