I woke on Saturday to hear two oddly juxtaposed items on the radio. The first was a discussion on Farming Today about the problem of the male offspring of dairy cows. As I understand it, the dilemma is that they’re not much good for beef and so the practice has been to kill them at birth. The spokesman for Compassion in World Farming was predictably opposed to this, and I got the impression that his view was winning traction more generally. The second was a headline item on the news immediately following it. This was about the exit polls from the Irish referendum on abolishing the Constitution’s Eighth amendment, which banned all abortions except when the mother’s safety was in danger. For this there was general approbation, implying that at last the Republic of Ireland had caught up with the modern world. Later in the day when the official result of a two-thirds yes vote was confirmed, the news included prolonged and loud celebration of the victory.
What struck me was the very peculiar dissonance of our concern for the new-born uneconomic calves and apparent disregard for unborn babies. I understand that medically provided abortion is far safer than any alternatives, and I understand that women who become pregnant against their wills have a case to be allowed to choose to continue with their pregnancy or not. I also understand those who argue for the rights of the unborn child to be taken into account. The NHS website’s description week 10 of pregnancy reads:
“The ears are starting to develop on the sides of your baby's head, and the ear canals are forming inside the head.
If you could look at your baby's face, you would be able to see an upper lip and two tiny nostrils in the nose. The jawbones are developing and already contain all the future milk teeth.
|Picture from NHS website|
The baby is making small, jerky movements that can be seen on an ultrasound scan.” In other words from very early on we describe a foetus as a baby.
I suppose the question is, Is it really, as I recently heard, a matter of the rights of a woman against the rights of an egg? When does a baby begin to have rights? And are his or her rights ever equal to those of the mother – or even of a new-born calf?
And I ask myself, should the unconfined celebrations of women’s choice not have been tempered with sorrow for inevitable death of the babies whose lives will be terminated?
In this country we have seen the increasing use of abortion to kill unborn children with Down’s Syndrome and disabling conditions. We have also seen it spreading to become “on demand” and as a desperate form of contraception. I hope that Ireland never passes legislation that allows abortion to be as misused as it has become here. And personally I trust that the North doesn't get railroaded into a rush to become like the rest of the UK.