Conscience and judgment

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.


1 Comment

Filed under Hinterland, Parliament

One response to “Conscience and judgment

  1. Liz

    I’m sort of uncomfortable with the idea of abortion, but I’m even more uncomfortable with what was going on before the Act was passed. My main worry is for the people who have to deal with those limits in hospitals. If a 24-week baby can be fought for in one area and aborted in another, that must be very difficult for hopsital staff. The limit was moved down when 28-week babies could be treated and had a good chance of survival; maybe we should move it down another couple of weeks now?

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