Comment: Doctors’ abortion impunity needs tackling urgently

By Baroness Jill Knight

The subject of abortion will always be a matter of argument – which is not to be wondered at, since it concerns the most basic of all subjects: life and death. And for every argument for it, there is a counter argument against. A woman has a right to decide what happens to her body. But does she have the right to decide what happens to someone else's body?

A baby is not a baby until it is born – it is just a mass of cells. Why is it, then, we can watch and clearly recognise a child in the womb as it sucks its thumb, or suffers pain. We can even see its gender! That is not feasible if it is just a few cells.

There can be no doubt that a woman has a right not to become pregnant. But contraception has never been so available, so cheap or so good. To take the view that there is no need to bother with contraception – you can always have it out, like a bad tooth or a wart – is irresponsible in the extreme.

Some women today think nothing of having four or five abortions. But psychiatrists tell us that even some of those, and many, many of the more thoughtful, sensitive women, are liable to periods of deep depression, even years later, particularly if some years after the abortion they find they are unable to conceive again.

Back in 1967, when parliament was debating the abortion bill, various concerns were expressed. It is well understood by MPs that what is stated during those debates to counter such concerns will be faithfully carried out.

We were assured that no woman would be able to get an abortion simply on demand. Two doctors, seeing the woman separately, would have to testify that there was a medical reason for the operation. The bill would never have passed into law, if parliament has known how soon, and how often this promise would be broken.

Quite early in 2012, the government's own care quality inspectors on a routine check found that doctors were signing wads of blank agreement forms, never having laid eyes on the patient. Furthermore, it was becoming quite common for abortions to be carried out for no other reason than that the coming child was a girl. No legal action against any of this has been reported.

So far as I am aware, this is the only flagrant and regular breach of a British law which can apparently be carried out with impunity. I have put down a parliamentary question for answer in the House of Lords today, asking what action is being taken to stop this. If people can act in direct contravention of the law, and freely carry on doing so, what is to become of out law-abiding society?

Baroness Jill Knight of Collingtree has been in government politics since 1959 and was the Conservative MP for Birmingham Edgbaston from 1966 to 1997. She joined the House of Lords in 1997.

(Portrait by Michael Waller-Bridge.)

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