We recently passed the 39th anniversary of abortion becoming legal, but the current climate surrounding abortion does little to reflect the milestone of social progress legalised abortion represents
Recently Conservative MP Nadine Dorries introduced her 10-minute-rule bill, proposing a reduction of the upper limit on abortions in this country from 24 to 21 weeks. She also advocated a 'cooling-off' period for women considering an abortion after their first contact with a medical practitioner. All in all this is a bid to slow down the abortion process and decrease the number of abortions by having a shorter window combined with a greater delay.
Nadine Dorries, as with others like her, argues there is a 'moral obligation' to reconsider the 1967 law in the light of new scientific research suggesting foetuses may be at around 21 weeks.
Promoting new scientific ‘discoveries’ accompanied by shocking photos or heart wrenching stories is used regularly as a, highly emotive and persuasive, rhetorical device by pro-life groups. New ultrasound scans have shown foetuses to "walk" in the womb, suck their thumbs or open their eyes at 12 weeks. Adding to this the the increasing number of prematurely born babies surviving where once they would not have it has led to increasing demands to review the current legislation from a wide range of people. The Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster have both said the law should be revisited. Michael Howard, the former Conservative leader, has publically said he would back a 20-week limit and Tony Blair is also believed to support a review.
While those doing this research in the medical profession have been quick to say that these images do not mean that the foetal brain is conciously controlling these movements and that pairing these extraordinary images with assumptions about the viablity of life is incredibly dangerous it would appear that public opinion is being swayed. And while women face an attack of their right to choose the ability of pro-choice advocates to defend them seems to be weakening.
Zoe Williams talked recently in the Guardian about the need to speak out on the debate over abortion. While 'pro-lifers' can quote new medical miracles concerning the viaiblity of life much of the pro-choice lobby still defends a woman's right to choose by describing abortion as a 'necessary evil' that without legalised abortion would turn women to the backstreets. There still exists a taboo about discussing abortion apart from as a harrowing descion that is taken as a last resort. While Westminster remains silent on the issue women still must justify their decision as the lesser of two evils. No MP has stood up and said 'I am pro-choice because I do not consider it murder.
It is very unlikely that there will ever be consensus as to when exactly life does begin, and unless we can find a new way to measure the point at which human existance begins then science will steadily strengthen the pro-life cause. If the support for abortion continues to be one based on it being a last resort rather than an inalienable right of women we may well see the freedom that took so long to achieve slowly eroded. Unless politicians are willing to speak up and unless women are willing to stand up and claim what is rightfully theirs without shame then we may be losing a reason to celebrate in a year's time.