Cameron attacks women’s right to choose

// 25 February 2008

David Cameron showed his true colours today when he voiced his desire to see the abortion time limit cut from 24 to 20 weeks, citing – like Ann Widdecombe – the supposed significant increase in foetal viability as justification for his view. Like Widdecombe, he conveniently ignores both the findings of the Commons science and technology committee on abortion, which concluded that there is no need to reduce the time limit, and the often desperate situation women who have abortions at this late stage find themselves in.

Gordon Brown, on the other hand,

…has always made clear that he thinks we should be guided by the best medical advice on this.

At the moment, the key organisations in the medical profession are not pressing for a review in this area.

For example, both the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have said they do not believe there is a case for changing the time limits for abortion.

The government has no plans to change the law on abortion.

Gordon or David? Gordon or David? Wow, it’s a tough one…

Having said that, the abortion law does need changing, most obviously by removing the necessity for a woman to prove to two doctors that continuing the pregnancy would be more harmful to her physical or psychological health than having an abortion. So get writing to your MP: free abortion, on demand, now!

Thanks to commenter chem_fem for the heads up.

Comments From You

Fliss // Posted 26 February 2008 at 2:44 pm


I’m a twenty year old student and would call myself a feminist. However, i also disagree with late abortion; anything up to twenty one weeks for me is perfectly acceptable (and of no one’s business except the women concerned). yet at twenty four weeks? i don’t know, something just tells me its wrong. I’m not thinking in terms of religion or morality, and i know that making a decision like this is not simple. But does anyone else think one can be committed to feminism and still oppose late abortion? would be great to hear from others on this tricky subject

Laura // Posted 26 February 2008 at 5:54 pm

Hi Fliss,

I understand your misgivings about abortion at 24 weeks, but I think the debate on late term abortion needs to be seen in the context Abortion Rights outline below:

“Later abortion is rare – less than 2 per cent, of abortions take place between 20 and 24 weeks (less than 1% after 22 weeks [added by me]). Later abortions are needed by women facing exceptional and unavoidable circumstances including undiagnosed pregnancies, domestic violence, incest and rape, health problems and NHS delays. Lowering the abortion time limit would force such women to continue to term a pregnancy against their will or force them to travel to other countries for a termination or seek a ‘backstreet’ abortion in Britain.”

Severe foetal abnormalities can often not be diagnosed until after 20 weeks, which also adds to the number of abortions carried out at a later stage.

For me, the well-being of the woman faced with the decision to have an abortion at 23 or 24 weeks comes before anything else; it is clearly not a decision she would take lightly, and I trust women to make the decision that is best for them. Yes, it’s not a pleasant procedure, to say the least, but if a woman feels it is her only option then I support her – hence I am pro-choice. I personally might not choose to have a later abortion, but that doesn’t mean that I would campaign to remove other women’s right to do so.

What’s more, those who currently call for the time limit to be lowered will not stop there. As in the US, they will use a series of smaller attacks on abortion law to entirely remove our right to abortion and to bodily autonomy. I believe that if we support any attacks to the current law – even if we are generally pro-choice – we help those who would like to see the current situation in Nicaragua reproduced in the UK.

So, rather than campaigning to reduce the time limit, I would suggest that those who want to see fewer and earlier abortions instead campaign to remove the two doctor rule which can set the abortion back weeks, and improve NHS provision of abortion (eg by allowing nurses to perform abortions) in order to reduce waiting time.

I guess I would say that opposing later abortion for yourself is fine, but I’d urge you to support those few women who do need it by not supporting pro-lifers who want to reduce the time limit.

EBaeza Chavez // Posted 26 February 2008 at 6:03 pm

Hi Fliss, I am a feminist and I believe that the 24 week limit should stand. In actual fact partial birth abortions take place right up until the 32nd week (and beyond) where necessary, so if it is the “yuck” factor we are concerned about it seems hypocritical to make the legal distinction at 24 weeks on those grounds. What Cameron and at lot of pro-life supporters fail to take into account is that this type of abortion is extremely rare >2% of all abortions in fact, and when they do occur it is primarily for medical reasons, i.e the health of the mother, or the fact that aminocentisis has turned up a fetal abnormality (Down’s syndrome can’t be detected until 23 weeks). I won’t get into the ethics of whether we should abort disabled fetuses, just that it does seem a compelling reason for many women to seek late term abortions.

The “social” reasons behind late abortion are also pretty dire, usually something catastrophic, like the loss of employment or relationship breakdown has happened. Whether you agree with that or not I think the fact that women still pursue late abortions for these reasons (the procedure is riskier the longer you leave it) indicates their seriousness. We have the most liberal approach to abortion in Europe and the highest rate of teenage pregnancy, I direct you to George Monbiot at the Guardian online for a discussion of why this is.

There is also the issue of viability- it still is the case that of 1000 babies born at 23 weeks, something like 5 will survive without serious disablement, if at all. The science isn’t there to make these premature babies survive. If, and when it significantly changes then we should review our position, but at the moment the facts speak for themselves and the pro-lifers like Widdecombe who try to manipulate them are disingenious.

From an anatomical point of view, the fetus feels no pain if aborted before 23 weeks because the neocortex has yet to develop (as do the lungs). No neocortex= no pain receptors= no pain.

Personally I feel that if you haven’t decided by about 18 weeks to have an abortion (barring medical necessity/fetal abnormality) then a greater part of you wants to be a mother, and you should accept that (granted that access to abortion services is pretty lousy in some parts of the country/ some women don’t realise they are pregnant until the second trimester). But as with all abortion that call has to be the mother’s and not Cameron’s or Widdecombe et al’s who seem content to make political capital out of women’s misery.

Rather than getting rid of later term abortions they should be improving access to contraceptives, comprehensive sex education at a younger age, and abolishing the requirement to have two doctors sign the consent form (there’s a terrible arrogance in presuming two overworked GPs could know the familial/personal situation of any woman better than she does, don’t you think?) and provide better access all round, including having nurses administer the abortion pill. But of course they won’t do this, because it might actually allow women to live and choose for themselves how & when they want to be mothers, rather than having sanctimonious, priviledged white men (and women) do it for them.

Monkey Wench // Posted 26 February 2008 at 6:33 pm

EBaeza Chavez said:

“(Down’s syndrome can’t be detected until 23 weeks). I won’t get into the ethics of whether we should abort disabled fetuses”

Well perhaps you should. My sister is severely disabled, much worse so than a person with Down’s, in fact and it makes my blood boil that anyone would have wanted to end her life before it had begun. Few feminists would support abortion of a foetus solely because it was female, so by extension as a person committed to equality, I cannot support abortion on the grounds of disability.

Fliss // Posted 26 February 2008 at 6:40 pm


thanks for both your responses; they’ve been very insightful. You’re right abortion is a procedure which few would undertake lightly and it’s true that its only in the later stages certain abnormalities appear which would cause significant stress to both mother and child. I would never allow my opinions on such private matters to stop women seeking abortions in important situation. However, i think my response is more than a ‘yuck factor’ i’m also unsure as to when foetus start to feel pain; EBaeza argues its at twenty three weeks but i heard it was at twelve; but i have no medical knowledge so am unsure. Anyway, despite our different thoughts, thank you both for your responses !

chem_fem // Posted 26 February 2008 at 7:35 pm

I think that it is different that someone would have wanted the life of your sister to end, than the potential life of their own child terminated because they do not feel up to the task of raising a disabled child.

The only person who should be able to have chosen the fate of your sister is her mother, which is why I am a firm believer in choice over your own body (to keep as well as terminate).

Like ending selective abortion of girls, ending the termination of disabled children begins with changing attitudes (and the level of support offered to) disabled children. If the stigma, and fear of raising children with disability is removed, so is the use of disability as a reason for termination.

EBaeza Chavez // Posted 26 February 2008 at 8:17 pm

@ Monkey Wench

” Few feminists would support abortion of a foetus solely because it was female, so by extension as a person committed to equality, I cannot support abortion on the grounds of disability.”

I can and do support abortion on both the grounds of sex and disability, I don’t see that as an inconsistent position. Cultural and social pressures in our society are different to those say in India and China and while I don’t believe in moral relativism, once you start questioning individual’s reasons for abortion you open the floodgates for attacks on all abortion re: Nicaragua. With the greatest possible respect to your sister and all those suffering from a disability, I would wish the very best possible start in life for any child of mine, and if I thought they would be born with a disability which would be extremely disadvantageous I would seek an abortion.

I know that this is fairly controversial position, but it is one I have always maintained. Really- it is impossible to say which is better non-existence or existence with a condition which causes suffering. There are those who argue if you seek to have a child you should accept whatever you get, but I cannot agree. The physical, social and economic cost of looking after a child with a disability is devastating (I know from personal experience), (look at the Charlotte Wyatt case for evidence of this). For the same reason I would hesitate to support medical intervention in the case of very premature babies (as with the Wyatt case).

Once again it leads me to reiterate the best aribtrator of the decision re: abortion is the individual woman concerned.

Cockney Hitcher // Posted 26 February 2008 at 9:00 pm

Actually, Monkey Wench, I am a feminist and I support a woman’s right to have an abortion for whatever reason. That includes choosing to abort solely because the fetus is female. Do I think that’s a good, moral reason? No, but I don’t think a woman’s right to bodily integrity should be taken away simply because I don’t agree with her reason for choosing to abort. It’s *always* wrong to force a woman to carry a fetus to term.

Danielle // Posted 27 February 2008 at 2:12 am

Cockney Hitcher, I’m not sure exactly where I stand on the issue, but in reference to aborting foetuses just because they’re female, maybe in places like China this is preferable to having a new underclass of girls, due to so many of them being dumped in orphanages?

Wouldn’t it be lovely if everything were black and white! :P

Jen // Posted 10 March 2008 at 9:15 pm

I’m not necessarily following on from this conversation but just wanted to add my own experience – 3 years ago I delivered a full term daughter who died just an hour after she was born. We’d found out at the 13wks scan that she was ill and probably wouldn’t survive. The grief that followed her loss was immense and has changed us forever. BUT I have absolutely no regrets. Carrying a baby who is going to die is not an easy task – they were difficult months, but we savoured every kick and loved our dear little one.

I’m not making any point other than to say that NOT terminating even when the baby is ‘incompatible with life outside the womb’, for us, was an incredibly rewarding (albeit desperately difficult) decision, and one we will never regret.

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds