Very interesting to read this in light of the Charles Gore piece I posted earlier. Hat tip to Kendall.
Most of those who voted for the 1967 Abortion Act did so in the clear belief that they were making provision for extreme and tragic situations: conception as a result of rape, foetal or perinatal complications threatening a mother’s life. Forty years on, many of these same people have expressed their dismay at what has happened. As some of the issues are reopened in connection with the proposed legislation on embryo research, it is important to think about where this unease comes from and whether it has any lessons for us now.
Many supporters of the 1967 Act started from a strong sense of taking for granted the wrongness of ending an unborn life. What people might now call their ‘default position’ was still that abortion was a profoundly undesirable thing and that a universal presumption of care for the foetus from the moment of conception was the norm.But the rapidly spiralling statistics – nearly 200,000 abortions a year in England and Wales – tell their own story. We are not now dealing with a relatively small number of extreme cases (and clinical advances have in fact reduced the number of strictly medical dilemmas envisaged in 1967 act’s supporters). When we hear, as in a recent survey reported in the Lancet, that one-third of pregnancies in Europe end in abortion, we may well ask what has happened.
Recent discussion on making it simpler for women to administer abortion-inducing drugs at home underlines the growing belief that abortion is essentially a matter of individual decision and not the kind of major moral choice that should involve a sharing of perspective and judgment. And that necessarily means that certain presumptions have changed. Not only has there been an obvious weakening of the feeling that abortion is a last resort; the development of embryo research has brought with it the hint of a more instrumental approach to the human organism in its earliest days.