Monday, March 14, 2005

20 weeks

Are abortions too easy to obtain? Well, from Michael Howard's point of view, it probably seems they are. His point of view, of course, is that people will vote for it.

I have two problems with Howard's desperate grab for votes. The first is one that I've long felt: a man's opinion is not worth much in this area. Let's face it, we shouldn't be doing the choosing. The support for many men on the right for antichoice positions stems, you suspect, from their fundamental belief that women's role is to be babycarriers, homemakers etc. The termination of a pregnancy is a fundamental refusal to accept that role unconditionally.

Am I saying men ought not to have an opinion, a say? No, I'm not, but I'm very uncomfortable with the notion that it's "our baby too" and that means we get a claim on a woman's womb. I'm reminded of the scene in The office where a woman, who has been lording it over the rest of the office because she is pregnant, gets slapped down by a warehouseman: "Well done. You let some dickhead blow his beans up your muff."

It's still her body, her jurisdiction, her life, her decision. We never acquire the right to take that away.

My other reason is a little more personal. Babies in the UK are scanned at about 20 weeks' gestation to check for anomalies. Ours showed an anomaly, which could only be resolved in a further scan a couple of weeks later. It would not necessarily have shown at 18 weeks. The potential, very unlikely, bad outcome was very, very bad -- something that would doom the child to a short, painful and meaningless life at best. I cannot respect people who believe that is better than a termination but that is not quite my point. My point is that if terminations were banned after 20 weeks, we would have been forced to have the twins regardless, or to seek an illegal remedy.

Anomaly scans are at 20 weeks for a reason. The fetus is just developed enough for major structures to be big enough to check. A couple of weeks earlier they are not quite there (so that in places that do an 18-week scan, a rescan will probably be necessary in case of doubt). So Howard wants women to be faced with a difficult decision, one that is not easy for most -- however much antichoicers trumpet that abortions are too "easy" -- and that can be agonising, that they only have a couple of days maybe to make. And where would I and Mrs Zen have been left? Our children are fine but we had to wait beyond 20 weeks to be sure.

The whole thing is in any case bullshit. If you think fetuses are people, they are people at any age, no? They don't become one at any particular point. Yes, they begin to look more and more like babies, but the homo in potentia is there at day one. They're not on a sliding scale from day one to their birthday. They do become more viable, but 24 weeks was chosen because it is pretty much the lower limit of viability. This choice was made to assuage the antichoice brigade. We said, okay, they *could* live (with medical intervention) at this age, even if we don't think they're alive now, so we'll agree to this limit because we can't be said to be killing what cannot live anyway. The antichoice brigade didn't agree, exactly, but they knew that you couldn't argue it beyond that.

I suppose that floating in there is a third reason for not liking Howard's statement. I don't believe we need to make any more concessions to the antichoice brigade. They're wrong. They're not wrong philosophically, because of course life might be considered to begin at day one or at birth or at any point in between, and we could argue it and argue it and no one could actually win, because unless God actually speaks to us and tells us what he intended, it cannot be decided. But they're wrong because their views never help, never add, never make the world a better place. They only hurt. I'm just not willing to allow anything to be done in the name of a God who wants only hurt for his creation. They may not be wrong about when you start to live, but they are completely wrong that there is a God like that.


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