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Kathy Gyngell: No woman’s body is an island. Every woman is a piece of the next generation


Last week, I blogged on the nonsense spun by the abortion lobby that gave rise to sensational headlines like: ‘mums-to-be who drink could be branded as criminals’ and the even dafter one from The Daily Telegraph: “Why eating cheese may turn mothers into criminals.”

I wrote my blog before I listened to former Attorney General Dominic Grieve’s response on Saturday’s BBC Radio 4 Any Questions  and before I’d read columnist Janice Turner in Saturday’s Times.

It was also before I read an update of academic research on foetal alcohol and drug syndrome.

If anything were needed to bring home the sheer selfishness and ‘adult-centric’ quality of the Grieve/Turner response, it was this.

The pair dwelt exclusively on the infringement of mothers’ liberties (Grieve – an unthinkable precedent) and on the sanctity of women’s ‘reproductive rights’ (Turner). They gave not one thought  to the principle of: ‘first do no harm’.

John Stuart Mill’s famous limit on his principle of liberty that: “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others,” did not even surface. Its absence from their discourse spoke volumes about the supremacy of radical individualism and radical feminism over enlightened thought in our modern times.

If that greatest proponent of individual liberty, J S Mill, acknowledged that where there was a need for the actions of individuals to be limited, to prevent harm to others, why could they not?

In the case before the Court of Appeal this need was clearly evident – the damage of foetal alcohol syndrome to the seven-year-old child – was lifelong and life impairing.

Their disinterest in this consequence – with no attempt to weigh the pros and cons – was breathtaking.

Yet liberty only consists of the freedom to do everything that injures no one else (Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen) “hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law.”

Foetal alcohol syndrome, surely, is proof of behaviour that has singularly failed to ‘assure to the other members of society the enjoyment of the same rights”, however sad the reasons leading to it may be, and where the law in extreme cases may be needed.

It was truly depressing to find a former Attorney General so protective of infringing adult liberties that he did not publicly even weigh the scars inflicted by them on children.

Aberdeen University lecturer Mairead Black’s recent foetal drug and alcohol syndrome research review highlights just what these injuries are.

They need dwelling on.

Since the opportunity to educate the British public about them was missed (somewhat ironic since the received wisdom is that education not ‘criminalisation’ is the answer) here are some of them:

  • Babies born with brain defects are twice as likely to have a mother who used illegal drugs in pregnancy than babies with normal brains.
  •  Recreational drug use in pregnancy leads to problems that are visibly apparent at birth, such as cleft lips, to those manifesting in behavioural problems with consequences throughout adulthood.
  •  Foetal alcohol syndrome from heavy alcohol use results in poor foetal growth and disrupts development; early signs include drowsy newborns; later problems include attention deficit and disrupted schooling.
  • The effects of alcohol are particularly prominent as they are seen and persist throughout childhood. They arise from restricted blood flow from the placenta, which also puts an unborn baby at risk of placental separation (resulting in vaginal bleeding) preterm birth and/or stillbirth.
  •   Behavioural consequences  – the best known damage from foetal alcohol syndrome –  arguably give rise to the greatest social burden but  receive the least public attention (as many adoptive parents discover as their children grow up).
  •   These are effects that extend into childhood and are characterised by impulsive behaviour and attention problems and are also linked to delinquent and criminal behaviour, as well as to the child’s own substance misuse.
  • Along with such behavioural problems are those affecting thought processes, which result in impaired ability to memorise, analyse and problem solve, with or without a lower level of intelligence as measured by IQ – particularly apparent as a result of heavy maternal alcohol use.

The mainstay of current treatment of recreational alcohol and drug use in pregnancy is advice, support and detox, or replacement therapy. Alcohol detoxification is offered to those heavily dependent on alcohol, where risk of foetal alcohol syndrome is high.  These are all things which are necessary and of which we all approve – not just the British Pregnancy Advisory Service or Janice Turner of The Times – as appropriate interventions. But it is patently the case they fail, in an increasing numbers of cases, to protect children.

That is why Janice Turner’s  “repeated afresh” assertion that woman’s reproductive rights are: “the keystone of liberty” and that “women’s bodies are their own, not vessels subject to the law”, is so perverse  – to a point of pathological selfishness.

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Kathy Gyngell
Kathy Gyngell
Kathy is Editor of The Conservative Woman. She is @kathygyngelltcw on GETTR and is back on Twitter.

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