Are you an open-minded, thoughtful person? When someone makes a statement or says a word, do you look at what’s said and come to a considered conclusion? Or is there a list of trigger words that sends you into reflex mode, your calm gone and your response closer to a knee that’s been tapped by a medical hammer?
Good – you’re the thoughtful kind. That means that when I say the subject of this blog is abortion, you won’t trot out your pre-cooked views. Yesterday Mr Justice Horner said that pregnant women here who are the subject of rape or whose baby is suffering from ‘fatal foetal abnormality’ should have access to abortion. My view?I’m against abortion, although (or maybe because) some elements of the debate confuse me.
Let’s cut to the chase. I don’t believe abortion is desirable in any circumstances but one where the mother’s life is at serious risk – and even then I’m not 100% sure.
The question of abortion is a bit like our central political problem. In politics, we dress up the issue, devise all sorts of schemes, set up all sorts of structures, hold conferences, write papers. But it comes down to one thing: Britain’s continued claim to jurisdiction in this part of Ireland. Likewise with abortion – we can talk about human rights and tolerance of difference and our abortion laws as compared to those found elsewhere, but in the end it comes down to one thing: is the foetus a human being? Depending on your answer to that question, just about everything else is straight-forward – or should be.
I believe that human life begins with the moment of conception. I know that many – maybe even most – intelligent and sincere people don’t agree. So let me lay out some questions that puzzle me and some statements of belief.
- If human life doesn’t begin with conception, when does it begin? At what point can we say of the foetus ‘This is not human’ and at what point ‘This is human’?
- If you believe that the foetus is not human, why do people talk about women who choose abortion as doing so reluctantly, after long and serious consideration? If what’s inside the womb is not human, just a collection of disposable cells, what’s the big deal? You don’t agonise about clearing your throat and spitting, do you? (OK, it depends on the company, but you know what I mean.)
- If a woman is the victim of rape, many people opposed to abortion in normal circumstances would say it’s permissible here. I don’t agree. For a raped woman to bring to full term a foetus conceived through rape must be a prolonged nightmare. But it seems an odd response to the crime of rape to add the crime of taking human life. It wasn’t the baby that did the raping. If the foetus is human as the result of a loving relationship, it’s still human as the result of a brutal assault.
- Why do we cite the number of women going to England every year for an abortion as grounds for us adopting similar laws? I don’t decide to mug a passer-by because I know that if I don’t , s/he’ll stray into a part of town where s/he’ll certainly be mugged.
- What are termed ‘fatal foetal abnormalities’ – that is, the baby is certain to die shortly after birth – were seen by Mr Justice Horner yesterday as definite grounds for abortion. I don’t agree. I do agree that for a woman to carry an unborn child to full term, knowing that it will die shortly after birth, must be harrowing beyond any male’s imaginings. But if this is human life, the notion of taking it because the afflicted child is going to die shortly after birth is an argument similar to the going-to-England argument: it’s going to die anyway so let me kill it now.
- Talk about the right to choose misses out, intentionally or not, on the point that our laws on all sorts of things – theft, murder, swindling – remove the notion of right to choose. We wouldn’t say that a woman has a right to choose regarding the speed limit or paying taxes. Why talk about choosing in this instance?
- Finally, the notion that men should have no say in this matter is illogical. It’s true that men can never know what it’s like to carry an unborn child, wanted or unwanted. But we don’t exclude males – or females – from passing laws about drug-trafficking because they can’t know what it’s like to be a drug mule or a drug baron. As surely as women have the right to be included in legislating matters applying to men only, men have the right to legislate on matters applying only to women.
So here we are at the end of seven different points, which in retrospect seem over-long and wind-baggy. Because as I said earlier, the entire matter of abortion comes down to one simple question: is this thing inside the woman a human being or a collection of cells? On the answer to that everything else hinges.