Sunday, 27 February 2011

Melanie Phillips on Abortion

Melanie Phillips. Five syllables that are almost guaranteed to send even the most patient and understanding person into the foetal position, awaiting the cavalcade of reactionary and rambling bilge. Which is ironic really, because today she turns her attention to foetuses. Again (yet again! - I never intended to write this way, but it seems impossible to do it otherwise) I shall reproduce the whole sorry affair, with my comments in red
 What hope is there if doctors won't respect unborn children?
You really do have to wonder which is the more extreme effect of our politically correct culture — the way in which it brutalises people, or the way it turns them into cerebrally-challenged automatons? Well. That's quite an opening sentence. Just for the record, I pride myself on being what the Mail describe as being 'politically correct' (i.e. non-discriminatory), but I'm fairly sure I am neither 'brutalised', nor am I a 'cerebrally-challenged automaton' - I lack the.. well, the brutality for the former, and the metal addendums for the latter.
Both attributes were on startling display in the latest piece of advice to emanate from no less august a body than the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

This guidance, intended for all doctors, nurses and counsellors advising women contemplating having an abortion, said such women should be told that terminating a pregnancy was safer than having a baby. This is from a draft paper for peer review (PDF, p.15). Now when I read this, I read it as a sentence that is designed to reassure women who wish to have an abortion that they will not permanently damage themselves in any way, despite what the anti-choice people may say. I agree it may be ambiguous, but which interpretation is more realistic?

To which one can only ask: safer for whom, precisely? Not for the baby, certainly. According to the British Pregancy Advisory Service statistics from last year, 91% of abortions occured before 13 weeks gestation. Can we agree here that, whatever your opinion on abortion, before 13 weeks a foetus is at best a potential baby - especially given that until the sixth week of gestation, around 25% of pregnancies will end in miscarriage?

This is not meant to be a flip comment. For the point is that these doctors seemed to have totally lost sight of some basic humanity here. Only if you read the statement from a purely reactionary can't-wait-to-become-enraged-at-nothing-at-all viewpoint, instead of considering it as medical advice for what to expect from an abortion.

Abortion is — or should be seen as — at best, a necessary evil. Some religious people, of course, do not accept even that. They regard abortion simply as the killing of the unborn and a crime against humanity and the Almighty. But it's fine to kill people who perform medical abortions. According to some, God's cool with that.

Although their views should be respected, the fact is that very few people would want to return to the days when abortion was illegal.Quite rightly. I respect people's right to hold a viewpoint, but not to impinge it on the rest of the world. I hate mushrooms, but I'm not about to launch a campaign to stop anyone else eating them.

Nevertheless, there is widespread and increasing disquiet about abortion — on account of both the rate at which it is occurring and the coarsening of values that it has brought in its wake. This is the kind of "widening and increasing disquiet" that occurs only on the pages of the Mail.

For like so many other liberalising measures, what started as a humane response — in this case to the dangerous back-street butchery of desperate women — has turned into something quite different.

The framers of the original legislation never foresaw that abortion would turn into a routine form of contraception. But that’s what has happened. Does Phillips really think that people think "Oh no, we're out of condoms! Oh well, I suppose I'll just have an abortion instead then!"?

The official figures for 2009 show that there were 189,100 abortions in England and Wales — with no fewer than 42.4 per cent of all pregnancies to women under the age of 20 ending in a termination, rising to around 60 per cent among under-16s. Indeed, from 1969, the number of abortions to girls under 20 more than quadrupled to over 40,000 in 2009. Daily Mail: hates teenage mothers, single mothers and the poor - yet still inexplicably anti-choice and anti-sex education.

Experts have said that although some progress has been made in reducing Britain’s world-beating rate of teenage pregnancies, abortion is increasingly being seen as the major method of contraception for many young women. What experts? Where? Oh, and this progress you speak of - it couldn't possibly be because of better quality sex education, could it?

These figures are horrifying. Abortion should be a last resort. The law was framed as a balancing act between different levels of harm. The destruction of the foetus could be undertaken only if the harm to the mother of having the baby was considered too great. Wow, I'm really not even going to get into that argument here. Personally, I'm with Bill Hicks on this one - you're not a person until you're in my phone book - but each to their own. Just as I'm not out forcing people to get abortions, neither should anyone be out stopping people from getting them because of their personal beliefs.

This was because what was produced at conception was considered an early form of human life. And even though it was not considered to have the same status as a developed baby, it was once deemed vital to treat it with respect. To do otherwise was to devalue life itself and our common humanity. See above with regards to 'potential' and the argument I am not getting into here because otherwise I'll be typing for the rest of my damn life.

Well, this is precisely what has taken place. That sense of balance went out of the window long ago under the pressure of ideologues screaming about ‘a woman’s right to choose’, which reframed abortion solely as concerning the interests of the mother. MUST. RESIST. URGE. TO. DISCUSS. WOMEN'S. RIGHT. TO. CHOOSE.

It is dismaying indeed — even if not altogether surprising — that even doctors specialising in bringing babies into the world have succumbed to this savage reductionism. Only if you read it with your specially made, only available in the tabloids, extra-reactionary goggles on!

Simply as a procedure, it may well be the case that having a baby is more dangerous than an abortion. Is... this.. the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel? Oh wait, no. Here's where they chose to print one of the most controversial anti-abortion adverts of all time

But to imply that having a baby is a dangerous procedure is a disreputable piece of scaremongering. It amounts to the psychological manipulation of women who are already in a vulnerable state. It is a form of bullying and a gross abuse of medical power. Yeah, because doctors = NHS = nanny state = Labour = socialism = communism = AGAINST EVERYTHING WE STAND FOR SO THEY MUST BE EVIL AND OUT TO MAKE POOR INNOCENT WOMEN HAVE ABORTIONS. Or something like that.

Nor is that all. The guidance also says that women who are deciding whether to have an abortion must be told that most do not suffer any psychological harm from the procedure. Which wouldn't be necessary, if people like... oh, let's say, Melanie Phillips, didn't insist that it did, petrifying women who are already at an incredibly difficult point in their lives.

But rates of psychiatric illness and self-harm in women are higher among those who have had an abortion. While cause and effect cannot be proved, it defies common sense to say that there is no connection. Or possibly women who are already in a vulnerable emotional state don't feel ready to bring a child into the world?

Indeed, according to consultant psychiatrist Professor Patricia Casey, there are more than 30 studies showing an association between abortion and psychological trauma. Why newspapers aren't forced to show citations, I will never know.

Moreover, this new guidance is even more extraordinary since doctors are always supposed to base their advice on the individual circumstances of every patient. Yet these are blanket guidelines for the treatment of all women considering abortion. They are, therefore, not geared to every woman’s own best interests. Which would be why they included the word 'most' in the advice while still offering counselling?

They are intended rather to achieve one aim — to get all such women to have abortions. WHAT?! I'm not even going to imagine how she made this leap.

This is by no stretch of the imagination a medical agenda but an ideological one — and a terrifyingly inhuman one at that. Seriously. My flabber is truly ghasted. I have not a single clue what she is going on about.

It appears that, taken aback by the ferocity of the reaction to this guidance, the Royal College is now having second thoughts about the wording. Possibly because of fuckwits like Phillips frothing at the bit because they can't imagine how to interpret anything.

But the question remains how doctors can have lost their ethical compass so badly that they dehumanise life in this way, and dress up as ‘treatment’ the manipulation of fragile patients. I'm confused. I'm really confused. Is she now suggesting that doctors are forcing people to have abortions just so they suffer psychiatric harm?

The answer is that medicine itself has been progressively brutalised under the impact of abortion.

In 1948, in the wake of the atrocities of the Nazi period, doctors subscribed to a professional oath enshrined in the Declaration of Geneva which contained this clause: ‘I will have the utmost respect for human life, from the time of conception...’

By 1984, however, the last five words had been altered to read ‘from its beginning’ — and, in 2005, they were deleted altogether. The beginning of life had been written out of the world’s medical ethical script as just too inconvenient. I made this picture last time Phillips was on Question Time, just to illustrate Godwin's law to her. Apparently, it didn't work.

It could not be allowed to interfere with the ‘rights’ of a woman or girl, including the ‘right’ to indulge in unconstrained sexual activity. The early product of conception was thus stripped of all human value. Right. I'm not going to debate the point at which a clump of cells becomes a foetus becomes a person. But does she really see it as an open invite for a no-contraception free-for-all?

The result of this profound cultural shift has been not only that a solemn and even tragic dilemma has been turned into an unthinking extension of ‘lifestyle choice’ which has all but destroyed the intrinsic respect for human life which defines a civilised society, it has also helped undermine childhood and exposed ever younger girls to both psychological and physical harm and exploitation. *WARNING: MASSIVE LEAP FROM ONE CONSPIRACY THEORY TO ANOTHER. MIND THE GAP*

The belief that the only harm arising from the sexual activity of young teenagers is the unfortunate consequence of a live baby has helped promote not just the normalisation of abortion, but the premature sexualisation of even very young children. Of course I'm opposed to the over-exposure of children to sexualisation (albeit from a feminist point of view), but really - what is she talking about? I'd kind of like to live in Melanie Phillips' head for a while, whenever I write as her for Daily Mail Death Articles, it gives me great pleasure to be just that damn illogical for twenty minutes or so.
 As an investigation by this paper found last week, businesses are targeting children under ten with ‘Lipstick and Limo’ parties and U.S.-influenced ‘mini-model’ fashion parades, complete with pageant-style tiaras and scaled-down catwalks, ‘pamper parties’ and cosmetic tips previously confined to the adult market. The Mail's coverage of this story was covered excellently at Nothing Special. Suffice to say, 'hypocrisy' is not their word of the week.
In addition, children are being pushed by their parents to make YouTube videos in which they sing sexualised or drug-influenced pop lyrics, mimicking the provocative routines of stars like Lady Gaga and Madonna.*MID THE GAP AGAIN*

Treating children as if they are mini-adults in this grotesque manner illustrates once again the collapse of the understanding that adults have a duty to parent children by providing appropriate boundaries, and thus protect them from harm.

Indeed, if individual safety really were the top priority, our society would be seeking to reverse the disastrous doctrine of ‘lifestyle choice’ which has produced this rampant sexual promiscuity and catastrophic rise in teenage abortion.

But don’t expect the dehumanising automatons of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to say so.

To conclude this post, I'd like to say I kind of admire Phillips in a way. I mean, she's a genuinely, genuinely awful journalist - but the way she manages to go from "look at what doctors are saying!" to "they're trying to make vulnerable people get abortions!" to "this is all to do with society being too permissive!" to "and they're making our children into sex objects!" and back again is pretty damn impressive.


  1. Great post. What interests me is that despite her obvious lunacy, people must still like what Phillips writes, given that the Mail are still employing her. People are strange.

    Also, I think I shall buy you a big red marker pen.

  2. Bloody hell, what a mess of an article (the original, not your analysis, obviously). Melanie Philips cannot into thinking.

    And of course there's this little gem: "It could not be allowed to interfere with the ‘rights’ of a woman or girl, including the ‘right’ to indulge in unconstrained sexual activity." Because women and girls routinely produce babies with no assistance from men or boys?

  3. "Indeed, according to consultant psychiatrist Professor Patricia Casey, there are more than 30 studies showing an association between abortion and psychological trauma"

    Wonder whether there are any studies showing an association between having a baby you're not ready for and psychological trauma?

  4. What an excellent post. How MP's brain works is absolutely beyond me, so I respect your valiant attempt at deciphering her utter bullshit.

  5. Wait... What? So, breaking this in to bullet points;
    + Abortions are safer for the mother but not for the aborted embryo... OK, that's the right way round, surely?
    + ...Abortion should be seen as (necessary) evil? It's lucky I'm a cerebrally-challenged automaton, otherwise I would question blanket moral judgements I'm told I should share by tabloid journalists.
    + Abortion should be legal... but not allowed? Or something.
    + More teenagers should have babies.
    + It's not a woman's right to choose, it's... Melanie Phillip's? The doctor's? It can't be the fetus/embryo's right, because that makes no sense.
    + Saying abortions are safe is disreputable scaremongering, but saying abortions cause psychological harm is fine.
    + There is no proof that abortion causes psychological harm, but Mel is going to say it anyway.
    + Doctors want all pregnant women to get abortions. Well, giving birth is icky and sometimes the woman poops, they'd probably prefer to avoid all that mess - That's the only reason for this I can come up with that doesn't involve a league of super-villains or alien cross breeding.
    + ...Nazis are bad... and lead to ambiguous wording being removed from an oath.
    + Women don't have rights they have 'rights'.
    + Abortion + ??Mel's brain?? = Sexualisation of children, QED.
    + Sexualisation of children! See the pictures here!
    OK, that hasn't helped at all. Is this definitely all one article by one person?

  6. I know I may be forming a reputation as Statistics Monkey here, but Phillips' abuse of the numbers left me incoherent with rage.

    Here are the basic figures – maternal deaths during a safe abortion: between 0.2–1.2 per 100,000 procedures (from the World Health Organisation). Risk of maternal death during pregnancy in the UK: 8.2 out of every 100,000 births (from the 2008 Lancet).

    Not only is Phillips spewing ill-thought garbage, she is misrepresenting the statistics as well; technically, abortion is safer than childbirth. She also completely fails to spot that the line between blastocyst and child is a personal one, not a political one, and is ill-defined at best.

    Thanks for deconstructing this idiot's rhetoric, Nat. And you don't need to hold back on your views on a woman's right to choose. Moar plees?

  7. such an easy target Natatatattack, why bother?

  8. @Unity_MOT's post on this here is very good, too. Especially on the disreputable pseudo-scientists that Milady Melanie uses to 'back' her claims.

  9. "But rates of psychiatric illness and self-harm in women are higher among those who have had an abortion"

    Fun fact: .They actually aren't. The most rigorous studies find "few, if any, differences between women who had abortions and their respective comparison groups [in terms of mental health]"; it's only ones that are very flawed that find any connection.

    And of course, it's not like giving birth is free of mental health problems either.