Controlling abortion limits is a way of controlling women

The argument, ostensibly about abortion, is really about women’s advances towards equality.

Share

Abortion limits should not be off limits. Existing laws must periodically be scrutinised. But we must be watchful too.

The debate is often seized by dedicated rightwingers and anti-feminists. That’s what we saw happening last week as slithery Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, baleful Maria Miller, Minister for Women and pesky Tory MP Nadine Dorries called for a reduction of the existing 24-week threshold. The Tories seemed to have spawned an undeclared, powerful US type Tea Party ( with scones).

See how “moderniser” Cameron is elbowed aside as the cabal swoops down on women’s reproductive rights. The argument, ostensibly about legal abortion, is actually about the slow but real advances made by western women towards autonomy, equality, access and freedom. What makes Hunt, Miller and Dorries so dangerous is that they don’t look or sound reactionary or crazed. Instead they come across as sensible, sympathetic to females, scientific even and, hey, two of them have wombs.

These objectors, I bet, have no qualms about bombing nations and ending countless lives that way. They also must believe that teen pregnancy rates are too high and too many young, ill-educated women with babies are on benefit, a “burden on the state” as they say. How all that is rationalised remains a mystery. Just a few points they might think about: very few foetuses are aborted at 24 weeks, and some have congenital abnormalities not picked up earlier; premature babies have serious health problems; abortions help poorer families not get poorer – and don’t get judgemental and think they are too stupid to use contraception.

I became pregnant more than once because various types of contraception failed. I had two abortions, and might have had a third had I not miscarried. The first two were when I was an impoverished, married university student. Having a child then would have led to wretched lives for all of us. The third pregnancy I discovered three months after my ex-husband had left me. I had a 10-year-old son to bring up, sudden financial insecurity and a broken heart. I look at high-tech images of foetuses and feel a sense of loss and a little guilt. But I know too that I had to make those choices. Any woman or girl feeling trapped by an unwanted pregnancy should be able to do the same.

You don’t always know you are pregnant.


You don’t always know you are pregnant – why, even Sandra Howard, wife of Tory grandee Michael Howard, confessed this weekend that in 1962, when young and married to her first husband, she only discovered her pregnancy at four months. He took off and she had the child. Some women and girls spend agonised weeks worrying about terminations, or are in denial which is why Hunt’s suggestion of a 12-week cut-off is so cruel and sexist and alarming.

Fanatical American Christian groups are spreading their “truths” around the UK. To find out about their zeal and irrepressibility, read Kathryn Joyce’s book, Quiverful: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. Or go search out Lila Rose, young, smart, attractive American graduate who entraps people working at abortion clinics and films them to “prove” the service is shady and immoral. If you think we are not like them, think again. British women who talk publicly about abortion get terrorised by religious nutheads and other pro-lifers. Some are from the Christian People’s Alliance which condemns sex education as “immoral”. Pro-choice clinics are targeted too – sometimes in sinister ways. Dorries has accused Marie Stopes, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and other regulated clinics of pushing women into terminations and gaining financially from the procedures, claims denied by all who matter, though not ideologues with heads full of fixations and fantasies.

And, as I said earlier, controlling women’s bodies is about a bigger and more chilling agenda. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission has lost its voice; in the recession more women are being laid off than men and the cuts disproportionately affect women. I spoke at a fancy dinner organised by women in the City a few days ago and some told me they still had to fight prejudice every day. Millions of young women have been brainwashed by the media into cultural submission, into believing they are only worth anything if they look like living sex dolls. With all these problems Hunt and co think all women should just go have babies. Dorries wants 60,000 fewer abortions a year and says nothing about the thousands who would be born into hopelessness or those truly not wanted. Do these Tories really hate women (and children) that much? I fear so.

By politicising this serious issue, these Tories have made it impossible for a reasonable, dispassionate case to be made for a slight reduction from the present 24 weeks. I’ve been inclined to support that option and have just learnt a hard lesson. It has been a long journey from 1967 when David Steel pushed through the current, enlightened abortion law. Any give and the anti-abortionist militia will take it all. So, no, no, no, the limit must stay where it is.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Developer (ASP.NET, F#, SQL, MVC, Bootstrap, JavaScript)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A couple stand in front of a beautiful cloudy scene  

In sickness and in health: It’s been stormy but there are blessings in the clouds

Rebecca Armstrong
Chancellor George Osborne (C) wears a high visibility jacket as he makes a visit to the Prysmian Group factory and speaks to factory manager Steve Price  

Keep the champagne on ice – there are some clear and worrying signs that the economy is slowing

David Blanchflower
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?