Why Britain still refuses to have the abortion debate

Last month saw the passing of a couple of landmarks on the subject of abortion in Britain

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When does life become life?
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Tom Wilson
On 10 May 2013 10:53

You may not have been aware of it but last month saw the passing of a couple of landmarks on the subject of abortion in Britain.

Receiving slightly more coverage of the two was the ruling that two Catholic nurses in Scotland would be permitted to refrain from any involvement in the abortion procedure. Also deserving of note, but hardly receiving any, was the anniversary of 45 years since the coming into effect of the Abortion Act, since which an estimated 7 and a half million abortions have taken place.

Is that figure normal or healthy? Who knows? Who really cares? 

Yet, despite the above mentioned the British media and public have stubbornly refused to engage in an honest debate on the abortion issue. Indeed, whereas in the States, amidst the blood chilling horrors of the Gosnell case, debate about abortion remains headline grabbing, in Britain the matter seems to be widely considered an irrelevant trifle.

But while the subject remains under the carpet, polling would suggest that public opinion is increasingly drifting in the direction of near equanimity as far as abortion is concerned. YouGov stats released earlier this year revealed that not only was there little and indeed decreasing opposition to abortion but furthermore there was growing support for relaxing the law still further, to allow for termination of an unborn child even after the current 24 week cut off point.

What was really shocking about these results was that while they showed that 44 percent of those surveyed believed that life begins at conception, a pitiful 7 percent were actually willing to oppose abortion. In other words a sizeable number of the public believe that it is acceptable to extinguish what they have themselves recognised to be a human life.

One reason why the British public might still be so untroubled by abortion is that with the law preventing termination beyond the 24th week of pregnancy they have not been confronted by the horrific reality of ‘live birth abortion’ more often witnessed with the late term abortions still practiced in parts of the US. That is not to say that there have not been cases in Britain. Indeed, this barbaric phenomenon is more common with the abortion of disabled infants, who, under British law, can be aborted right up to the full length of pregnancy.

Previously, any discussion about abortion in Britain has simply been about the possibility of nudging the point at which termination can take place back a few weeks or so, hinged on the matter of supposed ‘viability’. In truth this term is as meaningless from an ethical point of view as it is from a human one.  You don’t have to have encountered very many newborns to know that, even after birth, if left to fend for themselves, a baby’s ‘viability’ is not exactly long lasting outside the womb.

With our society seemingly transfixed by the notion of the preservation of personal freedom at the expense of all else, the very idea that there might be any rights for the voiceless unborn are dismissed with the claim that they do not meet the definition of human life and as such have no rights, specifically not even the right to life. 

Yet, with almost half the British public confessing that they do in fact believe that life starts at the earliest stages of pregnancy, in the event that a serious public debate ever did get off the ground, one wonders how long it would take for many to observe what I might humbly suggest to be the less than tenable nature of their present position. 

Tom Wilson is a political analyst and a doctoral student at University College London

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