Friday 30 August 2002 Abortion: Whose right?
Currently around 180 000 British women terminate pregnancies each year - far more than the politicians who passed the Abortion Act in 1967 intended. Should the law be made more liberal to reflect the demand or is it too easy for women to ‘take the life’ of their ‘unborn child’? What role should doctors play in the abortion decision?
AUTHOR: Dr Ellie Lee, Editor
Theodore Dalrymple: GP and author
Ann Furedi: Director of Communications, British Pregnancy Advisory Service
Mary Kenny: journalist and writer
Emily Jackson: Lecturer in Law, LSE
Helen Watt: Director, Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics
Dr Ellie Lee: Series Editor, Debating Matters
‘Abortion occupies a rather curious legal position. It is an exceptionally straightforward and frequently performed operation (in England and Wales…about one in three women will have an abortion at some point during their lives), and yet it remains a criminal offence…A woman has no right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, and must instead depend entirely upon the beneficent exercise of medical discretion…[W]e should consider whether the law’s extraordinary treatment of abortion sits uneasily with the rest of British medical law. In particular, the Act’s insistence upon two doctors deciding whether a woman should be able to terminate an unwanted pregnancy may be out of step with the increasing priority given to a patient’s right to make their own decisions about their medical treatment.
Senior Lecturer in Law, London School of Economics
‘With the coming of legal abortion, thousands of children have lost their lives at the hands of… doctors…Every abortion is a human tragedy for the child and for its mother: a tragedy which could - and should - have been avoided. No child can be ‘replaced’ by a child born later. Every child is an individual, with its own future to respect. In the area of abortion, the hard questions must be faced, without seeking refuge in slogans or in knee-jerk reactions. Abortion is a major social injustice, directed at those who are most vulnerable…We should learn to live in peace with our children, for the nine months when they first need us - remembering that we ourselves enjoyed the peace and safety of the womb at the start of our lives.’
Director, Linacre Centre for Health Care Ethics
‘People these days are reluctant to submit themselves to external sources of moral authority, which they consider inherently illegitimate…What right, asks modern man, has anyone to tell me how I should organise my life? In other words, in the reigning cultural climate, it will be very difficult to achieve with regard to abortion a respect for the general sanctity of human life while at the same time recognizing that abortion is some circumstances humane. The crudity of modern moral discourse, in which ignorant armies clash by night, prevents the prevents the necessary subtle distinctions from being made.’
GP and writer
‘Every year the publication of the annual abortion statistics provokes a discussion about why Britain’s abortion rate remains high relative to other European countries…Those who oppose legal abortion insist that the abortion rate is a symptom of a ‘culture of convenience’ and a ‘degraded out-of-control society’. In truth, it may be that the British abortion rate is evidence that women have a strong desire to keep control of their lives…It may be that, for many women in modern Britain, abortion is seen as the solution to a problem rather than a problem in itself. Perhaps it is time to conclude that abortion has become as much a part of contemporary life as e-mail, espresso and Lycra.’
former Director of Communications, British Pregnancy Advisory Service
‘So whose right on abortion? It was always a matter of conflicting rights - the right to choose against the right to life… Opinion polls tend to show that people accept that abortion should be legal, but it does not follow that they always consider it moral. It is now more widely conceded that it is a woman’s right to choose what she does with her body; at the same time, it is more deeply recognized that the body within her body is a small human one, and that, as it grows, it acquires more rights… Perspectives on abortion have changed over the past 35 years, and will change again in the coming times… When ‘the right to choose’ is extended to the further choice of destroying the unborn, or, alternatively, donating it to grow in a synthetic womb, then we will surely be in a whole new moral dilemma once more’.
journalist and writer