Reading the papers doesn’t normally cause me to fly into an apoplectic rage. Sadly Saturday’s Times was an exception.
Jeremy Hunt, our esteemed Health Secretary, given the position in a Cabinet reshuffle having made such a success of his time at DCMS, has come out and said that he thinks the time limit on abortions in the UK should be lowered from its current 24 weeks to 12 weeks.
I just… urgh.
I don’t know quite where to begin with this one.
I realise that a lot has been made out of what Hunt said, given that what he was doing was stating a personal opinion, not Government policy. And, given that we bitch and moan when politicians refuse to give a personal opinion on something and instead stick rigidly to the party line, it almost seems mean to criticise him for doing so, because much as we might not like the opinions he comes out with, Mr. Hunt is entitled to having them. None of which leads me towards indulging the aforementioned opinion.
Because, in no particular order:
- Abortion isn’t something you ever plan to have to do. It’s not one of those amazing life events that one’s 16 year-old self sits and dreams about in double Latin – go travelling in Africa; meet and marry great guy; write best-selling novel; have abortion; buy house… It’s not as if there are scores of women out there attempting to get knocked up in the hope of trying out a recreational abortion. The decision to have a termination might not always be a traumatic or even a difficult one (see Caitlin Moran’s brilliant piece on how it wasn't a tricky decision for her), but it’s never one a woman plans on having to make. Don’t take that choice away from us when we need it.
- If Hunt’s 12-week limit is some sort of political shenanigan designed to make Maria (what the hell did we do to deserve her as a Women’s Minister?) Miller’s and Nadine (don’t get me started) Dorries’ calls for a 20-week limit look sane and rational, it’s cynical in the extreme, and he should be ashamed of himself.
- There’s little medical evidence to back up either Mr. Hunt’s or Ms. Millers’ arguments. (See also: Mr. Hunt’s carefree neglect of reasoned medical evidence, below.)
- Hunt himself says that it’s partially his religious convictions that have led him to the conclusion he’s reached. Call me a stick-in-the-mud, but I don’t want my Health Secretary to make decisions based on religious beliefs – I want my Health Secretary to make decisions based on the best of the available medical and scientific evidence. Espousing opinion based on religious belief is what the Archbishop of Canterbury is for.
- On which note: if it’s his religious convictions that have led him to a conclusion, is there a bit of the New Testament I’ve missed? Admittedly, I’m lapsed as far as my Bible-reading is concerned, and I’m not entirely sure what it has to say about abortion, but I’m fairly certain that there’s no nuanced case for terminations being ok in the first trimester, but no later.
- Also: Hunt is a paid-up believer in homeopathy. Even if he was inclined to base his opinions on medical science rather than religion, I’m not sure we’d be any better off, given that he’d be just as likely to ignore all the evidence anyway. Frankly, I can’t think of anyone less qualified to oversee the health of the nation.
- We’re used to hearing stories from the States about abortion being a hotly politicised issue – but then, that’s the States, where people also have frankly barking ideas about how it’s ok that an entire population be armed, so I don’t take them too seriously on issues of personal liberties. But I’m categorically Not Happy about the fact that something we’ve taken for granted for so long in the UK – as part of living in a civilised and secular democracy – is now seen as fair game with which to play politics. It’s not. Women’s health is not an issue for politicisation; women’s bodies are their own property; and we’re capable of making the choices that best suit our needs in our own particular circumstances. I’d be much obliged if the politicians could kindly fuck off out of it.