Friday 14 May 2010

People should not be misled about abortion law reform

Andrew Lansley, the new health secretary, has given an interview to The Daily Mail, which reports:
"The Health Secretary also said he supported a reduction in the time limit for abortion from 24 weeks to 22, having voted unsuccessfully for a change in the law in the past.

"'I felt that there was increasing evidence that a small reduction in that time limit was consistent with the potential for life, and sustainable life, in a baby born very prematurely at that point,' he said.

"The Health Secretary stressed that any further move to change the law would have to be initiated by a backbench MP and would be subject to a free vote in the Commons.
The Pro-Life Alliance has commented on The Daily Mail report in a press release:
“It is reassuring to hear that the new Health Secretary has put abortion law reform at the forefront of the agenda so early on in the new administration. While we should not get carried away about the significance of a two week reduction, it is certainly a step towards our final aim of bringing abortion to an end in the United Kingdom. We expect abortion law reform to come up at some point in this parliament and are confident that a tightening of the current regulations will result.”
That is exactly the sort of irresponsible commentary on the new government that is dangerous for unborn children and unhelpful to the pro-life movement. The Pro-Life Alliance makes no mention whatsoever of Mr Lansley’s support for:

• making abortion more widely available. On 12 May 2008 he told the House of Commons:
“[I]f a woman needs an abortion in terms sanctioned by the Abortion Act 1967, it must surely be better for it to be an early, medical abortion than a later, surgical one. I therefore hope that the House will consider whether the requirement for two doctors to consent to an abortion being performed, and the restrictions on nurses providing medical abortions, need to be maintained”


“I would personally be lo[a]th to move from the principle of linking the time limit for abortion to the viability of the foetus.”
• his endorsement of the 2003 report by the Commons health select committee, which called for open access to abortion services through a national advice line and for non-hospital nurses to be allowed to perform early non-surgical abortions, such as with RU486/prostaglandin

• the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, a radical entrenching and expansion of destructive and abusive embryo research. Mr Lansley voted the Act at third reading.

It is simply absurd for the Pro-Life Alliance to claim that:

• Mr Lansley “has put abortion law reform at the forefront of the agenda”. All that’s happened is that Mr Lansley has answered a question about it, in an wide-ranging interview with the main newspaper group supporting an upper limit reduction. Similar hype was whipped up by the same newspaper group and by the Pro-Life Alliance after Michael Howard, the then Conservative leader, answered the same question in the same way prior to the 2005 election. In any case, Mr Lansley “stressed that any further move to change the law would have to be initiated by a backbench MP and would be subject to a free vote in the Commons.” Reducing the upper time-limit for social abortions simply isn’t on the new government’s agenda, let alone “at the forefront”. If there is a free vote by MPs, 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.

• a reduction in the upper time limit “is certainly a step towards our final aim of bringing abortion to an end in the United Kingdom”. Even if such a reduction were passed, it will not ensure a reduction in the numbers of late-term abortions (let alone of abortions generally), as I’ve blogged before. Pro-lifers made the same mistake in 1990.*

• “[w]e…are confident that a tightening of the current regulations will result”. The Pro-Life Alliance said the same thing before the votes on abortion in 2008, when all the amendments to reduce the upper time limit for social abortions were defeated by comfortable margins (as SPUC predicted). Only a last-ditch concerted effort by SPUC and other pro-life groups resulted in a government decision, effectively, not to provide time for pro-abortion amendments to be debated.

The Pro-Life Alliance’s release also claims that:
“new Liberal Democrat health minister Paul Burstow … voted against any measures to introduce euthanasia or assisted suicide”.
Yet Mr Burstow’s voting record on euthanasia was mixed. He voted for the Mental Capacity Act at second and third readings. The Mental Capacity Act enshrined euthanasia by neglect into English statute law. Mr Burstow voted against an anti-euthanasia amendment on advance directives (so-called “living wills”), whilst voting for anti-euthanasia amendments at other points.

Pro-lifers should instead be focusing on ensuring that the new government does not take up the previous government's plans to impose anti-life sex education on schools – plans that would result in an increase in abortions.

*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.

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