17 JUNE 1972, Page 26

Abortion poser

From Dr C. B. Goodhart

Sir: Professor Glanville Williams is quite right (June 3), that if the main objection to abortion on demand was no more than that the administrative and financial prob lems for the Health Service would be formidable, then it would be a pretty feeble one.

But abortion differs from all other medical procedures in that it necessarily involves killing another individual human organism, and one which certainly doesn't, in any biological or medical sense, form a part of the mother's body from which it is removed. The moral objection to allowing free abortion derives from the belief that a human child has some rights to its own life even before it is born, which is a proper function of the law to defend independently of the mother's wishes to be rid of it. Granted that the mother's interests may take some precedence over those of the child, and that -sometimes the risk to her life or her health may be judged to be so serious that the child can legitimately be sacrificed, if the child is to be allowed any rights of its own at all this is a decision which cannot be left to the mother alone, unless she is to act as judge in her own cause against the interests of the child.

If Parliament had wanted to permit abortion on demand (and Mr David Steel with his supporters all vehemently denied that this was the intention or could be the result of his Bill), that could easily have been done when the law was changed — but it wasn't. In admitting that what we have now got effectively is abortion on demand

(or ' by arrangement '), if he thinks that sounds better) for anyone prepared to pay for it privately, however, Professor Williams now suggests that the best solution for what everybody agrees is an unsatisfactory state of affairs is "to legalise medical abortion fully," which can only mean abortion on demand everywhere under the NHS as well as in the private sector.

A better answer might be to strengthen the present regulations so as to prevent the abuses which undoubtedly do occur, in order to ensure that the Act is made to work as Parliament intended. And this is what the Committee now sitting under the chairmanship of Mrs Justice Elizabeth Lane, whose terms of reference are "to review the operation of the Abortion Act 1967 and, on the basis that the conditions for legal abortions . remain unaltered, to make recommendations," can be expected to do,

C. B. Goodhart Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge