Pregnancies: wanted and unwanted


An article by Laurie Penny over at Liberal Conspiracy considers the recently-passed Human Fertilisation and Embryo Bill. Specifically, the impact that it will have on women’s rights.

Two of the key issues in the Bill were proposals to reduce the limit on abortions from 24 weeks, and the proposed removal of the law requiring IVF clinics to consider the need for a “father and mother” when offering treatment.

Penny seems to consider that reducing abortions, and keeping the above-mentioned law, are symptoms of “male control over reproductive rights”.

She claims that:

women’s right to decide whether and when and how they have children is the ultimate threat to the rule of men, the ultimate insult to the divine supremacy of the father…

Perhaps she has a point here. In bygone days, before contraception and abortion, women were often kept at home carrying, bearing and raising children. Women who could limit the number of children they gave birth to increased their freedom, and gradually this started to translate into increased power at home and at work. Though I’m not sure about “ultimate insult” – we are, thankfully, past the days when a man was required to produce legitimate heirs to prove his standing.

The opposition to these key points, especially the abortion debate, came less from overt misogyny (though there may well have been some closet misogynists voting, too) than from good old-fashioned enforced morality – the belief that one has the right to enforce one’s standards of behaviour on others. And, tellingly, one does not have to be male to do this. The campaign for a reduction in abortion limits to 20 weeks was spearheaded by Nadine Dorries. Her campaign was funded to a large degree by a Christian group, Christian Concern for our Nation, which is also a strong pro-life campaign supporter. A quick look at the votes in the motion to reduce to the limit to 22 weeks shows plenty of women (from all parties) who voted ‘aye’, and plenty of men who voted no.

The same holds for the bill requiring the presence of “a male role model” to be considered in IVF treatment. And the objections voiced by those MPs that did oppose the Bill do not stand up to any serious scrutiny. There is no evidence – none – that suggests children are disadvantaged solely by their parents’ sexual orientation or marital status. And a child conceived by IVF has a higher chance of being a wanted baby, with all the advantages that that brings.

The main point that Penny is missing in her article is that the motion to limit abortion to before 22 weeks failed. The motion to remove the need for the presence of “a father” in considering IVF treatment passed. Both of these were the right decision. It is not for the government to overrule medical expert opinion on abortion. It is not for the government to dictate on how many people, and of what sex, should bring up each child. And a majority of the House of Commons realised this, and made the right decision. It is no less the right decision for having been taken by a predominantly male Parliament. Had the opposite result been obtained by a predominantly female Parliament, it would still have been wrong.

Those who wish families to be headed by one man and one woman are clinging to outmoded ideas of “traditional families” that fly in the face of considerable evidence that children can be and are being brought up healthy and happy by straight couples, single parents, and gay couples. Those who wish abortion to be limited even further than it already is, or banned altogether, are attempting to enforce their own morals on a population which, in the main, does not agree. Both of these viewpoints need to be challenged, but lumping them under the heading of “patriarchy” (or, as Penny rather oddly does, “bourgeois”) does nothing to stimulate debate.

Every baby should be a wanted baby. Condemning women to bring into the world children that, for whatever reason, they do not feel able to take care of, is cruel. Denying children to those that want and are able to provide loving parenting for them is cruel, too.


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