Let’s bring the abortion debate to life

In Germany, they perform half as many terminations as we do. Why are we so keen on them?

10 September 2011

No one ever really expected Nadine Dorries’s ill-fated abortion bill to succeed — not after the Lib Dems had made a fuss, and the PM had withdrawn his support with his usual principled grace. But what’s more surprising has been the strange and unpleasant consensus which has risen up from the debate about the bill, and has been twisting into the minds and out of the mouths of journalists all week — not just on the left, but across the centre too, and throughout Westminster. The consensus that’s taken shape seems to be this: that abortion is not just a necessary evil, but a jolly good thing. That being pro-choice no longer means just accepting that a woman has a right to decide, but that abortion must be celebrated and all doubters deemed religious nut jobs.

Well, let me put my cards on the table straightaway (I have two cards as it happens). The first is that I am a religious nut job. I’m Catholic and a convert to boot. But whether you believe it or not, my religion isn’t the cause of my concern. For one thing, most Catholics were hostile to the Dorries amendment (which they see as a measly sop and a tactical mistake). For another, you don’t have to be Catholic, or even Christian, to think it odd to adopt a completely cavalier attitude towards the unborn. I thought this long before I considered the Church, and considered the Church because of it.

Nadine Dorries and Frank Field’s amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill, in case it passed you by, was designed to try to ensure that groups who counselled young women about abortions were different from the groups who actually provided them. And the first sign that a new orthodoxy was forming was the completely disproportionate reaction to this suggestion. To anyone who thinks abortion is sad — not disgraceful or criminal, just sad — the amendment seemed at least worthy of debate. If I wanted larger bosoms, say, I’d definitely seek a second opinion from someone other than the boob-job merchant. How much more important then, when it’s babies, and a woman’s future peace of mind, at stake?

One in every five pregnancies currently ends in abortion, there were 189,574 last year — seven of embryos with cleft palates; eight of babies over 24 weeks, aborted because they had musculoskeletal problems like club foot. It just shouldn’t be controversial to think fewer would be better. Marie Stopes (who provide both counselling and abortions in the UK) ran an advertisement last year — the first one ever by an abortion clinic — which showed a series of beautiful, affluent-looking women for whom it seemed as if an inconvenient pregnancy was a cloud on an otherwise perfect life. It seemed, in that little clip, for all the world as if an embryo were a sort of venereal disease that could be cleared up by the topical application of a pleasant, scented cream.

There must be women for whom the decision not to abort is the right one, especially given the mental health issues many women suffer afterwards — are they best advised by Marie Stopes? I’m not sure. There’s also evidence that a slightly more sober approach to abortion lowers the rate dramatically. In Germany, for instance, the physician must be separate from the counsellor and a woman must wait three days between her decision and her op. Their abortion rate is half ours. So, what is wrong with offering independent counselling?

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Well, said the commentariat, first of all, it’s absolute nonsense to say that we need fewer abortions. Second, those who frown on abortion might be awarded contracts. Christians for example. It was as if Christians, even Anglicans of the bell-ringing, country church variety, were a terrorist-style threat. Last Saturday, the Guardian ran a strange set of diagrams linking Dorries and Field to organisations they suspected of having Christian tendencies: a mish-mash of photos linked by accusatory arrows, of the sort usually used to describe Islamist networks. But this isn’t just a lefty phenomenon. Health minister Anne Milton actually wrote to all Tory MPs telling them that ministers were voting ‘no’ to the amendment, signalling quite clearly that she expected them to, too. The Times 2 headline was: ‘Why can’t Nadine Dorries just relax about abortion?’

Then there was the Fox-hunt. While the PM was executing his U-turn, Dr Fox piped up and said: ‘I would certainly support any amendment that saw the number of abortions fall in the UK. I think the level is far too high.’ Instead of commending him on an uncharacteristic burst of common sense, a Halloo! went up across Fleet street and spread across the Twittering classes. What on earth does Fox mean, ‘too high?’ What a bigot! What a misogynist!
But it doesn’t make you a bigot to be melancholy about the considered killing of 200,000 embryos a year — whether they’re baked-bean sized or bigger — it just makes you human. It does not make you a misogynist or a neo-Victorian to think that abortion shouldn’t be morally equivalent to contraception. Every rational man or woman in this country, gay or straight, old or young, should be sad, not jubilant about the rate and extent of abortion in the UK.

The particularly aggressive voices on the pro-abortion side come from women who fear a return to the bad old bullying days of back-street abortions, before the 1967 Act. ‘If MPs want to help women then they can make access to abortion and contraception more efficient,’ said Suzanne Moore in the Guardian. ‘Who has the authority over my body — some geezer in the House of Commons or me and my doctor? I feel no shame [about her abortion] and I refute this language of “care”. You want a definition of the nanny state? How about one that thinks it OK to poke around in your uterus?’

Hey ho Suzanne, you’d better stay angry, because otherwise you might have to think. And even a short think reveals the weirdness here. I don’t want MPs poking around in my uterus either, but there’s got to be a stage during pregnancy when a baby can no longer be thought of as part of a woman’s ‘body’. If Suzanne’s right that a foetus has the same moral status as a kidney, then does she also think it’s okay to sell it, say to medical science — and without whispering a word to its father? But don’t fathers have rights too? Is this really the best of politically correct, 21st-century thinking?

The fact is that unless you’re a fan of infanticide you’ve got to agree that somewhere along the slippery ascent from that little Alka-Seltzer of pluripotent cells to the birth of an actual baby, your child becomes human. I’d take a guess that most men and women feel it’s a sliding scale, that each month adds another dollop of personhood, each month brings us closer to a duty to care for him or her. The logic of this is that when a embryo dies it’s a sad thing, the end of an iota of personhood, not a cause for celebration.

Here I’ll put my other card on the table: I was a premature baby, my twin brother and I were born over two months early, at around 29 weeks. We were tiny and I was covered in hair like a spider. As we fought for our lives in incubators, at that time in the mid-Seventies, the abortion limit was just a week earlier: 28 weeks. As we struggled to breathe, elsewhere, a few of our tiny, spidery peer group were being killed. And so I feel this one personally, from the perspective of the voiceless pre-born. And I feel it’s crucial to keep this perspective in mind for fear of otherwise sleep-walking into some terrible normality.

If you’re still convinced that all abortions, even the late ones for babies with hare-lips, are good, then here’s a question: how do you feel about killing kittens? I ask because it’s often abortion’s greatest fans who feel most indignant on behalf of animals. They’ll go to the wall to save a chicken-killing fox from hounds, but sod the babies. There was a story last year about a group of scientists who had decided that dolphins were so intelligent that they should be given official rights. ‘The neuroanatomy suggests psychological continuity between humans and dolphins and has profound implications for the ethics of human-dolphin relations,’ said the zoologist. Well great, let’s fund an inquiry into dolphin rights, I’m all for it. But what about that group of pre-born living beings whose neuroanatomy might suggest an even greater psychological continuity with our own?

If you want cold-blooded reason, look at it another way. A utilitarian calculus would, I’m pretty sure, tell you that the most ethical thing to do with an unwanted pregnancy, what would make most people most happy, is for the reluctant mother to carry an unwanted baby to full term and give it up for adoption. The adopted parents will be thrilled, and their happiness has every chance of lasting a lifetime — longer than the biological mother’s discomfort. And then there’s the child’s happiness to consider. It’s daft to ask which it would prefer — what would you prefer? Anyone would rather be adopted than aborted. To suggest otherwise is to spit in the eye of life.

That’s what I think of this very gung-ho attitude to abortion — it’s just bloody ungrateful. A spit in the eye of life. Yes, nature’s pretty cruel, but no sane, well-fed bitch would kill her healthy puppy because its lip was twisted. There’s a tragicomic horror about a society in which every year a few couples undertake the incredible business of making a new human, only to throw it away because a tiny bit of it’s folded wrong, and you know, the corrective operation might leave a scar. But far worse is a society in which even to raise some doubts about this is to be considered a laughable lunatic. The best and only explanation I can come up with is that secretly we all know this; we know the current consensus is wrong, but it’s just easier to stay in denial. 

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Show comments
  • Dorothy

    Well said, Mary!

  • Michael

    Thank you, Mary for speaking up so movingly on behalf of the defenceless and innocent.

  • sean gough


  • Vixen

    Mary, you seem to know a lot about this; are all late abortions caused by hare lips?

  • jvcbhoy

    I am delighted with this! Where is my Spectator renewal for?

  • Marty

    Well no. If you’d read the article you’d see the bit where she said that seven were last year.

  • jane

    Yes! Good article.

  • Jean Gough

    Most of this was brilliant. Whenever I said I was against abortion in any way, the question would come “are you a Catholic?” and I often said “no” as they would instantly dismiss everything I said. Now I say it’s one of the things that makes me proud of my church. However I wish you hadn’t put in the bit about animals, most people use animals with no thought to their sentience and surely we should protect all those who haven’t a voice? No, I don’t think they’re equal to human life, at any age, but it is possible to care about both and in my experience the hardest pro-abortion people have no interest in animal rights: pro-life people often do care about other creatures.

  • Rhoslyn Thomas

    Great article! Fantastic to see someone point out the obvious reason why abortion is wrong: Babies will ALWAYS choose life (be that adoption or not) as opposed to death, and there is no such thing as a life that’s not worth living. Please continue with your brilliant work!

  • M Bianchi

    Well said. I agree and I thank you for this brilliant article.

  • Annie S

    What a brilliant article, thank you. My great nephew was born with a bilateral hare-lip and cleft palate, and his parents knew of this beforehand. The little chap has given us all so much joy and is a real character, kicking a drop-goal at the age of 2 like Jonny Wilkinson when on form! He has had 2 remedial operations and one to come, and it’s amazing what those amazing surgeons do. We have since supported SmileTrain and their wonderful work.

  • henry martin

    Moral equivalence is the order of the day. In South Africa, where I live, we’ve had abortion on demand for years now. According to official stats, some teenagers have had as many as five terminations before they turn twenty. A few years ago our then Health Minister refused to sanction anti retrovirals for pregnant women to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV. Howls from the activists, who labeled the unborn foetus as “the most vulnerable member of our community”. When it comes to abortion, though, the unborn has no status, but is part of the woman’s body.
    I’m a doctor, and delivered babies for 35 years. I never heard a mother say: my foetus kicked yesterday. I can’t help thinking, though, that some of these women, such as the the one who writes for the Guardian, would actually do the baby a favour by aborting it. Who wants to be dependant on someone like that?

  • Yam Yam

    The irony seems lost upon our political elite that, whilst over the last few decades they have been most insistent that Britain must import millions of foreign workers in order to address the economic effects of “an ageing population”, at the same they have connived in (and, as Mary notes, in many instances even celebrated) the slaughter of millions of our own unborn children, who today could have been filling those jobs.

    May God have mercy upon our nation for our callousness and indifference.

  • Paul Worthington

    We find ourselves in a society in which a clear expression of decency and sanity comes as a refreshing surprise. Quiet, thoughtful decency, instead of grating, arm-waving celebration of perversity. Thank you.

  • Angela Ireland

    Fantastic article, What a relief to read something from the press that made sense.

  • wendy walker

    A highly impactuous and brilliant article …we need more Marys …to speak up for the pre born children …Governments take note we will not remain silent on this barbaric issue ,the tragic loss of human life

  • John David Barnett

    This was a wonderful article. I agree with every word.

  • camber vanbrugh

    Excellent article. My son began as an “iota of humanity” – and ended up as… my son – every single fertilised egg is going to end in a human being – that is its trajectory. Our cavalier attitude to abortion is both shameful and tragic and you don’t have to be a ‘religious nut job’ to believe that. I’m surprised more parents don’t protest against it. One of society’s great tragedies is that, as delighted parents take their baby in their arms, a cartload of tiny human foetuses are dumped in hospital incinerators across the land. Women who don’t wish to keep their babies should have the guts, (sic) to carry babies to full term and then, in order to save the lives of these human beings, have them adopted – yes: they may go through all sorts of agonies – anguish they simply cannot, however, manage to feel for the foetus’s they happily abort a few weeks earlier. But they will save the life they have started, and delight would-be foster parents throughout the land. Women beware women: (and I speak as a female) – our attitude to human life is, in terms of the abortion issue, lamentable: it is hideously superficial and, because of this superficiality, responsible for genocide on an unthinkable scale. Abortion should only be a last resort for the usual exceptions to the rule, (rape, severely brain damaged foetuses, etc etc). As things stand, I cannot relate to women who persist in using abortion as if it were just another throwaway morning ritual, bring back some old-fashioned shame and guilt: human life is at issue.

  • Patricia

    Excellent, well-thought out article Mary. It is scary to live in a society whereby pro-lifers are considered freaks by the very people who despised Hitler for killing mentally-handicapped children.

  • Anne Connell

    Brilliant article!

  • Stephanie Tohill

    “I don’t want MPs poking around in my uterus either, but there’s got to be a stage during pregnancy when a baby can no longer be thought of as part of a woman’s ‘body’. “

    Yep – when it is born. Until then I do not see how it is justified for the state grant itself greater rights over a woman’s body than she herself has.

  • Stephanie Tohill

    And just to clarify – I don’t support ‘infanticide’ as at that point the child is a separate, independant being. However I support the right of a woman deciding to remove a foetus at any stage in the pregnancy.

    I don’t understand how it is justified for the state to intervene and force someone to remain pregnant and give birth against their will.

  • Anita

    Three cheers from an adoptive mother!

    My son has helped me learn what love is, and we will always be grateful for his birthmothers choice.

  • William Thomas

    Dear Miss Wakefield – I receive the magazine about 10 days after publication, so my letter sent on 15 Sept, may be too late. But this is what I said:


    I have no quarrel with the thrust of Mary Wakefield’s article (10 September) but one question continues to trouble me. Has none of the 189,574 women – all of whom will have had years of sex education and many have attended universities – ever heard of birth control? What is it about modern womanhood that prevents it from taking extremely elementary and inexpensive steps to avoid having to face the appalling decision to abort a foetus?

  • Alex

    Stephanie Tohill – its not the state granting itself rights over your body, its the state granting the same right to life to your unborn baby as you enjoy yourself. By the way, Im not a Catholic, nor am I religious in any way. I am however a father.

  • Stephanie Tohill


    The state can only do that by granting itself rights over the individual’s body.

    And using this argument then surely the state should interfere more. Will the state punish those woman who drink heavily during their pregnancies? Smoke? Logically it should.

    Those women who refuse to attend pre-natal appointments or anything else to ensure the health of the growing child?

    Are you arguing that the state should seek legal action against a woman who decides she does not wish to continue to carry the child she is carrying?
    Until such a time that science advances sufficiently to allow us to create an artificial womb environment then the choice of the pregnant woman is all that matters.

    And it’s not for anyone else (the state, men, other women) to intervene.

    Do you think that pregnancy and childbirth are a walk in the park? Who are you, or I or anybody else to force an individual to remain in that state? And I am not sure why you told me your religious status. I don’t think I implied that only those who are religious oppose abortion. That’s as daft as thinking only feminists support the choice of the individual to do as they wish with their body.

  • Calrissian

    Stephanie Tohill – the new, different cells with a completely rearranged set of chromosomes, the second beating heart, the waving fingers, toes, the thumb being sucked by a mouth, the moving limbs – are all inside the woman’s body, yes – but do not belong to the woman. They belong to the body of her unborn human baby. QED.

  • vantrist

    (OK here is my big question to all.) My 16year-old daughter turns pregnant and is talking abortion. To make things short we pick-up and move to another state by family were she has NO help other than family. So as it turned out a beautiful-blue eyed little girl-with blonde hair was born.Given all most litarly to her grandmother to raise and fall totally in love with!!
    Now it is 3years later and this grandmother has cared for this child 24-7 along with her new brother who showed up a year ago. The grandmother was going to try and keep her heart from being used as she knows it was concerning this little girl. But when he turned 9months and hadn’t been in to see a doctor for a baby visit yet,she took it upon herself and took him. The doctor ststed he was in good health( maybe from the grandmothers care?), but he was a little UNDERWIEGHT. But the other problem was that he did not recieve any of his baby shots(SCARRY!!) and the doctor stated that he was not to be brought back until these were started!! “No problem”, said the grandmother as she left the clinic with new determination to take care of this child all so. BUT little did she know the trouble she was into. To this day that little boy hasn’t been imunized and his big sister has all so been taken away from her grandmother SCREAMING “PLEASE, I DON’T WANT TO GO WITH YOU!!” by the mother who did not even want this child to take her first breath.

  • Beverley

    I have only just read this article and it gave me goosebumps! A fanastic piece, very well written. Well done Mary and keep on campaigning.

  • Alex

    I’m not opposed to a well-reasonsed anti-choice article, but I’m never convinced by them. If any date for lawful termination is arbitrary, then effectively all abortions should abolished. Which condems thousands of unwanted children to miserable lives and takes control of a woman’s body in the most insidious way: they become nothing more than baby vessels. And before anyone asks: ‘how would you like it if you had been aborted?”, the anwer is: I wouldn’t have cared. I wouldn’t have had the consciousness to care.

    Oh, and let’s not muddy the issue further with religion. As a moral code, Catholicism is about as useful as Sharia Law.

  • Don Stuart

    Excellent piece Mary. The misanthropic double standards of the left (and it is mainly the left I reckon) know no bounds. Well argued.

  • Cathy

    Thank you for this piece, Mary. I am a woman who has been devastated by abortion and has seen similar devastation in other women. There is a conspiracy of silence about talking about this grief and regret, and the misinformation and lack of support that led to it. A friend and I have recently created a website to present the other side of the coin on abortion – please have a look at it! http://www.abortion-alternativeinformationandsupport. org.

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