The Dorries-Field Amendment
Wednesday 7 September was the day on which Amendment 1221 to the Health and
Social Care Bill was debated in the House of Commons. It had been tabled
by Nadine Dorries and Frank Field, a somewhat curious coupling of a Conservative
and a Labour MP. The heart of the matter was a plea that women considering
abortion should be given the option – not forced to accept – of counselling from
independent providers, rather than from abortion providers, who may have a
The proposal was hardly radical. Germany has such a system and its rate of
abortion is about half that of the UK’s. And what is so wrong with giving
women proper choice and informed consent? Yet the pro-choice lobby, from bpas to
the Guardian, saw red. The amendment was slated as anti-women,
despicable, religious, and so on. The Sunday Times called it a
‘senseless and sinister bid to curb abortions.’ The Prime Minister, David
Cameron, initially supported the move, then retracted his backing, while Anne
Milton, Minister of State for Health, e-mailed all her colleagues telling them
that the Cabinet would vote against the amendment. This was hardly the
free conscience vote traditionally reserved for all abortion debates.
True, the Dorries’ strategy was not the best either – she is generally regarded
as a political maverick, her speech was too long, and Frank Field was sidelined.
But, she is due admiration for persevering and stirring – let’s face it, nothing
else is happening on the abortion front in Parliament.
Defeat was predictable and when the vote came it was, Ayes 118, Noes 368 – a
majority of 250. Another loss, but was it? Anne Milton has
previously stated that reducing the number of abortions is a Government priority
and she is committed to some sort of pre-abortion cooling-off period.
Furthermore, she promised that the Government would instigate a consultation on
the counselling issue. We await her next move.
Late eugenic abortions
Once upon a time, the Department of Health published annual details about
the numbers and grounds for late abortions, that is, those performed after 24
weeks, in England and Wales. Then it stopped because it claimed that the
low number of such cases would lead to the identification of the women involved.
For more than six years, the ProLife Alliance has been battling with the
Government, under a Freedom of Information request, to provide these details.
In April, the High Court ordered the Department of Health to publish them.
Here are some of the disclosed data: between 2002 and 2010 nearly 18,000
babies were aborted on the grounds of disability, 1,189 of whom were aborted
after 24 weeks. These are sanctioned under ground E of the Abortion Act,
which allows termination up to birth if ‘there is a substantial risk that if the
child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to
be seriously handicapped.’
The 2010 figures show that 2,290 such ground E abortions were performed
during that year, with 147 of them after 24 weeks. Among the medical
conditions used to justify these abortions were spina bifida, 128 (with 12 after
24 weeks); cleft lip and palate, 7 (0); musculoskeletal disorders, 181 (8);
Down’s syndrome, 482 (10); Edward’s syndrome, 164 (10); maternal factors, 115
(7); inherited disorders, 181 (1).
There are several tangled issues here. First, if abortions are
permitted under the law, then there is no reason to withhold the details –
transparency, telling the truth, is always good. Second, late abortions
are particularly horrifying – such children are commonly capable of being born
alive and surviving. Third, ground E abortions depend upon ‘suspected’,
not ‘proved’, handicap – there will be some aborted because of ‘false-positive’
test results. Fourth, some of these conditions do not deserve the death
penalty because they are actually fairly easily treatable – for example, surgery
for cleft palate and club foot is remarkably successful. Fifth, we have a
nasty streak – such eugenic abortions say something unsavoury about our society.
Do you wonder, and even fear, about the ethical stance of future doctors?
I do. Yet a recent report, published in the September 2011 edition of the
American journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, found that while 97 per cent
of the 1,800 practising doctors surveyed had encountered women seeking
abortions, only 14 per cent of these doctors were willing to participate in a
termination. In 2008, the latter figure was 22 per cent, so the trend is
definitely in the pro-life direction. It is also good news that
evangelical Protestant doctors were singled out as being less likely to provide
A somewhat poorer conclusion comes from an online survey of 733 medical
students in Britain, published in the July issue of the Journal of Medical
Ethics. Nearly half (45%) of the students believed they should have
the right of conscientious objection – in other words, they should be free to
refuse to administer medical treatments that run counter to their ethical,
cultural or religious beliefs. Muslim students were particularly adamant –
evangelicals were not mentioned. While 44 per cent of these students
objected to the abortion of disabled babies after 24 weeks, only 30 per cent
said that they would refuse to perform such a procedure.
What could this mean for the future? The pro-choice camp is already
opining that women's access to abortion services may become more limited.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has rung its collective
hands about the ‘slow but growing problem of trainees opting out of training in
the termination of pregnancy and is therefore concerned about the abortion
service of the future.’ Well, maybe this is all part of the long process
of turning around that huge vessel called ‘Abortion’. On the other hand,
how few bad doctors does a country need to maintain its abortion quota?
Nevertheless, there seems to be some real hope – perhaps there really is a
growing aversion to abortion.
More positive news from the USA
The Mississippi Supreme Court has recently decided to place Initiative 26 on
its 2011 general election ballot to take place on November 8. Initiative 26
would give rights to the human fetus and would therefore criminalize abortions,
with no exceptions. According to the Amendment, ‘the term "person" … shall
include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the
functional equivalent thereof.’
[Added on 8
November. Some 58 per cent of
voters in Mississippi rejected Initiative
26. Disagreement about strategy among
pro-life groups managed to split the
anti-abortion movement's vote.
'.... and a
house divided against itself will fall'
(Luke 11:17). Campaigners hope to
raise the personhood issue again in Ohio,
Florida, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and
California during 2012.]
Meanwhile in Arizona, after drawn-out court battles, new restrictions on
abortion were implemented on 12 September. For example, women must now
have a face-to-face consultation with a doctor at least 24 hours before an
abortion. And nurse practitioners have been banned from dispensing the
pills for non-surgical, so-called medical, abortions. In addition, doctors
and pharmacists will no longer have to dispense the morning-after pill, or
provide information and access to abortion if that violates their personal
beliefs. Predictably, further legal challenges to these pro-life
provisions are likely from Planned Parenthood, ‘the nation's leading sexual and
reproductive health care provider and advocate.’
But the news is not all positive. The state of Indiana has recently
lost a lengthy lawsuit in its attempt to derail the Planned Parenthood abortion
business by refusing to fund it with public taxpayer’s money. The statute,
signed into law in May, has now been blocked by a court preliminary injunction.
The judge also rescinded that part of the new law that required abortion
practitioners to tell women considering an abortion that their unborn child will
feel pain as early as 20 weeks into pregnancy. However, the same judge
refused Planned Parenthood’s request that women should not be told before an
abortion that, ‘human physical life begins when a human ovum is fertilized by a
human sperm.’ This, and similar cases in several other states of the USA,
will run and run.
How different from the UK’s abortion law stasis. President Obama may be
on the verge of achieving his liberal revolution agenda, but there are huge
pockets of people who want none of it. Obama’s goal may be to destroy his
country’s Judaeo-Christian culture and replace it with a European-style radical
secular humanism, but millions of US citizens are prepared to respond by
refusing and resisting.
From the might of America (population, 312 million) to the minnow of
Liechtenstein (population 36,156). A recent campaign in Switzerland's tiny
neighbour proposed the legalisation of abortion up to 12 weeks. On Sunday
19 September, Liechtensteiners voted and defeated the proposal (52.3 vs. 47.7
per cent). The Principality's hereditary ruler, Prince Alois von und zu
Liechtenstein, had stated before the vote that if it went in favour of abortion,
he would veto it.