24 reasons for 24 weeks

// 10 May 2008

Penny Red and Jess [ed: credit where credit’s due, I had some minimal input, along with others, but Laurie compiled this herself!], have put together 24 reasons for 24 weeks in response to anti-choice MP Nadine Dorries’ campaign 20 reasons for 20 weeks. Unfortunately for Dorries, who repeatedly spouts lies about the scientific evidence on foetal viability, results of a new study confirm those of last year’s Commons Science and Technology Committee, which found that there has been no significant development in foetal viability below 24 weeks. I’ve copied the full 24 reasons below, and you can find an excellent take down of Dorries’ 20 weeks arguments at Rhetorically Speaking, along with a whole range of posts highlighting this woman’s ignorance, lies and real anti-women agenda.

1. There has been no improvement in the survival rates of infants born before the 24-week time limit during the past decade, according to the British Medical Association.

2. Last autumn, the Commons Science and Technology Committee of MPs found no medical basis for a change in the law.

3. Research shows that lowering the time limit does nothing to lower the number of abortions taking place.

4. There are many far better ways to reduce the number of late-term abortions. People who object to late term abortions should be fighting to make early abortions easier to access, and to increase the availability of proper sex education and access to contraceptives.

5. No contraception is foolproof, and anyone can find themselves pregnant against their will; until foolproof contraception is available, legal pregnancy termination up to 24 weeks will remain necessary.

6. Some vulnerable women need late-term abortions because severe abnormalities in pregnancy, such as Edward’s syndrome, are rarely identified until 20-21 weeks. Reducing the time limit would force some women to carry severely impaired or dying fetuses to term – an horrific experience.

7. Some vulnerable women need late-term abortions because an abrupt change in personal circumstances – such as domestic violence, which often escalates in pregnancy – leaves them unable to continue with the pregnancy.

8. Some vulnerable women do not realise that they are pregnant until later in the pregnancy, because they are taking contraceptives, because they are menopausal, or because their periods do not stop. Young women in particular may also go into denial, a serious psychological phenomenon, before they find the courage to approach their GP.

9. Even taking these cases into account, only a tiny proportion of terminations take place after 20 weeks, and 90% of all abortions in the UK are carried out before 12 weeks.

10. Accessing an abortion is already difficult and traumatic enough. The UK does not have abortion on demand, unlike many European countries – it can take months for a woman to have a termination, and hostile doctors can make the process more difficult or delay women in the system until beyond 20 weeks, especially for Irish women who have crossed the sea to access

abortion services in the UK.

11. Only 15% of fetuses born before 23 weeks survive to leave their neo-natal units, and most will suffer severe health and/or physical problems. Babies born as prematurely as 21-22 weeks are nearly always born brain damaged and severely disabled – meaning that they may have very little quality of life to look forward to.

12. There is no option for ‘viable’ fetuses to be removed from the womb early, so women who carry unwanted pregnancies to term after 20 weeks are forced to carry the growing fetus in their body for months more and then undergo labour, causing permanent physical scars, pain and trauma.

13. When women have to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, they risk losing their jobs and damaging their long-term mental and physical health.

14. Fetuses cannot feel pain until much later in the pregnancy, according to experts. “The idea of fetal pain is an absurd and cruel one,” said Dr Stuart Derbyshire PhD, a researcher at Birmingham University.

15. Fetuses are never ‘alive’ after abortions: their brains are not developed enough to sense, think or feel pain.

16. Lowering the time limit to 20 weeks will create a black market trade in unsafe late-term abortions, endangering thousands of women’s lives. Eighty thousand women every year die from complications following backstreet abortions. We don’t want that to start happening in the UK.

17. Fetuses are not viable at 20 weeks: they cannot survive alone, and keeping them alive outside the womb requires complicated and expensive medical technology. Even with that technology few survive for long, causing incredible heartbreak to all involved. The idea that fetuses usually survive alone before 24 weeks is “a cruel deception for prospective parents with

premature babies,” according to Dr Evan Harris MP.

18. Safe, legal abortions at 20-24 weeks rarely have negative psychological effects – but the mental trauma of undergoing an unwanted pregnancy can last a lifetime.

19. In this country, we do not legislate over moral questions such as adultery, and abortion laws should not be the exception to that proud tradition. It is unacceptable to make laws on a moral question where there is any doubt. Pro-life campaigners are already free to make their views heard and to influence individual decisions.

20. The right of a woman to decide what happens to her own body should not be subject to the whims of changing public opinion.

21. Keeping late-term abortion legal will mean that abortions which are going to happen anyway will be carried out safely and hygenically. Many thousands of abortions up to and beyond 24 weeks happened annually before abortion was legalised in the UK in 1967. Those abortions were unsafe and many women died as a result. ‘We used to see women from the local community

bleeding to death in accident and emergency after backstreet abortions,’ said retired nurse Iris Fudge.

22. Seventy-six percent of the United Kingdom is pro-choice. The majority of women in the UK want their rights to safe, legal termination to be protected.

23. Those who are campaigning to reduce the time limit want to end legal abortion entirely – a dangerous and arcane concept. Reducing the time limit will bring them one step closer to their goals.

24. If faced with an unintended pregnancy, a woman in consultation with her doctor is the best person to decide on how to proceed.

Now get yourself to the protest and contact your MP, because Dorries and her ilk won’t stop until our right to abortion and bodily autonomy is totally destroyed.

Comments From You

shatterboxx // Posted 10 May 2008 at 5:54 pm

I emailed my local MP in Bath, Don Foster, using a modified version of the letter available on the Abortion Rights website. I have received this response:

Thank you for contacting me regarding your concerns that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill will be amended to reduce the time limit for abortion from 24 weeks.

I do not agree that the time limit for abortion should be lowered to 20 weeks. Very few abortions take place between 21-24 weeks and the 24 week limit has been supported by the BMA, the RCN and the Commons Science and Technology Committee. I also believe the limit is fundamental to protect and support women’s reproductive rights.

Therefore, if this issue is raised in Parliament during the debate on the Bill, I will be voting to keep the limit at 24 weeks.

That said I do have concerns about the way in which abortion is increasingly, it appears, being used as a form of contraception, and the rising rates of abortion. I have, and always would, strongly resist any calls for relaxing the abortion laws, and am strongly in favour of far better sex education in schools. A few hours in the classroom does little to combat the massive pressure that is put on our youngsters from the media towards sexual relationships. In many European countries children are, from a relatively young age, made aware ‘how babies are made,’ and consequently sex isn’t ‘sensationalised’ when the children grow into young adults. They have much lower rates of teenage pregnancy and less abortion. This is an approach we should be considering here.

I hope this letter has been helpful in setting out my views, however please do not hesitate to contact me again if you wish to discuss this further or if you require assistance in any matter.

With best wishes,

Yours sincerely

Don Foster MP

All sounds good to me and I’m glad he shares my views about the sensationalisation of sex by the media, but I’m a little concerned by his feeling that abortion is used as a method of contraception… I can’t imagine what sources would point to that. Thoughts?

Steph Jones // Posted 10 May 2008 at 6:21 pm

An excellent response Jess and PennyRed! You may also consider writing and making your constructive feelings known, she can be contacted via her website (http://www.dorries.org.uk/)

Kirsten Turner // Posted 10 May 2008 at 7:25 pm

I would like to point out that termination in the UK is legal at *any* point in pregnancy, up to term, in the case of severe abnormalities or danger to the mother’s physical or mental wellbeing so point 6 is incorrect.

I don’t really understand the campaign to reduce the time limit. Because abortions after 20 weeks are pretty much always for exceptional reasons, I believe that the vast majority of women who need to have an termination between 20 and 24 weeks will still be able to get one even if they do reduce the limit to 20 weeks. The people trying to have the limit reduced don’t seem to understand that it doing it will have little or no effect on the number of terminations carried out in that time period.

Anne Onne // Posted 10 May 2008 at 7:50 pm

Sounds like a fairly nice MP.

You could point out that if it is being used as a form of contraception, it would be because of the failings of the current sex education system, and that the answer would be to try and increase sex education, with more resources rather than try to force people who are already pregnant to keep unwanted babies, especially if they are likely to be younger women/girls. It’s hardly likely that it will be good for the ‘baby’ to be born into, and grow up in a situation where they are either unwanted, unable to be supported, or with parents who cannot look after them. If we want to give children the best start in life, we should let people who for whatever reason don’t think they could give children a good start, not have them if they don’t want to. Anything other than that is selfish. We can’t take the right to have abortions away because some people might ‘abuse them’, because it will be far worse for everybody (foetus, mother, society) if they must be forsed to have and raise the child, or have an illegal, unsafe abortion. Abortion is not perfect, and it isn’t fun. But it is necessary for us to have.

Taking the shame away from abortions and making it legal will cause more people to have them. But this just means you have less unwanted children for social services to deal with, and more women and families having children when they can look after them.

There was a small sensasionalist piece in the Mail (where else) about 12 and 13 year olds having abortions, and it’s like Do you want them to carry the baby to term, instead? Even at that age and stage of development? And raise the kid, regardless of how little support and options they have?

And this is the same paper who always have big scary headlines about sex education for 9 year olds (well, newsflash, if you’re getting pregnant 12 year olds, you need to start sex ed a little earlier, dontcha think?), and always blame ‘liberalised’ sex education for abortions and teenage pregnancy. Silly, really, since the HyperConservative abstinence-only approach in America they would like to follow actually leads to worse results. Besites, it’s plain deceptive to ignore the rise of raunch culture and pornifiation of the mainstream, which has a huge impact on children’s views (and misconceptions) on sex, particularly with regards to how gorls and women are treated, and assume that kids are having sex because of sex education. As if sex isn’t a biological urge that is natural.

This is an excellent article. I will now be spouting off my own objections to anybody who will listen (and those who don’t)! :D

sam d // Posted 10 May 2008 at 8:27 pm

Thank you so much for compiling this. Your points have raised issues that I had never considered. This should be compulsory reading for all MPs. It is good to hear enlightened debate rather then reactionary rhetoric on the issue of abortion. Welldone!

Kate Smurthwaite // Posted 11 May 2008 at 4:10 am

I would be inclined to write back and say “appears” to be being used as a form of contraception – “appears” based on evidence from which sources. I am not aware of any such evidence in the UK.

Cockney Hitcher // Posted 11 May 2008 at 4:53 pm

The people trying to have the limit reduced don’t seem to understand that it doing it will have little or no effect on the number of terminations carried out in that time period.

They probably do understand that, but the ultimate aim of ‘pro-life’ organisations is to make abortion illegal. Since they know that they would be unable to achieve this at the moment due to public opinion being against the total banning of abortion, they have to chip away little by little at abortion rights. If they succeeded in getting the time limit lowered to 20 weeks they would then start campaigning for it to be lowered to 12 weeks and so on until it was illegal.

Laura Woodhouse // Posted 11 May 2008 at 11:48 pm

“I’m a little concerned by his feeling that abortion is used as a method of contraception… I can’t imagine what sources would point to that.”

Begins with Daily, ends in Mail.

I do wish people would stop and think for a minute when they roll out that one – are women really going to voluntarily put themselves through a potentially traumatic experience, which they are not guaranteed access to anyway, rather than use condoms, the pill, any other form of contraception or the morning after pill? It’s absolute tosh.

Incidentally, someone was telling me that the Daily Mail had a headline a few months back which read “BINGE ABORTION”. Apparently all these society destroying ladettes are going out, getting wasted, getting laid and getting abortions at the drop of a hat. I blame the immigrants…

Anne Onne // Posted 12 May 2008 at 12:15 pm

Laura, lol. It’s really infuriating that people think abortion is used as contraception. Especially when it is never portrayed as an option like adoption or keeping the baby. Just look at the media, even in soaps or dramas, even if the woman doesn’t want the pregnancy, she’s much more likely to keep the child or have it adopted, than have a simple abortion. The media does demonise abortion in its attempts to be evenhanded, because it always presents the decision to have one as a torturous one (for many women, it’s a relief!), and one where the women invariably mope around for years afterwards. The media doesn’t show how different women/characters would react, depending on their personality, upbringing, circumstances, it gives us abortion by numbers. And don’t get me started on all the fathers. I’d like to see more who support wives/girlfriends/etc rights over their own bodies, and not all get murderous or depressed over ‘their’ baby and how they have been deprived of an heir. The media affects real life, it has a big effect on how people view things, and a more varied, complex view of abortion would give plenty of room to discuss the loss that some people feel, without presenting it as universal, or the only real way people deal with abortion.

And women having abortions after having unprotected sex doesn’t mean it’s being used as contraception. It means that she and the person she was sleeping with (remember him?) chose to take a risk, silly though it may be, and the abortion is the decision she (maybe they) took to deal with the consequences of happening to get pregnant. It doesn’t mean she was using it as contraception, it means they weren’t thinking about contraception and thought they’d be lucky. It’s not like they expected to get pregnant, and wanted to abort for the hell of it. But people have a fantastic way of assuming that chance will work in their favour. It’s silly, but it’s their life, and it’s not up to us to deny someone an abortion if they took no precautions.

You’ve got to wonder at how the Mail will brand all these women slappers who can’t keep their legs shut, who are doing all this binge drinking and sleeping around and going on about how irresponsible they are to have an abortion and whatnot, and not ask themselves whether forcing somebody they claim is so irresponsible to have and raise the kid is a good idea!

Personally, I don’t think these women are half as irresponsible as the Mail claims, but if you believed they were truly horrendous (as the Mail delights in claiming), why the hell would you want to punish a newborn with a family like that? Only if you don’t care about the born child as much as the foetus. So their baby saving is pretty much a front for punishing women for sex, and doesn’t even make sense with their own twisted logic.

Cara // Posted 12 May 2008 at 8:22 pm

Great piece.

I will definitely be writing to my MP and attending the protest. :-)

Don Foster’s response sounds sensible. Except for the contraception comment, I agree…as if anyone thinks, hey, I can’t be bothered to use contraception…how about being pregnant with accompanying discomfort e.g. morning sickness for however many weeks the waiting list is for an NHS termination (about 6 weeks in my area I think) or the expense of a private abortion…going through an uncomfortable medical procedure that would mean at least a day off work, requiring confronting possibly hostile doctors…the inevitable emotional upheaval which is hormonal, I mean I have thankfully never had to have one but I can imagine, even if a woman knows she is not ready to be a mum and does not think of the embryo/ foetus as any more than a bunch of cells, she is still quite probably going to feel strange and sad…why would you put yourself through all that because it was too much effort to use a condom?!

I don’t get it. I am terrible at forgetting to take my Pill, but always, always use another method if in doubt…because I would not want that to happen to me.

Much as I support the right to choice, I don’t think abortion is a fun experience -no woman WANTS to have one.

Marlow // Posted 19 May 2008 at 12:27 pm

I think that lowering the abortion limit is a lazy and half-assed way to ‘attempt’ to reduce pregnancies or at least look like they’re doing something. Sex education is rubbish and until they actually sort that out nothing’s really going to change.

Unfortunately, I think they’re scared of the reaction from some parents if teenagers were to receive valuable sex education that doesn’t shy away from the facts. There’re two sides to the coin though and if these parents are against their children being taught about sex and abortion then what can they expect? Not teaching kids something puts them in danger.

Miranda Godwin // Posted 16 October 2008 at 2:53 am

It’s always seemed to me that the right of a women to have an abortion was more a a feminist (and i disagree with this websites use of that word. There are no “feminist allies”. the definition of feminism is that you believe all sexes should have equal rights. either you believe that or you don’t. theres not exactly a grey area there) and sexism matter than one of… what is it the pro lifers view it as? murder? I don’t really understand them. anyways, as a citizen of the united states it seems that we since we are a democracy we HAVE to have the right to the choice of abortion.

Miranda // Posted 16 October 2008 at 2:53 am

It’s always seemed to me that the right of a women to have an abortion was more a a feminist (and i disagree with this websites use of that word. There are no “feminist allies”. the definition of feminism is that you believe all sexes should have equal rights. either you believe that or you don’t. theres not exactly a grey area there) and sexism matter than one of… what is it the pro lifers view it as? murder? I don’t really understand them. anyways, as a citizen of the united states it seems that we since we are a democracy we HAVE to have the right to the choice of abortion.

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