Letters: Abortion

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The attack on abortion is an attack on the oppressed

Sir: If Catholicism and its ally Islam succeed in rendering abortion illegal across the planet, two sorts of illegal abortion will continue.

First, "Vera Drakes" will provide medically and hygienically doubtful abortions to those who can scrape together just enough cash for this response to a crisis pregnancy. They will be persecuted by the police, the priesthood and tame medics. Second, discreet clinics in leafy suburbs will provide for the rich and powerful. They will be condoned and protected by the wealth and power of the clientele, just as today.

The clergy are not fools. They know this is how it will be. They know that their misogynistic approach is aimed at making things worst for the poorest and weakest. That is why they want to sabotage the work of Amnesty International, which always serves the interests of the poorest and most powerless and challenges privilege. From the defiled of Darfur to "Miss D" in Dublin, we have a duty to protect the rights and freedom of choice of those most oppressed in the world.



Sir: The Catholic church's teachings on abortion are far from "unchanged and unchangeable" as your reporter quotes Pope John Paul II ("A pope who refuses to compromise," 13 August). And the fact that remarks by the current pope in favour of excommunicating politicians who voted to legalise abortion Mexico City were almost immediately exorcised from the record confirms that the Catholic hierarchy is often on shaky ground when it discusses abortion.

Catholic teachings on abortion have taken several forms over the centuries. The current opposition to abortion was only affirmed in the late 19th century. Before then, there was no unanimous opinion on abortion; while it was almost always seen as sinful, the church had difficulty in defining the nature of that evil. Members of the Catholic hierarchy, including the father of much Catholic theology, St. Augustine, opposed abortion as evidence of a sexual sin, but certainly not homicide.

No pope has proclaimed the prohibition of abortion to be infallible. This omission leaves much more room for discussion on abortion than is usually thought, with opinions among theologians and the laity differing widely. In any case, Catholic theology tells individuals to follow our consciences in moral matters, even when that conscience is in conflict with hierarchical views. It's clear that Catholics in Amnesty International and elsewhere are doing just that, and there is little the hierarchy can do about it.



We need leadership on climate change

Sir: The Heathrow debacle shows that the country badly needs some leadership and guidance on the vital global warming issue. We know people who are week-ending every fortnight in their apartments in Spain. People seem to have money to burn and outlets hostile to the planet's future seem to be the way to spend it - hot tubs and patio heaters, second homes abroad, long-haul flights (Tony Blair being the worst possible model there), and fun supercars.

How many people must be in our position - bought a large, old country house before global warming became an issue, faced with high use of electricity and oil, and no affordable alternatives? A local renewable energy firm states that a turbine to provide all the electricity will cost £10,000 after £2,500 of grant; a solar water heating system will cost £3,600 after a grant of £400, and a log, chip or pellet boiler, needing feeding at least once a week, will cost from £9,000 to £35,000 but there should be a grant of all of £1,500 to take off! We are willing to put up with quite a lot of disruption, but are not willing to fork out for something that will never recover the investment unless everyone is going to do that.

If we are going to persuade other countries to make a real effort, we need to make it ourselves, and will only do that if everyone genuinely takes part. That will take serious government leadership and legislation, backed by an all-party consensus. Come on, Mr Brown, you can do it.



Sir: At last somebody (Peter Slessenger, Letters, 14 August) has pointed out the environmental benefits of driving more slowly.

The last time that I was on a motorway I drove at a steady 70mph for twenty minutes or so, during which period I noted that for every vehicle that I overtook I was overtaken twenty times. On that stretch of motorway on that date and time roughly 95 per cent of drivers were not only wasting fuel but breaking the law.

I then reverted to my customary speed and was overtaken by a Robin Reliant.



Sir: Peter Slessenger advocates motorway driving at 56 - 60 mph. I also do this, but not without being constantly harassed by other drivers bullying me to go faster, sometimes even when the two outer lanes are clear and there is ample opportunity for overtaking.

Reducing petrol consumption by driving more efficiently is, as he says, something that we can do to ward off climate change. But, nevertheless, something the vast majority of motorists are too selfish and stupid to be prepared to do. Altering behaviour to help generations yet unborn is something that the human race has never done before. Whatever the imprecations of The Independent and others, they won't do it now. As a species we are doomed.



Sir: Well done, Mr Slessenger, for extolling the virtues of driving rather slower. During the fuel crisis in the early Seventies, the speed limits were reduced to 60 on dual carriageways and 50 on other roads. This is a relatively pain-free way of substantially reducing fuel consumption and cutting the accident toll. Which politician has the courage to propose the same move now? After a few more floods we might just be ready to go along with it.



Aids: South Africans dying of poverty

Sir: I read with some disappointment Katherine Butler's article on Aids in South Africa (10 August) where she quotes the Health Minister, Manto Tshabalalah-Msimang: "You can give your patients as many tablets as you want; if the nutritional status is weak and is not up to the mark, those tablets will not do the trick."

Any nutritionist will agree with that statement, so you cannot use it to criticise Tshabalalah-Msimang. I have just returned from the townships of Port Elizabeth, and it is quite clear that drugs without good nutrition are no use. The anti-retrovirals make people feel ill if they are taken on an empty stomach.

They don't have the money to buy food and they only get the drugs and a state allowance when blood count is dangerously low. Good nutrition before they become too ill would be a far better investment.

The South African government needs support. It is trying hard and failure will impact on the rest of the world. The education system is under pressure; healthcare is under pressure. Kids are sleeping 10 to a bed without anyone to care for them. HIV-positive mothers can't breastfeed their babies and so what do they give them? Flour and water, when the clinics run out of milk powder.

There is denial, but only because the truth is too big to deal with. In the townships 9 out of 10 women going to ante-natal clinics have HIV and the life expectancy for women according to UN Aid (2006) is now 37 years. It is a disaster and has to be addressed but it is time to make the connection between good nutrition and wellness.



The British settled down in Bengal

Sir: Baroness Uddin writes: "But we know that Britons in India did not integrate into Indian society, nor was the host community's values prized. Is it right that British Asians should be judged by that narrow yardstick?" (Opinion, 15 August.)

There is evidence that English people of the Bengal Presidency did achieve quite impressive levels of integration in a society that was segregated by history, gender, religion, caste, geography and language.

To take one specific instance that is pertinent to the Baroness, William Carey, a shoemaker from Northampton living in Srirampur, now in West Bengal, printed in moveable type the vernacular Bengali language for the very first time, and thereby began the Indian Renaissance and in turn the creation of India and later of Bangladesh. No one previously had bothered with the vernacular languages.

My own visits to East Pakistan/Bangladesh, conducted in the exquisite language of that region, revealed a society of men and women still not integrated within itself, that was painful to behold. It was always a relief to return to the integrated West Bengal society with Saris improving the street scene.

The Baroness is a living example of the excellent results of a Bengali Muslim woman successfully integrating into English society.



A dignified end or degrading 'care'

Sir: Who is surprised at tales of abuse of the elderly in care homes? We make huge demands on taxpayers already overstretched by mortgages, university fees and pensions, and there is a shortage of suitable natives prepared to provide mutually degrading "personal care" for peanuts.

Existing state and voluntary agencies repeatedly miss the point. High time someone actually consulted the elderly, and more importantly, the future elderly, on what they really need. My guess is that more and more of us would do anything to avoid the dreaded care homes, and would consider an earlier voluntary exit a very small price to pay for true dignity, rather than degrading nannying at the end.



Fish, the best friends of mosquitoes

Sir: Having spent a working lifetime convincing people of the terrible damage that fish can do to wildlife ponds, I view your advice to stock pools with fish to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes as extremely unhelpful ("Mosquito invasion", 10 August).

Most of the more desirable predators (amphibians and insects such as dragonflies and beetles) will remove vast quantities of mosquito larvae without the need to introduce goldfish. Look at any healthy garden wildlife pond and you are unlikely to see mosquito larvae - well-balanced ponds don't support them.

In fact, the introduction of fish faeces and pelleted fishfood, plus the predation on the natural predators, tips the balance, so that the pond becomes septic and favours direct air-breathing insects such as mosquitoes, as well as writing off the pond as a wildlife resource.



Armed forces have a right to speak out

Sir: The latest curbs on members of the armed forces using emails and blogs and talking to the media whilst on service in Iraq or Afghanistan seemingly don't apply to service chiefs, who frequently appear on TV and radio instead of politicians justifying our foreign policy and don't lose a second in attacking the Government over financing of the campaigns.

These days military personnel of any rank should have the same rights as civilians to criticise government policy and indeed the political comments of their superiors. If such rights were established in law governments might be more wary about dispatching their armed forces into such hopeless, yet alone illegal, campaigns.



English for Scotland

Sir: I back Alex Salmond's plans for Scottish independence. I wish to live in an independent England.



Pictures of girls

Sir: For a newspaper proud of its campaigns for equality, you are remarkably sexist. Every year you head the front page with photos of only girls when announcing A-level results and UCAS guides. Today (15 August) is no exception. The Student Finance Special uses a girl on the cover and interview subjects on pages 2, 3, 5, 10 and 11. A token male is interviewed on page 3. Are you sacrificing equality for the idea that pictures of girls sell papers?



Starbucks invasion

Sir: This morning, without the aid of a pedometer, I counted only 97 steps between two branches of Starbucks in Islington, north London ("The brand that drank the world", 15 August). Can any of your readers do better than that?



Lost passports

Sir: I have a confession to make. While Japan is not on the list of countries where high numbers of passports are lost (letter, 14 August), I nevertheless have contributed to the "passport vanishes" syndrome by accidentally washing my husband's Japanese passport which had been left in his back trouser pocket after a business trip to Korea. Perhaps my German counterparts have similar confessions?



Origins of 'Doh!'

Sir: David Lister (11 August) is concerned whether "Doh!" requires an apostrophe and he quotes a 1952 source that did not use one. I recall ITMA, the radio comedy show of the 1940s in which Diana Morrison (as Miss Hotchkiss) always used the expression as her exit line. In The ITMA Years (Woburn Press, 1974) several of the scripts written by Ted Kavanagh were reprinted. Kavanagh did not use an apostrophe.



WAGs take over

Sir: According to Roy Keane, the wives and girlfriends of English footballers are dominating their rather timid partners. If they are so assertive and the WAGs are really wagging the tail, why not let them do the business on the pitch and play the last two qualifying matches for Euro 2008? Then we might just go through.