We Need an Abortion Policy Based on the Facts, Not Personal Opinion

12/10/2012 13:55 BST | Updated 12/12/2012 10:12 GMT

So, Conservative MP and health secretary Jeremy Hunt would like to see a reduction in the legal abortion time limit from 24 weeks to 12 weeks, based on the vague assertion that "[he] looks at the evidence and comes to a view about when [the legal cut-off point should be]." What evidence is that, then? Certainly no evidence that the entire UK medical community is aware of. Maybe they're all missing something. Or maybe, as I suspect might in fact be the case, Jeremy is inclined to base this country's abortion policy on his feelings rather than actual science. Great. In that case, I wholeheartedly and without reservation entrust my womb (and my body and my future) to you, Jeremy. Not that I alone have any real say in the matter.

My instant reaction whenever I read something like this is anger, followed by despair. I wonder why it is that more and more (and, increasingly, female) Tory politicians are speaking out in favour of reducing British women's reproductive rights. Perhaps they have watched the politicisation of abortion in the US, and are cynically attempting to encourage the same process here - after all, policies that trample on women's rights seem to act as a kind of catnip for those inclined to vote Republican. Is this really the smartest of moves in the UK, though? The anti-choice position in America is generally (if not always) accompanied by a hefty side of evangelism, whereas here, the 'life begins at conception' religious bleating isn't afforded a great deal of attention.

David Cameron has said that he would vote for a "modest" reduction in the time limit, from 24 to 20 weeks, and since then has kept his mouth pretty much closed on the issue. He's left most of the hardball rhetoric to anti-choice (yet, confusingly, self-proclaimed 'modern feminist') MPs Nadine Dorries and Maria Miller, probably in the hope that female voices add credence to his party's line. And let's just take a second to clarify that line: this is a government which is supporting, for apparently no justifiable medical reason, an erosion of women's choices when it comes to how and when we have children.

I wonder how informed Jeremy, David, Nadine and Maria are around the reasons for aborting post-20 (and, indeed, 12) weeks. Do they know that in fact a very small proportion of UK terminations are carried out after 13 weeks of pregnancy, and of these, most are for women who find themselves in what any sensible person would deem devastating situations? These politicians talk about advances in medical science as the basis for their support of a reduction in the legal timeframe, but are they aware that just 1% of babies born at 20 weeks' gestation survive? And what, exactly, does this have to do with the argument anyway? Most women who choose to have an abortion do so at around the 12-week mark. And women seeking abortions beyond this point tend to do so for undeniably compelling reasons.

I wonder how far Jeremy et al are able to empathise with a woman who undergoes a termination at 22, 23 or 24 weeks. Could they even begin to understand how and why she might decide that this is the best course of action for herself and for the foetus? Perhaps the government thinks that it's a question of laziness. This person can't be bothered to use contraception, so it follows that she can't be bothered to notice that she's missed five periods, either. No abortion for you, missy! Are Jeremy, our secretary of state for health, and Maria, our minister for women, really so searingly and unashamedly ignorant of the facts around late-term abortions that they think criminalising women who have them is the way forwards? Surely it can't be that. After all, they have a duty to us, the people they represent, to actually know and understand the evidence they say they base their opinions on.

Predictably, it's the poor women who stand to suffer the greatest fallout from any reduction in the legal time limit. Although repugnant to force her into this situation, a woman with the funds to do so could pay for an abortion in a country which permits the procedure post-20 weeks. And we know what happens when poor women need terminations and can't access them. They turn to backstreet abortion clinics, or they buy drugs over the internet, and they hurt themselves. Does this government really think that a harsher policy will simply make these women reconsider their options? How about the woman living in poverty who already has four children? Or the woman who's found out that her foetus has a congenital abnormality? Or the woman who was raped and has simply taken several months to come to terms with the fact that her attacker not only violated her in an unimaginably awful way, but impregnated her, too? Are we really being told that the moral course is to force these women to carry the foetuses to term? There can't be many people who would admit to being so cruel, ignorant and wilfully obtuse in public and without shame.

I hope that these 'evidence-based' opinions will be dismissed as rubbish and irrelevant. I think that they probably will, this time - the public seems to have a better grip on the need for a safe, secure abortion act than some of our MPs do. But, frustrating as it is to have to do so, we need to keep saying it: we don't accept any abridgement of our right to reproduce how and when we choose, and we will fight those who try to enforce any such change in the law.