The Etonian MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, who claims to have become a Tory at the age of five, and has burdened his own sixth child with the name ‘Sixtus’, told us this week that he is opposed to abortion. This means abortion at any point after conception and under all circumstances, including where a pregnancy is the result of rape.
Much as I disagree with him, I acknowledge that his views are internally consistent. I do not understand the idea that abortion should be illegal except when a woman has been raped, when she should be ‘allowed’ one. Either you think abortion is equivalent to the killing of a post-partum human or you don’t. If abortion is equivalent to murder, then it is indefensible under any circumstances.
The one position which is entirely inconsistent is to say that abortion is absolutely wrong ‘unless the woman was raped’. According to this view, child murder is fine if the woman did not want the sex. Such a view would clearly be motivated by a desire to control women’s sexual activity and punish them for having sex voluntarily.
But most Britons think abortion is not equivalent to the murder of a post-partum human, which means that other reasons for abortion may be valid. Under current UK law, there are several reasons why the two required doctors can ‘agree’ to ‘let’ a woman have an abortion in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, and these do indeed rest on the premise that a woman’s mental and physical health is more important than the unborn potential human. Moreover, doctors may take financial and social factors into consideration.
The current law in the UK (excluding the antediluvian state of affairs in Northern Ireland) works well enough in practice. But it is surely wrong that abortion is still a crime unless signed off by those two doctors. Along with the British Medical Association, I am convinced that it is a medical rather than a legal issue. We are currently in the situation where a woman who succeeds in taking an abortion pill without ‘permission’, however early in the pregnancy, is committing a crime for which, unbelievably, there is a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
This needs to change. It would be a sign of a healthy democracy if all the journalists filling columns with responses to Sixtus’ dad could use those inches to discuss potential reforms to the Abortion Act 1967 instead.