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Keep fighting: Abortion rights are always at risk

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Here in Britain it is easy to look across the Atlantic and think: “Thank the gods we’ve got sanity about abortion here.”

Yet, perhaps because of “leakage” of the American anti-abortion campaigns, perhaps because while you have religion there’ll be people trying to impose their views about the world on others, even here there are people trying to nibble away at the reasonably clearly established rights we have. (Still not straight abortion on request, of course – as it should be.)

In the past week it has been the rather odd mother Sue Axon, who has chosen to place through a legal action to put her own two teenage daughters in the glare of the media spotlight – which has shown that one of them is pregnant! (Since “teenage mother” is still clearly a term of abuse, so exposing your daughter has to raise questions about her parenting skills.)

And in fact Ms Axon told the Daily Mail that the law was probably at fault in her child having sex “so young”, because of the right to confidentiality meant she thought she could get away with it. Not much sense of her either taking responsibility for her own parenting, or indeed for her ability to think logically, there.

She’s brought a legal case trying to stop health professionals providing abortions to under 16s without parents being advised. Her only expressed motivation is that she felt “forced” into having an abortion (at the age of 30!) and has regretted it ever since. (Hardly a comparable case to a frightened 15-year-old, who could well be the subject of abuse – sexual or psychological, within her family.)

I was not surprised to learn from Mary Riddell in the Observer this morning that she’s far from the lone crusader that she claims to be. In fact all of the “usual suspects” of the “pro-life” movement are lined up behind her.

Riddell says:

Ms Axon’s side has talked reverentially of ‘the family’, omitting to mention that this can be an institution boasting rates of abuse and murder which make Feltham Young Offenders’ Institution look like Pontin’s. The trust that should impel teenagers to confide in their parents has to be earned, not imposed by law.

And I can’t avoid the feeling that Ms Axon has failed to earn that right and is, with the support of people with a classically anti-abortion agenda, trying to enforce it.

The judge’s decision has been reserved, but I fear this is the sort of case that will run and run. And if not this one, the same coterie will soon be back with some other attempt to reduce women’s rights to their own bodies.

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About Natalie Bennett

Natalie blogs at Philobiblon, on books, history and all things feminist. In her public life she's the leader of the Green Party of England and Wales.
  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    I used to be solidly pro-abortion rights in my politics. Ending the pregancy because the foetus had Down’s Syndrome, or spinabifda was no big issue for me. Of course, being a man, I had a certain distance from the issue, but given that abortion politics was a big issue in the ’80’s in the States and I was active in politics in the ’80’s, I did what I could to advance what I thought was a reasonable cause.

    My wife and I lost one foetus, and we both realized the fragility of life developing in the womb. But this did not change my viewpoint.

    I view abortion as morally wrong, but until recently was unwilling to say to another “you shouldn’t have an abortion”. I know all the arguments that defend abortion rights seven ways from Sunday. I’ve used them all myself. Abortion is legal here in Israel, though it is done under the conditions dictated by Jewish law. I’m not arguing for making abortions illegal here.

    But what really changed my viewpoints on the matter was a web-site here about a Haifa woman and her daughter, Galia, who suffered from autism as well as a series of disorders that killed her (I think) when she was a teenager.

    I leave you the (English) site to look at and only point out that in ending a pregnancy, a woman never knows WHO she is killing.

    http://www.signsfromheaven.com

  • http://philobiblion.blogspot.com Natalie Bennett

    But she isn’t killing _anyone. She is removing from her body a cluster of cells.

    An infinite number of babies _might_ be born. Millions and millions of those are _killed_ in your terms every time a bloke masturbates, every time a woman ovulates without having sex – or even if she does have sex but not carefully timing it to get pregnant.

    The issue of diabled fetuses is a complex one. But it has to be the woman first, the couple second, who decide what to do, since they’re the ones who’ll have to bear the consequences, quite possibly for the rest of their lives. And if they chose to continue the pregnancy, they will be _killing_ again in your terms, another baby that might be born if they aborted this one.

    Underlying your argument is some strange idea that there are certain people who are _meant_ to be born. Which is total nonsense. Chance dictates that certain embryos are created and reach the stage of being viable individuals. Until that point they are a cluster of DNA and cell contents, trillions of which get no further every day.

  • http://iaif.blogspot.com/ Jon Fowler

    Although I’m not a woman I have always been pro-choice. Whether here in America or across the pond, I don’t think the government should regulate a woman’s body whatsoever. I fear for the day in America when Roe v. Wade gets overturned (and it will if Alito gets into the Supreme Court). Why can’t people just be reasonable and be pro-choice. Furthermore, nobody should ever HAVE to consulte with someone before they get an abortion. I think a good idea though would be to have the doctor ask if the woman wants any advice or to consulte someone before she gets the abortion.

    In the end I believe the being inside the womb is 100% property of the woman before the umbilical cord is cut. There is a point where it’s probably not right to abort an almost born child, but I think it’s still up to the woman.

    It’s as my mother used to tell me, “I gave you life, and I can damn well take it back from you.”

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    At some point in our lives, Natalie, we’re all just a cluster of cells. That’s basic biology.

    I’m not arguing the issue with you. Please don’t presume that I am. You’re dealing with a fellow who used to be a member of NARAL in the States. I’m just wondering if you checked out that website, http://www.signsfromheaven.com. It has nothing at all to do with abortion or abortion rights.

    Check the website, and THEN tell me that it is total nonsense that certain people are meant to, or not meant to be born.

  • http://philobiblion.blogspot.com Natalie Bennett

    Yes, I’ve looked at the website, but I didn’t have too. Various people contribute to the world however their skills and abilities allow. That’s great, and as it should be.

    The world is controlled by a mixture of chance and the agency of the creatures who live in it. Nothing is “meant” to happen.

    And those creatures should be allowed the full degree of angency possible, and choosing the fate of their own bodies in entirely central to that, and a central human right.

  • http://alienboysworld.blogspot.com alienboy

    I checked out that site Ruvy, but it didn’t persuade me of anything, or at least not along the lines you were suggesting.

  • http://redtard@hotmail.com RedTard

    Natalie,

    If an underage girl can get an abortion without notifying her parent’s why can’t she buy cigarettes or alcohol or porn?

    Aren’t those decisions about her own body as well?

    The question is not as simple as pro-life and pro-choice as some make it out to be. Pro-choice always use the example of deformities, clusters of cells, and rape. Pro-life always uses late term abortions and underage girls sneaking uner their parent’s noses as examples.

    Their are a million shades of grey between. I support the woman’s right to abortion on demand up until sometime in the third trimester. That should give most women plenty of time to make a decision. After the baby is fully developed and could survive on his/her own without hordes of machines or serious defects I think it has a right to live.

    For those views I’m probably hated by people on both sides of the debate.

  • http://philobiblion.blogspot.com Natalie Bennett

    I think the under 16 question is quite easy. All of those are things that society agrees children should be protected from, and that have no or minimal good in themselves.

    Abortion, however, is often a good choice for a pregnant child, and while the ideal is that they should make the decision in consultation with their parents, that sometimes is simply impossible, or highly undesirable.

    As for your ending the right to abortion when the fetus becomes a viable independent entity, I’d broadly agree, except perhaps in those extreme cases where it is known to have some gross deformity that means it cannot survive. In which case the woman should not be forced to carry the fetus say for another couple of months, if it is her choice not to.

  • http://www.dorksandlosers.com Tan The Man

    “She’s brought a legal case trying to stop health professionals providing abortions to under 16s without parents being advised.”

    I think the (media) attention that Sue Axon is giving her pregnant daughter is the exact reason parents 99% shouldn’t be advised of their child’s abortion. I guess it depends on the parents. Having an abortion is hard, and having someone close could alleviate some of the abortion’s burden.

  • http://jhgj@aol.com Disco Stu

    You will answer for the murder you condone in the next life Natalie.

  • http://philobiblion.blogspot.com Natalie Bennett

    Since there’s no such thing as a “next life”, that’s a meaningless statement.

  • Anthony Grande

    “Since there’s no such thing as a “next life”, that’s a meaningless statement.”

    Since there’s no such thing as a “next life”, we should protect the life here with everything we got.

  • http://philobiblion.blogspot.com Natalie Bennett

    Indeed, when it is life.

  • http://www.walloworld.com BIll Wallo

    Leaving the specifics of the debate for a moment, I was just intrigued by the notion, if I am reading the article from the Observer correctly, that the “family” is “an institution boasting rates of abuse and murder which make Feltham Young Offenders’ Institution look like Pontin’s.”

    Which somehow reminds me of Winston Churchill’s description of democracy as the worst form of government, save for all the other options. I think that in general, such a suggestion may well be true of “the family” as well. It is far from perfect, and often quite imperfect, but I doubt the alternatives are better.

  • Anthony Grande

    O.k. fine, let us say that the fetus is not life why would someone that believes that there is no “next life” deny the right to life to a fetus?

    Why don’t atheists believe that life is the single most valuable resource?

  • http://philobiblion.blogspot.com Natalie Bennett

    I think Bill you must allow a columnist a certain degree of hyperbole in making her point. While indeed families might be pretty bad, but we’ve yet to come up with a functional alternative, I think what she is saying is that some families are very, very bad indeed, and young and vulnerable members have to be protected from them when necessary.

    If you think a four-cell fertilised egg is “life”, what about a sperm or an ovum? You have to draw the line somewhere.

    The basic biological definition of life versus non-life includes a phrase along the lines of “capable of independent existence”. That’s how I define life.

  • Anthony Grande

    You forgot to answer. I’ll say it again.

    O.k. fine, let us say that the fetus is not life why would someone that believes that there is no “next life” deny the right to life to a fetus?

    Why don’t atheists believe that life is the single most valuable resource?

    _____________________________________________

    “The basic biological definition of life versus non-life includes a phrase along the lines of “capable of independent existence”.

    O.k., since we have been able save a babies born after only 4 months are you against abortion after the 4th month?

  • http://philobiblion.blogspot.com Natalie Bennett

    I think you’re wrong on four months. Take for example this academic study which only starts considering the possibility of survival from 23 weeks i.e. nearly six months, at which time the mortality rate is 65%.

    But I have already answered this question in comment 8:

    As for your ending the right to abortion when the fetus becomes a viable independent entity, I’d broadly agree, except perhaps in those extreme cases where it is known to have some gross deformity that means it cannot survive. In which case the woman should not be forced to carry the fetus say for another couple of months, if it is her choice not to.

  • Anthony Grande

    There was one case when a baby was born and survived after only four months.

    But anyways, would you support a ban on abortion after 6 months?

    Just say yes or no

  • http://philobiblion.blogspot.com Natalie Bennett

    You’d have to look at the medical evidence to decide what the exact gestation period should be, but broadly yes, except in special cases of gross disability, when a woman shouldn’t have to continue to carry a fetus that has no chance of survival.

  • http://alienboysworld.blogspot.com alienboy

    ANTHONY: Re your #17

    I can’t accept the label of “atheist” as that is in itself a religious concept. Actually, it’s you that is a faithist.

    However, I find myself in total agreement with you that “life is the single most valuable resource”. That is exactly why a woman’s right to decide what happens to her body, in her life, is paramount.

    I’m not really interested in entering into the minutiae of the debate you’re having. You are starting from an incorrect basic premise so all that follows is naturally tainted.

    The key issue in the debate is that what women choose to do in their lives is non of your or the government’s business. The only issue is providing for their correct care.

    You no more have the right to interfere in anybody’s life than anybody else. Suppose everybody in the USA believed that people like YOU weren’t fit to breed and should be compulsorily castrated? Would you go along with that? I doubt it.

  • Anthony Grande

    Oh but the abortion doctor is interferring in the life of the fetus.