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It takes courage to defy the consensus on abortion

If only people took time to consider the mysterious possibilities of pre-born life

By on Monday, 22 October 2012

A pro-lifer protests outside an abortion clinic in Northern Ireland (Photo: PA)

A pro-lifer protests outside an abortion clinic in Northern Ireland (Photo: PA)

An article last week by Max Pemberton, health correspondent of the Telegraph, in response to the remark by the new Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, reflects the general view. Hunt had remarked that he would like the legal limit for abortion to be halved: from the current 24 weeks to 12 weeks. It provoked the usual howls of outrage from die-hard feminists and raised the question, yet again, among pro-lifers about the best way forward: whether to lobby to lower the legal limit and (possibly) save some babies’ lives or to continue to promote an uncompromising pro-life message around the country rather than in Parliament.

Pemberton, who describes himself as a libertarian, takes the pragmatic position: when babies can live viably outside the womb we shouldn’t be killing them. Thus he thinks the legal limit for aborting them should be lowered to 22 weeks – or 20 weeks at the outside. Doctors, he says, are uncomfortable with struggling to save tiny premature babies at one end of a hospital and aborting babies of the same prematurity at the other.

He is completely against Jeremy Hunt’s own view – for the reason that it doesn’t make medical sense; and if it doesn’t make medical sense it must be sneaking a watered-down pro-life position through the back door as it were. Despite being a doctor and accepting that “each week of gestation represents a host of anatomical and physiological changes”, he is adamantly in favour of a mother’s right to choose to let her baby live or die.

Pemberton is an intelligent man. I have often found his articles thought-provoking. He is also brave, for instance taking on the fury of sufferers from ME by suggesting that mental and psychological issues are sometimes involved in this illness. But he is not brave enough to take on the liberal establishment over the question of an unborn child’s right to life. Hell hath no fury like a feminist challenged about her rights – as Jeremy Hunt will by now have discovered – and Pemberton is not going to risk his reputation and peace of mind by actually thinking outside the popular consensus on this subject. So he writes: “There’s a feeling that the right for pregnant women to determine what happens to their bodies has been hard-fought for, and any concession to reducing the limit risks a slow, insidious erosion of women’s reproductive rights…”

After explaining why 22 weeks would be a reasonable cut-off point, he is quick to emphasise that “it is important to remember, though, that we are discussing the very extreme, rare cases… This should not in any way impact on the vast majority of abortions that take place before 20 weeks, and we should not allow the debate to vilify women who have abortions.” Why bring in the word “vilify”? For the record, I don’t know any pro-lifer who would ever “vilify” women who have abortions; they genuinely want to help them seek the better option for themselves and their baby, an option that, unlike choosing abortion, they won’t live to regret.

I have just been reading The Tumbler of God: Chesterton as a Mystic by Fr Robert Wild. Fr Wild quotes the last two verses of a poem by Chesterton I had not known. Called “The Babe Unborn” it imagines the uncreated creature crying out for existence and promising every virtue if he might only have the experience of life:

“I think that if they gave me/within the world to stand/ I would be good all through the day/I spent in fairyland/They should not hear a word from me/of selfishness or scorn/If only I could find the door/If only I were born.”

Chesterton raises the debate to a different level altogether, a mystical insight into life seen as an inestimable gift, a priceless treasure, something that is much deeper than a “right”, though that is the language we use in rational debate. If only Pemberton and his fellows, who dread the wrath of modern western womankind, could for a moment imagine, as GKC does, the mysterious possibilities of life from a pre-born perspective, it might release them from the constricting parameters of the ominous phrase “reproductive rights”.

  • Cestius

    The only thing that I would quibble is the use of the word consensus in the title.  I don’t believe there is any consensus, it’s just that anyone putting forward a pro-life view is immediately attacked and often shouted down by pro-abortionists desperate to close down debate. From the pro-abortionist’s point of view they have got the law pretty well where they want with abortion more or less on demand, and the last thing they want is people reminding them that not everyone agrees, or that the unborn baby is human and it’s up to them to prove that it isn’t if they claim the right to kill it.  But one thing is certain, the more people that speak up and challenge them the harder it will be for them to close down debate.

  • JabbaPapa

    … raised the question, yet again, among pro-lifers about the best way
    forward: whether to lobby to lower the legal limit and (possibly) save
    some babies’ lives or to continue to promote an uncompromising pro-life
    message around the country rather than in Parliament.

    All three, maybe ? (ie “around the country AND in Parliament”) ?

  • Alexander VI

    “For the record, I don’t know any pro-lifer who would ever “vilify” women who have abortions”
    You  can’t be serious! 
    I can only suggest you look at the comments submitted to this blog on the topic of abortion in the past…..   

  • teigitur

    Mr Hunt was intervied on the BBC who pressed him again and again on his view about the 12 week limit. There is only one consensus and it is in the unremittingly pro-abortion media.

  • theroadmaster

    The incremental approach that is common to all the approaches of those who want to reduce the time frame within which it would be legal to abort the growing child in the womb, signifies at least a starting point for some in relation to tackling the horrific nature of the abortion on demand that is currently on offer in the UK.  It may not mark a “conversion on the road to Damascus” moment for those who are stepping outside the “pro-choice” consensus,, but it hopefully might lead them on to a route to the discovery that abortion is an unacceptable evil that scars women for life and destroys innocent nascent lives, under the spurious guise of “a woman’s right to control her own body”.  Ideally Abortion should be rejected as a gravely immoral act, which violates the natural order, but those on the pro-life side of the argument must encourage those who are arguing for a subjective timeline to reduce it, to go the full distance in order to entirely repudiate it.

  • John Ross Martyn

    You seem to assume that Pemberton is motivated by fear rather than by his own conviction that abortion ought to be available in certain circumstances.

  • JFJ

    This morning’s debate on Woman’s Hour that followed on from a recent Radio 4 Today interview with John Humphrys, is enlightening as both relate to this wonderful article.  In the unrelenting and unreasonable attack on the Radio 4 interview aimed a man who dared speak on the subject of abortion, the woman involved refused to acknowledge that the man, or any man for that reason, had any right at all to ever speak about or hazard an opinion on abortion.  A man cannot reproduce and the whole abortion debate is the exclusive province of women since abortion has no other issue involve in it other than the woman’s ‘reproductive rights’, full stop – or so the argument goes.  Both this morning’s follow on debate on Woman’s Hour and the Radio 4 ‘assault’  confirm that the unreasonable voice of feminism (I’m personally not sure that there is any other sort, but that is not the issue here) has assumed that this doctor, a man, and any such man, must not speak; but if they do, they must not take any other position than the one accepted, i.e. that abortion is only about rights and it is only the province of the woman.  Rights always trump truth, always trump what is right and always trump life. I’m assuming this doctor really believes what he has said, but if he has doubts, and perhaps he has had if he is aware of the wonder of each week of life for the baby, he would not dare speak of this. I suppose no one, not even a well know doctor would want to expose himself to bullying.  P.S. thanks for the reference to Chesterton;  I didn’t know this one.

  • JFJ

     Unfortunately, you are right in the sense that articles in the CH have brought out the worst in some on this subject.  This is regrettable.  However, though I don’t personally know Mrs. Phillips, yet based on her work in this publication, I sincerely suspect that she is actually someone who doe not know a pro-lifer who would vilify women who have had an abortion.  

  • Lewispbuckingham

    Whenever now I walk through a crowd I am reminded that these people are the survivors. Their parents did not kill them.
     The debate, as JP suggests, should be at every level, because it affects everyone.
     As President Clinton said, abortion should be available but rare.In a secular society we may start by advocating that it be rare.

  • Oconnord

    Now I know we don’t agree on the subject itself, but here we are talking about politics. Mr. Hunt is a Health Secretary, so he has to be orthodox in his views, as regards medical science. He cannot simply say abortion limits should be halved because he thinks it’s right. Any reduction he proposes must be based on advances in medicine that foetuses are more viable, so a reduction is equally viable.

     I can honestly say that I’m uncomfortable with a 24 week limit, but I’m pragmatic enough to say that that is the best option we can have, with today’s technology. I doubt it will ever be much lower without sci-fi medicine.

  • maxmarley

    An average of 550 abortions a day in the UK reflects very badly on the coarse direction this society is taking. 
    The sexual revolution is having a very corrosive influence at every level; ultimately subjective rights trump Truth. 

    But the revolutionaries need to tread carefully as the abortion argument can be used ruthlessly in many societies to further their preference for male children.
    The woman’s right to choose death for her unborn child can be out-trumped by the state’s right to choose death for females unborn or born.
    Feminists and others should be careful what they wish for.

  • teigitur

    He consistantly answered that those were his personal views, but that he had to, and would work within the law. But they went on……and on.

  • teigitur

    oops see below

  • Oconnord

    Hmmm, JFJ’s comment I presume. I can sort of see his point, but I tend to fall on the woman’s point of view. Even if they risk being labelled as a Feminist. Try re-reading the comments on this site and consider how they refer to abortion and pro-choice women … genocide, mass murder, abortuarys, ruthless choosers of death, is it any wonder that women are on the defensive?

    The choice must always be a woman’s,(extreme circumstances aside). I don’t agree with a man being bullied and his legitimate contribution being ignored, but the question is still there. What new medical knowledge did Dr Hunt have to present? Or was it simply an opinion he was presenting? Should we start to change laws on the whim of a current Health Secretary? Because if so the law could be brought to 32 weeks under equal opining by the next Health Secretary.

  • teigitur

    I meant my comment below……the other was a duplicate.

  • Oconnord

    Bit of a mix-up, comment-wise, but dismissing the idea of media bias, my comments were right on track.

    Unless you wanted to discuss media bias, rather than the subject on hand. 

  • Oconnord

    Teig, sometimes I have the verbal skills of a pickaxe on a putting green!

    Media bias would be a good topic, but it would be a change of subject.

  • Parasum

    “Defying” the nonsense in the Church is at least as difficult. Vatican II is the CC’s Abortion Act. Both are equally untouchable, and tne criticisms of both are now very slowly being admitted to be all too well founded: not that there are apologies of any kind to those who had the foresight to see where these things would lead.

    Aborting babies is as nothing compared to the abortion of people’s faith. Long years ago, the Church had not forgotten that, but knew it well. Now, such priorities are liable to seem insane to Catholics.     

  • teigitur

    Unfortunately the two are inextricably linked.

  • JabbaPapa