1980s >> 1988 >> no-1001-january-1988

Running Commentary: Abortion debate

David Alton‘s Bill seeks an 18-week time limit on abortions — to make it illegal for any woman to have an abortion after the 18th week of her pregnancy. Alton is fully aware that many of the tests for handicap and hereditary disease cannot be performed until after the 18th week but he thinks it is wrong to seek an abortion on those grounds. There will be an exclusion clause in the Bill allowing mothers the “right” to an abortion after 18 weeks. If the mother’s own life is at risk her pregnancy may be terminated.

Alton’s Bill has the support of some women who object to abortion on religious grounds. Many of the other supporters are churchmen or priests who argue their moral case from the authoritative position of perhaps never having had a sexual relationship. much less risked the anguish of an unwanted pregnancy. All of these people are convinced that a pregnant woman who waits more than 18 weeks before deciding whether to have an abortion should, in future, be forced to bear the child, regardless of the economic or emotional consequences.

Speaking in opposition to the proposals on a TV programme were two women who had chosen to have their pregnancies terminated. Neither enjoyed the experience, did it for “selfish” reasons or came out of it psychologically unscathed. Also opposing the Bill was a representative of a major charity-run abortion clinic who witnesses the human misery of unwanted pregnancies every day of the week. Ultimately, though, the Bill will stand or fall on the say-so of the majority of men in Parliament.

But the issues are not the time limit or the moral correctness of abortion. It is the present economic and social system that turns the birth of a human being into a nightmare of poverty, lost freedom and missed opportunity. So before becoming involved in what Alton claims is a “human rights” issue, consider instead a society where women and men are free to make their own decisions and shape their own lives on equal terms.

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“Workshy costing firms £5bn a year”, shrieked the headline. I couldn’t believe it. Here was a reactionary newspaper finally telling the truth about the ruling class. A full and frank expose of the idle rich and the nature of capitalism. I read on. “Industry chiefs are planning a crackdown on absenteeism after a survey showed days off work are costing British business £5 billion a year . . . The survey puts the UK in a bad light compared with major trading competitors”. The truth was revealed. It was not fearless revelations about how capitalism exploits the working class but just another attempt to make workers feel guilty because they weren’t producing enough surplus value for their benevolent bosses. The final paragraph said it all. “It is not a comforting record, particularly when there are so many on the dole who would work conscientiously at any job they were fortunate enough to have”.

Muttering “Victorian values” I turned the page. “Royal pair back to work after brief reunion” met my gaze. Concern for my blood pressure prompted me to quickly pass on. As I did so 1 thought of all those on the dole who would consider themselves fortunate to have a “job” like Charlie and Di and how much better it would be if their watchword was “Abolition of the wages system!”

Adjacent to the Royal story was one headlined. “Part-time workers getting raw deal”. A report by the Low Pay Unit showed that nearly four million British part-timers earn less than the “decency threshold” of £3.25 an hour and many more miss out on redundancy payments and maternity benefits. The low paid include 98 per cent of shop checkout workers. 96 per cent of bar staff and 89 per cent of receptionists. It’s not reading these things in newspapers that’s bad for your health, it’s capitalism that’s bad for your life. Let s get rid of capitalism.

Dave Coggan