The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill was given its second reading in the Commons tonight by a big majority. Although abortion isn’t yet part of the Bill, MPs will table amendments reducing the upper limit at which a woman can get an abortion, from the current 24 weeks to 22 or even 20.
I genuinely don’t know how to vote on this. Years ago when I was still an evangelical Christian*, I was a dyed-in-the-wool pro-lifer. The first – and only – time I took part in a debate at my school’s debating society was to support the case against abortion. At the first Labour Party branch meeting I ever attended, I spoke against a motion which called for Labour MPs to be whipped to support the party’s policy of “abortion-on-demand”. I lost the vote and was not a popular new member.
Since then I’ve changed my mind. The idea of making abortion illegal repels me. I also don’t think a woman should have to get the permission of two GPs in order to be “approved” for a legal procedure. And I accept recent scientific advice that the survival rate of premature babies has not measurably improved since the current legislation was framed.
What worries me is the question: was the 24-weeks limit right when it was introduced? Should it have been 22 or 20 weeks even then?
I don’t know. I’ll think and read about this more between now and the vote. There seems to have developed a consensus among Labour colleagues at least that we shouldn’t tamper with legislation that was hard-won and seems to be working effectively. Colleagues whose views I deeply respect will vote for the status quo. A lobbying operation is underway and in the voting lobby tonight I was targeted by a colleague who, when I told her I hadn’t yet made up my mind, wrote something indecipherable in a box next to my name.
It’s a classic head v heart thing. There’s no doubt that being a parent of young children has affected my view on this. And by that I absolutely don’t mean to suggest that unless you’re a parent you’re not qualified to make your own judgment. It’s just that it is an emotional subject, as are children.
I hate the hard decisions. But as I’ve said before, MPs are there to make tough decisions, not easy ones. And I want to make the right one, not necessarily the one that will make me popular. Of course, whatever I do, I’ll be more unpopular with some.
*I still consider myself a Christian, just not a particularly evangelical one. Chris Bryant has dubbed me a “recovering evangelical”, which I rather like.