Abortion: How about some evidence-based blogging?

We were disappointed to read the evidence free and emotive piece published on this site last week by Marko Atilla Hoare.

By Emma Burnell and Christine Quigley

We were disappointed to read the evidence free and emotive piece published on this site last week by Marko Atilla Hoare.

If those who wish to present a case against abortion wish to do so on a site that prides itself on producing evidence based analysis, they will have to do better than simply asserting abortion is “tragic”, “monstrous” or invoking Ammonite Gods requiring child sacrifice.

Emotive words are easy when a subject is emotive. They have their place in campaigning, in the pulpit and in pulp fiction.

But when it comes to public policy we would prefer to stick to the facts. We could write a pro-choice piece about the tragic choices women are forced to make. About backstreet alleys and coat-hangers; about thirteen-year-old rape victims and fatal foetal abnormalities; about women on the boat from Ireland escaping a repressive and theocratic regime.

But we’re not going to do that, because this blog isn’t the place to. Instead, we’re going to present you with some facts.

Marko tells us that “it really is a baby” and that those of us who don’t see a twelve-week old foetus as a fully-fledged human being are “in denial”.

This isn’t the opinion of the medical community, the law of the land and the general public.

He tries to make the point that abortion is a class issue. It is, but but not in the way he thinks. Working-class women across the world find it harder to access safe legal abortions. For example, in Northern Ireland, where abortion remains illegal, women are being forced into buying unsafe “abortion pills” over the internet because they can’t afford to travel to the mainland for an abortion.

So this illegality is not stopping women from wanting to terminate unwanted pregnancies, but is forcing those on low incomes to resort to more dangerous methods in an attempt to do so.

We believe that all women who find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy should have the right to terminate that pregnancy. However, Marko’s characterisation of two adults conceiving a child through consensual sex being a norm deserves challenging.

As Left Foot Forward so graphically demonstrated,  78,000 estimated annual rapes result in an average of just 1,153 convictions. That leaves 76,847 women who can’t legally prove they have been raped  if asked to do so when seeking an abortion. In Northern Ireland, where as we have said, abortion remains illegal, just one if five people think abortion shouldn’t be available to rape victims.

Marko is absolutely right when he says that no woman should feel she has to have an abortion. He’s also right to say that our society must do more to support pregnant women. But this sort of emotive rhetoric stigmatises and patronises women and obscures the real questions we have to answer as a society.

We have a continuing national conversation about abortion, and both sides need to evidence their case if the debate is to avoid hysteria. We hope that is what we have done in refuting Marko’s piece. If anyone would like to provide an evidence-based – rather than emotive, judgemental and patronising – case against women having a right to choose,  we welcome that contribution to the debate.

Emma and Christine are women ready to defend their right to choose with evidence-based analysis.

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25 Responses to “Abortion: How about some evidence-based blogging?”

  1. Bethany

    Good piece, but it doesn’t address the most thorny issue in the abortion debate – at what point does a fetus become a human? The vast majority of pro-choice campaigners would not support the abortion of a healthy fetus at, say, 7 months, so this is a debate that we should have.
    What science is available that helps us draw the line between say, 5 months and 6 months? Or4 months and 5? How should developments in medical science effect the abortion time limit, given that very premature babies can now survive when previously they couldn’t? Addressing the development of a fetus at 12 weeks ducks this issue.
    Philosophically, we then get into a very difficult position if we say that at 6 months a fetus is a human, and we have e.g. a 12-year-old rape victim who is 6 months pregnant. Emotionally, every part of me would like her to be able to have an abortion but that is not intellectually consistent with accepting that the fetus is a child.

  2. Mick

    Good piece and basically agree.

    Two things though; firstly, the below paragraph is a bit “I could talk about my opponent’s massive heroin addiction and penchant for hookers, but I’m going to stick to the issues.” Not totally sure you’ve dodged the emotive bullet.

    “Emotive words are easy when a subject is emotive. They have their place in campaigning, in the pulpit and in pulp fiction. But when it comes to public policy we would prefer to stick to the facts. We could write a pro-choice piece about the tragic choices women are forced to make. About backstreet alleys and coat-hangers; about thirteen-year-old rape victims and fatal foetal abnormalities; about women on the boat from Ireland escaping a repressive and theocratic regime. But we’re not going to do that, because this blog isn’t the place to. Instead, we’re going to present you with some facts.”

    Likewise, you say “78,000 estimated annual rapes result in an average of just 1,153 convictions. That leaves 76,847 women who can’t legally prove they have been raped if asked to do so when seeking an abortion.” Which is sort of implying there would be a massive army of 76,000+ women walking around with unwanted babies were abortion to be made illegal. But presumably not all these women get pregnant. The percentage that do would indeed be in a tragic situation – and to suggest they should be denied an abortion is obviously crazy (that’s right 1/5th of Northern Ireland). But again, I’m not sure how evidence based it is.

    I agree with all the sentiment here, but I do think a piece that makes such a thrusting point about evidence base could do better of that. Still, the general rebuttal is worth making, and well done for making it.

  3. GO

    “Emotionally, every part of me would like her to be able to have an abortion but that is not intellectually consistent with accepting that the fetus is a child.”

    Not necessarily. It’s at least arguable that *even if* the 6 month fetus is a human child, that does not place the mother under a moral obligation to allow it to use her body to sustain its life.


  4. Peter Den Haan

    Bethany, you are precisely right about the thorny issue of the start of human life. Hiding behind “evidence” and “the opinion of the medical community”, as Emma and Christine are trying to do, is ultimately fruitless because at its root it remains a purely moral judgement, not a medical or factual one: what makes you human?

    For sure, evidence can inform your decision, but it cannot make your decision for you. For example, why change your mind about abortion simply because we can now keep very premature babies alive? If abortion at 24 weeks is suddenly wrong now, surely it was wrong all along. Or, you might decide that full personhood starts only when higher brain functions unfold, and then consult medical professionals to learn when that might be (answer: after birth, which has led some ethicists to suggest that infanticide might be morally perfectly acceptable).

    The case of a 12yo rape victim who is 6 months pregnant – assuming you accept the humanity of the fetus – is one of those very hard cases where you have to weigh up two gut-wrenching evils and decide which one is worse. I wouldn’t like to sit in judgement of that. But it seems to me that it is pointless to consider such problems until you’re more clear when an unborn possesses full humanity in the first place.

    I agree with the authors on one thing. The quality of public moral thinking around abortion is highly emotive and of poor quality. That is, if you ask me, because truly consistent moral thinking often leads you in one of two directions: infanticide, or the full humanity of the unborn from a very early stage. Both are politically unacceptable. So we shy away and muddle on.

  5. Claudia

    The distinction is made on the point of viability independently of the mother. Hence a woman’s right to choose. It is her body and her decision until the point the foetus can survive alone. Some find such an expression of a woman’s autonomy difficult to deal with as it contradicts the way many societies work. So few women are culturally autonomous and require the tacit permission of dominant males within it. There is no debate necessary. It is the woman’s body therefore her choice.

  6. Bethany

    Hmmm, not sure about that. When a baby is born and a mother refuses to care for it so that it dies, that’s murder/manslaughter, and rightly so. If we accept that a 6 month fetus is a human (*if*), then why is the mother’s moral duty to ensure its survival any different to when a child is a new born?

  7. alastair

    “but it doesn’t address the most thorny issue in the abortion debate – at what point does a fetus become a human?”

    You’ve shown yourself to not understand the abortion debate. At what point a fetus becomes a human being is a medical debate but the only issue that matters in the abortion debate is whether a woman should be forced against her consent to use her body to maintain someone else’s life.

    “that is not intellectually consistent with accepting that the fetus is a child”

    Yes it is. Even if you uncritically accept the idea that a fetus is a child and entitled to the same rights as everyone else then it still gets you nowhere near the idea that a fetus has the additional right to use someone else’s body without their consent.

    If when I was a child it turned out that I had some medical condition that meant I needed a kidney transplant or I’d die and my mother was the only possible donor but didn’t consent. Would you support or oppose the state forcing her to donate use of her body or would you oppose it?

  8. Bethany

    I should add that I’m not religious, and I’m absolutely pro-choice up to a point. I just don’t know where that point should be.

  9. Bethany

    This is interesting. You assert that a fetus has no right to life even if it becomes a child as that life is depedent on a mother’s body. I think it does. For example, say a mother has a child in the wilderness, where the only source of viable food for a newborn is breast milk. If she decided not to feed the child, would that be OK with you, even if the chid died?

  10. Selohesra

    Whilst abortion sometimes a necessary evil it surely cannot be used in a civilised society as an alternative to contraception

  11. alastair

    “You assert that a fetus has no right to life”

    A fetus has the exact equal right to life as you or me. You and I also have the limit on our right to life that we cannot use someone elses body against their consent.

    If I would die without use of my mother’s body then does my right to life give me the right to use her body against her consent? If not then why do you argue that a fetus has more of a right to life than me?

    “say a mother has a child in the wilderness…”

    Then it wouldn’t be analogous would it?

    When a child is born it is no longer exclusively dependent on its mother’s body at which point if the mother no longer wishes to look after the child a civilised society will look after it.

    If the mother is in the wilderness either stranded there or a theoretical mother prior to the rise of civilisation then that sucks but not being able to use your bodily autonomy to sustain someone’s life is a right.

  12. Alastair

    That’s fine to admit, but given that you have admitted that you don’t know where the point should be isn’t it best to leave it up to each pregnant woman and her doctor who are in the position to know better what the point should be for them?

  13. Bethany

    It is analogous – it’s possible that a child can be born and be entirely dependent on its mother’s body for food and thus survival, even now. The mother refusing to breast feed such a child is clearly morally wrong, not to say anything about criminality. ‘It sucks’ doesn’t cut it. But the transplant issue is an interesting one, because it is clearly different from my example and I’m trying to work out why.

  14. Bethany

    No, because there is a clear point where it shouldn’t happen e.g. post 6 months, and if we are to have a rational, evidence-based debate then there will be objective things to measure, such as organ development, rather than a subjective ‘each woman knows best and should decide’. That evidence should inform the time limit.

  15. JR

    Bethany, I think you have hit upon an extremely valuable issue and area of discussion.

    Post birth, a mother has a duty of care to her child. Not to feed, cloth and protect a child is neglect will result in prosecution.

    However, that duty of care can be discharged under a number of different situations to a number of different parties, including the state. This is about social expectation being enforced by the law and it is not black and white. There are any number of permutations of how such a situation can play out that, needless to say, do not need to be listed here.

    Abortion is not the same at all.

    The difference in examples, which you highlight, is key. It is also interesting to note that the common sticking point of debate (is the foetus alive) does not change anything. Giving the foetus the rights of an adult, for the sake of argument, just highlights that the rule of law is about a balance of individual rights rather than moral sentiment.

    Even if the foetus is ascribed the right to life of any child or adult individual, this right to life does not supersede that of the mother any more than any other child or adult.

    Cruel as it may seem, the law can not compel me, or a mother (pregnant or not) to give a starving adult or child a sandwich. it can not make me invite them into my house for dinner. It certainly can not (and should not) require me to give them, my brother or any other human being (even my own child) a blood transfusion or a kidney.

    People resort to blanket regulation when they have lost the logical argument. Debate about abortion is not going to go away, but the law here should remain clear and fact based.

  16. JR

    You are right to highlight the gut wrenching realities of extreme cases. This is what the law is for, and why it must be based upon fact. As I note above in my response to Bethany, in law it does not matter ‘when’ a foetus becomes a child because it does little to change the balance of rights that the law should consider.

    Ascribing full human rights to a foetus emphasises the need for equal treatment of those human rights and the mother’s human rights. By making a foetus equal, it is much easier to see why the mother is legally, morally and logically allowed to choose what happens to her own body.

    I agree that the quality of public debate is emotive and of poor quality. I also must apologise, as I am not trying to be overly critical, but in this vein I feel it important to point out that the two directions you highlight are actually the same. If the child does not have ‘humanity from an early age’ (i.e. it remains a part of the mother as is currently the medical definition) then it will not be ‘infanticide’ if an abortion takes place, but a medical proceedure.

    However, I do strongly agree that people shy away from real conclusion to this issue because it is politically sensitive.

    I just have a feeling we may not see the real conclusion as being the same.

  17. Noah Smith

    And the evidence for this is?

  18. Noah Smith

    From what I can gather from Marko’s article and his responses he’s actually pro-choice but, as you point out, he likens abortion to child sacrifice. What a deeply confused and cowardly position, I would have more respect if he argued for greater restrictions or an outright ban.

  19. grahambc1

    I am not sure that this subject can ever be one that is solely based on evidence, because it is so emotive. I don’t think this article is nor the previous one. The original article made some good points but spoiled the effect by using emotive language. I agree that a lot of the discussion is really about when does human life begin, although I can see some of the contributors here take this further and this is the first time that I’ve heard people say that it does not matter even if the fetus/unborn baby is considered human if it is reliant on the mother then it is the mothers right to choose the termination. Morally I find that very dodgy ground, because where does this stop. With freedom must come responsibility and here there can be a moral division between children conceived in rape and children conceived in consensual sex. If you consent to sexual activity, having the freedom to choose then perhaps you should be consenting to the consequences.

    I personally along with many other Christians believe that life begins at conception and therefore believe that abortion is to be avoided if at all possible. However if that is not your belief then I can understand why there is a different line but where that line is, is extremely difficult to ascertain.

    As a teacher and in everyday life I have known a lot of people and have indeed come across people who have used abortion as a means of contraception. One person had two abortions before there 18th birthday. I am not commenting on how widespread this is and i have only anecdotal evidence, but I know it does happen.

  20. Jacko

    Who cares what Marko Atilla Hoare thinks about abortion? He’s an Oxbrdidge educated historian with a specialism in Yugoslavia. You may as well ask the postman. It’s just self-publicity to further his ‘career’ as some sort of social commentator. The thing these people are most scared of is being ignored.

  21. Ross

    There is a very confused tone to his article. He seems to adopt quite logical ideas at certain points but then indulges in a kind of chastising tone towards these theoretical ‘womenfolk’ that I always think is totally futile and patronising when discussing this issue. The 2 issues that stick in my mind above the ones mentioned in other comments are 1) Even if the govt. on behalf of ‘society’ decided that there is brain activity after say 12 weeks, therefore the fetus adopts full civil rights at that point, does anyone really think they could stop women from aborting in an age when there is so much online information about chemical means of doing so? Perhaps it’s not actually the govt’s job to decide for us what is morally or philosophically right, and rather just to provide a guide to behavior and some limits of criminality for extreme cases and the NHS’s job to make sure we don’t kill ourselves via counseling and treating. 2) No-one has mentioned the doctor’s right to choose – some of them are deeply uncomfortable about the ethics of aborting fetus/children with minor disabilities like cleft pallets that may only be picked up at a late stage – do they not have a right as individuals or a profession to be consulted on the law, since the women concerned are not performing the operation of themselves? (That type of ethical issue does not arise with other types of operations – it is somewhat unique in medicine – perhaps the only comparison is the separation of siamese twins?) I do think that the repeated use of phrases like ‘women’s right to control their own body above all else’ has a somewhat sinister tone if you think about some of the implications – if we were to replace the word woman with man and the word body with genetic material, we could have an argument for a man’s right to force an abortion because part of his body is growing inside someone else against his consent – and I don’t think many of us would agree with that? (or at least I hope not) The general right to control your own body is not absolute – we can’t choose to have sex in a public place because it affects other people, we can’t choose to refuse to be stitched up in an operating theatre when a surgeon has already opened us up, we can’t choose to use our body to harm another person’s body by strangling them or jumping up and down on them. While we don’t want to end up in some repressive society like Australia in the 60s where women are told what’s ‘best for them’, I don’t see why a rule of thumb should be interpreted literally in every scenario to the nth degree. Along with control of your body comes a responsibility to manage your own body in a way that is not massively harmful to the rest of your society. e.g. if necessary, I think early termination is far better for mother and society than treating a fetus as if it’s a nameless parasite to be removed at a time that suites the decision makers. There is nothing wrong or weak minded with admitting that we have an emotional response to something which is developing into a child – that’s part of the empathy that make’s us human and provides us with the same impetus to address political problems in our society.

  22. ThisIsTheEnd

    I was under the impression that doctors and medical staff already have a conscience clause

  23. Ross

    They have a right to fill out some form and refuse to participate in the final act – i.e. the actual pulling out of the fetus with the suction equipment, but not any of the advise or treatment in the build up to abortion. In other words, if someone meets the legal requirements in terms of mental competency, weeks pregnant, age, 2 GP signatures (which are now not difficult to acquire since they are only concerned with ticking the legal boxes) – there is no way you can object to the course of action on ethical grounds other than to refer to another doctor in the same local authority area and this itself is strongly discouraged as ‘bad practice’. The role of counseling is mainly just to make the process easier, not to ask whether the decision has been properly considered or not – which is ‘intrusive’. The ethical objection thing is a hangover from an old law in the 60s which has not been updated to match ‘best practice’ of the medical counsel. So, if for instance, I was a female doctor and on speaking to my pregnant patient I discovered that she had been in a reasonably stable relationship and had been involved in a heated argument with her partner over having a child and while still in a state of rage she had decided to abort the fetus at 20 weeks, rather than some rational medical or financial reason, I would be strongly discouraged by best practice from questioning or delaying the decision or asking why it had taken 20 weeks to come to that decision – so the right to choose is basically supreme and unquestionable in almost all situations, regardless of other considerations. Doctors are asked to conduct a medical procedure but are not allowed the normal sorts of medical opinions they would have in any other sort of procedure and their right to object is really just a right to pass the patient through to the doctor next door, not to put the breaks on. If mother and father knew that they would be legally required to explain why they need an abortion, this would help to prevent the misuse of abortion – I object to the emotive argument ‘don’t you think they already take the decision very seriously’ – that is POST the event, regrets – there should be a social pressure to deal with the issue EARLIER. There are too many abortions in the UK – more than other developed countries that have the same civil rights. I do agree that a final decision must always be the mother since its her body – put that should not mean that medical professionals should have to tip toe around the controversial issue of why these individuals were not responsible enough to deal with the problem themselves before… I think the average is around 15 or 16 weeks. Obviously rape is pretty clear exception to that.

  24. ThisIsTheEnd

    “Whilst in a rage wanted to abort a fetus at 20 weeks…” Are you serious? You are aware that the UK doesn’t operate abortion on demand. The, frankly offensive, scenario you painted would be illegal.

  25. Donald Borsch Jr

    “safe and legal abortions”. Safe? Tell that to the dead human baby that results from abortion-on-demand. And legality does not denote morality. Naziism was legal. Slavery was legal. Apartheid was legal. Abortion being legal misses the target totally.

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