Friday, September 15, 2006


Family Guy

Two stories about family policy top the headlines this morning. The rate of abortions is still rising despite increased availability of the ‘morning after pill’, with a family planning expert warning in the British Medical Journal that contraception is a better way to avoid unwanted pregnancy (surprise). Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton is also to make a speech on the importance of “traditional, two-parent families” – though his interview about it on the Today Programme suggested that’s less of a right-wing dog whistle than it sounds, or, shamingly, than the ‘family policy’ that the Liberal Democrats are now proposing.

I went to a Catholic comprehensive school, and we were frequently told of the evils of abortion. I was even briefly a member of anti-abortion group ‘Life’, though the school (and it was a very good one) seemed to regard the heavier pressure group SPUC as a bit scary and tended not to have them about. Since then, I’ve listened to a lot of arguments about abortion and changed my mind almost completely on the subject; I’d been moving away from a knee-jerk opposition to abortion for some time by my late teens, but I think it was a conversation with a friend who’d had an abortion herself that finally decided me.

I remain able to see the other side of argument, and would still prefer to see the number of abortions decrease, which won’t endear me to some people. I don’t believe that a foetus is the same from conception as a baby – but I can understand those who do, and I sigh if someone who genuinely believes they are arguing against murder is called ‘illiberal’ for that view. Like the question of when you’d count a foetus as a baby, the question of who’s liberal and who isn’t on abortion has a fuzzier dividing line than either ‘side’ tends to make out. What I can’t support is taking away the right from someone to make their own moral decision, let alone making life harder for women in an already hard situation, whether by forcing them back to the horrors of backstreet abortions or by exporting the ‘problem’ to other countries for women who can afford it.

So if the law is the wrong answer, what is a Liberal who is uneasy at rising abortions to do? Make themselves unpopular with everyone, really. Abortion should be a free choice, but no-one does it for fun; some abortions are fairly traumatic physically, and for a great many women they’re more traumatic emotionally. Instead of adding to that trauma with the law, the Liberal way to reduce it is surely to reduce the need for abortions: better sex education, without parents being able to deny their children such a basic piece of life education because they want to enforce their own beliefs; much easier availability of free contraception, including stopping starving STD clinics of funds because they never come up as popular in public consultations (gee, wonder why?); and stop lashing out at people as feckless, shameful and – Labour’s latest view – criminal for having babies if they aren’t married. None of which is a high priority for most policymakers, and none of which will remotely please the religious pressure groups who want abortion banned (on top of which, I’d rather early abortions were easier to obtain, as they’re clearly far less traumatic). Still, it’d probably be more effective at getting abortion numbers down than angry protests or ministerial hand-wringing. I fought my first General Election campaign in 1997, incidentally, when one of my opponents was a ‘Marian’ candidate campaigning to ban abortion; I was the only ‘main party’ candidate who would speak to him. I told him I thought he was wrong and told him my views – slightly to my surprise, he gave me some credit. More predictably, his acolytes hissed and protested.

I thought the government was going to lash around with some more illiberal lawmaking, or at least more stigmatising of anyone not in a nuclear family unit, when I heard the headlines this morning. While I didn’t agree with everything John Hutton said, though, he turned out to be more thoughtful than I’d expected. Politicians telling people what sort of families they should have are invariably wrong, and usually find it’s they’ve hung a ‘kick-me’ sign on their parties, but he mostly avoided both. Yes, he was still conflating averages with outcomes, seemingly unable to see that if more children in ‘stable’ families do well, that’s not the same as saying all single-parent or cohabiting families are worse for kids than all married couples. He didn’t consider the question that cohabiting couples may not magically become more likely to stay together if they’re encouraged in some way to marry, either. But much of his interview was fairly measured, and he went out of his way – not just when pressed – to talk about how families come in different types, we can’t turn the clock back, financial incentives to get married didn’t stop soaring divorce rates (which have now apparently stabilised, a piece of good news I’d not heard before), and he even spoke in glowing terms about civil partnerships. If at the end of it I wasn’t remotely sure what he was proposing, at least I wasn’t snarling in the way I do at most of his colleagues.

So why is it that a minister in an authoritarian Labour Government that’s always trying to tell people how to live their lives (even from before birth, now), talking on an issue where the headline – doubtless supplied by Labour’s spin doctors – is blatantly a right-wing dog whistle, still manages to sound not unreasonable when pushed to the detail? And how come his speech is far less of a right-wing dog-whistle than the Liberal Democrats are currently giving out on families?

The Liberal Democrats’ Section 28-friendly new policy paper Stronger Families, Brighter Futures pays the barest lip service to “different shapes and sizes” rather than making any statement on equal opportunities. While Mr Hutton praised civil partnerships as a way to help gay families support each other, meaning families made up of two adults, the Liberal Democrats will on Monday morning be asked to vote to say that you’re not any sort of family if you don’t have kids. This policy paper then explicitly excludes same-sex relationships – section 2.2.1 is about ‘Supporting strong relationships’ “whether married, cohabiting or living apart”. Time was, we used to be pioneers on the policy of civil partnerships, and now we believe they should be socially excluded. But it’s not just same-sex couples; gay parents and kids growing up gay are just as invisible. I hope the Daily Mail’s proud of us, because I’m certainly not.

Abortion is an issue where there is no definite liberal position...

Your suggestion of seeking to minimise the need for abortion is probably the most liberal way.

I suppose to me it seems illiberal to ban abortion, but I can see arguments the other way too...

Legal abortion is certainly the safest way, because people will always seek abortions and back street ones were dangerous, especially for the poor.
It's a subject of much debate, and the debate is hotting up of late with the apparent change in policies of several countries. I am a pro-lifer who has no religious convictions at all . I didn't need the fear of god or anything else to come to my decision, just a good sense of what is right and wrong.
You see we were all once a fetus. Is it beyond the realm of possibilities that when your mother first learned she was carrying you, she may have considered her options? What if she had decided to terminate? Would that have been OK?
You would not exist, if you have children they would not exist, and your (husband or wife) would be married to someone else. You would have been deprived of all your experiences and memories. In this day and age with terminations being so readily available and so many being carried out (can be harder to organise to have a tooth pulled in australia) if you make it to full term
you can consider yourself lucky. Lucky you had a mother that made the choice of life for you.Don't you think they all deserve the same basic human right, LIFE?
I'm all for contraception, prevention is certainly better than termination.
Did you know you can get an implant that lasts for three years? Just think girls not even a show for three years, wouldn't that be great? I think too many people rely too heavily on the last option (abortion), I think if abortions weren't so readily available people would manage their reproductive system far better resulting in a fraction of the number of unwanted pregnancies.
RU-486- Many people describe this as a contraceptive, it is not, it is a termination drug, it doesn't prevent a pregnancy, it is a lethal cocktail for the unsuspecting fetus. In my opinion RU486 might be acceptable if administered within a day or two of conception when all you would have is the basic ingredients of human life. After that it's just wrong. It's a human life.
I am convinced that in the not to distant future,people will look back at many of the practices of today with disbelief and horror.

World wide there are over three thousand terminations carried out every day. Thats well over a million every year. In the US fifty percent of all cases, birth control was used, forty-eight percent used no precaution, and two percent had medical reasons.
That's a stagering ninety-eight percent that could have been prevented had an effective birth control been used. That's sad.
Don't get me wrong, I suspect the figures in Australia would be much the same. Just a whole lot of unnessesary killing.
Have you checked out (abortionclinnicdays)-the reality show.
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