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The little lives saved by Covid – but the abortion industry isn’t pleased


WILL Covid-19 lockdowns allow some babies to be born this year who would otherwise be aborted? Yes – and that’s not a good thing, according to a report on ‘compromised abortion’ from the Indian abortion provider Ipas

It says that redeploying abortion facilities and staff to prioritise care for Covid-19 patients has had deleterious effects on India’s abortions, including the fact that some may not take place at all. 

It urges that all stops be pulled out to provide abortions for Indian women, including second-trimester abortions. ‘Unwanted’ pregnancies, as they are described, must not be allowed to go to term. Missing in the report is any reference to ‘unwanted’ foetal sex, a frequent motivation for abortion in India; female children who succeed in being born may well have escaped an abortion precisely on this ground.

There is great social pressure on women in India to abort female babies for a host of cultural reasons. The huge sex imbalance in the country is troubling even to those who support abortion. In-laws and husbands push for sex-selective abortion, and pregnant women, willingly or otherwise, comply. Indeed, this also applies in the immigrant population in the US where, unlike in India, there are no legal restrictions on antenatal sex screening.

Despite the law in India concerning screening, abortions based on sex continue in large numbers.

 It is clear from other reports where Ipas’s priorities lie: efforts to stop sex selection must not, they admonish us, get in the way of abortion provision. So if more baby girls die this year simply for being girls – including those who die because of the zealous efforts of Ipas – Ipas will not be, it seems, to blame. 

Ipas are not alone in seeming to regret the births of unaborted babies. Regretting lost opportunities to abort, whether due to Covid-19 or to other factors, is a regular feature of British abortion advocacy. Recently, we saw the abortion provider BPAS shaking its head over the fact that women presenting for late-term abortions are being ‘compelled to continue pregnancies they do not want’. 

It is doubtful whether the mothers who requested these late-term abortions now regret their baby’s birth. After all, even the famous and flawed Turnaway study of women refused an abortion found that the great majority did not regret having the baby. 

Even for those who did, the value of children is not conferred by parents: no child should have to prove, by ‘wantedness’, her right to remain in the land of the living. The answer to reluctant or simply challenged parenthood is serious support for parents – or in extreme cases, but only then, transfer of care.  

Abortion is something many women mourn, particularly those who were conflicted or coerced, who wanted the baby, or who believed that abortion was morally wrong.  Surprising as this may seem, even if the baby is terminally ill, abortion seems to produce for women significantly more despair, depression and avoidance than going through with the pregnancy. The hospice/palliative care approach, here as later in life, carries huge emotional benefits for those left behind. 

Of course, most women are aborting not for foetal disability or sex selection, but simply due to personal circumstances. Women in poverty, and those who have been abandoned or abused, need real and positive help with their pregnancies. Such help is available from various sources in Britain, though not often publicised by abortion clinic personnel. The organisation Be Here for Me gives a voice to women, often migrants lacking access to public resources, who accepted such positive help at the very last minute – help of which the clinic certainly did not make them aware. Again, far from regretting their born children, these women cannot speak too warmly of these children and of the support they received to keep them in some extremely fraught situations. 

Most of us, even those who are pro-choice, regard the birth of a child who might otherwise have been aborted as a good thing. Birth, and life generally, pre- and post-natal, is to be celebrated, not deplored. And while Covid-19 is certainly a disease to fight with vigour, pregnancy is not. Indeed, it has been described by one author as ‘the most universal, accessible and prodigious symbol of peace man has ever been granted the privilege to perceive.’ 

Redeploying abortion resources to Covid-19 care, as in India, is the medical equivalent of beating swords into ploughshares. Contemplating peace and its challenges, the union leader Walter P Reuter remarked in 1953 that it was ‘fantastic and inhuman’ that those in Wall Street and elsewhere should be afraid that ‘peace will break out’, and depression then follow. 

For some of us, it is no less ‘fantastic and inhuman’ that activists across the world should be so afraid of the escape of – hopefully – many babies in 2020, whose mothers will have not a mere painful memory, but a child in their arms.

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Dr Helen Watt
Dr Helen Watt
Dr Helen Watt is Senior Research Fellow of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre and a Research Fellow of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford. She is the author of The Ethics of Pregnancy, Abortion and Childbirth.

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