If you follow any news stateside, you will no doubt have heard the Supreme Court in America was subject to a leak regarding its now probable plan to repeal Roe v Wade. If you either don’t know what that is, or what it means in practice, Tim Challies links to a number of posts and briefings about it at the top of this post here. In essence, for many, the fight in the States over abortion centred in large part on this particular ruling. What happens over there on this issue may have knock-on consequences for other countries looking for precedent to roll a liberal attitude on this issue back.
I think two points are worth making about this. First, I think it should focus our minds again on the realities of abortion. This side of the pond, it has for quite some time been considered something of a done deal in British politics. No major political party stands on a pro-life platform and almost no MPs identify as pro-life. Those that are also frequently remain very quiet about the fact. It is seen as a policy that may well spell the end of a political career if pushed too hard. At best, it is seen as a dead issue, effectively unrepealable, and therefore not a good use of campaigning time. Politically, the calculation is that it is better to focus energies on what can be changed rather than on what is assumed cannot be.
But the Roe v Wade decision in the states may well put the matter back on the agenda. Of course, in the USA, the issue of abortion is much more polarised and vehemently contested than here. But then again, so are the vast majority of their political issues given the binary nature of the choice usually presented to the electorate. But what it does is make clear that progressive liberal policies are not unrepealable. It is possible to row back on decisions that may well have been considered done deals.
I appreciate the abortion issue very much feels like a pandoras box upon which the lid can never be jammed back on. The more people invested in it, the harder it seems. There are those who have undertaken the procedure. There are those who profit from it. There are those who view it as a cheap solution to other perceived problems. There is a reason why different points of termination are set for able-bodied and disabled children. There is a reason why screening tests very often give way to discussions about termination when positive results return. The more people who have been embroiled in it, and therefore have a vested interest in justifying matters (often not maliciously, but entirely understandable yet nonetheless actually), makes it seem like an altogether impossible task. The (potential) repeal of Roe v Wade suggests it isn’t so.
Unlike how the issue is often treated in the States, I do not believe we should be single-issue voters. That way all sorts of problems lie. But that doesn’t change the fact that some issues really do matter and the systematic offing of children in utero does seem to be one which ought to rile people here more than it tends to do. The roots of the practice in progressive liberal eugenics is a point in the discussion frequently overlooked and oft forgotten, as noted in the following twitter thread:
We would also do well to highlight the fact that those who insist it is mere healthcare are the ones who are most scared of having the procedure ever shown. The realities of what goes on in the abortion clinic are tightly guarded. No other medical procedure goes to such lengths to hide what is actually happening from those who might consider undergoing it. Even now, the procedure is hidden from view as much as possible as it is happening. Could it be because what is actually going on would not be as palatable to people as they are being led to believe?
The second thing worth noting is that – if we are committed to seeing the practice ended – we do have to work much harder to convince people there are legitimate alternatives. Not only convince them such alternative exist, but even work to encourage and provide them. One of the stronger arguments against pro-lifers – at least on an emotional level – is that many appear to care more for the life of the unborn than they do for that of the already born. The point behind the comment, which is absolutely legitimate, is that it is no good telling people they must keep a child when they cannot fathom a way they will have the means to do so, whether emotional, financial, practical or whatever. It is a point that must be taken seriously.
Rhetorically, of course, it might stick when thrown in the direction of a Tory busy campaigning for the removal of abortion rights whilst happily also removing workers and maternity rights or gladly taking the knife to parts of the welfare state that would make it possible to support a child. The argument fails when it is thrown in the direction of those – whether Tory, Labour, Lib Dem or other – who are fierce advocates of support for families and strong welfare support.
Of course, the argument from the pro-life side centres on the moral case for the real humanity and personhood from conception. Nothing justifies the wanton destruction of a human life on such a view. And I would agree with that view. But to those who do not share that outlook, there nonetheless needs to be some considerable work done on alternative options. As Russell Moore rightly highlights here, ‘If in fact Roe is overturned, those of us who are pro-life must work to convince our neighbors that we can and will love and protect both mothers and children.’ All too often this is overlooked.
It has long been my view that parenting ought to be recognised as a societal good. Whilst I think mothers should – if they wish – have the means to return to the workplace, I equally believe the option to remain at home and care for their children ought to be recognised as good and valid too. I think return to work options are great, but I think the two-income economy has stopped that so much being an active choice. As such, and given the societal good of family and child-raising, I believe we should effectively pay stay-at-home parents for their early years care, until children are eligible for school. Given that the government already provide some support for childcare from the age of 2, it is only an extension of the same principle, only diverting the money that would go to some child care providers directly to families. I would implement some form of the ‘motherhood endowment’ (though, equal opportunities for stay at home dads) that Frank Field proposed several years ago, targeting government money on early years care and incentivising parents to care for their children in the early years.
Whilst I do not think this the only necessary policy, I do think it a particularly good one. It would send a message that children and families are a good that serve the whole of society. It would remove most economic arguments against keeping unwanted children. Coupled to easier routes for adoption as well, offering proper support for those who will carry a pregnancy to term but give up for adoption at the end, some of the stronger arguments in favour of abortion can be rightly addressed. The issue needn’t be one that is totally gone, but I do think those of us who do not believe abortion is a legitimate answer must go some considerable way to showing that if we rightly do not want to permit it, we will make absolutely sure that the proper care and support is available in lieu of it.