Ann Furedi: A woman's right to choose is also her right to be human

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How do we value fetal and embryonic life? Obviously we couldn't allow abortion if we accepted that fetal life had the same degree of value as a born human life, and I don't believe that it does. However, it is quite possible to value both fetal and embryonic life without according it the same degree of value as a born person. For me the question is not: "When does human life begin?", because I think we can accept the embryo is a human life of sorts. For me the question is: "When does human life really begin to matter?" And that is something which can be relative to the woman who is carrying it.

There is an important principle in our society we need to uphold, regarding who has the authority to make decisions about the circumstances that impact most intensely on our lives. Unwanted pregnancy can happen, and when it does, somebody has to be in a position to make a decision about what the future of that pregnancy is going to be. My strong feeling is that the person who should make that decision is the person who is closest to the issue and will be most affected by it.

There is one person who will get up every morning for the rest of her life knowing that she decided either to go ahead and have a child, or knowing that she decided to abort it: and that is the woman. That is why I very strongly believe she should be the person who personally bears the awesome responsibility for taking that moral decision.

Ronald Dworkin, who has written an incredibly perceptive book looking at the ethics of abortion, argues that wrestling with these difficult decisions is part of our humanity, and to take away our responsibility for our own moral decisions would be to take away our humanity.

Some in this position will make the wrong decision, others will make decisions different from those we ourselves would. But ultimately, we have to allow people to make these wrong decisions. As Dworkin says: "Tolerance is a cost that we must pay for our adventure in liberty." I very strongly share this belief, and I think it is important that when we're looking at questions of life, we reflect on what our opinions say about our humanity.

Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, speaking at the Battle of Ideas

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