Jeremy Hunt's announcement that he would favour a reduction in the abortion upper time limit to twelve weeks was as welcome as it was brave.
The reactions have ranged from the incandescent response of the Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper who said she was "chilled and appalled" to the equally predictable response of the Shadow Health Minister, Diane Abbott, that she was "staggered" and that it was "playing politics with people's lives."
What is truly staggering is that so little is said about abhorrent laws which permit the phenomenal loss of unborn life in this country - around 600 every working day; 189,574 in the past year and on track for 7 million since legalisation of abortion in 1967 -only 143 of which were undertaken where the mother's life was at risk. 98% of all British abortions are done under the Abortion Act's social clause - nothing to do with the hard cases with which we are regularly regaled. And abortion has become routine with 48,000 people having more than one abortion- some as many as eight.
In the case of disability, eugenic abortion is permitted up to and even during birth -recent figures revealing that 90% of babies with Down's Syndrome are now killed in the womb. There were recently calls for "after birth abortion" allowing unwanted or sick babies to die rather than treat them in our NHS Hospitals. There have even been abortions simply on the grounds of a little girl's gender - justified by some by some as a perfectly reasonable choice-driven decision. This is an unethical, impoverished, and inhumane defence of child destruction.
Against this backdrop the conspiracy of silence and manipulation of debate is indefensible. Our duty should always be to show compassion for the pregnant woman, perhaps abandoned or frightened, feeling she has been left with no choice, but we must also show compassion for the unborn child too.
It is now twenty four years since, in 1988, I laid a Bill before Parliament to reduce the upper time limit from 28 weeks to 18 weeks - and I pointed out at the time that the average European Union time limit then was around 12 weeks - and that remains the case. It is the UK which is out of step and Mr.Hunt is right to say so.
In a vote which I called in 1988 I was supported by 296 MPs, a majority of Members of the House of Commons - but the Bill was talked out by opponents.
Twenty four years ago I told Parliament that "Every country and every age will be judged by the simple test: how did they treat their people?" and I reminded the House of Commons what actually happens in the abortions in the private clinics which so many defend, and where most abortions take place (at a cost to British taxpayers of last year of £118 million, £75 million of which went to the private clinics):
"There is a chance that when prostaglandins is used in an abortion the child will be born alive. To avoid this a child is usually poisoned before the abortion. Because this is a long-drawn-out business, the method of late abortion used in private clinics is primarily dilatation and evacuation. By this method, the cervix is dilated and the baby's body removed piece by piece. To facilitate its extraction from the womb, the skull is crushed, the spine snapped and the body removed piece by piece. An attendant nurse then has the job of reassembling the body to ensure that nothing has been left behind that might cause infection. Throughout this procedure no anaesthetic is used on the child."
What is truly "appalling" and "chilling" Ms.Cooper, is that we permit such barbarism and that two decades later we still try to stifle any open debate about what is permitted behind the closed doors of these private clinics. In many political circles support for these laws has become a principal test for political sponsorship and advancement. Such intolerance has extended into the medical profession with two midwives recently taken to Court because they say that they didn't wish to be involved in such procedures. Where here is respect for freedom of conscience - let alone the sacredness of life?
In 1988 I told the House of Commons, and it remains true today that:
"By 18 weeks, a foetus is not just a clump of tissues, not just a blob of jelly. The child has sentience and can feel pain. If a light is shone at its mother's womb, the child will react and turn away. The child has a complete skeleton and reflexes. It pumps 50 pints of blood a day. A report "Human Procreation - Ethical Aspects of the New Techniques", published by the Council for Science and Society - certainly not a body supporting my view-states that pain is experienced after the foetus has developed a nervous system, six weeks after pregnancy being the earliest."
I cited Dr Peter McCullagh, an eminent immunologist, who reported that research on foetal nervous systems showed that pain could be felt at eight or nine weeks, and perhaps earlier. He said that babies could be in agony during abortions.
Over twenty years ago a nurse wrote to me spelling out the realities of abortion:
"Sometimes the foetus lives for a few minutes though the harsh contractions caused by the drugs have usually battered it to death. I don't know which is worse, those done in theatre, where you see the uterine contents being sucked into a bottle, or seeing the bruised bodies of these always perfectly formed foetuses in a receiver on the wall."
This is a corrupting and degrading business for the medical staff who become the destroyers instead of the defenders of life.
The Health Secretary is right to have spoken out and right that there is a moral case for reducing the time limit. It is not he who should be asked to defend his remarks but those who defend what is permitted.
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