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A century from now, we will be appalled that we allowed abortions at all

Rod Liddle says the Commons vote securing the 24-week limit is no more than a craven politician’s fudge, designed to postpone the day when the law of the land finally catches up with the indisputable findings of science

21 May 2008

12:00 AM

21 May 2008

12:00 AM

Rod Liddle says the Commons vote securing the 24-week limit is no more than a craven politician’s fudge, designed to postpone the day when the law of the land finally catches up with the indisputable findings of science

An awful lot of people we know are being laid off at the moment, or finding their incomes substantially decreased. This is the credit crunch, the cusp of a recession and its impact was felt first and most onerously upon those hard-working and resourceful young men in the City’s banking institutions. Many are looking to ship out and find jobs elsewhere; some, suddenly stricken with the need to feel socially useful, are downsizing into strange occupations such as teaching. But others just want to carry on making money and are looking for an industry which is unlikely to be affected by the current financial crisis. But what, exactly, should it be?

The clear answer is that they should all retrain as abortionists, the abrupt termination of pregnancies being one of Britain’s most vibrant growth industries. There were a total of 193,737 abortions carried out in Britain in 2006, the latest year for which figures are available. That’s a tenfold increase on the number carried out in 1968, the first full year for which abortions were deemed legal by the state. Lately the yearly rate of increase has hovered at around 4 per cent, comfortably above the rate of inflation. It is likely to rise still more sharply in future years as Britain’s women fully embrace the notion that an unconfined number of sexual partners is the desirable norm, preferably with the act of love effected while pissed out of their skulls on Bacardi Breezers, down a fairly quiet back alley in between Budgens and that cheap, if noxious, halal fried chicken emporium. Contraception is a man’s responsibility too, of course — but in these sudden, romantically impetuous couplings such precautions are frequently, understandably, forgotten by both parties in the white heat of the moment. The average number of sexual partners enjoyed by young women continues to increase exponentially each year, in ever closer pursuit of the number of sexual partners claimed by men. There are many, many consequences of this phenomenon, of which a yearly rise in the abortion rate is just one.


As a leftie, I had always been persuaded that abortion on demand is the right of every woman, with no arguments brooked. ‘Persuaded’ is perhaps the wrong word; the rights of a woman to do whatever the hell she liked with her foetus was simply not something open to negotiation or debate with someone in possession of a penis, even if it was quite a small penis like mine. But a dark foreboding nonetheless gnawed away at me — much as, on a personal level, it gnawed away at many of the feminists who advanced this totalitarian no-surrender hypothesis. It is still, if you are on the feminist Left, an unchallengeable shibboleth, which is why the debate today is so fraught — the god-botherers on one side, the liberal Left on the other.

I may be wrong about this, but it strikes me that in a century or so, or maybe even less, we will be appalled that we allowed abortions at all. I do not mean that we should not allow them now; it is merely a suspicion that the advance of our knowledge about the life of a foetus, coupled with an improved ability to prevent conception, will mean that we will be mystified as to how such a primitive and brutal procedure could have become state-sanctioned and commonplace. I can see politicians in 2108 erecting monuments and offering apologies to the unborn dead — divorced from the reality of where we are now, and why. Apologising, in the manner of Tony Blair, with hindsight for crimes which were not considered crimes except by a furious and vengeful minority.

The scientific case — as opposed to the dubious religious case — against abortion seems to me as good as proven; or, at worst, pointing in the direction of being proven. Announcing the government’s wish to stick by the 24-week limit which Britain currently has, the health minister Dawn Primarolo said: ‘No scientific evidence shows that the survival rates [of the foetus] have changed.’ You would guess that this is a politically expedient clutching at straws and carries with it the implication that they sort of expect the scientific evidence to change at some point in the future, that where we are now is a stop-gap, a temporary measure. It is only a matter of time — and not very much time, either‚ before the sentience of a foetus at 24 weeks becomes an established fact, beyond all dispute. And a little further on, 20 weeks, and then ten. There are plenty of scientists around — not all of them Roman Catholic — who will tell you that the foetus is a sort of sentient being which can experience pain as early as eight to nine weeks, when the major organs are all formed in an albeit rudimentary manner. The majority of neurobiologists seem to cleave to the view that between 20 and 24 weeks, with the establishment in the foetus of thalamocortical connections, the unborn child can certainly experience pain. It is a deeply pessimistic outlook to define a human being merely by his or her ability to detect pain, of course. There is other stuff that makes us human. However, even by this baleful guideline, Eve Johnstone for the Medical Research Council reported in 2001 that it was ‘probable’ that the human foetus was aware of pain at 24 weeks.

We are where we are, however, only partly as a consequence of these scientific and philosophical matters. Political correctness — that scourge of our age, that terrible insistence that some things must remain unsayable even if they are patently true — is responsible for some of the pressure to leave things as they are. The vestigial tail of late-19th-cen-tury feminism still wagging itself into a frenzy, accompanied by the all-conquering bleat: a woman’s right to choose! But it is true, too, that we do not want our young women scurrying even further down those back alleys between Budgens and the halal chicken shop, to illegal abortionists armed with rather basic equipment. And it seems to be true that those states of the US with the most liberal abortion laws also have the lowest crime rates, which may be evidence that well-heeled East Coast liberals suffer less crime than nasty blue-collar inner cities, or that it is largely the criminal untermensch who take advantage of late abortion laws and would otherwise deliver horrible little proto-muggers into the world. One of the two, then. Or both.

But the current law, no matter how MPs voted, is a temporary fix — a fudge intended to placate fundamentalists of both persuasions pulling, with equal force, in opposite directions.


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