Where are women in the abortion debate?

// 19 May 2008

The Guardian’s Kira Cochrane reports today on the no doubt delightful experience that was interviewing anti-abortion MP Nadine Dorries, who has been spearheading the move to reduce the abortion time limit. She highlights Dorries’ complete contempt for women who need late term abortions; not only has she failed to speak with any women who have undergone late term abortions, she also cites “procrastination” as the main factor in their experience. Nice.

Kira draws our attention away from the foetal pain and viabilty debate (which in any case supports the retainment of the current time limit) and towards the women that Dorries so conveniently forgets about:

Many of those who have late-term abortions are the most vulnerable: teenagers who didn’t realise that they were pregnant until five months’ gestation; women with learning disabilities; those using methadone in drug rehabilitation programmes, which puts a halt to your periods. Women like the one I read of recently, whose partner started beating her up when she became pregnant, and who feared she would never be able to escape him if she had his baby. (In more than 30% of domestic violence cases, the abuse started during pregnancy.) Women who have suffered a severely traumatic episode – the death of a partner, or a child, for instance – who fear that the stress might affect foetal development.

The BPAS has just published a 28-day audit of late-term abortion requests, to be distributed to MPs. The stories include that of a woman with two small daughters from a previous marriage, who had an unplanned pregnancy with her current partner, which he urged her to continue. She then found out that he was abusing her daughters. As Ann Furedi of BPAS says, the stories “provide a really stark contrast to the abstract, philosophical and rather sterile discussion about viability and not viability. What this does is to take it woman by woman. The challenge that we’re putting to MPs is to look at this and think about it – what makes you think that the lives of these women would have been better if they’d had to continue their pregnancy? We’re talking about women who, by their own admission, are saying, ‘I cannot cope with having this child’.”

The crucial vote is tomorrow. Here’s hoping our MPs give more of a crap about women than Dorries.

Comments From You

kate // Posted 19 May 2008 at 1:52 pm

Speaking of which, the BBC’s Today programme has had two debates on abortion time limits (one the saturday before last) in the past months in which a male presenter discussed the issue with two male contributors. Surely at least one woman’s voice isn’t too much to ask?!

Jennifer-Ruth // Posted 19 May 2008 at 1:54 pm

I will never understand the willing naivety of people like Dorries – she is living in a bubble of privilege and can’t even begin to understand that there are as many different circumstances of pregnancy and abortion as there are women. She defines all women’s choices from her own narrow experience – pretty much the conservative way to view things.

I wrote to my MP last week asking him to vote against lowering the limit.

Fingers crossed…

BrevisMus // Posted 19 May 2008 at 2:17 pm

An excellent article. I find it abhorrent that none of the 20 weeks (or fewer) campaigners actually seem to acknowledge that there is a woman involved (or that if she does not have an abortion there will be a child involved. Who is promoting better rights for mothers/parents in recognition of this?).

As I wrote on my blog today, if they really cared about reducing unwanted pregnancies they would be campaigning to increase access to contraception.

I wrote to my MP and received a message back saying she completely agreed about keeping the limits as they are, and a link to her website where she sets out her views – though this article has worried me slightly that her response didn’t specifically state that she was definitely going to be there to vote. I’ll be checking up on http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/ later in the week to make sure!

Feminist Avatar // Posted 19 May 2008 at 3:46 pm

“The BPAS has just published a 28-day audit of late-term abortion requests, to be distributed to MPs.”

Is this just available for MPs? I would like to read it, if it’s open to the public. It would be useful to have when discussion of this issue comes up.

Louise // Posted 19 May 2008 at 4:50 pm

Reminds me of when the local FAB group I was active in (Fight Alton Bill) in 1987 and we picketed Tory Edgbaston MP, Dame Jill Knight (she was also one of the architects for the homophobic Section 28). She decided to speak to some of the FAB activists and said that women “only have abortions to fit into their tennis skirts”……

Nice…. I see the banton of insensitvity and contempt for women has been taken on by Dorries.

But her “20 reasons for 20 wks” was appalling and again, she doesn’t give a damn about women or circumstances. I mean, one of the reasons she gives for 20 wks is that “pregnancy testing kits are available”…. Yes Nadine, but they are not free and anyway, so what.Just cos pregnancy kits are available doesn’t stop the reality of women having late abortions for whatever reasons.

The slogan, “as early as possible, as late as necessary” still stands and we must defend that as well.

So see you at the emergency protest outside Parliament tomorrow @ 5:30pm.

Shea // Posted 19 May 2008 at 5:05 pm

“When I ask Dorries why she thinks women have late-term abortions, she boils it down to “procrastination … when someone goes past a 12-week barrier and they’re still thinking about whether they’re going to or not, there seems to be an element of procrastination that comes into that.

Utter total crap, 1 missed period and you begin to worry, but you think hey I have been tired/stressed etc might be that, another month goes by so 8 weeks. You do a pregnancy test it comes up positive (or a false negative, which is often how late term abortions come about). You go to the doctor and have a blood test to confirm it (another week or two) so 10 weeks. Back to the GP, to arrange an abortion. Considering the average waiting time is about four weeks for an abortion even if your GP doesn’t block access, that leaves you with 13 or 14 weeks. Not a hint of procrastination at all.

I am afraid though. Its the “soft choice” MPs that trouble me also, the “I’m pro-choice but 24 weeks is too late…….” ones. I think once we start eroding a woman’s right to choose we start to erode equality itself. We are still, STILL so tied to one biological function. That this can be the single determinant of a career, a relationship or a life is terrible. I think women have really become the absent referant in the abortion debate. They aren’t visible, they have been utterly erased from the debate. It has become, as the article points out, “the foetus, the science, the woman”.

I met a woman who has had an abortion at 23 weeks, recently. She was a biologist, an educated professional, and at 18 weeks her partner, who had been reluctant to become a father at all, had attacked her with a baseball bat and fractured every finger on her left hand. So she choose not to have the child of such a man, in such circumstances. How on earth can anybody challenge such a decision? Are the Nadine Dorries of this world completely devoid of compassion? It appears so.

It nice also how she throws a bit of xenophobia in there too. Most abortion are performed by “overseas” doctors. Yes! look its all a plot– the foreign doctors are butchering English babies! What bullshit! Stupid, stupid woman.

Cara // Posted 19 May 2008 at 10:19 pm

Some great comments – can’t really add anything, cos you’ve all said it!

“To fit into their tennis skirts” *snort* – spot the class privelege!

If we didn’t require 2 signatures and GPs were not allowed to be obstructive – there would be fewer late abortions. Although, we aren’t going to eliminate the reasons for having late abortions e.g. domestic violence, as someone mentioned above. So “as early as possible, as late as necessary” – absolutely.

Helen // Posted 20 May 2008 at 4:21 am


Because, of course, if you’re a selfish woman who just wants an abortion because you want to fit into a little skirt, you’d wait until after 20 weeks, wouldn’t you! er… Wait a moment…

Er, Ms Dorries, that argument isn’t working for me!

Vicky // Posted 20 May 2008 at 9:52 am

I found it interesting (and very worrying….) to see Dorries working hand in glove with fundamentalist Christians in pursuit of her campaign to change the law on abortion in last night’s Dispatches documentary, ‘In God’s Name’. While the argument to lower the upper abortion limit might be premised on scientific grounds (despite the fact that the evidence re viability and foetal pain actually supports the existing limit, as many commentators have pointed out) it seems that its proponents are in reality driven by religious belief. As a supporter of the secular state, I’m very concerned about the ease with which extreme christian groups can lobby parliamentarians to restrict womens’ rights.

Saranga // Posted 20 May 2008 at 11:39 am

2 women were featured on Radio 4 this morning as part fo the debate around abortion. One woman had an abortion at 21 weeks and opposed the motion to cut the time limit, one woman gave birth at 22 weeks and as her baby is now 10yrs old and healthy, she seemed to think that any baby born at 22 weeks will be healthy so therefore abortions shouldn’t be allowed after 20 weeks. *sigh*

I got the distinct impresion the interveiwer supported the motion to cut the time limit…

Helen G // Posted 20 May 2008 at 1:54 pm

Vicky: "[…]I’m very concerned about the ease with which extreme christian groups can lobby parliamentarians to restrict womens’ rights"

My understanding from the programme was that they were funded by similar ‘religious right’ groups from America. And I find that connection pretty worrying, too…

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