The 2014 statistics on abortion in England and Wales were published last week raising questions for everyone.
We approach this polarising issue sensitively.
We reject any dichotomy which pitches the rights of a woman against her unborn child. Even in the sensitive circumstances where the law is being challenged in Northern Ireland we recognise joint humanity and pursue policies which protect the life, health and wellbeing of woman and unborn child.
The law in Northern Ireland navigates this difficult space well, protecting the life and health of the woman and her unborn child – as far as humanly possible. There is room for improvement and we are calling for tailored pathways of care for the women, unborn children and families involved in every pregnancy crisis.
The number of abortions in England and Wales in 2014 was 184,571 or 505 abortions every day. This is 0.6 per cent less than 2014 but the figures remain alarming.
In the past 10 years, there have been just eight abortions carried out under grounds F & G which are similar to the circumstances where abortion is permitted in Northern Ireland. ‘to save the life of the pregnant woman’ or ‘to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman.’ Almost 98 per cent of all abortions were on ‘mental health’ grounds only, though no extra evidence was given.
The rate of abortions to live births remains at 1:4 for England and Wales. In 2013 (latest year for statistics on live births) there were 185,311 abortions and 698,512 live births in England and Wales. This is a ratio of one unborn child aborted to every four children born. The World Health Organisation estimates that in Europe 30 per cent of pregnancies end in abortion.
The Northern Ireland figures are dramatically different. The ratio of abortions to live births by women resident in Northern Ireland is 1:28 (In 2012/13 there were 51 abortions carried out in Northern Ireland and 802 abortions in England to women resident in Northern Ireland. In 2013 there were 24,277 live births in Northern Ireland).
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) seeks to ‘reduce recourse to abortion’ – it is clear that Northern Irish law along with excellent health care provision, relationships education and legal access to contraceptives does this effectively. Ideologically it may be helpful for some to frame Northern Ireland as backwards because of our abortion laws, but the evidence does not support that claims. In 2014, 67 per cent of abortions took place in the ‘independent’ sector. The outsourcing of the ending of human life poses significant ethical questions. Especially when the organisations offering such ‘services’ offer ‘independent’ pre-abortion counselling but are paid for every abortion performed.
Some 81 per cent of abortions are carried out for single women. This will not be politically popular, but it’s clear that an unborn child conceived in marriage in England and Wales is four times less likely to be aborted than outside marriage. The importance of marriage between a man and a woman as a unique relationship in society with a vital impact on child-bearing is again highlighted.
Less than two per cent of all abortions were because of the ‘handicap’ of the child. This still represents over 3,500 unborn children. Of these 662 were aborted because of their risk of having Down’s syndrome. In England and Wales, 9 out of 10 babies are aborted when there is a Down’s syndrome diagnosis. There were 10 abortions in 2014 where cleft lip and cleft palate were identified as the ‘handicap’ and ‘principle’ reason for the abortion. What message does this send to those with a disability?
There are 40 million abortions worldwide annually, say the World Health Organisation in 2012. There were 47,000 maternal deaths from unsafe abortions in 2008.
Current legal challenges to the law in Northern Ireland around rape, incest and ‘serious malformation’ are sensitive. However, a culture has developed in England and Wales where, in 2014, 37 per cent of all abortions were for women who had had at least one abortion before, and where one in three women will have had an abortion by 45.
The strategy of using human rights to end human life is deeply concerning. A culture of abortion devalues everyone. It undermines the very human dignity on which modern human rights law is based.
Behind every statistic are real people, women and children. It is important that the most tragic cases do not change the law for our entire culture. More abortion is not the answer but nor is doing nothing. We support compassionate pregnancy crisis care and perinatal hospice care for the good of women, children and our community.
• David Smyth is public policy officer of the Evangelical Alliance