Jeremy Hunt is a big fan of ballroom dancing and I reckon he must be pretty good at it. With nimble feet he glided away from the his part in the shameful News Corp takeover bid fiasco and now he's skipping away from renewed questions about his judgement and competence in his new role as Secretary of State for Health.
Hunt's views on a twelve week limit on abortion, which would deny the choice of a termination to women who discover their pregnancies late or whose foetuses are found to have profound or life limiting complications, have far reaching implications for a party which already has considerable ground to cover in winning back the female vote. Thus far, the coalition's cuts and reforms to benefits and pensions have hit women hardest so Hunt's insensitive comments were precisely what David Cameron didn't need this week.
Abortion is an emotive subject, fraught with hysteria, overlaid with questions of morality and oozing taboo. Too often, as with Hunt's remarks, it is seen as an act without context, the murderous deed of murderous women; a straightforward matter of life and death.
But every pregnancy, every birth, has a wider impact. Decisions to bring children, whether healthy or disabled, into the world affect more than the person with the womb. They affect families and wider society too; no woman is an island, after all. Were it the case that Hunt had, on the one hand, said that rather than cutting benefits (Day One of the Conservative Party conference led with the potential withdrawal of Child Benefit for the unemployed) the Tory-led coalition would radically revise welfare provision to ensure that no child was born or raised in poverty, that would be one thing. Had he said that the UK would offer the gold standard in provision for the disabled and that support for families caring for disabled children would be second to none, then maybe he'd have a leg to stand on. But this is a government making swingeing cuts to social care, dismantling the Disability Living Allowance and closing day centres and respite homes. England is a place where parents of children and adult offspring with special needs, routinely have to fight for the most meagre entitlements.
As part of the proposed revisions to welfare, cuts are also planned to housing benefit for the under-25s, currently paid to around two hundred thousand young adults, many of whom are caring for their own children. Hunt's 12 week limit would herald an inevitable rise in teen motherhood, exacerbated, in all likelihood, by patchy delivery of sex education in Michael Gove's new free schools and academies. (You guys really didn't think this through, did you?)
Across the nation, naive, frightened and unlucky teenage girls who didn't meet the deadline because they were ignorant or scared or in denial, will find themselves with no option but early parenthood for which they are, in many cases, unfit and unprepared. Not necessarily a problem if Hunt were also to announce an injection of finance for services supporting school-age mums, or to fund creche places for student parents wishing to continue education, but again, I'd stake my life no such promise would be made.
No woman should feel ashamed of, or guilty for, making a responsible decision for herself, her family or the foetus. It is not wrong not to want to bring up a child one knows one can't afford or can't care for or whose quality of life you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy, and it is nobody's right to judge. Hunt is a Christian. I am not. I do not deny him his religious beliefs but I do resent the one-way compassion that is the hallmark of the religiously certain. Even Jesus, in that great work of fiction we know as The Bible, when dealing with the prostitute, failed to condemn her and I don't think He'd have much truck with those of His followers whose compassion is selective, extending always to the foetus and rarely to the mother. But what do I know? I'm on the side of the science and the here and now, not the unsubstantiated, the rumoured and the frankly-rather-woolly promise of a life everlasting in the Ultimate Welfare State in the sky.
I want every child born into this world to be wanted, provided for and loved by women who are looking forward to and preparing for the amazing, precious, life-affirming experience of motherhood, not suicidal, lonely or full of dread, fear and anxiety. If abortion makes that happen, then, as unpleasant and visceral as it is, I'm all for it.
It is too easy for Jeremy Hunt, a man of privilege and wealth, to make glib assertions about when life begins. His comments reveal not only a lack of sensitivity but a real disconnect with the lives of many, many women. David Cameron needs to put some Clear Blue (other pregnancy tests are available) between him and his thoughtless friend if he's to convince those of us who bleed that the Conservatives are anything other than a crowd of misogynistic moralists.
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