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Friday, 9 May 2008

Pro-lifers must protest at Mail and Dorries' insult to women's intelligence

This week, in the run up to the second reading of the human fertilisation and embroyolgy bill, anti-abortionist campaigners have used the Daily Mail as a soap-box for their liturgy of guilt and condemnation on women who have foetuses aborted between 20 and 24 weeks.

Fortunately commonsense has prevailed through comment pieces in the Guardian and news of a report published today by the British Medical Journal. Both have sought to assuage the speculative and highly subjective use of facts, figures and general hearsay used by the pro-lifers with more substantive and objective research.

The BMJ study of all premature births in one region, Trent, shows that life expectancy for babies born before 24 weeks are poor and have not improved since the last review of this bill took place in 1990.

In the face of clear cut objective medical research Nadine Dorries MP, who is leading the cross party group launching the "20 Reasons for 20 weeks campaign", has shown her true colours with her ludicrously subjective statement in today's Guardian:

"I think this report insults the intelligence of the public and MPs alike. No improvement in neonatal care in 12 years? Really? So where has all the money that has been pumped into neonatal services gone then?" She called the study "the most desperate piece of tosh produced by the pro-choice lobby".

Comment pieces by Zoe Williams and Polly Toynbee have cast also cast aspersions on Dorries and the Mail's sensationalist use of facts and figures this week. Some of the most powerful myths they have dispelled I think are:

Two-thirds of GPs support a reduction in the time limit.

At the last British Medical Association vote on the matter, 77% voted to keep the time limit as it is.

Foetuses can feel pain at 18 weeks.

This myth is based on just one study from the University of Arkansas. But the consensus in the mainstream medical community is that the neurological development necessary for pain is more like 26 weeks plus.

The abortion of foetuses between 20 and 24 weeks is commonplace in the UK.

Only 1.45% of abortions happen after 20 weeks. Of this small per cent one woman was just 14-years-old and arrived at a clinic when she was 23 weeks and five days pregnant: her periods had become irregular but she had not realised she was pregnant until a school nurse referred her just in time. (Some women are caught out by having periods all through pregnancy, a trick nature plays.) Another was a 27-year-old who arrived at just over 22 weeks' gestation. She already had a 10-month-old, a five-year-old and a six-year-old, all of them in foster care. She said the next baby would go straight into care, because she was a drug user. In a chaotic daze, she had left the abortion to the last minute. Then there was the woman who arrived at 22 weeks and four days, who had been drinking heavily and taking large doses of cocaine, unaware she was pregnant. The one rational choice these addicted women were fit to make was to know they were not fit to be mothers.

Foetuses are being aborted late in the pregnancy because women are being too lazy to sort it out before this time.

If campaigners really wanted more abortions to take place earlier in the pregnancy, then they would work towards improving access to terminations on the NHS. Conversely, this campaign is all designed to stigmatise abortion, castigate women, lionise the foetus, and make the whole debate so emotionally charged that it no longer matters whether the argument has any factual basis at all. Never mind the insult to women.

Sad truth:
This week some Labour MPs may be taking fright. They have been sent lurid DVDs of abortions: last time they were sent plastic foetuses. Bombarded with letters from their local churches, some may reckon that voting to cut a few weeks off the time-limit won't matter much. But it does. And unfortunately the pro-choice lobby has no pulpits to marshal its troops.

New research on baby survival rates stokes abortion limit row

Fact, fiction and foetuses (Zoe Williams comment)

Resist the medievalists. Women's right to abortion is a private matter (Polly Toynbee comment)

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