Melanie McDonagh

Why is the BMA trying to decriminalise abortion?

Why is the BMA trying to decriminalise abortion?
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It’ll be news, I expect, to most people that the BMA wants abortion to be decriminalised. Most people probably didn’t know it was a criminal offence in the first place. And you’ll be hearing a lot from women who’ve had abortions about how it’s obviously not a criminal matter but a mere medical procedure. Nothing criminal or moral about it. In fact there’s a section of the commentariat who employ a familiar syllogism in these cases: 1. I have had an abortion; 2. I am a good person; 3. Abortion is therefore not wrong.

The BMA is going down this route with its vote today, that abortion is not a matter for the criminal law but is a medical procedure. Except not many medical procedures involve snuffing out another human life, up to 24 weeks’ gestation, or up to birth if the foetus is unfortunate enough to have a handicap that the mother doesn’t care for, and that includes hare lips and split palates, easily remediable conditions.

What the Abortion Act of 1967 established is that a practitioner would not be found guilty of an offence if he or she carried out an abortion in these circumstances.

(a)that the pregnancy has not exceeded its twenty-fourth week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family; or

(b)that the termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; or

(c)that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated; or

(d)that there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.

Two medics have to authorise the abortion on this basis. And it is all plainly hokum. Vanishingly few of the women who have had abortions qualify for it on the basis that their physical or mental health would seriously be compromised. Rather, it’s a matter of preference; they’d rather not have a baby, thanks. And very few medics even go through the motions of establishing that they’re signing off on an abortion on this basis. Indeed it’s not unusual for the second doctor to sign off a termination without actually having seen the patient – so much for the safeguards in the Act.

The BMA is clear that its decision would, if implemented, mean abortion being decriminalised, not unregulated. Really? There’s not an awful lot of regulation as matters stand. As for the cutoff point of 24 weeks, it is hard to square with the way a 12-week-old foetus is presented on a routine scan to expectant mothers as Your Baby; indeed it’s embarrassingly, palpably a human being. By 24 weeks, doing away with it is plainly a kind of homicide. And by the end of gestation, the cutoff point for foetuses with a handicap, abortion is to all intents and purposes infanticide.

Many EU countries have an abortion limit of 12-14 weeks. That’s what the BMA should be aiming for, not doing away with notional constraints on abortion which is, in effect, available for anyone who wants it.

Written byMelanie McDonagh

Melanie McDonagh is a leaderwriter for the Evening Standard and Spectator contributor. Irish, living in London.

Topics in this articleSocietyabortion