Thinking about abortion

Submitted by on 27 April, 2004 - 12:00

'My Foetus', by Julia Black, Channel Four

They show dying people on telly. They show starving people on telly. They show people killed by war and communal conflict on telly. No one objects. But when someone wants to show a three to four minute uncomplicated medical procedure there is great controversy. Of course the procedure was an abortion and it was shown, very late at night, in Julia Black's film, My Foetus, on 20 April on Channel Four. Predictably the pro-lifers were up in arms.

Abortion is a taboo subject. One in three women will have an abortion, but very few will talk about it publically. Why? The commonsense explanation is that it is a emotional, traumatic decision to have an abortion, where every woman has to debate moral rights and wrongs. I'm sure that's true for very many women - it is a very sensitive issue for some.

On the other hand it seems unlikely that one in three women in Britain would chose to have an abortion at some point if it was such a hard decision. When I had an abortion, I didn't give it much thought. I had a choice and it was a simple one: if it was wrong to have a child right now, I would have an abortion as quickly as possible. And when it was over? Some relief. That's all. The only difficult part about the business was the utilitarian, abrasive, sausage-machine set up of the NHS abortion ward.

Julia Black was prompted to make this film when she found herself intentionally pregnant. She found herself thinking more and perhaps differently about abortion and the abortion she had had at 21.

Specifically she thought differently about the foetus. Of course if you are pregnant, and want to be, it is almost inevitable that you will start to think about the foetus - every baby magazine and book has a blow by blow account of its expected growth and development. Of course you are interested and you feel emotional about being pregnant.

But it seems to me that Black was confusing the two situations of being pregnant and not wanting a child and being pregnant and wanting a child. They are two very, very different situations. In the latter case you are looking forward to and coming to terms with long-term, 24-7 responsibility for the physical health, emotional well-being, education and future life of another human being. And even then nothing prepares you for the level of devotion that will be required of you.

So when a heavily pregnant Black started to confront the reality of abortion by showing what a foetus looks like at different stages of development up to the time limit of abortions I wondered if she was being entirely fair to herself - mindful of her own state of mind and natural emotions about her pregnancy.

What we can perceive about a foetus has been changed by technology. We can now see 3D scans of a foetus (and Black showed us some of these). Of course the pro-Life people blow up pictures of the tiny thing that is a 8 or 10 week old foetus precisely so that you are going to view it the way they want you to, as being baby-like. But the fact is that, although it may be a human thing, a foetus is not a baby and not a child.

In the end Black concurs with her father (who is the founder of the Marie Stopes abortion clinics) that abortion is a pretty grisly business but women should still have the right to chose. I'm not so sure I'd quite put it that way, or say, as Trotsky did, that it is 'a terrible right'.

There is no doubt that having an unwanted pregnancy is not something to be wished for. But are early abortions really that 'terrible'? If we lived in a world where NHS abortions were really freely available and conducted in a civilized way wouldn't that take away some of the complications and some of the unease we feel about abortions?

Well, I'm for a woman's right to feel how she damn well likes about abortion at any time of her life. What I'm not for is sanctimonious do-gooder/religious numskulls who think women should be forced to continue with unplanned pregnancies no matter what.

Children need committed parents, adults who at least have a fighting chance of giving the job their best shot. It is not a moral or responsible thing to bring an unwanted child into the world.

The left has not broached this issue for a long time, because we have not had to defend abortion rights for a long time. But establishing the right to abortion was and remains an essential part of an effort to make a better society. It is a precious right and one we should be prepared to defend.

Reviewer: Cathy Nugent


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 26/02/2005 - 11:54

It's inaccurate to say the pro-lifers were up-in-arms. In fact all the groups actually welcomed the broadcast. Black's broadcast in the end actually ended up benefiting the pro-life cause because most people seemed to come away from it believing that abortion after 12 weeks is wrong.

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