‘Progress prevails’: thus did the Guardian’s editorial on Wednesday celebrate the defeat of amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill that would have reduced the upper limit of 24 weeks for abortion and ensured that IVF clinics would need at least to consider the need for ‘supportive parenting and a father or male role model’. The newspaper observed that ‘political incorrectness [had] threatened to run wild’ in the Commons but ‘the heartening outcome was that the progressives prevailed’.
By what perverse definition can it be counted ‘progress’ that the law governing abortion has remained unchanged since 1990, despite dramatic changes both in neonatal care and scientific imaging? The argument about ‘viability’ — at what stage of pregnancy can a baby survive outside the womb? — is a poor test if it is the principal one applied by our legislators. Statistics and counter-statistics on survival rates do not strike at the heart of the matter, which is that, at 20 weeks, a baby in the womb is unmistakably a person, an individual with facial expressions, the capacity to feel pain, and most of the characteristics of ‘personhood’. Again, this test does not address the more fundamental criterion posed by many Christians, that all life, at whatever stage of a pregnancy, is sacred. But the Commons chose to ignore the dramatic transformation in what we know about a 20-week-old unborn child, in lazy deference to feminist doctrines forged in the 1960s. Most MPs — grey, tired and fearful — still quake before the moral despotism of a ‘woman’s right to choose’.
Again, one must ask why, in 2008, we should call it ‘progress’ to deny a child born by IVF to single women or lesbian couples the right to a father figure.