Abortion and Independence

The sun is shining, but this is not a beautiful day. The news that Health Secretary Alex Neil wants to reduce the time limit for abortion in an independent Scotland has left me feeling angry, frightened and unsettled.

He told Scotland on Sunday,

“I do think there is now a case, given the state of medical science and the fact that babies do survive from an much earlier stage in the pregnancy.”

He doesn’t state what he thinks the limit should be set at, saying that he would want to take evidence and establish what the consensus was.

But the medical consensus is already clear. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), whose opinion I trust to be more informed than any politicians, says that the limit should remain at 24 weeks.

But why is this the case, if Alex Neil, Jeremy Hunt, Theresa May and others are citing medical evidence that premature babies can now survive much earlier than 24 weeks? Why is the RCOG arguing against the evidence?

Well, it isn’t. There is no such evidence. The RCOG clearly states,

“Based on the available and anticipated evidence on the neonatal survival rates of premature babies, at the moment, 24 weeks appears to be the threshold at which premature babies have a better survival rate.”

And they further point out that just 2% of abortions across the UK take place between 20-24 weeks, and are carried out only when the woman or baby’s health is at risk. What’s more, the RCOG explicitly says,

“Lowering the time limit will not result in a lower abortion rate. Women who are desperate to have an abortion will look for the means to have one, and this includes having an illegal and unsafe abortion in their own countries or travelling to a country where late abortions are carried out.”

It would be difficult to be clearer about the impact that a reduction in the time limit would have on women.

The House of Commons committee on Science and Technology took evidence on this as recently as 2007. It was confronted with “experts” who presented evidence that the survival rate of babies born under 24 weeks had improved. Ben Goldacre has provided an excellent summary of the gradual disintegration of this evidence, which turned out to be based on the survival rate of babies who live long enough to be transferred to neonatal care: a very different starting point than the total number who are born prematurely.

I am sick of this, and I am shaken. I believe that women ought to be equally represented in all arguments and discussions about our society. I am fed up with “women’s issues” being defined only as those which relate to family, children and housework. But remarks like Hunt’s and Neil’s force us back to basic rights relating to our bodies and our reproductive choices. Arguments which I thought we had won re-emerge, and while we’re fighting these battles all over again, the sphere of issues in which women have a legitimate interest is once again narrowed to babies, birth and bodies.

And I am shaken, because it never crossed my mind that this is what independence might mean. I have become complacent in looking pityingly southwards as their politicians privatise the NHS and play with education, safe in the knowledge that it will not happen here. I have said before that while I am not yet entirely convinced about independence, I am strongly inclined in that direction. That may not now be the case. If the establishment of a new Scotland means that the right-wingers and the more extreme religious groups will have the chance to attack women’s rights on the basis of non-existent medical evidence, then it is not worth the risk.

This is a bad, bad day for the SNP, for Scottish women, and for the cause of independence. The sun is shining, but it is not a beautiful day.

8 thoughts on “Abortion and Independence

  1. I’m sorry but i dont think you actually read the article. that headline was an outright lie. What Alex Neil did was give his opinion on the subject (my own personal opinion is that it should be reduced to 16 weeks or later for genuine medical issues) that doesnt mean thats what the future of abortion will be in an Independent Scotland.

    It could be equally said of Jeremy Hunts comments that voting to stay in the union would mean 12 week limit on abortions. I dont mean to sound ratty but i have been really pissed off by the SoS and thir story. Worse still people believing it.

    It is a clear case of attempting to alienate women such as myself (same with all the women hate alex salmond & wary of independence rubbish. It is there to cause division in the same way bringing up the monarchy and NATO has. This is a simple case of divide and conquer, there is a reason it works.

  2. You’re entitled to your views, Megz, but you seem a bit confused about what you’re upset about: you don’t think I read the article (I did, for the record), but you also think the article is wrong?

    Neither I nor the SoS said that a reduction in the time limit was now SNP policy. What I said was that the transition to independence would give those who believe it should be reduced the opportunity to try to bring that about, and I am frightened and appalled by the thought that they might succeed.

    Since you have put forward your own view on a time limit, can I ask why you think 16 weeks is the correct figure?

  3. My issue was with the headline and the fact that the article went on to say it was merely an opinion not policy. It was designed to cause reaction, which it did, i’ve been annoyed by it since i first saw it last night. And i’m sure there are plenty of people that will now just go woth the headline than the actual article and believe that this is what will happen in an Independent Scotland, when there is absolutely no proof of that. I am sick of the media doing this sort of thing.

    Like i said it could equally be claimed that remaining in the union would mean a 12 week limit tho it has been conveniently ignored while people line up to attack the SNP and Independence. Anything that happens post independence will be done democratically.

    I think 16 weeks is more than enough time to find out you are pregnant, decide to have a termination and have it done. plus to me it seems cruel to abort a child once it passes the cells stage. I am not anti abortion i just think that unless there are medical reasons to end it past that stage it shouldnt be done.

  4. While I have no doubt you are right that many people will just read the headline and not the article, I can’t see that reporting what the Health Secretary thinks about an area of health policy is an unreasonable thing to do. If he didn’t want it reported, he didn’t have to say what he did.

    There are good reasons for not limiting abortion to 16 weeks. The initial test for Down’s Syndrome and other serious disabilities is not done until around the 16-week point, and there are other very severe conditions that cannot be detected until later. That’s why there is a detailed 20 week scan. Sixteen weeks might be plenty of time to find out you’re pregnant, but it is nowhere near enough time to find out if the child is going to have a quality of life that you can live with or require a level of lifelong support that you are able to provide.

  5. thats why i said unless there is medical reasons for it. I would assume that people would only have an abortion beyond that point for various medical reasons, i am not opposed to that at all.

    I am not against them reporting what he said, what i’m against is the blatant and very much deliberate misrepresentation of the headline. Also as a women i feel that the media are telling me how i feel about things when i dont feel that way at all and i also feel they are playing on women deliberately to put them off Independence.

  6. Great post.

    In response to Megz, this is about women’s choice not foetal rights. The prolife body have succeeded in moving the goalposts which is why any questioning of current limits / requirements is worrying (to say the least).

    Only 9% of abortions happen after 13 weeks. Imagine what those women go through making that decision. And as said above, they would mostly still happen, just illegally. And equally, imagine how hard life is for disabled children and parents of those children, especially in an age where universal social services are being eroded before our eyes.

    Anyone can have an opinion about whether they would or wouldn’t have an abortion and when. Butbthey shouldn’t have an opinion about whether someone else they have never met and know nothing about should have an abortion.

    And without any doubt, someone who is in charge of health policy should never publically state “But I do think there is now a case, given the state of medical science and the fact that babies do survive from an much earlier stage in the pregnancy.” This is untrue and only serves to make women’s lives more difficult at a time when all our lives, across genders, are increasingly hard. Also, what evidence is he using to make policy decisions if he can come to an opinion about this issue based on inaccurate ‘facts’?

    This is scary, because it opens up a discussion that should be left well alone.

  7. I know its not an easy decision as i’ve had one myself so i certainly wouldnt deny someone else that option. Again i will state i am not opposed to abortions for medical reasons.

  8. Why assume all woman would be put off, I,m not- I am a nurse and would be happy to see no abortions, they are cruel, pure and simple.

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