The abortions we don’t talk about

Why is there so much implicit judgment about what is never a straightforward moral issue?

When I was pregnant with my children, I told people early on – way before the 12-week mark. It’s a decision I don’t regret, particularly when I recall the aftermath of an early miscarriage. Recently, though, I’ve started thinking that I wouldn’t do the same again. It’s not that I’m pregnant now, although you’ll have to take my word for it. The fact is, if I were pregnant, I’m not sure I’d want anyone to know until after I’d had all “the tests”.

I am on the wrong side of 35. The side upon which, apparently, everything goes horribly, horribly wrong, at least if you’re female. Reproductively you’re running out of time but as if that wasn’t bad enough, like Jackie in Footballer’s Wives, you start getting “rotten eggs”. You might still have a baby, but it might not be as healthy as the babies you could have had earlier (we’re assuming you’ve always had money and been in a stable relationship; if not, well, you just don’t deserve a baby, ever). That said, it’s probably best not to worry about it. After all, who do you think you are? You’re not some Nazi eugenicist, you’re a pregnant woman, and it’s time to start acting like one. The trouble is, I’m not sure I’d be prepared to do that.

Every year, there are women who will have late abortions due to the discovery of some form of foetal impairment. In some cases the foetus or baby would die anyhow, so that’s okay (unless we’re in Ireland, in which case, tough; carry your baby to term and watch it die in the name of “life”). But in some cases the pregnancy would lead to a live birth with the baby going on to have a relatively normal life expectancy, yet requiring constant care. I am not sure, as a mother, that I could make that commitment. Neither am I sure that it would be fair to ask the children I already have to take over after I am gone. And as the sibling of someone who does require ongoing care, I’m under no illusions about what how hard it can be and what lies in wait for me. I wouldn’t be able to face more than I already have to. Does that mean someone like me should just never get pregnant again? I think I am an okay mother; surely I am as deserving of this chance as anyone else?

I will be totally honest: when I read or hear potential parents saying that they “wouldn’t care” whether or not their child was seriously disabled, I am just a little bit furious. Furious at the way in which they belittle the impact that serious disability can have on so many people’s lives, and furious at the implicit judgement of those who do care, people who might have good reason not be so glib. Late-term abortions based on foetal impairment are difficult decisions. I don’t know what the “right” decision for an individual should be but anyone, before they embark on such a challenging path, ought to really, really care.

This week the Telegraph is reporting on IVF pregnancies being terminated when women “learn the child is less than perfect”:

Andrea Williams of the group Christian Concern said: “We have to question the values of a society which focuses so greatly on adult ‘wants’.

“That a woman pursues a baby through fertility treatment and then aborts it because it is not perfect is selfish and harsh.”

Do you know, if it wasn’t for all the help my parents and I get from organisations such as Christian Concern and Life and SPUC, this sort of thing would really annoy me. Oh, hang on – we don’t get any help from these self-satisfied, judgmental bullies. Just spite and meanness and pointless words. How dare anyone speak of someone else’s suffering and loss in this way?

It is impossible to write honestly about how difficult being a carer can be because another person – the person you care for – is involved and their dignity has to be preserved. This is why women such as Andrea Williams can make heartless comments about “wants” and “perfection” without others being able to challenge her with the realities of their own lives. I am not suggesting that this type of abortion is a straightforward moral issue – it’s the only instance where your choice is based on the specifics of the foetus, and not you – but I find the attitudes of groups such as Christian Concern hateful. It must be agonising for someone who wants a baby so badly and who has got so far to have to make this choice. I could never argue against it because it’s a choice I’d probably make myself.

And what’s more I think I could make it and still look the person I have to care for straight in the eye and admit to what I’d done. It’s not that I would not want this person to exist. It’s that I wouldn’t want another person with the same wants and needs in our lives. And actually – I have no doubt of this – neither would he.

This post first appeared here on glosswatch.com. Glosswitch is a feminist mother of two who works in publishing.

 

A pregnant woman having some of “the tests”. Photograph: Getty Images

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.

Photo: Getty
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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.