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 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.

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The Tories' aim is to put Labour out of business for good

Rather than merely winning again, the Conservatives are seeking to inflict permanent damage on the opposition. 

The Conservatives are numerically weak but politically strong – that is the peculiarity of their position. Their majority is the smallest of any single-party government since October 1974. Yet, to MPs at the Tory conference in Manchester, it felt like “2001 in reverse”: the year of Tony Blair’s second election victory. Then, as now, the opposition responded to defeat by selecting a leader, Iain Duncan Smith, who was immediately derided as unelectable. Just as Labour knew then that it would win in 2005, so the Conservatives believe that they have been gifted victory in 2020. David Cameron has predicted that the party’s vote share could rise from 37 per cent to a Thatcherite 43 per cent.

For Cameron and George Osborne, who entered parliament in 2001, this moment is revenge for New Labour’s electoral hegemony. They believe that by applying Blair’s lessons better than his internal successors, they can emulate his achievements. The former Labour prime minister once spoke of his party as “the political wing of the British people”. In Manchester, Cameron and Osborne displayed similarly imperial ambitions. They regard Jeremy Corbyn’s election as a chance to realign the political landscape permanently.

Seen from one perspective, the Tories underperformed on 7 May. They consistently led by roughly 20 points on the defining issues of the economy and leadership but defeated Labour by just 6.5 overall. It was their enduring reputation as the party of the plutocracy that produced this disparity. Those who voted for Labour in spite of their doubts about Ed Miliband and the party’s economic competence may not be similarly forgiving of Corbyn. To maximise their gains, however, the Tories need to minimise their weaknesses, rather than merely exploit Labour’s.

This process began at conference. At a dinner organised by the modernising group the Good Right, Duncan Smith, Michael Gove and the Scottish Tory leader, Ruth Davidson, affirmed their belief that, contrary to Thatcherite orthodoxy, inequality is a problem. Only the Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, an admirer of the libertarian heroine Ayn Rand, insisted that equality of opportunity was the defining metric.

George Osborne’s assured speech was most notable for his sustained appeal to Labour voters. Several opposition MPs told me how unsettled they were by the Chancellor’s declaration that Labour’s new leadership calls “anyone who believes in strong national defence, a market economy and the country living within its means” a Tory. He added, “It’s our job to make sure they’re absolutely right. Because we’re now the party of work, the only true party of labour.” The shadow minister Jonathan Reynolds told me: “We’ve got to be extremely clear that this is not business as usual. This is a real attempt by the Tories to put us out of business – possibly for ever.”

The Conservatives’ aim is to contaminate Labour to the point where, even if Jeremy Corbyn were deposed, the toxin would endure. For those opposition MPs who emphasise being a government-in-waiting, rather than a protest movement, the contrast between the high politics of the Tory conference and Corbyn’s rally appearance in Manchester was painfully sharp. They fear guilt by association with the demonstrators who spat at and abused journalists and Tory delegates. The declaration by a rally speaker, Terry Pullinger, the deputy general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, that Corbyn’s election “almost makes you want to celebrate the fact that Labour lost” was regarded as confirmation that some on the left merely desire to run the party, not the country.

But few Tory MPs I spoke to greeted Corbyn’s victory with simple jubilation. “It’s a great shame, what’s happened to Labour,” one said. “We need a credible opposition.” In the absence of this, some fear the Conservatives’ self-destructive tendencies will reassert themselves. The forthcoming EU referendum and leadership contest are rich in cannibalistic potential. Tories spoke forebodingly of the inevitable schism between European Inners and Outers. As the Scottish experience demonstrated, referendums are almost never definitive. In the event of a close result, the party’s anti-EU wing will swiftly identify grounds for a second vote.

Several cabinet ministers, however, spoke of their confidence in Cameron’s ability to navigate the rapids of the referendum and his pre-announced departure. “More than ever, he’s the right man for these times,” one told me. By this December, Cameron will have led his party for ten years, a reign exceeded in recent history only by Stanley Baldwin, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. That the Conservatives have so far avoided cataclysm is an underappreciated achievement.

Yet there are landmines ahead. An increasing number of MPs fear that the planned cuts to tax credits could be a foul-up comparable to Gordon Brown’s abolition of the 10p tax rate. Despite the appeals of Boris Johnson and the Sun, Cameron and Osborne have signalled that there will be no backtracking. At such moments of reflection, the Tories console themselves with the belief that, although voters may use Corbyn as a receptacle for protest (as they did Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock and Ed Miliband), they will not elect him. They also acknowledge that the current Labour leader may not be their opponent in 2020. The former paratrooper Dan Jarvis is most often cited as the successor they fear. As with Cameron and Blair, his relative lack of ideological definition may prove to be a strength, one MP suggested.

William Hague is fond of joking that the Tories have only two modes: panic and complacency. If the danger before the general election was of the former, the danger now is of the latter. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.