Jeremy Hunt: You don’t get feminism more “modern” than this

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt believes the legal abortion time limit should be reduced to 12 weeks. “It’s just my view about that incredibly difficult question about the moment that we should deem life to start,” he explains. Well, if that’s your view, Jeremy, who am I – a mere fertile woman with her own body and opinions – to argue? Although to be honest, I’m not quite seeing the link between this and making access to a termination even more difficult and restricted than it already is. The point at which human life begins and whether or not an individual woman’s bodily integrity should be sacrificed in order to sustain the life of another strike me as two completely different issues. Or have I missed something? Is my feminism just not “modern” enough?

To be fair, Jeremy Hunt doesn’t actually say he’s a feminist. I’m just wondering if this is a logical extension of “very modern feminist” Maria Miller’s position on reducing the abortion time limit to 20 weeks. If Miller’s feminism is “very modern”, Hunt’s is quite clearly ahead of its time. It’s so feminist it’s passed through some distant vanishing point and come out on the other side, looking to all intents and purposes contrary to everything feminism stands for. It makes me wonder whether in twenty years’ time I’ll class myself as a misogynist, purely in the interests of not hating womankind.

Hunt reassures us that he doesn’t think the reason he holds this position is “for religious reasons”. I’m not entirely sure why this is meant to be reassuring. I might actually prefer it if it was a theological imperative. The alternative – that Hunt simply has insufficient empathy for women experiencing unwanted pregnancies – seems to me more disturbing.

Abortion is of course a “free vote” issue. This is a huge relief. You wouldn’t want MPs being forced to vote against their consciences on whether women they’ve never met and whose lives they don’t have to live should be forced to continue with pregnancies against their will. Imagine the worry and stress it might cause! Nothing, mind you, that would compare to the physical, mental, financial and social impact of having a baby you’re not ready to have. But then pregnant women aren’t MPs. They’re just pregnant women. The idea that their individual consciences can be trusted to make the right decision for them is ludicrous, is it not?

Hunt claims to be just looking “at the evidence”. Has the evidence changed? Does pregnancy now take place outside of the bodies of individual women? Is the short- and long-term impact of being forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term suddenly of no consequence? I am genuinely interested to know. Because compared to abstract musings on when human life begins – which for all I care could be at the very moment of conception – this seems pretty important. Jeremy Hunt, we need to know!

Well, anyhow, 12 weeks – it’s a nice round figure. A pleasant coincidence with the milestone which, if you’re experiencing a wanted pregnancy, you focus on desperately as point at which things might (but still might not) become “safe”. A point at which, if you’re experiencing an unwanted pregnancy and have an irregular menstrual cycle, implantation bleeding or just lose track of these things, you still might not even know you’re pregnant. A randomly selected limit, with nothing to do with religion, science or philosophy, but one which will prevent many women from being able to access safe, legal abortions. Well done, Jeremy. But the trouble is, human life is more than a heartbeat. Half of all babies born will grow to be people who could potentially carry babies themselves. What is the worth of them and their bodies and minds? Over what should you hold jurisdiction? If these human beings should have obligations which others do not share, can you tell us why? All of this should form part of “the evidence”. I think you still have some explaining to do.


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