Quite a few of the people who agree with Jeremy Hunt on abortion turn out to be women

If anything, women are more likely than men to feel that abortion laws should be tightened. Why do so few female writers point this out?

Share

Whatever could have possessed Jeremy Hunt, the newly appointed Health Secretary, to express his opinion on abortion? Any man who steps into this moral minefield is asking to be blown sky high.

Still, I’m going to walk, Y chromosome and all, into the same minefield – and not just for the excitement of encountering the smouldering remains of Mr Hunt’s lower half. First of all, why should he not have expressed his opinion? He was giving a general interview, and the Times’ journalists, observing that he had previously voted to bring the legal limit for termination of pregnancy down to 12 weeks, asked him if he remained of that view. He replied that he did, adding that “it’s just my view about the incredibly difficult question about the moment that we deem life to start”.

Perhaps Hunt will become much more of a bland autocue minister after the blow-back this remark caused; but if we want our politicians to say what they really think – as is always claimed—then the press doesn’t exactly encourage them by behaving as it has over the past few days.

I am thinking especially of the Daily Mirror, which under the tasteful headline “Time to terminate Jeremy Hunt’s career”, described him as a “moronic meerkat...who has attempted political self-abortion”. By comparison, this newspaper’s Yasmin Alibhai-Brown was positively restrained in calling Hunt “slithery”; though Yasmin uncorked “baleful” to sum up Maria Miller, the minister who – in another interview last week – expressed her view that the term limit for abortions should come down from 24 to 20 weeks.

Among Miller’s responsibilities in Cabinet are “women” (that’s what it says), so her interjection has been seen as monstrously inappropriate; and her accompanying it with the remark that she herself is “a feminist” is seen as bizarre beyond belief. The Guardian’s Women’s Blog Editor described her position as “astonishing”, while in the same paper Tanya Gold levelled the most damning charge of all: “I suspect that Miller is pro-life.” Good heavens, let’s send round the thought police immediately.

These commentators give the impression that they are speaking for all women. Yet, if anything, women are more likely than men to feel that abortion laws should be tightened. The truth is that men tend to like abortion on demand, partly because it is often they who are doing the demanding, and partly because it makes them feel it’s not essential to put up with the desensitising effect of wearing a condom when involved in casual one-night stands (the Julian Assange school of thought).

Less anecdotally, as a piece in the New Statesman pointed out: “A YouGov poll in January found that of the 37 per cent of Britons who favoured a lowering of the 24-week limit (34 per cent supported the status quo), the majority were women”. Two months later, a similar survey by the Angus Reid polling organisation found that while 35 per cent of men were in favour of a reduction in the 24-week limit, 59 per cent of women were of that opinion.

On this basis, we can see that Maria Miller is more representative of women’s opinion than her female critics on this paper and the Guardian. Those critics are doubtless more representative of the readers of these newspapers than Miller; but, believe it or not, ministers are quite keen to be in tune with the views of an even wider segment of the general population.

Why should women be more horrified by late-term abortions than men? Possibly it is because only someone who has carried a child can viscerally comprehend what abortion actually means; they feel what we men only know from books: how soon the foetus begins moving quite independently.

As a standard text, Continuity in Neural Functions from Pre-natal to Post-natal life, noted over 20 years ago, “movements of the young foetus do not appear to be uncoordinated and random but specific and recognisably patterned”. All this, of course, is the mirror image of the most powerful pro-choice argument, that only the woman concerned should be allowed to decide what should happen to the contents of her own uterus, moving or otherwise.

That view was strikingly expressed by Caitlin Moran, who wrote last week of her own choice to have an abortion, that: “It took me longer to decide what worktops to have in the kitchen than whether I was prepared to spend the rest of my life being responsible for a further human being.” Obviously, consideration of giving up such an unwanted child for adoption was not possible in less time than it takes to choose pine-effect over formica. She went on to lament that “abortions are never seen as a positive thing, as any other operation to remedy a potentially life-ruining condition would”.

This is the embryo as tumour; and expressed in such terms, no one would dream of disagreeing with Moran, or indeed anyone else who shared that attitude towards the contents of the womb. Yet, as Jeremy Hunt rather clumsily observed, it is about the idea of life, when it begins and what our obligations are towards that unborn child – as a society, rather than as the individual parent-to-be. This is where the abortion debate appears to be an unusual one in which “the right” argues for some sort of societal good and the “left” for a kind of atomised individualism: pure personal choice before all other, wider human considerations.

In fact, it is grotesquely simplistic and even plain wrong to assert that the pro-life position is inherently right-wing, at least in this country, where we do not have the culture wars of the US. That YouGov poll also showed that support of a reduction in the abortion limit from 24 to 20 weeks was highest among those who also expressed a preference for Labour, rather than for either of the other two main parties.

It may well be that many who would identify themselves as on the left are especially horrified by eugenic abortions. These are the terminations which tend to be the latest in pregnancy, for Down’s Syndrome mostly, but also for purely physical abnormalities such as club foot or cleft lip and palate. It was these and other eugenic abortions that the Mirror seemed to have in mind when it said that “if Hunt had his way, thousands more disabled children would be born each year”. Although, as if suddenly remembering the spirit of the Paralympics, the editorial slammed on the brakes with: “Of course, there are many, many disabled people in Britain who lead full and happy lives.” Given the chance to live in the first place, of course.

d.lawson@independent.co.uk

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Don't trust those who say that Britain is ‘broken’ – time usually proves them wrong

Stefano Hatfield
 

Human rights need not come before development

Marta Foresti
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit