Maria Miller and abortion: “It’s only journalists asking me about it”

In the Guardian’s Saturday interview, Aida Edemariam puts the following question to Maria Miller, who has both spoken and voted in favour of reducing the abortion time limit to 20 weeks:

Let’s say that a woman goes for a routine anomalies scan at 20 weeks. And let’s say, because of timing, or because maternity units are often so oversubscribed, this turns into 21 weeks. And at that point this woman discovers that the foetus she’s carrying has a terrible anomaly and will either die  in the womb or have a terrible quality of life, for both baby and mother – what would you say to her?

I think it’s a good question. I’d probably ask it, too. Except I wouldn’t because I’m not a journalist, hence I’m not trained in asking politicians the right questions, those questions which are relevant and pointed and put them on the spot. It’s only people such as Edemariam who are able to do this. This may be why Miller notes that  “the only people who ever ask me about this issue are journalists”. Too bloody right, Maria. The rest of us, well, we’d only fluff our lines. That’s if we got to interview you at all, which we won’t. It’s not our job. This doesn’t mean you don’t owe us answers all the same.

Clearly Miller does not wish to be drawn into discussing an issue where voting does not take place on party lines (unless she happens to be talking to the Telegraph). Her response to Edemariam seems hostile and slippery:

Her anger is palpable. A red flush rises up her chest and toward her neck, and her mouth is set. “It’s really important that the government does not campaign on abortion, and I think it’s running the risk of giving the impression that that’s what we’re doing by continuing to ask me questions about it.” But we are asking about it because even votes of private conscience, when they are by the minister for women, are a legitimate matter for scrutiny. “It’s ONLY journalists asking me about it – it is not me trying to put forward a view.” And that is that.

To be honest, I don’t know about the “red flush” and the “set” mouth. I get the impression that the reporter is laying it on a bit thick due to not getting the answer she wants, but then again, that’s probably what all journalists do (or don’t do. I wouldn’t know). All the same, I still can’t make sense of Miller’s response. Does she think that journalists are the only ones who care about this particular issue? (In which case, why not say whatever it is she really thinks?) Or is the implication that it’s a minority issue – one which doesn’t concern most people, just that woman who needs that later abortion? In which case, one has to assume it is no longer the role of an equalities minister to respond to the needs of those on the margins. Creating an equal society – which might once have involved listening to those groups most likely to experience inequality – now appears to be a process of allowing dominant groups to define and ringfence what constitutes equality itself.

Miller’s excuse that “the government does not campaign on abortion” seems to me a tremendous cop-out. If Miller truly wishes not to “put forward a view” then she should not comment on the issue at all. If you vote for a reduction in abortion limits – if you tell particular news outlets but not others that you want the limit to be reduced – then you are actually doing far more than putting forward a view. Your political positioning and voting record can affect people’s lives. Refusing to justify not just your thoughts but your actions is deeply unfair on all of us who are not currently trusted to make decisions based on what our own consciences dictate.

I find it remarkable that Miller can be outraged merely at being asked to explain herself. It is such a small request. What she herself demands of a very small group of women – whose personal circumstances do not interest her – is so much more. But then, most of those women who are having abortions at 21 weeks aren’t journalists and don’t tend to find themselves interviewing Maria Miller. They might find themselves reading the interviews and waiting for the answers that never come. But unless you’re truly visible to an equalities minister – that is, sitting right in front of her – it appears she can’t see you at all.

3 thoughts on “Maria Miller and abortion: “It’s only journalists asking me about it”

  1. I’ not sure an anomalies scan is relevant here – abortion in case of disability or serious illness is currently allowed past the 24 week limit and would continue to be allowed after the cutoff point if the limit were changed.

    What’s important to me is to consider who is that wants a later abortion. Women who don’t know they are pregnant until later on (perhaps because they are young or unwell and don’t have regular cycles), or who are in denial about the situation, or who are in difficult situations at home. Precisely the sort of women who would have the worst outcome if they were denied the abortion that they want.

    I would rather there were 100 “frivolous” abortions where the woman realised the due date clashed with her holiday (the sort of apocryphal example that always pops up) than that one woman in a desperate situation was denied the abortion that she needed.

  2. “It’s ONLY journalists asking me about it – it is not me trying to put forward a view.”

    So is the implication then that this isn’t something that ‘real’ people care about, and that relieves of the obligation of providing an answer? Well, obviously that’s bollocks anyway. But also – there have been shedloads of people on Twitter asking her about her views, and I’m not aware of anyone receiving a response. Maybe they don’t count either, as they could all just be journalists posing as ‘real’ people?

    And I would hope that MPs with opposing views on abortion have been asking her questions. But – I dunno – maybe they don’t count either. For some reason.

    Unfortunately, Maria Miller is coming across not just as someone who is all at sea with the ‘women and equalities’ part of her brief, but also as an all-round incompetent politician.

  3. I think Adam sums up Maria Miller’s all-around “performance” pretty well.

    I sympathise with MM’s being asked about this only to the degree that she seems to be absorbing all the flack for this, whereas Jeremy Hunt attracts little attention in comparison. And that’s after having voted for an option that dispenses with any pretense whatsoever at being based on foetal viability, then having strolled from one political disaster to the next with apparent impunity, finally ending up in charge of the department that’s responsible for the policy in question.

    Or perhaps he’s just decided not to give Guardian interviews, For The Duration.

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