A woman’s right to decide is paramount

The absence of hard facts rarely puts a brake on the opinions of
commentators. Last week was no exception, as they queued to pass
judgment on the unnamed woman who had a termination in the sixth
month of her pregnancy because her baby had a cleft palate of
unknown severity.

The Rev Joanna Jepson who herself had corrective facial surgery in
her teens, has won the right to launch a judicial review,
challenging the decision not to prosecute a doctor over a late
abortion. The reason for the termination, Jepson argues, is “an
alarming example of the cult of physical perfection.”

No matter what the outcome of the review, it must soon be time for
an overhaul of the legislation governing abortion, not least
because the day is imminent when a baby born at 24 weeks routinely
survives. An inquiry might also consider why it’s necessary to have
the consent of two doctors and why it is so difficult in parts of
the country to acquire a speedy termination in the early

In the furore over the terms and conditions under which women
undergo abortion, it is almost always the late terminations that
attract the headlines. Yet, in 2002, out of a total of 175,600
abortions, only 110 were carried out after 24 weeks.

Much more scandalous, controversial and rarely discussed – in spite
of this country’s reputation for having more teenage mothers than
any in western Europe – is the lack of positive support and
encouragement given to girls living in deprived circumstances, to
consider an abortion when they discover they are pregnant.

Aspiration is said to be the best form of contraception. Research
suggests that those who lack ambition, have poor schooling, loose
family ties and low self-esteem often want to be mothers because it
gives them a sense of purpose.

Others, however, slide into pregnancy because opting to have a
termination requires them to accept the reality of their situation,
and make a decision. Their difficulty in making a decision is
further complicated by the sometimes surprisingly forceful
anti-abortion views expressed by peers and relatives.

Teenage mothers rarely accumulate the qualifications that lead to a
decent standard of living. Such is the hypocrisy surrounding
abortion, however, that advocates who might be able to persuade a
young woman that motherhood is not the best way to change her life
are too often forced into silence.

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