Towards a more wide-ranging "pro-life"

Sunday, 7 October 2012

"Being a pro-choice evangelical is a bit niche, isn't it?" I said to someone in the midst of the latest blowup over abortion rights. First it was Maria Miller and 20 weeks. Now Jeremy Hunt and his support for a 12 week upper limit, which has had all my fellow pitchfork-wielding leftie Twittermobbers raging for the past couple of days.

Hunt stated in an interview that his view on the 12 week limit is down to his personal belief "about the moment we should deem life to start", not, he added, "for religious reasons". David Cameron has responded by saying that the government "has no plans to bring forward any legislation in this area". Still, it's unsettling, isn't it? Both the minister for women and the health secretary. Whether Cameron's got plans to that effect or not, it's got people worried yet again, that little by little we're going to see that limit chipped away.

Being pro-choice means that people ask me things like why, as a Christian, I'm not "valuing life above all else". If babies born before 24 weeks have survived, why shouldn't the cut-off point be 20 weeks? Meanwhile, people talk about those who want a 20 week limit as "hating women". Both sides of the debate, at their extremes fuelled by comments like Hunt's, are completely unhelpful.

My issue is this: on the side of the debate that values life above all else, there is plenty of commitment to slashing the legal limit for women to have abortions (based on the survival of a handful of babies), but precious little noise made about addressing many of the issues surrounding why women are having abortions in the first place. Take, for example, these case studies from BPAS showing the reasons for requests for abortion over 22 weeks gestation in 2008. Poverty, abuse, homelessness, addiction, mental health issues, stalling on the part of the NHS meaning women had had to wait weeks to access services. And several women who had no reason to believe they were pregnant in the first place.

It's my belief that a commitment to lowering the number of abortions should go hand in hand with a commitment to lowering the number of unwanted pregnancies and supporting women at all stages of their lives. Unfortunately you don't often hear those who are anti-abortion talking about better sex and relationships education for young people, easier access to contraception, addressing issues such as domestic violence, poverty, rape, and support for women who are unsure about what choice to make that doesn't just involve telling them how much they'll regret having an abortion. More talk like that might mean more people would believe Maria Miller when she calls herself a "very modern feminist". We haven't quite reached the same state of affairs as the USA yet, but who knows what could happen - as Tanya Gold said in a piece for The Guardian on Friday:

"The abortion wars in America, funded by Republicans who want miracle babies but not a functioning welfare state..."

There are two further issues with 20 weeks - one being the anomaly scan carried out around this point in a pregnancy, and the other being the fact that some women end up waiting weeks to access the services they need when considering whether or not to have an abortion. It goes without saying that even when the procedure is restricted or made illegal, women will still find ways to do it. We don't demonstrate holding banners with pictures of coathangers for nothing.

To my mind, when I'm supporting a pro-choice point of view, I am "valuing life". Access to abortion should be combined with action on all the issues mentioned above - the sex education and the domestic abuse and the waiting times. It's not enough to talk about abstinence education yet send more families into poverty and cut funding to women's shelters. As @DillyTante said in an excellent post yesterday:

"Lowering the legal limits for abortion will not reduce the number of abortions. It will reduce the number of legal and safe abortions. Someone desperate enough to terminate a baby in the middle of pregnancy is likely to go to any lengths to do so. Reducing the legal limit for abortion will not result in more happy smiley chubby babies; it will increase the number of desperately unhappy women and children brought into this world in devastating circumstances. With a government reducing welfare and community support for families and people with disabilities this can only be a path to unhappiness for many."

As a Christian I'd like to see more of a "pro-life" commitment to this side of the story. Maybe then I'd be convinced that there is a real concern for women and their welfare. The desire to "value life" when "life" refers to a foetus is all well and good, but what of the lives and wellbeing of women? What of the life of the child once it's actually exited the womb? I don't see any of that in the demonstrations outside clinics, or in the desire to lower the legal limit on dubious medical grounds. And that's why I occupy my "niche" position: because I hope for something different. People are entitled to an anti-abortion view, but all too often they let themselves down.


em said...

Exactly how I feel about this — I wonder if the niche is larger than we're led to believe. Thanks for putting this viewpoint into words and onto the internet.

Sam said...

Hi Hannah! Stopping by as promised to read your views on this. In answer to your question - yes very niche! haha. Although just because a view is unusual or niche, it doesn't make it wrong. I'm not sure if you were suggesting that in either your tweet or blog? Probably not, in which case I find it an interesting comment. Care to elaborate?

I am 100% in agreement with you over this point..."It's my belief that a commitment to lowering the number of abortions should go hand in hand with a commitment to lowering the number of unwanted pregnancies and supporting women at all stages of their lives."

My question is why can't we do both? It seems like you're arguing for one (pregancy help and general issues) but saying the other one (abortion laws) should remain how they are.

I would also want to raise the moral issue. When does life start and who decides when life starts?

Shouldn't our morality as Christians come into play a bit more? I mean, yes if abortion was made illegal it's likely it would result in backstreet abortions - which no one wants. The trouble with that argument though, is it's based on ifs, buts and unknowns.

In summary I think you're right to point out that greater care is needed around women and their welfare in all of life. I just don't see why that point should stop anyone from campaigning for a reduction in abortions. For me those two things can go hand in hand.

Hannah Mudge said...

Sam - I find it a bit niche because in general, people I know tend to generally espouse a pro-life position but the issues surrounding abortion and why women choose to have them after very rarely mentioned. The evo pro-life position all too often (but not always) comes from a position of privilege. You don't find many people of similar beliefs who will admit to being pro-choice IMO.

I didn't want to have the post going on for much longer than it already was, so to elaborate on the 20 weeks point, I think that if access was quicker, it could be more of a reality. The main issue for a lot of people, and which I feel conflicted about myself, is the possibility of curveballs thrown by the 20 week scan. I personally know a couple of people who have (sadly for them as the babies were planned) made the decision to terminate at this stage due to the detections of conditions incompatible with life. It's unclear in this case what restrictions those in favour of 20 weeks want - do they want to see an end to 'social abortions' only after 20 weeks? If so, there are the issues raised by the case studies from BPAS I highlighted in the post.

I don't think that these issues should stop people from campaigning for a reduction in the upper limit, but I do think that such campaigning needs to be combined with work on these other areas.

I don't disagree with you about the issue of life, but the rest of the issues concern me too.

fritha strickland said...

great post, I dont know how I stumbled across your blog but here I am. I also wrote about being Pro Choice on my blog (having been through a termination at 17). I think you put your point across very well! x

Hannah Mudge said...

Thanks Fritha, glad you enjoyed reading.


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