Abortions in the UK have gained the dubious honour of reaching the 200,000 per year level, as the BBC reports. When I was last working, a decade ago, they were hovering around the 180,000 mark.
As the article points out, this is not the absolute highest per capita rate, since the population is now much higher than it was before. But one must remember that much of the population increase has been from Muslim nations, and Islam disapproves of abortion. It is legal, in fact, in only three Muslim countries (which reinforces the oddness of the sympathy of third-wave feminism towards Islam), so one may conclude that the “secular British” population abortion rates are at least as high as they ever were.
Two things strike me from the response of Lesley Regan, president of the Royal College of Obstetricans and Gynaecology. The first, and most obvious, is that she attributes it to lack of sufficient availability of contraception. I’ll return to that.
The second, less overt, point is that she considers it a problem, or else there would be no need to call for the alternative of contraception. This matters, in the light of third-wave feminism’s insistence that abortion is morally neutral: a woman has the right to do whatever she likes with her body. By some writers, the fetus is even regarded as a hostile parasite, no more to be considered in its own right than you would a tapeworm. Some progessive academics are extending this logic to the newborn as well, given that a baby is no less parasitic on its mother (who may prefer other activities) than is a fetus. Within this framework abortion is never a problem, but a basic right.
The outcry in progressive circles (including Disney!) against any restriction of abortion by various US states (or by developing nations, whose cultures are only as sacrosanct as western liberals will permit them to be on pain of trade sanctions) shows how prevalent this moral fraework has become. And yet it rubs shoulders with secular versions of distaste for abortion, as exemplified by Lesley Regan’s representation of the 200,000 record as a pity, rather than as a triumph for women’s rights.
This is rather like the common defence of abortion in the more general debate, that “no woman goes through an abortion lightly,” which may be true, but goes against the narrative of the absolute right of a woman to do what she likes with her body. Under that narrative, one could argue that nobody goes through a whole-body tattoo or a Brazilian waxing “lightly,” either, but either of these ordeals may still be undergone for rather trivial reasons.
Let me return, though, to the explanation that lack of availability of contraception is to blame for the increased abortion levels. Though this has been the offical mantra ever since the Abortion Act became law in 1967 (the same year that the contraceptive pill first became available to unmarried women here), after three generations it’s wearing as thin as the idea that unbridled sex amongst young people will make them unrepressed, healthy and happy. Escalating youth suicide rates, epidemic STD and the perception of a “rape culture” give the complete lie to that claim, though it will not lie down and die whilst even the WHO pushes it under the euphemism of “sexual health.”
In fact, it seems to me that the lie is given to both the “healthy sex life” meme and the “unavailability of contraception” excuse by the only good news in these statistics, which is that “among 16-17 year olds, the abortion rate has halved from a decade ago, to 10 per 1,000 women, and just 1,267 under 16s had a termination last year.”
There seem to be indications, from international studies, that some of this is to be explained by young people’s disillusion with the Marcusian ideal of unrestrained juvenile sex, or maybe by the less positive matter of their perversion by its seedier outcomes. Perhaps, then, the young men are so addicted to, and intimidated by, pornography that they have given up on real girls. And as for the latter, with the “Me Too” fashion in modern feminism, they may be belatedly learning the possibility of saying no, albeit at the cost of a healthy attraction to the opposite sex.
As the commentator Heather Mac Donald points out, in age-old tradition the sexual appetites of males were kept largely under control by the ability of women to say “No,” forcing men to compete not only for women’s attention, but for their selection by women as suitable carers and parents. The sexual revolution (as Mac Donald argues) destroyed that, producing not an actual rape culture, but a culture of regret, in which women’s emotional needs are subordinated to the gratification of male physical desires.
Radical feminism, as in the “Me Too” movement, thus redresses part of the balance by giving women the right to say “No,” as they did in previous generations. But as a pathological side-effect it denies the natural, and life-affirming, roles of the sexes in forming families and supporting each other. Marcuse, of course, would have been well-pleased with that, as the destruction of the family was a major aim of the Frankfurt School of which Marcuse was a part. It went along with the destruction of religion as necessary for building the Utopia we have all but reached today.
Nevertheless, I doubt that teenagers, overall, have become as jaded with each other as studying trendy philosophies might suggest. There are fewer teenage abortions largely because the message has got through to young people that contraception is important, and easily available. And it is easily available, which gives the lie to the main explanation given for the increased number of abortions by Lesley Regan. If the most libidinous, inexperienced and vulnerable group in society – the young – can gain effective access to contraception, then everybody else can too.
In the UK, contraception has been available, free, under the NHS, since before I even qualified. Everyone is registered with a GP, and all of them (except individual Catholics and so on with scruples) are paid specifically to provide contraceptive services, and since the infamous Gillick case have been directed to do so to girls of any age whom they deem capable of giving consent. If doctor appointments are limited, often practice nurses are delegated to manage the single annual BP check, and to give advice on cancer smears etc, and in most cases the patient will get 6 months of the pill, with a repeat for another 6 months. Practitioners are also able to provide other contraceptive measures.
In many areas, separate family planning clinics are available for those unwilling to visit their own GP, and these are either under local authority control or provided by private organisations like Marie Stopes clinics (the equivalent of Planned Parenthood in the US).
Now, it’s true that economic problems have threated some local authority provision, and put general practice under pressure. But it is scarcely impossible to plan to see a practitioner once a year and get free contraception. The only way of making contraception more available would be to put it in the milk – or in MMR! And the proof of the pudding is that the least savvy group, the young, are evidently getting contraception.
The growth in abortion, though, is occurring largely in those over 35. In other words, it’s commoner amongst mature women, a majority of whom will be in stable marriages or relationships, with steady jobs, and surely enough experience of the world to know how to access contraceptive services – after all, they have no problem requesting abortions from the same doctors after the event. Even if they are really too busy to see a doctor, or if all the local prcationers have suddenly died unnoticed, condoms are available everywhere, and there are surely not many women over 35 who don’t know about them, or who can’t exercise some say in their use.
So lack of availability of contraception is, surely, a nonsense explanation: this is Britain, not Brazzaville. The real question, though more controversial, is why there is an abortion culture amongst mature adult women in this country. And here, I suspect the influence of ideology may be more significant than it is amongst the young, whose hormones tend to outweigh their political indoctrination. We have had half a century of being told by the influencers of society that a fetus is just a ball of cells, or “zygotic material,” and that whether we fill our bodies with cocaine, alcohol or other people’s sperm is all about “who we are.” There’s always rehab, a new partner or an abortion to enable us to go on being ourselves.
So why should we be surprised if a lot of people have bought into that egocentricity? Aren’t we supposed to swallow the message and live by it?
We still, however, need to make a decision as to whether that’s a good thing (as the progressives say) or a threat to our very humanity (as those like me would say). What I think is wearing very thin, though, is the fence-sitting of those who admit there is a problem, like the second group, and then throw yet more discredited progressive solutions at it. There comes a point when, as Ian Anderson sang in another context, “I don’t believe you – you have the whole damn thing all wrong.”