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HomeNewsCaroline Farrow: Making exceptions for abortion lacks logic

Caroline Farrow: Making exceptions for abortion lacks logic


Just in case you were in any doubt, the once excellent Daily Telegraph, who could be relied upon for sensible comment about the issue of abortion, has demonstrated that it has succumbed to illogical feminist rhetoric on the matter. This is after all, the paper who uncovered the widespread practice of illegal sex-selective abortion, which was taking place in many clinics.

Writing in Tuesday’s edition, former Daily Mirror staffer, Abi Wilkinson, performs the usual pro-choice trick of attempting to impose feelings and motivations onto those who are generally opposed to the procedure. Exercising her omniscient judgment she proclaims “abortion opponents don’t really think it’s murder. They just want to judge women. The irony is that while bitterly complaining that those who are broadly against abortion want to punish and stigmatise women, this is precisely what Ms Wilkes wants to do to anyone who holds an opposite view to hers, exposing them as ignorant and hateful individuals.

The frustrating thing about the article is that the author skirts so close to grasping and explaining the nub of the pro-life issue. Pro-life politicians who refuse to make exceptions allowing for the abortion of babies conceived in rape and those who are diagnosed as having a disability will be vilified by the likes of Ms Wilkes for their lack of compassion and alleged misogyny and yet she demonstrates that she understands the flawless logic behind this absolutism. “If a foetus is a full human being with an inalienable right to life and abortion is akin to murder, what reason is there to make an exception in cases of rape or incest?” she asks. A victim of a serious crime does not gain the right to exact other serious crimes on people, says Wilkes, a woman who is stabbed in the street is not allowed to go home and stab her daughter. This is a non-sequitur. It’s obvious why rape victims may feel compelled to abort a baby which resulted thanks to the act of sexual violence inflicted upon then and it’s nothing to do with re-enacting what’s happened to them on third parties. The comparison is crass and highly insensitive.

The reason why pro-lifers oppose abortion in cases of rape, is because the unborn child still has the inalienable right to life, regardless of the violence that was inflicted on the mother and the way in which they came into the world. Children ought not to be defined by and punished for the heinous acts of their parents. Abortion inflicts a further act of intrusive violence upon a woman and compounds the trauma being experienced. According to a survey conducted by the Elliott Institute in the US, who interviewed women made pregnant by rape or incest, nearly 80 per cent of women who aborted, later reported that they believed that it had been the wrong decision and almost all said that they felt strong pressure to do so. None of the women who gave birth to a child conceived this way experienced regret as to their decision. Abortion following rape is one of the risk factors predicting post-abortion pyschological sequelae.  

Furthermore using the language of murder is an inflammatory piece of rhetoric. While I consider abortion a killing, which is backed up by the use of the medical term feticide, deriving from the Latin word foetus (for little one) and the suffix cida (cutter or killer), in common with many pro-lifers, I am uncomfortable using the word murder in relation to mothers. Legally, in order to murder someone there needs to be a defined intent, whereas women who abort their babies are often in abject denial that any sort of human being is present at all.

Though Wilkinson grasps the logic at the heart of the pro-life position, she bases the rest of her thinking and thus harsh judgement on a falsity, that ‘either the foetus has a right to life that overrides the right of the mother to make decisions about her body, or it doesn’t.’

The whole point is that the foetus, is not a part of the mother’s body, it has it’s own separate genetic identity and is a self-contained whole individual. A mother pregnant with a little boy, is not suddenly in possession of a penis and while an unborn is inside a woman’s body and physically connected to her, it does not make that child a part of her. Location, does not equal part. A poster does not suddenly become a part of the wall it is affixed to and neither do I become a part of my car when I get inside it.

No-one claims that the foetus overrides the mother’s ability to take medical decisions, or even that its right to life overrides hers. Both are equal and in those extremely rare medical cases, where a choice needs to be made between the two, while those with religious or strong moral convictions may choose to prioritise the life of the mother, there is absolutely nothing written into Northern Ireland’s abortion law, the cause of the author’s ire, which would prevent life-saving treatment to be performed, even if this meant the premature delivery and subsequent death of the child. There have been no cases of a mother being sacrificed by medics in order to save the life of her baby for generations – or if there have, the usually vociferous pro-choice media, have stayed silent.

When it comes to the abortion of unborn babies with disabilities, which fewer people in Northern Ireland support support than the abortion of  babies conceived in rape, this is because people intuitively baulk at the idea that people with disabilities should be natural candidates for abortion. It is precisely out of a sense of duty or compassion to the woman, that some Northern Irelanders feel that rape ought to be an exception, not because they wish as she claims, to punish consensual sexual activity.

In some ways Abi Wilkinson has done pro-lifers a favour, exposing the illogic behind those who are broadly uncomfortable with abortion but who support the right of the mother to choose in certain difficult situations. To paint them as misogynists, only having compassion for women with unplanned pregnancies conceived through rape, is entirely wrong and will serve to alienate those who would otherwise be allies. The abortion law in the UK was passed on the premise that it would be used exceptionally, only for those very difficult cases and recognising that abortion is a terrible tragedy.

That some people still hold to this general principle does not make them lacking in compassion, empathy or wanting to inflict punishments on sexually active women. Respect for the unborn child and concern for a distressed woman with an unplanned pregnancy are not mutually exclusive positions. It’s just that those who advocate for abortion in some circumstances hold two contradictory moral positions in a difficult tension. If Abi Wilkinson is correct anyone who previously held to the mantra of ‘safe, legal and rare’ now has a moral duty to abandon it in favour of abortion right up until birth, for any reason whatsoever. A logic which gives the pro-life cause an inadvertent boost. 

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Caroline Farrow
Caroline Farrow
Columnist for the Catholic Universe

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