Jeremy Hunt: I disagree with him, but why shouldn’t he give his view?

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt is at the centre of a new row this morning after giving an interview to The Times in which he said his personal view is that the legal abortion limit should be cut to 12 weeks. Here’s how the Telegraph reports it:

“Everyone looks at the evidence and comes to a view about when they think that moment is, and my own view is that 12 weeks is the right point for it,” Mr Hunt told The Times. … “It’s just my view about that incredibly difficult question about the moment that we should deem life to start. I don’t think the reason I have that view is for religious reasons.”

Jeremy Hunt’s views shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone — he voted for a 12-week limit when the issue was last debated in 2008 — so I’m confused why anyone thinks we should respect him less for sticking to his beliefs. They’re not beliefs I share. But that’s not the point. He was asked a question by a journalist, answered it honestly, made it clear this wasn’t government policy. As the Telegraph went on to report:

Aides to Mr Hunt last night stressed that he was expressing a personal view and not signalling any change in Government policy. There are no plans to trigger a vote on abortion laws, they said. Mr Hunt is “one of 646 MPs expressing his personal opinions – there is no new policy here,” said a source.

I understand that people will disagree with Jeremy Hunt’s view on abortion, and some will disagree strongly. But I really don’t get what they think he should have said or done differently when asked a straight question about his own personal views. Unless you think British politics will be the better for MPs suppressing their own beliefs, that is.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in News.
Advert

75 Comments

  • Tony Dawson 6th Oct '12 - 11:08am

    I totally agree that he should air his views at every opportunity. It will just confirm that he is a person who should never have been let anywhere near any kind of government authority ever.

  • John Richardson 6th Oct '12 - 11:25am

    To those rushing to wield science in defence of the current abortion limit: your position is ideological as well. You believe that human life has little or no value prior to viability and whilst it is true that the current state of medical science means viability is around the 24 week mark (if heading downwards) it does not and can not offer any support for the underlying value judgement you have made.

    I’m atheist and a secularist so my own view that the abortion limit should be 8 weeks does not come out of religion. It comes from the principle embodied in article 2 of the ECHR that ‘no one shall be intentionally depirved of their life’. The issue for me is not viability, which is merely a function of ephemeral medical competence, but the more fundamental issue of when a bunch of cells becomes a person. Science does not give us a satisfactory answer to that question but science does tell us that personality is a product of the brain. It also tells us that the brain begins to function at around 8 weeks. That doesn’t necessarily mean there is any consciousness at 8 weeks but until science can tell us definitively to the contrary we should err on the side of caution.

    Politically we are out on a limb as well. Most other European countries already have a limit of 12 weeks and all but two have a limit lower than 24 weeks. If Yvette Cooper et al. don’t know what it means for women’s health why don’t they just look beyond our borders where they don’t seem to have suffered from any of the prophesied catastrophes.

  • Stuart Mitchell 6th Oct '12 - 12:07pm

    I agree with this article, and with most of John’s comments.

    Viability is not the be all and end all, but I think it serves as a useful absolute maximum. When babies have survived after being born at 21 weeks, the idea of 24-week abortions disturbs me. The limit should certainly be lowered, but as you say, where the line is drawn is a complex question.

  • Richard Dean 6th Oct '12 - 12:15pm

    Surely issues are raised for a reason? Why raise it otherwise? The question is, what reason? Can it really be simply a coincidence that JH happens to be Health Minister? Is JH intending to change something without alerting parliament? A funding decision perhaps? Is the journalist onto something?

    Is it true that “Everyone looks at the evidence and comes to a view about when they think that moment is”? Few people have the time to do this, so most of us follow guidance – medical advice, respected religious persons, and yes, politicians. Which suggests that JH’s statements in office are never going to be as innocuous as a personal view.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 6th Oct '12 - 12:26pm

    I agree with Stephen, in that I would rather know than not know that he holds such views.

    I don’t think those views carry much weight with a majority of either MPs or the British population so we can, for the moment, rest easy that the abortion debate isn’t going to get as messy and awful here as it is in the States. Yet.

    When we see women in the States being arrested after miscarrying and women who have died themselves rather than having a termination which would have saved their lives lauded in the media, there is a lot to be grateful for.

    My view is about as pro-choice as it comes. I think the current law is too restrictive. Do men need to get the permission of two doctors before they have a vasectomy? Is that the case for any other sort of medical procedure? No, just for women going for an abortion. On this site in March, Sophie Bridger wrote about her Your Choice campaign, and if people are really concerned about Jeremy Hunt’s (and in fact Maria Miller’s) stance on abortion, then there is something constructive they can do – sign up to Sophie’s campaign. https://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-abortion-reform-handing-power-back-to-women-27866.html. Women are best placed to decide for themselves on this and every other issue.

    The fact is, few terminations of pregnancy take place after 12 weeks, but some birth defects don’t become apparent until after the 20 week scan. People need time and space to come to terms with the situation and make an informed choice if they are in that heartbreaking situation.

  • John Richardson 6th Oct '12 - 1:04pm

    Do men need to get the permission of two doctors before they have a vasectomy? Is that the case for any other sort of medical procedure? No, just for women going for an abortion. […] Women are best placed to decide for themselves….

    Caron I find some of your views utterly incomprehensible. To compare an abortion to a vasectomy is absurd. With abortion we are talking about the possibility of taking the life of another person not just rearranging the internal plumbing. It may be your personal belief that the life of a 20 -something week old has about the same value as the condition of a man’s vasa deferentia but even the most tunnel-visioned pro-choice campaigner must acknowledge that the contrary view is more than legitimate. And with that in mind – a women is not just deciding for herself she is potentially deciding for the baby as well. The doctors are there to ensure both interests are represented and a balance d decision is reached.

  • Peter Watson 6th Oct '12 - 1:23pm

    The comments above demonstrate that there are a range of passionately held views on the subject of abortion. Jeremy Hunt is entitled to have an opinion on such an important topic and he is certainly entitled to express it. The timing of his comments might have more to do with appealing to a section of his party ahead of their conference, but that is by the by.
    In many ways it Hunt’s views on quack medicine like homeopathy that make me doubt his suitability for a post in the NHS.
    As Richard Dean observes, Hunt’s personal opinions could affect important decisions that he makes, but that makes it all the more important for us to know what those opinions are.

  • He’s entitled to his views, and it’s for everybody’s benefit that he shares them. But his views simply are not compatible with being the Secretary of State for Health given that he his has responsibility for sexual health and abortion services.

    Would you let a man who was anti-abortion control the budget for the NHS provision of abortion?

    Personally I wouldn’t. But you have.

  • jenny barnes 6th Oct '12 - 2:13pm

    Jeremy Hunt may have a view, but he is not entitled to express a PRIVATE opinion on an extremely contentious health issue when he is health secretary. If he wants to do that, he should resign as health minister first.

    As to the abortion thing. Let’s imagine two people, who have been connected up with nice plastic tubes, so that they are sharing a blood supply. Person A is perfectly healthy; person B has some medical problem (maybe kidneys or liver) that will be ok in 9 months time, but until then person B is reliant on person A processing their blood to keep person B alive, and will die if disconnected.
    Now. Does person A have the right to disconnect person B? Why or why not?

  • Can I express a contrary view to most here? As has been said, Hunt’s view was on the record anyway, so he could have referred the journalist to that. Because it is sensitive, and accepted as an issue of individual conscience for MPs, he should not, as the relevant minister, publicly express a view. If it were to become something that because of the science of viability, it were thought appropriate to bring the limit down, then he would, of course, say publicly what the Government proposed and why. TBH, I think it is yet another Junt c*ck up, and I agree with Tony Dawson, that he should have been removed from office anyway, as a result of his evidence to Leveson – and I am still hopeful that when the report comes out he will have to go. On the other hand, I think it entirely appropriate he express a view on homoeopathy, which is not generally accepted as a matter of individual conscience. I am not quite sure why the decibel level of the anti – homoeopathy movement seems to have increased in recent times, when most other “alternative therapies” have won increasing acceptance.

    Caron’s views on vasectomy vs abortion do not make sense, especially in the light of John R’s views that abortion should depend on whether a foetus can legitimately be regarded as a living human being (I don’t agree with John’s views on that, either). I assume that Caron is trying to say that a vasectomy will prevent sperm from fertilising eggs, but if John’s views are about functioning human being, no-one, I think, would suggest that sperm are functional beings.

    I agree with Peter Watson that this demonstrates people’s passionately held views, but I don’t agree with anything else he says here.

    So, really, I may just have managed to just about stir everyone up!

  • Richard Dean 6th Oct '12 - 2:30pm

    Jenny, as you know, one of the arguments is that Person B is not a person at 0 months, or even at 2 months, but does become one at some time before the 9 months is up. And that, at least up to that time of becoming, Person A has all the rights.

  • Stuart Mitchell 6th Oct '12 - 2:38pm

    Caron: “My view is about as pro-choice as it comes.”

    Are you happy with the current limit then, or would you like to see it raised? If you would not like to see it raised, why not?

  • Lorna Dupre 6th Oct '12 - 2:53pm

    Well said, Stephen. We Liberal Democrats can be a very intolerant bunch sometimes 🙁

  • @Richard Dean
    You haven’t actually answered the question though. At the point where the blob of cells becomes a person, does person A have the right to disconnect them?
    Once you’ve answered that, then you can try and decide at what point the cells become something we would class as a person. But that in itself is not easy to define, at week 12 the brain is fully formed and the baby can feel pain – does that constitute a “person”? How about week 16, the baby can hear voices and dream – does the ability to dream constitute a “person”?

  • Richard Dean 6th Oct '12 - 4:05pm

    @Chris_sh. I agree with you that Jenny’s argument rests on the premise that person B becomes a person at the moment of conception, and has all the rights of a person from that point on. But why do you say that the questions that we ask must be answered in a particular order?

  • “I don’t think those views carry much weight with a majority of either MPs or the British population so we can, for the moment, rest easy that the abortion debate isn’t going to get as messy and awful here as it is in the States. Yet. ”

    That is because we have medicalised abortion law rather than approaching it on a rights basis.

    “Women are best placed to decide for themselves on this and every other issue. ”

    Under current abortion law women don’t get to decide. They can ask 2 Doctors who then make a decision on medical grounds.

  • Alun Griffiths 6th Oct '12 - 5:00pm

    Some above have said, more or less ‘ he is entitledto views, this is a matter of concience, biut as a minister he should not have expressed them. Surely the opposite is true. Because this is treated as a concience issue and if any legiislation was brought forward there would be no government line or whipping on any side, any MP minister, party spokesman or not can give their view .

  • @Richard Dean
    “But why do you say that the questions that we ask must be answered in a particular order?”

    I suppose it’s because the second part is a waste of time if you don’t decide what you want on the first part, i.e. if A has the right to disconnect regardless then it doesn’t matter, if you feel that that the right must be rescinded then you have to decide at what point.

  • Richard Dean 6th Oct '12 - 5:59pm

    @Chris_sh. The second part isn’t a waste of time at all. Some might argue that there is no definable point. and therefore that it’s the first part that is the waste of time.

  • I don’t think it’s the end of the world for a minister to express a personal view that differs from government policy, though it would have been better for him just to say “we have no plans to change the limit”.

    But something is puzzling me about this discussion – several people have referred to the advance in viability pre-24 weeks. Why is this relevant? Would the proposal then be to make it illegal to have an abortion, but instead grant the woman the right to request an induced labour? Otherwise what do the odds of extra-utero survival have to do with anything?

  • Peter Watson 6th Oct '12 - 8:49pm

    @Tim13
    There is no plausible explanation or mechanism to account for how homeopathy might work. There is plenty of scientific evidence that demonstrates it is no better than a placebo. It concerns me that any politician might believe in such nonsense as homeopathy in case they apply the same dogmatic, unscientific, anti-evidence approach to policies in other areas.

    I’m happy for Hunt to express his views on homeopathy (and anything else) as it allows me to understand him better and put his actions and decisions into some sort of context. I want my politicians to be openand honest.

    I agree with you though that the Lib Dem MPs should have ensured Hunt was properly investigated over the Murdoch affair instead of shamefully wimping out and allowing him instead to be promoted to the Health department.

  • Ed Shepherd 6th Oct '12 - 8:50pm

    Well, it’s better that people know what the ministers opinion is, I suppose. Then people can decide whether to support his views or not. Personally, I believe that abortion should be available on demand throughout the term of pregnancy. I think that as much for practical reasons as reasons about the viability of a foetus. Should a desperate woman (possibly the victim of incest or rape) who has an abortion after a legal time limit be treated as a murderer? I think not. Should the people who help a desperate woman (possibly the victim of incest or rape) have an abortion after the time limit be treated as murderers? I think not.

  • Keith Browning 6th Oct '12 - 9:03pm

    This seems to be just another example of Murdoch’s best friends, Hunt and Gove, sounding like the worst excesses of the US Republican Party. What I don’t understand is why the Lib Dem leadership just keep quiet on all these matters – they are only in ‘coalition’ or do they think they have joined the Tory party?

  • Catherine it’s relevant because viability is deemed, by many people, to be the point where the life of the foetus is worth protecting. When people say the evidence doesn’t support a reduction in the abortion limit they are really saying the evidence doesn’t show that the point of viability has reduced. How viability achieved this moral status is not clear.

  • Richard Dean 6th Oct '12 - 9:13pm

    I am a desperate man. I am desparate for money, and I held up a petrol station. But the sherrif was there and tried to arrest me, so I shot him dead. Now the deputy is coming after me .. it’s soooooooooooooooo unfair!

  • Keith the Republican extremists call for no abortions whatsoever from day 1. Hunt calls for a 12 week limit which, whether you agree with it or not, is the European standard. Unless you’d like to argue countries like Germany, Holland, France and Belgium are overrun by Tea Party fundamentalists let’s keep this in perspective!

  • Furious Lib Dem 6th Oct '12 - 10:04pm

    “Catherine it’s relevant because viability is deemed, by many people, to be the point where the life of the foetus is worth protecting. ”

    Foetuses or indeed an embryo of any age are protected by law – see sections 58 & 59 of the Offences against the Person Act.

  • @ John

    How viability achieved this moral status is not clear.

    Yes, that’s what puzzles me. It implies that rather than being something fundamental, e.g. sentience, consciousness or similar, the value of life is determined by the current state of medicine. If we were planning to use that medicine in these cases that might make some sense, but that doesn’t seem to be part of the argument.

  • Jennie Rigg 6th Oct '12 - 10:18pm

    Stephen: are you saying that if a person expresses a view that I feel strongly about I should not comment because he’s entitled to express his view, but I’m not entitled to comment on that view-expression? Because that’s certainly what this post reads like.

    Hunt is perfectly entitled to express his views. Other people are likewise perfectly entitled to express their opposition or support for them. It’s called debate – or in some cases, “a slanging match” . Either way, who made you the arbiter of when and where debate stops and starts?

  • Jennie Rigg 6th Oct '12 - 10:29pm

    “When people say the evidence doesn’t support a reduction in the abortion limit they are really saying the evidence doesn’t show that the point of viability has reduced.”

    This might be true for “people”, whoever they are, but it isn’t true for me. When I talk about the evidence surrounding abortion, I am talking about the evidence that:

    1, criminalising abortion does not reduce the number of abortions one iota
    2, criminalising abortion’s only two effects are to make the abortion undertaken far more dangerous and to criminalise the women who have them
    3, the only proven way to reduce abortion is to increase sex education at the same time as increasing the availability of contraceptives – which is something that a lot of anti-abortion folks seem to also be against, oddly.

    The evidence doesn’t support reducing the time limit because it wouldn’t stop any abortions but it would kill more women.

  • Richard Dean 6th Oct '12 - 10:38pm

    I suggest that viability means that mother and baby can subsequently be considered to be biologically independent beings, in the sense that neither then needs the other to survive.

    Independence is one of the things that allows us to assign “rights” to individuals. We identify independence as one of the characteristics of what we think of as person. The importance we attach to independence and “free will” is further illustrated by our willingness to assist people with disabilities, some of whom may be independent in the biological sense but unlikely to survive well or long without help.

    So if we believe that independence is one of the characteristics of a person, even if it is not the only characteristic, that goes some way towards persuading us that a viable foetus is a person.

  • How can someone say 12 weeks for religous reasons? Is this some personal cult of Hunt religion where he makes his own rules? If there is a major religion that dictates 12 weeks Im the Queen of Sheba.

  • Jennie the first two points relate to the difference between countries with liberal abortion laws and countries where it is illegal or highly restricted. The four countries I mentioned above all have 12 week limits and all have lower abortion rates than the UK. Along with better access to contraception and sex education – no doubt. If anything the evidence shows we can do much better along with lower limits. It’s not necessary to keep them so high.

    ‘People’ are the medical establishment primarily.

  • @Alistair
    “How can someone say 12 weeks for religous reasons? Is this some personal cult of Hunt religion ….”

    I don’t think he said that did he? In fact he seems to have said the exact opposite – ” I don’t think the reason I have that view is for religious reason”.

  • @Jennie

    “1, criminalising abortion does not reduce the number of abortions one iota”
    Which evidence is that? I only ask as it would seem to be quite a bold statement, there are approx 200k abortions each year in the UK, you’re saying that if it was made illegal tomorrow then there would still be 200k.

    “the only proven way to reduce abortion is to increase sex education at the same time as increasing the availability of contraceptives …………….”

    I couldn’t agree more. Perhaps the Gov. are going down this route, apparently (according to Guido) MPs received a briefing note stating that:

    “We are publishing our sexual health strategy in the autumn which will cover a large range of issues including contraception and abortion.””

    “….. which is something that a lot of anti-abortion folks seem to also be against, oddly.”
    Define “a lot”, is that a majority or perhaps 10%, or 1%? How many of the anti (or limiting) abortion crowd want more done on the contraception front?

  • “Do men need to get the permission of two doctors before they have a vasectomy? Is that the case for any other sort of medical procedure? No, just for women going for an abortion. […] .. ‘women are far better placed to understand the implications for themselves and their families’.”

    That is a very good point. These two procedures are close equivalents. The case is debated very eloquently here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fUspLVStPbk

  • CP
    “These two procedures are close equivalents”
    How do you work that out? The only close equivalent is female sterilisation, i.e. contraception. Do women need the consent of 2 doctors before going for sterilisation?

  • Richard Dean 7th Oct '12 - 12:50am

    Jennie is surely correct in that a secular government’s job is not to impose any religious law. Instead, its tasks are to do what is practical and best for all people given the current circumstances, and to work steadily and firmly to improve the circumstances. In some cases what’s best is determined by crude criteria, such as the least number of deaths.

  • What amazes me is how little rational debate there is here.

    If you are a liberal, really you should be applying liberal principles. That means you first have to decide the extent to which the foetus is considered to be an individual and to have human rights, and how that depends on the time that has elapsed since conception. Then having made those judgments, the rights of the foetus have to be balanced against those of the mother.

    I see very little discussion of that kind going on here.

  • @Richard Dean
    ” Instead, its tasks are to do what is practical and best for all people given the current circumstances ….”
    Not in this case I think, otherwise it surely wouldn’t be a vote of conscience would it?

    The problem with this issue is that no one truly knows the mind of an unborn child. You can’t really use any of the normal adult criteria for human life (e.g. self awareness – a child doesn’t become self aware until about 18 months old, independence – a child will not survive independently for many years), so you’re really trying to guess when there is a real potential for those things to happen.
    Having said that, I would guess that for some the personal cut off point is when the unborn child reaches sentience, but again this isn’t entirely clear. As more research is carried out there seems to be an opinion forming that this level is achieved a lot earlier than previously thought, I would take a wild guess (a very wild guess as I don’t know the bloke) and say that Hunt probably said 12 weeks as some feel that this is when sentience occurs.

    Tbh, on this matter MPs really have my sympathy. All they can do is try and weigh up the evidence (as we know it) and try to make a personal decision. At the same time they must be aware that regardless of their decision, they will become hate figures for one of the extremes of the pro/anti crowd

  • all abortions are the result of unwanted pregnancies, all unwanted pregnancies are unwanted situations.

    Abortion is therefore a matter for the individual, and unwanted pregnancy is a matter for society.

    Government therefore has the responsibility to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, and any competence regarding abortion is subsidiary to this.

    Whether criminalising or legalising abortion, or adjusting the time limit, has any effect or not is irrelevant because dealing with abortion numbers is to deal with the symptom, not the cause. The debate is revolving around the wrong measure.

    Regarding Hunt: pre-conference party differentiation strategy ahoy!

  • “Government therefore has the responsibility to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, and any competence regarding abortion is subsidiary to this.”

    That’s a case in point.

    Presumably this is based on a view about whether foetuses can be viewed as human beings? One would hope so, anyway.

  • Richard Dean 7th Oct '12 - 10:01am

    That’s right, it’s a matter of conscience to judge what is the least worst practical solution.

  • @Oranjepan 7th Oct ’12 – 7:25am
    “all abortions are the result of unwanted pregnancies”

    I don’t really think it helps to talk in cliches on this subject. Not all abortions are due to unwanted pregnancies, for e.g. a parent with a multiple pregnancy could be told that they may have to decide to abort one fetus in order to save the second, or there could be plenty of other medical reasons why a wanted pregnancy has to be aborted.

    “Abortion is therefore a matter for the individual”

    Obviously wrong, it is a matter for the individual within constraints set by society via the law.

    “Whether criminalising or legalising abortion, or adjusting the time limit, has any effect or not is irrelevant …”
    Of course it isn’t irrelevant, we are where we are and we have to live in the real world. There will always be a requirement for abortion (legal or otherwise), so the cut off point is something that society should constantly debate, both to ensure the rights of the unborn are safeguarded and also as a way of ensuring that abortion remains a legal right.

    ” dealing with abortion numbers is to deal with the symptom, not the cause. The debate is revolving around the wrong measure.”
    As others have also said, but that doesn’t mean that this debate shouldn’t happen or that the whole thing should be swept under the carpet.

  • chris_sh Agree with you regards sympathy for MPs who have to take such a massive decision. I would extend that to mothers – and, yes, fathers, most directly involved.
    Your comments about Heremy Junt (to use a Grauniadism – Steve Bell!) are I think, off beam. You quoted him as saying that he didn’t take the decision for any religious reason. Bearing in mind his record, surely that should strengthen Alistair’s argument!

    Alun Griffiths – The Dept of Health will form a professional and “health management” view of the issue, which no doubt the Sec of State will contribute to. If the Govt accepts that, it will be advanced to a White Paper and into a Bill. It is when it comes into Parliament that people’s views of conscience come into play, and Hunt, along with all other MPs will have a chance to give his / the Govt’s views. It is, IMO, entirely improper for him to make public statements in advance of this. Openness of view doesn’t really enter the argument in this case, as it is already documented that Hunt supports 12 weeks, and that will no doubt be publicised. However, Cameron has made another error of judgment regarding Hunt, especially if he still wishes to be looked on as a “liberal, modernising” Tory leader. You would have thought he would not have appointed a Sec of State who had views way out of line from any liberal approach on abortion.

  • Just re-read my last post – o clarify, I meant Hunt’s record in the truth telling department!

  • Stuart Mitchell 7th Oct '12 - 11:17am

    Catherine: “what do the odds of extra-utero survival have to do with anything?”

    A great deal – it’s a useful maximum (but only a maximum) threshold for determining the point at which the proverbial blob of cells becomes a human being, with all that entails in terms of the way we consider it. Hence most people would be repulsed by the idea of aborting at 38 weeks. Viability is important legally (see the offence of “child destruction”).

    Ed Shepherd: “Personally, I believe that abortion should be available on demand throughout the term of pregnancy.”

    Just out of curiosity – I ask this purely as a technical question – how would one go about aborting a foetus at 38 weeks, ensuring that it does not survive?

  • As a liberal, I have to support people’s responsibility and decision making power over their own reproductive system.

    Therefore, both men and women must have access to medical procedures to achieve this safely – whether that is vasectomies or abortions.

    In fact, I would always defend the right of even Jeremy Hunt to stop being pregnent at any time he wishes.

    The evidence on this is clear – reducing access to abortions is dangerous and life-threatening to women.

  • @Tim13
    “chris_sh Agree with you regards sympathy for MPs who have to take such a massive decision. I would extend that to mothers – and, yes, fathers, most directly involved.”

    As a mea culpa (having just had a go at Oranjepan for using cliche statements), I must admit that I allowed my own cliched view assume that mothers/fathers deserved sympathy as a matter of course, but yes I do agree with you,

    “You quoted him as saying that he didn’t take the decision for any religious reason. Bearing in mind his record, surely that should strengthen Alistair’s argument!”
    Tbf, it was a second hand quote from the article itself. If it is the case then I don’t see how it would strengthen the argument about it being some religion thing? There again, I know very little about the guy or what his religion is. I know he has a bad reputation, but I try to take things on a case by case basis, bad people can do good things and good people can do bad things, so I try to avoid assumptions on past performance etc.

    “IMO, entirely improper for him to make public statements in advance of this.”
    Personally, I’m not overly fussed. As far as I’m aware he isn’t trying to force anything through and even if he did then MPs would probably tell him to sling his hook.

    “views way out of line from any liberal approach on abortion.”
    But what is a “liberal approach on abortion”? Would you say it is in line with Chris 7th Oct ’12 – 12:51am, above?

    “Cameron has made another error of judgment ….”
    It’s strange but the general public don’t really seem to care that much – perhaps they just expect it from politicians? Or perhaps they are just so used to it that it’s become “nothing to see here” reaction.

  • @CP
    “As a liberal, I have to support people’s responsibility and decision making power over their own reproductive system.”

    For sterilisation or any other form of contraception yes, but at some point abortion becomes more than this as you are dealing with a totally different person.

    and life-threatening to women.”

    “The evidence on this is clear – reducing access to abortions is dangerous and life-threatening to women.”
    As others have pointed out, other countries in Europe have far tighter controls on abortion thereby reducing access, I assume your evidence is based on those countries, do you have links to that evidence so that we can all read it?

  • “The evidence on this is clear – reducing access to abortions is dangerous and life-threatening to women.”

    That’s OK as an argument if you take the absolutist position that the foetus has no rights and deserves no protection. But in that case there would be no time limit on abortion. Very few people would support that situation (in a recent poll, only 4% supported increasing the time limit at all).

    If you don’t take that absolutist position, then you need to work out what rights the foetus has and how they should be balanced with those of the woman.

  • Chris_sh

    It is not the right of me, the state or anyone else to force a woman to have a child. To me it is not a child until it is born and no longer dependent on the mother. Just as I do not think anyone has the right to say when a person should die – ie against capital punishment and pro voluntary ending of life.

    Such a view, of course, cannot deal with all situations which is why I accept courts have a role in playing a part in the decisions where life is being maintained artificially. These are, than goodness, rare and the exception.

    I think a limit of 24 weeks, which seems to be the position of the majority of the medical profession, is a fair one and one that should be occassionally reviewed. The other more strict limits are just as arbitrary and are usually based on religious conviction etc rather than anything else.

    One thing is clear to me, abortion should be legal and any changes to the laws as they exist should be very carefully thought through and discussed. Some people are capable of leading these debates in a thoughtful manner, Hunt is not one of these people unfortunately

    This intervention on the part of the Health Secretary is unhelpful as he seems to be intellectually incapable of having a rational thought about these things – look again at his veiews on homeopathy.

  • I am amazed Hunt has made these comments as health secretary.

    Chris – there are two aspects to this. One is that childbirth and carrying a pregnancy to term has health risks. The other is the risk in unsafe abortions.

    All children should be wanted and cared for, its very sad that Jeremy Hunt wants to put children into situations where the difficult decision has been made that this is not the case.

  • Richard Dean 7th Oct '12 - 2:23pm

    Being born trumps being wanted. I’d prefer to be alive and unwanted than dead and convenient.

  • Ruth Bright 7th Oct '12 - 3:06pm

    References have been made to the fact that controls are much tighter in much of Europe. As Lord Steel highlights in today’s Observer that is over stated. In fact a number of countries which prohibit late abortion allow abortion on demand during the first trimester of pregnancy. In England, Scotland and Wales women need the permission of two doctors to end a pregnancy even if that pregancy is in its very early stages. In Northern Ireland of course women can’t get legal abortions at all.

  • @Richard Dean ‘Being born trumps being wanted. I’d prefer to be alive and unwanted than dead and convenient’
    So you would have endured being beaten/abused and/or neglected? You would probably not be commenting on here and maybe even dead.. If a woman is forced to have the child she can then reject it and I presume all those fathers will step in and take the child (some hope) or will they be condemned to care? I could say that it is about time men were more responsible and stopped blaming women for getting pregnant when oh so often they exert pressure on women for sex.

  • @Chris_sh
    I’m not wholly sure you know what a cliche is, but I’m certain criticising a political point on that basis is a hollow conceit.

    I think you are confusing cliches with prejudiced ideology, in which case you may have had a point if I had simply stated a view, rather than progressively developing a line of logic.

    Clearly you have also understood only a singular meaning of ‘want’ (ie ‘desire’)and interpreted my line of argument according to your preconcieved and narrow understanding.

    You have thirdly confused my argument from a moral status with that of the extant legal status, so if I were to draw a conclusion from your method of discussion it would be that you are less interested in any real debate than in twisting others to your opinion. I suggest both your opinion and your opinion of the law have no legitimate basis.

    So may I ask you, what do you think is the crux of the matter regarding abortion? Does your comment that you support abortion up to the point of individuation (when a child becomes ‘a totally different person’) mean that you wish to extend the limit to 40 weeks, since that’s what the law recognises, or aren’t you just rambling incoherently?

  • @Anne
    and the reverse is obviously never true!

    If women want men to be more responsible, I’d suggest women should be less selfish.

  • Richard Dean 7th Oct '12 - 4:28pm

    Yes, Anne, I would have endured that, plenty of people do, unfortunately. But the way to handle it is to change the way we live, not to kill the victims.

  • In fact a number of countries which prohibit late abortion allow abortion on demand during the first trimester of pregnancy.

    It’s the late abortions that are the problem.

  • Ruth Bright 7th Oct '12 - 4:52pm

    John – so would you favour abortion on demand in the first trimester?

  • I favour Sophie Bridger’s proposal for early pregnancy although I would not go as far as 12 weeks. But that is mainly symbolism anyway… It is already de facto on demand if not de jure. It’s more important to make sure late abortions are a matter of life or death only.

  • Richard Dean 7th Oct '12 - 6:09pm

    It seems to me that, if a woman agrees to sex only because a man “exerts pressure” for sex, then the woman is effectively agreeing to be raped. Our society needs to help people recognize this, and help women acquire the strength to say No when they mean No.

  • “So may I ask you, what do you think is the crux of the matter regarding abortion?”

    Would it be rude to ask what _you_ think the crux of the matter is?

    You wrote “Abortion is therefore a matter for the individual, and unwanted pregnancy is a matter for society.”

    Does that mean you think there should be no legal limitations on abortion. If not, what does it mean?

  • chris_sh Yes, I thought Chris’s was a brief stab at a “liberal” approach – but I am conscious that there could be a number of ways of describing such.

    Yes, we all react differently, and to some extent that depends on our experience(s). If Cameron were a middle manager somewhere, and kept making the sort of errors of judgment he does, and I were his manager, I would certainly have pulled him in by now, and asked him to explain some of it. But then who are we to talk of leaders and judgment?

    And, yes, there but for the grace of … go I!

  • @bazzasc

    “It is not the right of me, the state or anyone else to force a woman to have a child.”
    But obviously the state feels that an unborn child has rights at some point, hence the current cut off point.

    “To me it is not a child until it is born and no longer dependent on the mother”
    A child will be dependent upon it’s mother or some other guardian for a long time after the birth, which is why I’ve said previously that these sort of cut off points don’t really work to well.

    “The other more strict limits are just as arbitrary and are usually based on religious conviction etc rather than anything else.”

    Is it usually to do with religion though? Didn’t the current German law come in to place due to a need to harmonise the laws between the old East/West (with the West adopting the old rules from the East)?
    Looking at the Beeb page on this (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/6235557.stm), Only 2 countries(Ireland and Malta) have banned abortion, 1 has a limit of 10 weeks, 16 countries in Europe have set 12 weeks as the cut off point, 4 have set the limit between 13 and 20 weeks and 4 have set the time period at 21 weeks +. Most of these have some sort of caveat though, so 12 weeks may not be the cut off point in certain circumstances and other countries with a longer cut off may have difficult conditions to meet. We are at the extremes of what is mainstream in Europe, I don’t think it can all be down to religion. Perhaps I’m wrong on that, I’m not overly religious on the matter and don’t know the stance of the various churches (with the possible exception of the RC Church, which I think says no regardless?).

    “One thing is clear to me, abortion should be legal and any changes to the laws as they exist should be very carefully thought through and discussed.”

    I have no problem with that statement, I think current polling seems to indicate it is a mainstream view with regard to legal abortion.

    “Some people are capable of leading these debates in a thoughtful manner, Hunt is not one of these people unfortunately”

    The only issue I have here is the idea that it should be lead (do you mean some one trying to guide the way people think?). If there is a need to look at the law then the evidence should just be made available, individual MPs can then take the lead on what ever they think is the best course with Government Ministers keeping their noses out (they can obviously express their views as an MP during the debate). If on the other hand you mean taking the lead in the way the proposed law is framed, then I’m not overly concerned, as it would be a vote of conscience any extreme measures would probably be kicked out by the MPs

  • @CP
    “I am amazed Hunt has made these comments as health secretary”

    I’m not, but I’m not particularly bothered by the comments either.

    ” there are two aspects to this. One is that childbirth and carrying a pregnancy to term has health risks. The other is the risk in unsafe abortions.”

    Yes, but is there any actual evidence that a reduced limit (not a ban) causes more harm?

  • @Oranjepan

    “you know what a cliche is”
    Yes thanks

    ” criticising a political point on that basis is a hollow conceit”
    I thought you were making an attempt at logic.

    “I think you are confusing cliches with prejudiced ideology”
    No

    “rather than progressively developing a line of logic”
    So it was an attempt at logic then

    “Clearly you have also understood only a singular meaning of ‘want’ (ie ‘desire’)and interpreted my line of argument according to your preconcieved and narrow understanding.”
    But if you are not capable of stating what you really mean, then you can hardly blame the rest of us for misunderstanding you.

    So perhaps you’d care to expand, or are you just “rambling incoherently”?

    “were to draw a conclusion from your method of discussion it would be that you are less interested in any real debate than in twisting others to your opinion”

    That is your opinion, you are perfectly entitled to it, but it again displays an inability to apply logic.

    “So may I ask you, what do you think is the crux of the matter regarding abortion?”
    Well, as you asked with such impeccable manners I shall tell you what my personal viewpoint is.

    In my view there are 2 issues, the first is sentience and the second is becoming a separate being.

    Sentience
    There would appear to be data that a fetus responds to pain stimuli at around 12 weeks. Personally I don’t think this means that the fetus can be classed as a separate being. That view is based on the fact that I’ve personally not seen information that implies enough brain activity to create that division. Although I wouldn’t set abortion at the level of 12 weeks, I would want to ensure that any abortion method used was as painless as possible after this point.

    Separate Being
    Personally, I believe that there is more to being a separate being than being attached to a means of survival. The problem (as I’ve already stated) is that you can’t really use some of the tried and tested measures (independence/self awareness), but perhaps you can use the ability to learn. What we learn actually creates us as individuals, therefore when we start to learn we start becoming a being that is separate from our mother.

    I’ve read various articles (all web based and easy to search for) that seem to suggest that the learning process starts around week 23, so based on the fact that it may be earlier for some then we need to probably drop the level to week 20 (just to give 3 clear weeks – I’ve not found any information that would suggest learning occurs earlier than 20 weeks).

    However there are also caveats that I would apply, these are similar to ones already used throughout Europe, e.g. severe risk to the mother, high chance of severe handicap. This is only a personal judgement though, if there is a severe risk to the mother then proceeding could lead to the death of both anyway, so it is probably better to ensure the survival of one. Severe handicap is obviously a very touchy issue, many people who have suffered severe disability from birth would probably disagree with me.

  • @Chris_sh
    love the assertion practice – it made me laugh anyway!

    On the substantial matter, it strikes me that you’re applying your definitions inconsistently.

    For pain stimuli to be a relevant factor it would need to be applied in other areas of policy decision, which is patently not the case at present. If you advocate this then your starting point would sensibly be to introduce it as a precedent in those areas where government makes actual decisions (such as, say, military interventions, or spending cuts) rather than where government lays out guidelines for individual decisions by citizens.

    Regarding individualism and being a separate person, this is a much more difficult line for you to take, as intrinsically every person must be different. You accept that this process is a matter of personal experience, as such it doesn’t stop at birth and is in fact ongoing until death. Therefore, you must either define your terms of reference according to biological or sociological experience, in which case all abortion is either to be either rejected or accepted because experience begins either at fertiilisation, or birth – ie providing either 0 or 40 week limit (as others have argued above). The argument from experience rejects objectivism and allows for no half-way house.

    Whatever you believe, to apply it to the policy framework it must be based upon agreed standards. I appreciate your concerns, but they are no basis on which to formulate law.

    What would happen were collectivist politics to sweep the nation and all individuals could be subsumed into one (as some might argue the internet is already enabling)? As technological capability develops it opens up the spectre that hitherto irreversible processes such as individuation will be reversed, and consequently you’d have created a rhetorical case for the mass extermination of adults under the guise of protecting the unborn!

    Because I sympathise with your obviously caring nature towards all life, and reason your intentions are unlikely to be satisfied by your means, I have no alternative except to disagree with your conclusion.

  • @Chris
    for me the crux of the matter is the relationship firstly between individuals, and secondly between the individual and the state. The state is a servant of the individual – not the other way round.

    The legal framework on abortion should offer guidance and advice, not restrictions and limitations – because government cannot regulate fairly for the diversity of relationships, only for their health.

    And as we’re talking about the basis for individuation it only makes sense to discuss questions of abortion on a case-by-case basis.

    The current situation is in my opinion the best acceptable compromise because it does de facto allow for a large number of exceptions to the rule/tyrrany of the majority, and these should be protected at all costs. However I also acknowledge that medical advances which enhance prospects of viability may mean the standard 24-week limit is reduced.

    Personally I’d like to see fewer abortions because I know that this can be a highly traumatic event in any person’s life, which ought to be avoided wherever recommended – and this is why I’d like to see public debate switch from curing problems to preventing problems.

    It is symptomatic of the perceived spiralling social malaise that we’re constantly dealing with effects rather than the causes.

  • Old Codger Chris 8th Oct '12 - 11:07am

    For what it’s worth I don’t think the time limit on abortions should be reduced and I don’t rate Jeremy Hunt highly.

    But on the issue of how Hunt should have replied to the question Stephen Tall – and Hunt – are surely correct.
    Hunt’s alternative answers would have been (a) no comment (b) I’ve changed my mind (meaning I haven’t actually so I’m lying) (c) I want the limit reduced to 12 weeks and I’ll do my best as the minister to ensure it happens irrespective of the government’s official view.

    None of these answers would have been satisfactory.

  • Oranjepan

    Thanks for answering, but I still don’t find your reasoning at all clear.

    You say there shouldn’t be any legal restrictions, only guidance and advice. But you think the current situation – which does of course impose restrictions – is the “best possible compromise”.

    And you talk about relationships between individuals, and between the state and the individual. But you still don’t say who you are counting as individuals. You appear to think viability is a relevant criterion. Maybe you think the foetus should be considered an individual once it is viable?

    On the whole I don’t think you can blame other people if they find your position unclear.

  • Chris,
    I don’t think blaming people is a good way to reach agreement on any subject, and I don’t think clarity is helpful for progressing debate on such a sensitive subject as this.

    You can conclude from that my opinion of your comment.

    I think you’re labouring under particularly conservative interpretations as a way to build artificial divisions, when what’s needed is reassurance that people who are faced with such a drastic choice as abortion will be able to find the best solution for their circumstance.

    Firstly, as I explained, the number of exceptions written into the law mean it is practically unenforcable, so any restrictions are worth only as much as the doctor’s opinion being sought – and this is a good thing. Secondly, viability is a purely retrospective definition, so it is no use as any criterion to include in any legislative judgement – and this is also a good thing.

    Like I stated, doctors should approach the issue on a case-by-case basis, with reference to the guidelines as laid out. Politicians should keep their fingers as much as possible out of medicine.

    If I wanted to be controversial and offer a response to those who wish to impose additional restrictions on the time limit I’d also suggest offering greater provision for prosecution of those who demonstrate flagrant abuse of the law as it stands. But I don’t want to be controversial unless forced.

    Perhaps greater support for adoption services would be advantageous, but reports of religious organisations attempting to exert excessive influence in this sector are only likely to undermine the public will for this, especially in light of their track record.

    I am also particularly concerned that anyone might argue British law should take a lead from more authoritarian neighbours who fail to deal with reality by exporting large numbers of patients – the destructive burden created remains as an unacknowledged scar and is transmitted through society causing further ramifications including for mental health. We should not underestimate the beacon our law and health system is for so many people.

  • @Oranjepan
    ” it made me laugh anyway”

    I’m glad, it’s good to giggle sometimes at what is being reflected back 😉

    Re your points on pain, I assume that you are referring to the need for pain relief for post 12 week abortions that I said I would prefer? If so then I would suggest you seem to have forgotten other areas where there are regulations (e.g. treatment of laboratory animals, hunting). You mention military intervention, but there are plenty of regulations and treaties on how we treat other human beings during times of conflict, these have been in place for a long time. So government does actually make decisions in all sorts of areas already regarding pain.

    For the second part of that that paragraph, “rather than where government lays out guidelines for individual decisions by citizens.”, the individual will make a choice to have an abortion, the medical profession will most likely be the ones who decide what procedure will be used. In turn they will follow guidelines/laws set down by government and/or governing bodies. So again, there is no real inconsistency as any decision on pain relief would become part of the medical/surgical procedure and there would be no requirement for input from the individual.

    Regarding individualism, I accepted that learning creates individuals, this is not actually the same as saying everyone is intrinsically different which is what you seem to be arguing. What you’re discussing is the actual shell that will hold the individual mind.

    Now I know of no evidence that a 0 – 20 week embryo can learn in the sense of having a mind capable of processing information (feel free to point me to anything that you know off), but there is plenty of evidence to show that by 23 weeks the mind of an unborn child can process information and actually start to learn. Probably the closest you can get to a clone is identical siblings, they will share the same womb and most likely experience the same learning stimuli within, plus they will probably have a near identical upbringing in their early years. Yet because their minds work differently they will each have their own world view, they are individuals.

    Because you seem to be arguing a totally different point to the one I put forward, I don’t really accept your statement that it should be a 0 – 40 option.

    I was also a little startled by your statement “The argument from experience rejects objectivism and allows for no half-way house”, although that may be because you haven’t specified which context of objectivism you are talking about, perhaps you need to expand on how you are using that word?

    “What would happen were collectivist politics to sweep the nation and all individuals could be subsumed ………”

    This is a strange debating point, on the one hand you’re saying that all humans are subsumed into one politics and individualism is reversed. You then seem to say that somehow abortion limits now may cause genocide because we’ve protected to many individuals and these would need to be dealt with? I think you’d have to write a paper on that one as one paragraph obviously doesn’t get across what you’re trying to say. As it stands the easy reply would be to say that there should be no abortion so that the possibility of that reversal and subsumption is reduced (I am assuming of course that you are coming from the angle that the scenario you describe is not desirable).

    “have no alternative except to disagree with your conclusion”
    It may seem strange to say this as I have obviously disagreed with almost every point you’ve made, but I don’t mind you disagreeing. The whole reason that this subject has become a vote of conscience is because such wide spread disagreement exists, the only danger of losing the vote of conscience protection would be if we all started agreeing.

  • Thanks Chris, I hope you’ll continue the discussion by contributing to this thread
    https://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-46-30632.html

    On your main point about pain, it strikes me the government would come to a different view in the areas you mention if this was the decisive factor. Obviously it isn’t.

    On my point about misguided intentions, I’ll suppose you you haven’t heard of slippery slopes.

    On your claim that you disagree with me, that’s funny, you stated proposed your opinion and I responded with my reasons for disagreeing. Seems like you’ve got things the wrong way round.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

    No recent comment found.