Thursday 8 April 2010

Don't fall for David Cameron's pitch on abortion time limit

David Cameron, the Conservative party leader, has responded to questions from readers of The Catholic Herald on several pro-life and pro-family issues. Mr Cameron was asked:
"Will you press for a reduction in the month for which abortion is allowed?"
Mr Cameron replied:
"My own view is that we do need to review the abortion limit. I think that the way medical science and technology have developed in the past few decades does mean that an upper limit of 20 or 22 weeks would be sensible. So I supported the two amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which would have changed this and I’ll continue to support a modest reduction in the abortion limit. But what’s really important here is that Members of Parliament are always allowed a free vote on this issue. This is an issue of conscience, so it would be wrong to put pressure on Parliamentary colleagues when it comes to voting on this."
It should be noted that:
  • by "abortion limit", Mr Cameron only means the 24-week limit for abortions done on social grounds. As he made clear in August 2008, he wants abortion up to birth on disabled children to remain available.
  • Mr Cameron and Andrew Lansley, the Conservative party health spokesman, have made clear that they support wider access to abortion in various ways. If there is a free vote by MPs, as promised by Mr Cameron, it will provide the pro-abortion lobby with an opportunity to increase the numbers of abortions, as happened under the Conservative administration under Margaret Thatcher.
  • Mr Cameron is only endorsing a reduction of two to four weeks (and for social abortions only). This ignores the vast majority (87% or more) of abortions which are performed before 12 weeks. Only one to two per cent of abortions are performed after 20 weeks. There is a serious danger of MPs who back a cosmetic lowering of the upper time-limit for social abortions of voting in favour of wider access to social abortions earlier in pregnancy.

Nadine Dorries, the leading advocate within the Conservative party of reducing the 24-week social abortion limit, has made her pro-abortion position clear:
"I should like to make my personal position clear, because it has been misrepresented in the past few days. I am pro-choice. I support a woman’s right to abortion—to faster, safer and quicker abortion than is available at the moment, particularly in the first trimester. That is my position ... [O]ne of the main problems is that many young women who present at a hospital or at a doctor’s are made to wait two to four weeks before a termination. I want to make my position clear: I am not against abortion per se. Actually, I would go further: I would like the morning-after pill to be available from every school nurse and in every supermarket pharmacy—and it should be free for young girls, and not £25 at the chemist’s, as it is at the moment." (Hansard, 20 May 2008)
"I have no issue with abortion at the right time." [Daily Mail, 6 March 2008]
She introduced a 10-minute rule bill in 2006 which included a provision to fast-track abortion once the final consent had been given. This provision, if the bill had succeeded, could have led to even more resources being spent on killing the unborn.

There is no reason to believe that the new parliament will be significantly less pro-abortion than the old one. Before the votes on abortion in 2008, advocates of reducing the upper time limit for social abortions had claimed they there had been a sea-change in parliamentary opinion in favour of such a reduction. Yet all the amendments calling for reductions in the upper time limit for social abortions were rejected by large majorities, with the number of MPs voting with the pro-abortion lobby exceeding 390. This sea-change was revealed to be wishful thinking stoked by media hype. With the numbers in parliament stacked against the pro-life movement, it makes no sense at all to add to the calls of the pro-abortion lobby for Parliament to amend the abortion law.

Some observers predict an influx into the new parliament of the so-called Notting Hill Set, socially liberal Tory party candidates with similar views to David Cameron. If so, the result may well be increased pressure to remove restrictions on abortion on demand in early pregnancy and allow nurses to perform certain types of abortion. Most MPs will only accept restrictions on late-term abortions in return for measures making abortion more easily available in other ways. Also, negotiating any lower limit is likely to involve a trade-off with more exceptions being allowed beyond the 24-week limit – up to birth. The number of abortions resulting from these changes would exceed the small number (about 750) of social abortions after 20 or 22 weeks. In any case, those doctors who want to do late abortions can simply get around any lower time-limit, by falsifying gestational age and/or fudging the grounds. As David Steel, the author of the Abortion Act 1967, has said:
"Putting an upper limit on abortions deemed to be done for "social reasons" would have negligible impact on either ease of access for concerned women or current medical practice."
It should also be noted that:
  • It was under a Conservative government that parliament voted for abortion up to birth.
  • It was also under a Conservative government that the upper limit for abortions was raised for abortions generally. People mistakenly claim that the time limit was reduced from 28 weeks to 24 weeks by the Conservative government’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. However, because of amendments to the law made by the 1990 Act, the previous limit, which was based on the capability of the baby to be born alive – not a fixed number of weeks (28) – was abolished and a 24 week time limit was introduced but only for certain cases. In other cases (including where the abortion is carried out on the grounds of disability) abortions can be and are now carried out right up to the time of birth. Every child who had reached the stage of development of being “capable of being born alive” was protected by the pre-1990 law. Since 1990 that protection has been removed. So the effect of the 1990 Act was to increase the time limit for abortion in most instances and in many cases right up to birth.
  • It was pro-lifers who pressed for the 1990 Act to contain provisions relating to abortion, in the hope of being able to insert some restrictions, particularly early time limits. Sadly this tactic backfired, resulting in a less, not more, restrictive abortion law.

Elsewhere in the interview, David Cameron answers questions on sex education. His answers, and the Conservative policy positions on them, are partly good, partly bad and partly mistaken.

SPUC is political, not party political. Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg, the leaders of the other two main parties, share David Cameron's pro-abortion record and position. My critique of David Cameron's answer on abortion is motivated purely by a desire to protect unborn children and their mothers from abortion. The issue of the upper time limit for social abortions is at best a dangerous distraction. At worst, it will entrench discrimination against disabled children and set the scene for an expansion of abortion.

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