Every now and then a story comes into the press, such as this one, about a wee little miracle, born before 24 weeks, and straight away, there's a line about lowering the gestational age limit of termination of pregnancy, currently at 24 weeks in the UK. I wanted to write more about this, and to discuss the issues as I see them. Personally I feel that these are two seperate issues, and I dislike how in the press they are linked together. I know people who have had early babies are often asked by journalists how they feel about later term terminations, and I think that's unfair.
The Abortion Act 1967 is the piece of legislation that regulates termination of pregnancy (TOP) in the UK, I have used TOP in preference to abortion in this post, because abortion can also be used to explain a spontaneous miscarriage. I have linked to the NHS website which gives an explanation of the Act, and a neat summary of the statistics.
As we can see by the NHS figures, the number of terminations occuring after 20 weeks is very rare, and no doubt, the women that have later term abortions have had a tough and worrying time, perhaps its taken them awhile to summon up the courage, or they have not realised they are pregnant, it happens. Also it is not clear from the summary but I suspect that medical terminations are included in this number, something I am not covering in this post, but may do at a later date.
I have made it clear in the past that my background is Christian, however my feelings have never really changed on this subject. I believe, and always will, that termination of pregnancy is, in essence, a private matter, between the woman, the father of the baby (if present and involved), and their own conscience. I do believe we need laws protecting babies, and to govern medical practice, and I believe we do need debate, about how we, as a society wish to proceed in this matter. But at all times we need to respect that women have a right to be able to choose whether or not to carry their unborn child. And I will not waiver from that. We can say what we like about contraception, about personal responsibility and about adoption, but at the end of the day, can we expect someone to carry a baby that they do not want? I don't believe any of us have that right to force a pregnancy and a human life upon someone, and if we enforce such things in law we know the result. An increase in illegal abortions, threatening the lives of women, and an increase in the suicide rate of pregnant women.
Not only do I believe this about termination, but I believe this about premature babies too. I think, personally, its impossible to have a blanket rule on either of these things based on a gestational number. There are 23 week babies, like the one I have linked to, are bigger than Joseph was at birth. There are 23 weekers who are very small and very poorly. There are 42 weekers born poorly. I think being too obsessed with gestational age is very difficult, because, even with the best scans and highest forms of medicine, the true gestational age of a foetus is a "best guess" scenario. Even with IVF it depends, to an extent, when the embryo implanted. I do not believe that reducing the rate of abortion below 23 weeks will influence the number of babies born at 23 weeks, the two issues in my mind are, and should be seperate.
I think we do need renewed debate, and take it out of the hands of politicians, so we are all informed about the issues. Apart from the 23 week baby issue, I haven't heard of a compelling reason to reduce the gestational age that terminations of pregnancy are performed at. I am not saying there aren't any, but I haven't heard any personally. And, as the statistics show, that vast majority of terminations are performed below 20 weeks and in fact, at 12 weeks or below.
We all feel, or at least I did, that having a premature baby would never happen to me. Even when I knew it was all going wrong, I thought I'd have six weeks bedrest and my baby be delivered at 33 weeks. I never thought I'd have an early, tiny baby. And just 4 weeks earlier I would have had to make some tough decisions and have conversations, that as a pregnant woman, you hope never to have.
I am upset if women who are in labour at 23 weeks have been told by doctors "well you could abort", as has been reported. I do think the language that is used, the tact and discretion by doctors can be lacking, what is a medical issue and black and white to a doctor, is not seen that way by a mother and father who are experiencing one of the most frightening things a parent can go through.
I think we do need to focus more on unwanted pregnancy, and do better and educating on both contraception choices and on adoption as a valid alternative. For many people IVF is not an option they wish to choose, and the adoption of babies is becoming more and more rare. For many people such as myself, adoption would be a very welcome option.
I think we do need a renewed, robust and informed debate about both these issues, termination of pregnancy, and the care of babies born before the 24th week of pregnancy.
And I hope that in time, we can see the numbers of terminations performed drop, and the number of premature babies born healthy safe and well increase. And that is the most that we can hope for.
I welcome comment on this, however if I feel any comments are disrespectful or nasty, or do not contribute to the debate they will be removed. That is not to say you have to agree with me, not at all, but just be respectful and be kind to one another.