Abortion has hit the headlines again, as Professor Cathy Warwick, chief executive of The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has placed the organisation in full support of the ‘We Trust Women’ campaign that is advocating the decriminalisation of abortion. Controversially, the 30,000 midwives who belong to the RCM were not consulted regarding the policy, and some have joined the members of the public in signing the ‘Not In Our Name’ letter, calling on the college to abandon its policy.
The ‘We Trust Women’ campaign advocates that women should be trusted to make their own decisions about their pregnancies and that abortion should be regulated like other women’s healthcare. Currently, in England, Scotland and Wales, under The 1967 Abortion Act, abortions are permitted under certain criteria up to 24 weeks and require the signature of two doctors. Terminations after this period are permitted under law in certain situations, when the pregnancy would endanger the mother’s life/health, or if the child would be born with serious physical or mental disabilities. Decriminalisation would permit abortions such as the ‘abortion pill’ to be used outside regulated clinics and the mother would not face any liability if she was to terminate the pregnancy at any time for any reason.
As all life is deemed valuable in the Christian faith, for many there is difficulty in accepting abortion under any except the most extreme circumstances. However, this is not a debate on whether abortion should be or remain legalised. Abortion is legal as long as it complies with certain criteria in the UK (with an almost total ban being applied in Northern Ireland). This is an issue of how far should the rights of the mother be prioritised over the rights of the unborn child, and who should regulate this? There is a trend in our society to consider abortion as the women’s sole right over her body. Third wave feminist’s attempt to present abortion as the women’s ultimate empowerment and blog posts such as ‘You are not a woman until you have had your first abortion’, reveal attitudes amongst the young that an abortion is a feminist action. As a woman I feel strongly on empowerment, but we need to make sure that this is not done at the expense of others, especially those who already have little or no voice in the matter. No one denies that women should have rights over their body, however this needs to be balanced with the rights of the unborn child.
In the UK, if a woman reads the small print of the abortion contract, she will find that the foetus will be donated for research unless you choose to not tick the relevant box for consent. Professor Cathy Warwick is also the CEO for the abortion provider BPAS that is responsible for 65,000 abortions per year in the UK. BPAS partner with The Human Developmental Biology Resource (HDBR) that use aborted foetuses for gene research. Few women are aware that research can entail foetus cells or organs to be transplanted into an animal for the growth of organs to meet the organ shortage. Even if society does not place a value on the unborn child, abortion providers are fully aware of the value that aborted foetuses provide in terms of research.
The US organisation Planned Parenthood came into the spotlight last year as it was exposed how late on abortion procedures were being altered in order to deliver body parts that biotechnology customers wanted. Recent research has also raised concerns that the legislative and governance arrangements for the collection of aborted foetuses for use in stem cell research are ‘confused, lack transparency… out of line with current good practice on seeking consent, and encourage the condoning of non-compliance’. There is no doubt a need for foetus research and decriminalisation could place pressure on women to deliver this need.
Currently, the law protects the unborn child from being aborted on the grounds of gender, which would be threatened by decriminalisation. It is a taboo subject, however there is increasing alarm as babies are being aborted in the UK by certain ethnic communities based on gender.
This is part of a greater concern, as our society moves towards the use of eugenics for ‘designer babies’. Decriminalisation could place at risk these unborn children, especially if we enable abortion to be regulated as any other healthcare provision. Additionally, there should be more regulation in place to make sure that women have access to advice on all the options available and not have to make such a momentous decision in five minutes at the doctor’s office, or worse, alone. Alarmingly, in January 2012, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) identified evidence that the HSA1 forms were being pre-signed by doctors, without examining the patient. A 2013 letter from the Chief Medical Officer stated that the pre-signing or “counter-signing” of HSA1 forms was “unacceptable” and “incompatible with the requirement [of the law] to form an opinion in good faith”. Additionally, there is no legislative requirement for the provision or offer of counselling, despite repeated calls at a parliamentary level, most recently during the passage of the Health and Social Care Act in 2011, to make it mandatory for women seeking abortions to receive independent counselling (all references in this document from the British Medical Association).
As a woman, I would want the right to have access to all the information from the NHS and abortion providers about the actual procedure of abortion, in particular as regards the foetus and the post-abortion psychological impact on the mother. There needs to be clear acknowledgement that medical research is divided on whether the foetus feels pain prior to 24 weeks, and assurance needs to be provided that doctors have given ‘due consideration to the appropriate measures for minimising the risk of pain, including assessment of the most recent evidence’ in regard to this possibility. Only by having all the information available are women able to make an informed decision on the future of their pregnancy. Furthermore, why do we not recognise the right of the father in the light of abortion? Currently, the father has no legal right to approve or refuse a termination, nor is he entitled to be consulted. If we consider abortion to be purely a women’s issue, we undermine the notion of parenthood further, which has repercussions. Society needs to encourage the support of women, not abandoning them to carry the burden of such a decision on their own, and decriminalisation is another step towards making it a non-issue for society, but also for the family.
As a Christian, I am deeply saddened by any decision to abort a pregnancy; however I do recognise that there are circumstances where it is necessary. More importantly, women need to have access to all the information available to digest in time and not be rushed through a fast-track procedure, without access to counselling, a proper examination by two doctors and a review of all the alternatives. As Christians it is our mandate to speak up for the voiceless, which requires us to be informed on the pressure that is being placed on women to abort and encourage the government to adequately protect both the mother and the unborn child through appropriate regulation on abortion providers. There is a need for more, not less regulation on abortion practice and consent for foetal research, otherwise we continue to let women down in the name of ‘our rights’ and press on towards a brave new world of eugenics that violates God’s creation.
Sunny Mandich is a Christians on the Left member and Regional Rep for the South East.
‘The price of fetal parts’, last modified on 28 May 2016,