The response to recent news of abortion law reform in the United States compels us to look at what underpins our attitudes and how we frame morality, writes Timothy Tennant.

The great success stories of the Enlightenment do not mention state funded infanticide. As much as we overlook the fact, our lives today are shaped by events set in distant past. We are if not comfortable with, then tolerant or even indifferent to the notion that should a woman choose to terminate her child then logic states this as inevitable. Not right nor wrong, nor good nor bad, but a fact. This logic is something unique to our heritage.

The ripples of the recent Texan legislation quickly broke on British shores eliciting a response we are accustomed to; an event in the United States induces an emotive reaction which though insular to our society acts as a mirror. We can look at ourselves through the perceived failings of our distant cousins safe in the knowledge that a vast ocean separates us physically and morally. We may protest, of course, yet nobody needs clean up a mess. There is no comparable legislation or impetus to emulate Texan Republican abortion law in this country. Yet our response acts as timely reminder as to how we perceive this delicate issue in our own unique way.

Three interlocking components have ensured that the British attitude to a woman choosing to abort is more likely to be compassion over any other sentiment (although paradoxically this compassion derives from our society rejecting emotion for reason). Firstly, the scientific and medicinal advances of the Enlightenment enabled abortion to be both safe and fleeting without long term effect. One might also argue that the more physicians and surgeons peered into open bodies either living or dead, they became indifferent to the emotive component of humanity, perceiving our bodies solely as functioning organisms.

Write for us.

We're always on the lookout for talented writers and welcome submissions. Please send your opinion piece or pitch to:

Secondly, our social and cultural severance from religion and revelation opened the possibility that truths could be discovered which are not restricted to ancient texts and the societal norms which evolved from them. Surely a righteous God would frown upon humans taking it upon themselves to end life (although this never restrained the pious from committing murder in his name) but if you are not listening to God then the possibilities of framing a new moral universe are endless.

Finally, the belief in individuality and individual rights supersede all else. Curiously, exponents of Critical Race Theory decry individualism as a specifically Enlightenment-centric construct i.e White Protestant, and it is worth considering the attitude to abortion in societies which focus upon group or tribal identity rather than the individual.

That abortion is just another something in our lives – this is not to underplay the trauma people experience – and that it is exists and we do not really notice it suggests it no longer is a moral issue. Abortions take place and the media do not report on it. The average citizen has not even a vague idea of how many abortions take place per year in the UK and would probably not want to research the subject. Indeed, should those critiquing the Texan law turn this into a moral issue then the pro-life moral case suddenly holds a stronger hand than in the wretched era of social stigmatisation and back street terminations.

We know enough about the foetus now to provide a more concrete notion that a being exists even in early stages of pregnancy, not just a combination of cells. The push towards abortion beyond the earliest stages of pregnancy can be partly attributed to the drive in Texas towards the polar extreme. Republican law makers and politicians have referenced Virginia abortion law reform as adding impetus to adopt a fundamentally restrictive approach. Hilary Freeman, columnist for multiple papers including the Daily Mail and the Guardian, in a recent interview on GB News described babies as 'parasites' and pro-life advocates as Taliban. Her zeal in advocating 'up to birth' termination further dim the moral clarity of what, until only a fortnight ago, was not something most people ever considered.

Thankfully the political consensus in Britain is that we are close to getting things just about right, or as right as they could be. There is no harm in reflecting though on what underpins our belief system and decision-making process and how this separates us from other cultures and nations.

6 votes

Sign-up for free to stay up to date with the latest political news, analysis and insight from the Comment Central team.

By entering your email address you are agreeing to Comment Central’s privacy policy