There was much initial confusion surrounding government policy on abortion as the nation edged toward the unprecedented COVID-19 lockdown. On March 31st, however, it was confirmed that women would be permitted to take both medical abortion pills at home (the first of which is legally required to be taken under medical supervision), to reduce potential exposure to the virus.
The government’s move to permit home abortions for the duration of the outbreak has been praised by countless politicians, public figures, and the respected human rights charity Amnesty International. In its article announcing the decision, the BBC displayed a tweet from the “British Pregnancy Advisory Service” (the leading provider of abortion in the UK), that celebrated the decision as a move toward “protect(ing) women across the country”. Is this truly a move toward safeguarding women? Is it appropriate to welcome such a policy with unfettered praise?
In modern Britain, any scepticism of abortion is routinely dismissed as deriving from ignorance, religious extremism or anti-woman prejudice. However, gender disparity concerning abortion attitudes is almost statistically irrelevant or tends to suggest that women are slightly more inclined to be pro-life.
Furthermore, the majority of moral clashes on abortion policy are rooted in reasonable political and philosophical differences, rather than a wish to force all women into serfdom. Simply dismissing the pro-life position as bigoted and regressive, without seeking to understand its claims is counterproductive to the healthy debate required to address this highly sensitive topic.
Celebrated “New Atheist” social commentator Christopher Hitchens, a staunch supporter of women’s rights and a fiery critic of all religious dogma from Islam to Roman Catholicism, is evidence of the compelling natural argument for the rights of the unborn. In a 1988 interview, he criticised how the compassion expressed by the pro-abortion crowd is highly selective, focusing exclusively on the pregnant woman’s social needs, and ignoring the life of her unborn child, which they broadly refuse to acknowledge as a “life” at all.
Once we deceive ourselves that the child inside the womb is not a life, we set a precedent for a whole other host of untruths to come into play. After this, we may concede, as many have done, that any taboo surrounding abortion ought to be removed, despite the evidence of its demonstrable risks for physical and emotional health, along with the increased likeliness of future miscarriage posed by multiple surgical abortions in particular.
Conversely, if we dismiss the common “our body our choice” slogan, and accept that unborn babies are just that, living babies, abortion quickly becomes a grim utilitarian question of who’s life and body is more important than the other. In most cases, the decision to abort comes down to social considerations. Does a woman’s preference to avoid a pregnancy to prioritise her career mean she has the “right” to terminate a life? Does a young woman’s panic at an unexpected pregnancy morally justify her decision to end the life of her unborn child? If all lives are worthy of protection, then the answer is no.
This logic makes one thing clear: the abortion industry is not about helping women make difficult decisions in exceptional circumstances. It is about permitting the killing of unborn children as a form of contraception. Indeed, many pro-choice activists admit this. One feminist activist wrote, “a woman who lacks the means to manage her fertility lacks the means to manage her life”.
This perspective intentionally seeks to reframe abortion as merely another form of “fertility” control such as condoms or the pill. It deliberately ignores the fact that we may acknowledge a woman’s right to decide whether or not to participate in a sexual relationship, and whether to use contraception, without implicitly accepting the extension of this right to include ending another human life at her convenience.
Furthermore, the framing of abortion as a cornerstone of female liberty is quickly dispelled when confronting the frequency of abusive partners in the decision-making process. A staggering seven percent British women have been pressured into an abortion by their husband or partner, and the figure for those who have ultimately decided to terminate will be far higher.
We must acknowledge the uncomfortable reality that easily accessible and culturally destigmatised abortion is not just problematic in itself, but is also frequently used as a tool by men who wish to shun the responsibility of pregnancy.
The cheerleading of the government’s permission for home abortions will no doubt provide the groundwork for the fulfilment of a long-running campaign to allow abortion pills to be taken without an in-person consultation. No doubt the current, temporary permission for home terminations is already heightening female suffering, not alleviating it. Over the phone, abortion consultations can easily be forced or monitored by abusive partners, and do not allow women to receive a proper medical assessment. Undiagnosed ectopic pregnancies, for example, can be life-threatening if terminated using standard medical abortion pills.
The question of abortion will never be uncomplicated, but the move to detach it from any moral taboo or medical monitoring is a grave mistake, and pro-choicers must too admit this.