Saturday, 13 October 2012

Abortion - The Time Limit Debate

In the space of one week the Minister for Women, Marie Miller and the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, have both announced they back the reduction of the abortion limit. Maria Miller has said she wished the limit to be reduced from 24 weeks to 20 weeks, whereas Jeremy Hunt has said he wishes for a further reduction, all the way to 12 weeks. Jeremy Hunt has said he supports a 12 week limit as a result of “studying the evidence”, however he hasn’t cited any evidence for his decision.

Experts have even disparaged Maria Miller’s decision to lower the time limit, with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) announcing that there is in fact no medical evidence to suggest such a cut would be a good idea. They have also criticised Jeremy Hunt’s suggestion of 12 weeks. Their spokesperson Kate Guthrie spoke to The Times and has said:

“The politicisation of women’s health is absolutely shocking. Politicians talk about putting patients at the centre, which is quite right.
How is the woman at the centre of her healthcare with something like this?
If everybody had to have abortions by 12 weeks, my worry would be that women would be rushed into making decisions: ‘I have to have an abortion now or I can’t have one.’
That’s an absolute shocker. You will absolutely create mental health problems if you start dragooning women into making decisions before they have to.”

Of course abortion is a sensitive issue for most people, but importantly it is an issue which should concern the women who are experiencing an unintended pregnancy. We women deserve the right to have autonomy over our own bodies, and we are entitled to make the decision to end or continue a pregnancy if that is what we want; it should not concern anyone else.

Abortions happen for many different reasons. A teenager, who is na├»ve and knows nothing about contraception, ends up getting herself into an awful situation. A woman who is raped and is left behind with a daily reminder. A woman who is in an abusive relationship and gets pregnant by her boyfriend/husband. Should these women be made to carry on with this unwanted pregnancy?  

If the abortion time limit is reduced, this does not mean fewer abortions will be carried out. It will only mean that women who rely on the NHS will be forced to make a difficult decision with very little time to make it. It is estimated that 47,000 women around the world die each year from illegal, unsafe abortions. Is this that we want for women in the UK?

These unwanted pregnancy rates need to be targeted by the government, but not by reducing the time limit. People need better access to contraception, even if teachers have to hand it out at schools. I have four nieces and a nephew; I would prefer them to be given contraception at school than for them to end up being a parent. Also improving pre-natal testing for genetic abnormalities would highlight any issues with a pregnancy well before the 24 week mark.

If these two ministers were interested in reducing unwanted pregnancies, they would begin by looking at access to contraceptives and drastically improving sex education. And I don’t mean explaining the facts of life, but actually talking to teenagers about relationships, contraception and how bloody hard it is to take care of a child. Teenagers are going to have sex, giving them contraception won’t encourage them, they’re going to do it anyway, but it will keep them safe. 

Maria Miller is Minister for Women and describes herself as “a very modern feminist” it would be great if she was on our side and actually trusted women to make the right decisions about our own bodies and futures. Jeremy Hunt also needs to understand that by lowering the abortion limit will not mean fewer abortions, it just means fewer documented abortions will be taking place and more women will be putting their lives at risk in order to end a pregnancy that they either cannot or will not continue with for all kinds of reasons. Abortions that take place after the 20 week mark are very rare and only account for less than 2% of the 200,000 abortions carried out in England and Wales in 2011.  

The tory government has made many cuts to the NHS since being in power. By reducing the limit they ultimately want to protect these babies lives, but they’re cutting the funds that the NHS is being given and they’re getting rid of more and more midwives. If they want to save babies lives, where are they going to be born and who is going to deliver them?   

The government needs to tackle this sensitive issue, but not by punishing women who have an unexpected or non-viable pregnancy.

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