This week’s blog entry is by Tracy Harkin.
Participating in a show like Top Table when the topic of abortion is under discussion is always going to be a difficult forum for the pro-life voice to be heard in any balanced way. It seems the key to the pro ‘choice’ lobby’s success in advancing abortion on demand worldwide has been to focus on the 2% of ‘hard cases’. This tactic shuts down any discussion on the reality of abortion for the baby and ignores research which shows the damaging effects of abortion on women. In this respect Wednesday’s BBC1NI Top Table show hosted by Stephen Nolan didn’t disappoint: the question ‘Should a 12-year-old victim of rape have to travel to England for an abortion?’ immediately and deliberately set a very narrow framework within which to address the issue.
Interestingly, neither myself nor fellow panellist Peadar Tóibín were told in advance of the show that this question would be the talking point, rather we were only alerted to the general topic. It is worth mentioning that Joel Scott, the only pro-life youth on the panel, did a sterling job throughout the debate, highlighting evidence which shows the proven psychological benefits for women who keep their babies following rape. What’s more, two of the three comments from the audience of young people under 21 also showed that not all were convinced that abortion should be the go-to option, even in these very rare cases.
Despite the repeated attempts made by Peadar and myself to put this discussion in context and talk about the 98% of abortions taking place for socio-economic reasons, the debate directed by Stephen Nolan (which also underwent careful editing) went on to focus on the other rare cases of babies diagnosed with so-called “fatal foetal abnormalities”. Nolan, who won an award for his high-profile documentary about Sarah Ewart’s journey to London to abort her baby which had been diagnosed with anencephaly, invited panellist Sarah to once more tell her story. For Sarah, abortion in this instance is simply healthcare and women who cannot face the prospect of continuing their pregnancy and bringing the baby to term should have the choice to abort in Northern Ireland.
Reality of late-term abortion never discussed
What is never discussed, however, is the reality of abortion for the baby. These are late-term abortions in which the baby is given a lethal injection into the heart and then the mother still has to deliver the baby. What is also ignored is how difficult this is for the mother; no holding their baby, feeding their baby, taking handprints or footprints, no photographs by which to remember their baby. The difference between abortion and perinatal care in these circumstances is stark. No wonder research like that from Duke University in 2015 highlights that mothers who abort in these circumstances are twice as likely to experience depression and despair than those who bring their babies to term.**
Anencephaly is a serious life-limiting condition where part of the child’s skull and brain are missing. Around 72%* of these babies are born alive, however, and live for some time after birth. This time means everything to parents. Many parents have been incredibly brave in speaking out about the struggle they had to get the perinatal care they needed to parent their babies for as long as possible. The All-Ireland charity ‘Every Life Counts’ which provides support and information to parents in these difficult situations have had contact from five mothers over the last 4 months from the North of Ireland. In every instance these mothers attested that they had been advised by their doctors to travel to England for an abortion. Only one mother was referred to a specialist bereavement counsellor. These parents have never been given the equivalent platform by the BBC to speak about how much their babies’ lives meant to them, nor how difficult it is to constantly hear their babies being dehumanised and their conditions used to ram open the door to abortion on much wider terms.
No regard for disability discrimination
Northern Ireland should take notice that the effect of withdrawing legal protection from babies with disabilities has had a chilling outcome in other countries like the US and the UK. Over 90% of babies diagnosed with any disability are aborted legally up to birth. No pain relief is administered to these babies and no provision is made for the dignified burial of their remains.
Nonetheless, for the pro-choice lobby the gloves are off; Clare Bailey from the Green Party reiterated during the debate that the complete decriminalisation of abortion is now their clarion call. This would mean that the child in the womb, healthy or otherwise, would have no legal protection whatsoever in law. It seems ‘choice’ and ‘reproductive rights’ are all that matters: abortion on demand, no questions asked.
But surely, we need to ask questions when human life is at stake? When socio-economic reasons are cited for 98% of the 200,000 abortions which take place every year in the UK any civilised and compassionate society needs to ask, how can we help prevent this tragedy?
Aborting babies described as a “kindness”
Probably the most disturbing part of this Top Table debate was the fact that young pro-choice panellist, Toby Vincent, who was permitted to repeatedly interrupt the contributions of Peadar and myself, described abortion as ‘a kindness’ to babies who weren’t expected to live long after birth and suggested that abortion was needed to end their suffering and poor quality of life.
One might have thought that such chilling comments should have been challenged by Stephen Nolan himself or, at the very least, edited out of the final programme. They were not. Overall, what was clear throughout the debate, from Joel Scott and the other audience members, was that the next generation of young people are still thinking for themselves on this issue; they are doing their research and are not easily taken in by group-think and rhetoric. For those of us who have been engaged in the pro-life movement over the years this is good reason to hope.
This segment on Top Table starts at 15.53 and you can watch it here.
*Study finds 72% of babies with anencephaly are live born
A study of 211 pregnancies shows that 72% of babies with anencephaly were ‘live born’: of those, with most babies passing within 24 hours, while a small number lived for 6 days or more, with one baby living for 28 days. (British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 2006)
**Abortion after diagnosis of anencephaly shows significantly higher rates of depression and despair
Research from Duke University (2015) shows that women who have an abortion after a diagnosis of anencephaly are significantly more likely to suffer depression and despair. There appears to be a psychological benefit to women to continue the pregnancy following a diagnosis of a life-limiting condition. (Prenatal Diagnosis 2015)