Figures from the Department of Health showing that ever more women in their late thirties and forties are having abortions passed almost without comment last week.
Ann Furedi, boss of The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), had her snap explanation ready. It was down, she said, to “…scaremongering about older women’s fertility”.
End of discussion. No one questioned her convenient and specious response.
Despite example after example of woman demonstrating ever later fertility – remember Cherie Blair – Furedi thinks we think fertility disappears after 35. I don’t think so.
I don’t think she does either – she just wants to shift the blame. This theory comes, after all, from a woman who believes it perfectly lawful for women to terminate their pregnancies on the grounds of the sex of the foetus, and who also promotes stockpiling of the morning-after pill for underage girls.
It comes from a women under whose pregnancy advice and contraception services, (BPAS is Britain’s largest single abortion provider) along with those of Marie Stopes and other providers, 3,427 young women aged 18 to 24 found themselves onto their third abortion, and 602 onto their fourth in 2012 (figures also recently announced by the Department of Health).
It seems we so inured to this peculiarly British ‘culture’ of abortion, and so cowed by feminism’s fundamentalist ‘Holy Grail’ of abortion rights, that no one has challenged her throwaway explanation; nor indeed what a sad reflection these figures are of what were once called ‘family planning’ services.
For where once having an abortion used to bear a social taboo, now it is almost taboo to raise any objections to its growing incidence. In this climate of silence, its negative consequences are ignored; so too are the real explanations for its rise.
If there is one enduring truth it is that no woman actively wishes an abortion on herself – even in this hardened day and age. So how is it then that what used to be an option of last resort has become a one of first resort?
The unhappy fact is that for many women, whether they are 18 or 38 year olds, abortion has become an alternative form of birth control. It is hardly what the pioneering abortion reformers of the 1960s had in mind. The fundamental paradox that pro-choice hardliners refuse to consider is that it is exactly what free access to the contraceptive Pill was meant to prevent.
The irony (one that Furedi does not consider) is that the ever more available and effective methods of birth control have only succeeded in swelling a tide of unwelcome conceptions (conceptions have doubled for older women since 1990) resulting in now more than 185,000 terminations in the UK every year, proportionately one of the highest rates in the entire world .
There is denial too about the price being paid in happiness for these so called freedoms. I know more than one professional woman finding herself childless at 45 (one in five women are at that age) deeply regretting that abortion in her thirties.
It is true that some women worry about being on the Pill for too long. But neither this nor Ann’s myth about infertility beliefs satisfactorily explain the rise in abortions among older women, any more than they do for young women.
There are I suspect less salutary social factors at play. One is the ladette culture that now extends into the thirties and forties among unattached women.
In our society, which tells women they can have a career and a relationship, young women feel under ever increasing pressure about their single status whatever feminism tells them. Is it not possible that sometimes desperate and sometimes intoxicated protection against pregnancy may be the last thing on their minds?
This is a speculation I know, but the truth is that despite careers and financial independence, life is less than ideal for thirty plus young women. Like Bridget Jones, they still seek happiness in a relationship that becomes ever harder to come by.
In the past, women knew their allure lay in the mystique of being unattainable. Now the very opposite is true: they are led to believe availability is equated with attraction. Promiscuity, if the recent Oxford debate is anything to go by, is worn as a badge of pride rather than social ostracism. Never has it been easier for women desperate for a relationship to end up with sporadic sex instead. Never in some ways have they made themselves more vulnerable.
Though the modern social revolution is presented a triumph for feminism, it is women who are paying its price. No one can pretend that a society where abortion rates are rising among 30 and 40 year olds is an entirely happy one. One longitudinal study confirms this. It found that rates of mental disorder were about 30 per cent higher for women who had had abortions compared to other pregnancy outcomes.
It is tragic that we have become so casual about what can be a traumatic, life-changing experience. It is chilling too that those who are meant to prevent it and advise women about these matters are so dishonest about the emergence of a culture in which abortion has become the brutal alternative to the Pill and restraint.