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Reversing a tragic half century of lost lives

The US supreme court decision is a victory for decency and democracy

Artillery Row

By a margin of six to three, the United States Supreme Court has voted to overturn the nearly 50 year old ruling which imposed abortion laws across the United States.

Since the Roe v Wade ruling the USA has been in a small club of nations, including China and North Korea, that allows abortion on demand after 20-weeks in pregnancy. Tragically, the UK also allows abortion on demand — for any reason — to 24 weeks, double the median among our European neighbours.

Allowing abortions to take place up until a very late gestation has long been unpopular. Years ago I challenged the upper time limits in Parliament, through a Private Members Bill. Although it was talked out by opponents it secured big majorities in parliamentary votes and in public opinion polls.

Some, wrongly, say the ruling violates human rights

Likewise, in America, Gallup polls have repeatedly found that most Americans do not  support abortion on demand after the first 12 weeks, and a recent poll found that 69 per cent of American women believe that there should be significant restrictions on abortion. This matters, because what the June 24th Supreme Court ruling does is return power to the people to decide what time limit — if any — should be enforced. 

The Supreme Court has removed the imposition of a federally mandated abortion law and returned decisions around abortion to the states where they can be decided by the democratic process. The ruling doesn’t make abortion illegal, it just gives power to take the decision back to locally accountable representatives. Returning policy decisions on such a literal matter of life or death to the democratic system is something that all who cherish liberty should welcome.

Some states will allow abortion up to birth without restriction, and others will likely align themselves more closely with the European approach to gestational time limits on abortion. Now that Roe v Wade has been overturned it is reported that 22 states are said to be ready to introduce restrictions that will protect unborn children from abortion. This will be done via so-called trigger laws, legislation already on the books in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s decision. Indeed, Missouri has already announced such a move, and others will doubtless follow. 

Some, wrongly, say the ruling violates human rights. (Those same people, incidentally, far too rarely talk about the scale of the forced abortions taking place in China.) But abortion is not, and has never been, deemed a human right in any international law. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, on the other hand, does guarantee the right to life itself. All the other rights are worthless without that paramount right to life and are contingent on it.

Then there are those who persist in talking about abortion in abstract terms — they talk about choice and rights. But to what has this led? The most recent figures showed that around 1 in 5 pregnancies in America ended in abortion in 2020. This equates to more than 930,000 abortions in a single year — roughly the same number of people who live in the greater Liverpool area. Meanwhile in the UK, there is an abortion performed every three minutes, and many are repeat abortions. 

Medical science and knowledge of the development of the child in the womb has dramatically improved since the 1973 Roe v Wade Judgement. 

Hopefully, in time, the UK will follow suit

We now live in a world where a child’s baby album begins with an ultrasound photo of that child developing in the womb. We know that baby’s heartbeat is present from 22 days after fertilisation; spontaneous movement begins from 6-7 weeks; at 8 weeks the baby has fingers, toes, a working digestive system and 90 per cent of his or her body parts have formed; at 10 weeks the baby’s heart has already beat over 10 million times. To not even consider reviewing abortion laws in light of this would be perverse, especially when those laws are so out of sync with much of the rest of the world. Unsurprisingly, the state which brought the challenge case to the Supreme Court — Mississippi — has chosen to limit abortion after 15 weeks. 

It often feels like there is little we can learn from American politics, but perhaps, in this one area if no others, there is a lesson about how we don’t have to continue to accept extreme abortion laws which are both cruel and out of date. A baby with a disability — everything from cleft palate to Down Syndrome — can be aborted up to and even during birth. Not just barbaric, this is eugenics too.

In the UK laws still permit abortion on demand at 24 weeks, even though medical advances show that unborn babies can survive at 21 and 22 weeks. Ministers insist abortion by sex is illegal and “found no evidence” it occurs, even though there is ample evidence that it does take place.  There is a clear disconnect between UK public opinion, where 70 per cent of women think abortion time limits should be reduced, and much of the political establishment which pretends this issue is long settled.

Since 1967, almost 10 million unborn lives have been lost in the UK. Perhaps Americans of the future will look back on the half-century or so when over 62 million unborn babies were aborted, and wonder why and how it took so long to change this tragic decision. Hopefully, in time, the UK will follow suit and change laws which have needlessly taken so many unborn lives.

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