Wednesday 14 May 2008

Shame on Andrew Lansley, Tory shadow health secretary

I take issue with Andrew Lansley, the Tory shadow health secretary (pictured), who told MPs on Monday: “If a woman needs an abortion…then it must be better for that to be an early and medical abortion, rather than later and surgical.” He seemed to be following Professor Stuart Campbell’s line (Telegraph, 1st May 2008) who said: "no one seriously disputes that the earlier a termination is carried out the better and safer it is." Mr Lansley, like Professor Campbell, himself, is calling for the abolition of the current requirement for a second doctor to authorise an abortion.

Earlier terminations are better for whom?

Are they better for young women for whom, at the end of a 'long line of non-choices', abortion becomes the only “choice”.

How many young women have been deceived by their school sex ed classes, telling them that by using contraception and being empowered by information, they would be 'safe'. There's not much recognition, in sex education, that many girls experience a power imbalance in their relationships with older, stronger, more persuasive men.

Girls are often told that sex is a normal part of teenage relationships, thereby applying the pressure of the 'norm' to give in to men. Apparently, only freaks don't have sex with their boyfriends. The fact is, girls fall in love and are eager to please and to be seen as normal.

And when teenage pregnancy is so frequently condemned by political leaders and in the media and elsewhere, who can blame a teenager for feeling shocked and unreal when she gets pregnant? Who can blame her for being completely unable to visualise herself as a mother and a happy, successful woman at the same time?

So because she can't see any path other than abortion, she may have that to grieve for her child for the rest of her life. Feeling powerless, avoiding thinking about the moral aspects of abortion, and being young will all contribute to an increased risk of psychological problems after abortion, including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. And yes, this includes women who have early abortions.

And is early abortion better for the foetus? Obviously no abortion is good for any foetus.

We also doubt that rushing women through the abortion process can be an all-round good thing. A study in Sweden found that one in ten women changed her mind after seeking abortion. Lucky these women had time to back out. Ambivalence and doubt about the decision are normal - and research shows very clearly that ambivalence is a predictor of negative psychological responses to abortion. Often women are waiting for someone to show some real support (not "it's your choice" which is essentially abandoning them to their own circumstances) and to say "yes, I believe you can do this". Women need space to step back from the panic and listen to their own inner voice, not the clamour of what everyone else thinks or what our culture is telling them.

But earlier abortion might be good for some other people.

Of course, quick and early abortion might be in the interests of abortion clinics.

Maybe quick, early abortion is better for the doctors who dislike the thought of killing a foetus that can suck its thumb and do somersaults and who deny to themselves that the baby is a living, growing human being from conception/fertilisation. Perhaps removing the requirement for two signatures will allow abortion doctors to sleep a little easier at night.

Maybe quick, early abortion is easier for men who would prefer women for short-term sex rather than for long-term love and having families.

But it certainly doesn't do anything to address our culture that has made quick, early abortion the easiest option for most young women. So shame on Andrew Lansley, the Tory shadow health secretary.