As we near the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act, Lord Steel, the Liberal Democrat peer responsible for it, has criticised what he sees as a culture in which women turn to abortion as a form of contraception. Really.
“Everybody can agree that there are too many abortions,” he says in an interview in today’s Guardian, calling for better sex education and access to contraceptive advice and a debate over sexual morality to help bring the numbers down.
Lord Steel said: “I accept that there is a mood now which is that if things go wrong you can get an abortion, and it is irresponsible, really. I think people should be a bit more responsible in their activities, and in particular in the use of contraception.”
He says a lack of research into the reasons women choose to have an abortion is hampering efforts to tackle the problem of rising numbers. But, asked whether abortion is being used in some cases as a form of contraception, he said: “I am afraid it is.”
So let me get this straight. Lord Steel believes that women are cheerfully having their cervixes dilated and the contents of their uteruses sucked out as an easy replacement for using a condom. He is also calling for greater “sexual morality”, which presumably means that we all need to close our legs until we’re married.
He also seems to be ignoring the existence of the morning after pill, which I would have thought would be the very first port of call for anyone who’d suffered a split condom. I’ve taken a morning after pill before, it was very easy to get hold of and the healthcare professionals who helped me offered completely non-judgmental advice.
Abortion is unpleasant, painful, and for many women emotional. Does Lord Steel really think that women are having unprotected sex with everything that moves before skipping gaily into abortion clinics to have the unwanted evidence of their “immoral” lifestyles conveniently disposed of?
Not surprisingly, his comments have provoked fury from women’s health campaigners. Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said:
“There are many positive reasons why abortion numbers can increase – because women are more easily able to access the services they need, because more abortion care is funded by the NHS, and because more women now believe abortion is an acceptable option if they are faced with an unintended pregnancy.
“Of course its better to prevent an unwanted pregnancy than to end one in abortion. I’ve never met a woman in a BPAS abortion clinic who didn’t want to not be there. No woman aspires to have an abortion.”
You said it, Ann.