Philippa Taylor

If we trust women, we should listen to them

Philippa Taylor is Head of Public Policy at CMF. She has an MA in Bioethics from St Mary’s University College and a background in policy work on bioethics and family issues.
The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of CMF.

Contrary to impressions given in the media, by professional bodies such as the Royal college of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and by most Parliamentarians, an overwhelming majority of Britons actually want to make it harder for women to get abortions, a new poll reveals.

It is particularly striking how much support there is amongst women for lowering the time limit for abortion, which currently stands at 24 weeks. Of the 70% of women who want the limit lowered nearly six in ten are in favour of a limit of 16 weeks or fewer and 41% actually want it 12 weeks or less.

2,000 people were recently interviewed by Comres, finding that:

  • 70% of women would like the current time limit for abortion to be lowered
  • 59% of women would like the abortion time limit lowered to 16 weeks or lower
  • Only 1% want the abortion time limit raised to birth
  • 93% of women want independent abortion counselling introduced
  • 79% of general population want a five-day consideration period before abortion
  • 84% of women want improved pregnancy support for women in crisis
  • 70% of parents want introduction of parental consent for girls 15 and under to get abortions
  • 56% support freedom of conscience for doctors

These new statistics speak for themselves, so I want to highlight just two messages.

First is to show how these findings are almost entirely at odds with the stance taken by most public broadcasters, pundits and parliamentarians.

To illustrate, over the past couple of years there has been a concerted effort by pro-abortion groups to campaign for the ‘decriminalisation’ of abortion, which would effectively scrap the 24-week limit altogether, allowing abortion to birth (note that only 1% of those polled actually back this idea!). This pro-abortion campaign uses the slogan ‘we trust women’ which seems particularly ironic in view of what 70% of women really want. The campaign recently culminated in a Bill in Parliament which passed by 172 to 142 and would have decriminalised abortion had it progressed further, illustrating how many Parliamentarians are also out of touch with what women really want.

Moreover the media has provided plenty of backing for the campaign (see here too).  Last week Tim Farron did a complete about-turn on earlier statements that he was opposed to abortion. A Liberal Democrat source told PoliticsHome last week that Farron: ‘…spoke to experts, looked at the evidence and changed his mind.’ The irony is that he was clearly speaking to the wrong ‘experts’. Perhaps if he’d seen these poll results earlier he’d have realised that his earlier position was actually more in line with what women want, rather than what his ‘experts’ told him last week.

Second point to highlight is the difference in findings between men and women.  Contrary to what most people generally assume, women want more restrictions on abortion than men.

I’ve noted above that 70% of women want the time limit for abortion lowered to 20 weeks or less.  Yet amongst men, 49% want the limit at 20 weeks or less.

The gender difference seems to be counterintuitive but it does fit with previous findings and the fact that it is consistent should prompt us to ask questions about why this is the case.

I looked at this intriguing difference a few years ago, concluding that it may simply be that women are more sensitive to the fact that pregnancy involves carrying a living baby and therefore is very different to tooth extraction. And that perhaps women are more supportive than men of doctors being involved in the decision, and of time limits being tightened, because it is a way of sharing the decision-making burden, and a way of taking the decision out of their hands completely. Maybe men are more supportive of unrestrictive abortion because it absolves them of their responsibilities?

Whether or not my analysis is correct, counterintuitive as it seems, that fact that more women want more restrictions to abortion than men requires explanation. It has been repeated enough to not be ignored.

And whatever the reason, this all suggests that if ‘we trust women’ we should be bringing in more restrictions on abortion not fewer.

Little of this will come as a surprise to those who do listen to women who have experienced abortion. As counsellors around the country know, having an abortion is a life changing event and can frequently lead to psycho-social,and occasionally physical, harm for women. It seems that most women understand that too, listening to them.

 

May 21st 2017 it was reported that:

ComRes interviewed 2,008 British adults online between 12th and 14th May 2017. Data was weighted to be representative of all GB adults. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

 

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