I don’t normally blog about politics and current issues. Mainly because I don’t know what I’m talking about. But I woke up this morning to the news of the health secretary’s wish to lower the abortion limit to 12 weeks, and I got angry.
I feel like I’ve experienced both sides of the coin. As a parent having gone through pregnancy, birth, and raising a child, I get the sentiments on twitter that the limit should perhaps be lowered, and the confusion as to how someone could go through an abortion after the emotional investment of seeing a scan, hearing a heartbeat, knowing a life is growing inside, or knowing the joy that children can bring into our lives, etc.
I get it.
But I also get that when you are surprised with a pregnancy, there are a lot of time-sensitive factors that can get in the way of being able to confidently answer the question “Do I want this baby or not?”
You may not find out about your pregnancy early. You may need time to build up to telling the father of the baby, or time for him to get his head around the idea. You may be building up to telling your family or friends. Yes, in an ideal world it shouldn’t depend on these factors, but in some cases the support of these people can make a huge amount of difference in the decision-making process. You may need time to get a GP appointment to talk through options, or to arrange a counselling session, these things can sometimes take a week or so. You may need time to take a serious look at finances, living situation, etc. You may, simply, just need time for yourself.
When I found out about Arlo, those weeks were some of the worst of my life. I felt like I was on borrowed time until I made my decision. I was painfully conscious of every passing day being like sand draining out of a timer. As hard as it was to do, I had to try to forget the time limit, stop it from clouding my head and preventing me from working out what I wanted. Had the abortion limit been 12 weeks, I wouldn’t have had this luxury. I’d never been under that kind of stress before, and the awfulness of those weeks remains very much with me today.
On my first visit to the abortion clinic, the dating scan estimated I was 6 weeks pregnant. A week later on my second visit, they estimated I was 8 weeks pregnant. My first surgical termination appointment was booked in for a week later, when I would be 9 weeks pregnant. I cancelled that appointment. Mainly because something didn’t feel right about having an abortion the day after Mother’s Day. My next termination appointment was scheduled for 10 weeks. During this time I found a lovely free service and went for a counselling session with a trained professional, and then had a follow-up talk on the phone a week later. Before my 10 week appointment rolled around, I was sure of my decision to keep my baby. But had I not been sure, and the abortion limit had been 12 weeks, I would have had to think very carefully about cancelling that appointment knowing how close I was to the cut-off point.
I reckon Jeremy Hunt’s reasoning behind wanted to lower the limit because “12 weeks feels like the right time” is because he thinks it will reduce the amount of abortions that take place. Perhaps he thinks women will think “Oh well, I’m so close to the legal limit, I might as well keep it then as I’m running out of time”. It’s laughable to think that women take this decision as lightly as that. If he spent some time in an abortion clinic, he would perhaps see that the majority of women are not exploiting the limit and having later terminations just because they can. Most women will terminate before 12 weeks (unless there are medical complications). The waiting room of an abortion clinic is a sombre place where you can tell everyone has taken their decision very seriously and with a lot of thought.
Lowering the limit to 12 weeks will only serve to panic women in the midst of making a very difficult choice, and I worry that it would lead to hurried decisions and more potential for regret. That could well have been the case for me and Arlo had I felt I had less time to explore the options and support available to me. My three weeks of deliberation made all the difference.