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Lower Limit on Abortion: A Dangerous Idea

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Much has been made over recent weeks of reducing the window of time open to pregnant women wanting an abortion, which currently stands at 24 weeks. Some are moderate adjustments (David Cameron agrees with a 20 week limit) whilst others much more severe (Jeremy Hunt would like to see a 12 week limit). I believe any reduction on this threshold would only result in negative outcomes for three reasons considering rights, practicalities and dangers. All three reasons demonstrate why the current law is fine as it stands.

Reason #1 - Women's Rights

As any pro-choice argument goes, it should be a woman's own right to choose what happens to her body, the same as any man. If we don't have control over our own selves, how can we expect to have control over anything else? But this isn't simply the pro-choice/pro-life argument - not every politician would like to see abortion abolished, yet a lower limit would mean this right is impinged upon.

There are no medical reasons as to why any time less than 24 weeks would be better, unlike the situation in 1990 leading to the reduction from 28 weeks. Any line drawn between when it is legal and illegal to abort would be arbitrary. Reducing the limit is only reducing the time necessary for a woman to make a very difficult, potentially life-changing, decision. Nothing should stop a woman from being able to make that choice - it is a painful enough decision, without the added pressure of a shortened time-scale within which to make it.

Reason #2 - Timing

A reduction would mean the choice would have to be made in an incredibly short space of time. 24 weeks, or 6 months, is a reasonable time to deliberate this when thought about pragmatically.

Let's say a pregnancy is unexpected because a woman is using a contraceptive Pill, as much of the British population are (up to 70% of British women will have been on the Pill at some point in their life). In most guides that come with each prescription, they state that missing one period, assuming no Pill has been missed since her last period, does not necessarily mean she is pregnant. It is instead suggested she waits until she has missed two periods before her alarm bell starts ringing. That means a total of up to 8 weeks has been used without much thought been given to what would happen if she actually were pregnant. Include the time it takes for a test and between booking the appointment and having the procedure, and that's a fairly large chunk of time already gone.

This leaves up to 16 weeks left for her to make a decision. Just a matter of weeks is not enough to decide whether to be a mother or not. To give up your life to nurse a child you had not planned on, had not expected, had conceived against the odds (the Pill is over 99% effective) - a difficult decision to make from any perspective. Even those who think they know what they'd do in that situation would have hesitations.

Reason #3 - Dangers of Illegal Abortion

If the previous reasons have not persuaded you, then perhaps the potential dangers will. If a woman hasn't made her decision in time, that's it, she has to keep the baby, right? Wrong.

Let's look back through history. Did law ever stop abortion before? No. There are many instances of women breaking the law to get rid of an unwanted child. The consequences were often dire. Think Penny in Dirty Dancing, the doctor with a "dirty knife and a folding table". Think April Wheeler in Revolutionary Road, the attempt at aborting the child herself, after which she bled to death. Notable instances in literature that are no less true a representation of what could and did happen.

The problem with these illegal methods is that there is no way to regulate them. There would be no rules against how to do the procedure, no rules on who can perform it, and no rules on hygiene and cleanliness. No regulation means higher risk; many women could die as a result of a law change. Their desperate need to have an abortion would lead them down a dangerous road, one from which there is a chance they won't return.

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These are obviously fairly important issues that would need to be considered if legislation regarding abortion were ever to change. Medical reasons would provide the only good justification for reducing the limits of abortion; if this is the case, I'm all for a change in the law. But until this is proven, an arbitrary change could result in fewer rights, severe harm or even death - and this is simply not worth it.

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