Last week my attention was drawn to two different articles originating on either side of the Atlantic on one topic: abortion.
The American article was reporting on the results of a recent Gallup poll into attitudes towards abortion. Gallup, it said “is now recording the lowest level of self-described pro-choicers in its history of tracking the abortion issue.” It noted that “The polling shows that…Americans – especially young Americans – are rejecting [abortion] with increasing disgust, and not just for religious reasons,” and went on to identify three possible reasons for this shift in attitudes.
The British article, in contrast, was reporting that new figures from the NHS reveal that in 2010 abortions were given “to three teenage girls in England and Wales who had previously had at least seven pregnancies terminated.”
Although noting that the abortion rate among teenagers is dropping year by year, the article quotes a spokeswoman from LIFE who points out that “the provision of abortion is clearly not resolving the problems in the lives that cause [young people] to have multiple crisis pregnancies.”
What are these problems? What could be done to address them? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the article doesn’t say. It seeks suggestions from the Department of Health and the abortion provider Marie Stopes International, both of whom are only able to suggest counselling and more information about methods of contraception. While these are of course important, they are not what the LIFE spokeswoman was talking about.
Let’s use another scenario as an example. Suppose the NHS discovers that over 40,000 teenagers each year are being treated for broken bones after coming off their motorbikes. Furthermore, they find that a small number are coming back again and again with similar injuries from similar accidents. A spokesperson from a road safety awareness charity is approached for comment and says ‘the provision of hospital treatment is clearly not resolving the problems in the lives that cause [young people] to have multiple motorcycling accidents.’ We would not think she meant they needed to be provided with post-traumatic stress counselling and advised to wear good quality helmets and protective clothing – though they should. We would expect her recommendations to state that children should be taught about the need to drive within the law and take advantage of the protection available to them, but we would also expect her to look at why teenagers (many of whom may be underage) were out on motorbikes – often driving dangerously – at all. What needs in their lives were pushing them to engage in behaviour which endangered their health and wellbeing? Her answers here would likely call for the provision of more youth clubs and bus services – things which don’t immediately seem to relate to cutting down injuries caused by motorbikes, but which address the root causes of the problem – boredom and lack of transport.
The article in last week’s Washington Post, mentioned above, suggested that the reasons for the increased antipathy towards abortion in America were philosophical ones – the understanding of what abortion means is shifting, and thus the perception of its moral rightness or wrongness is following suit. I’m not sure that, for British teenagers, the necessary perception-shift is in the meaning of abortion, but in the meaning of sex. Abortion is a terrible thing and we must do all we can to prevent the laws being further liberalised and to reduce the horrific numbers of babies being killed each year. At the same time, though, we need to address the causes of the problem, the issues in teenagers’ lives that are making them turn to sex for comfort, for value, for escape and because they have been sold the lie that life is about having a sexual partner and they can’t think of any other way to spend their time.