18 JANUARY 1975, Page 17


Leo Abse MP on the murder trade of the London abortion clinics

Early next month, yet again, the House of Commons will be presented with another amending Abortion bill: the sponsors will seek to persuade the legislature that the time has come, within our plural society, to still the tumult that, for eight years. has raged over the working of the 1967 `Abortion Act.'

The new bill will bravely strive, while retaining the existing grounds for abortion, to end the abuses of the Act that have so outraged considerable sections of public opinion and Provoked a series of political demonstrations larger than any known in Britain in the Post-war years. Yet the passage of such a consensus bill through Parliament is uncertain. The threat to its survival comes not from the legislators but from the virulent and shrill oPPosing lobbies that have fought each other Passionately for almost a decade. Even now, as the effort is being made to draft a measure that Will bring about a truce, the pro-abortionist ,tobby, with a rare inflammatory talent, has launched a campaign to end all present legal gro. unds permitting an abortion, and formally bring abortion on demand into the National Health Service. , The views of the contending lobbies are irreconciliable. The abortionists claim they are the liberators of women, bringing them an extension of their freedom: the opponents of abortion declare it brings them, not freedom, out enslavement to the selfishness of the narcissistic lover fearful of taking the step toWards parenthood and maturation, even as it enslaves her to the husband who treats her as a convenience to be periodically flushed out. r, The pro-abortionist speaks of women's rights, the anti-abortionist of women's needs. The abortionists claim concern for the unmarried mother forced to have an unwanted child She cannot tend: the anti-abortionists challenge the proferred compassion and insist it unmarried a punitive Victorian attitude, offering an She Woman the scalpel, not the social aid s jle requires. The abortionists plead the case of the woman with many children living in n tolerable housing conditions: their opponents !say that establishes a case for better housing, or °.!,_ vasectomy for the husband. When the Ci_,Oortionists declare the dignitY of a woman's .u,!rnands that she alone must have the option, ',Ile anti-abortionists become the advocates of Lene right to life of the Unborn child. And, of Course, the abortionists regard the operation as

safe and usually a triviality: the anti-abortionists adduce their evidence to establish it as a trauma, bringing a threat of subsequent sterility. Both declare their opponents to be reactionaries. The one declares their adversaries are nostalgically yearning for the old restrictive morality that denied woman her equality: the retort comes that turning life into death is the ultimate hallmark of the reactionary, and that a genuine progressive does not yield to defeatism but fights for the creation of a society where every child, whether born in manger or palace, can be warmly received. The abortionist points a' finger at the delinquency rates and its link with the unwanted and deprived child: the anti-abortionist denies the necessity for any child to be unwanted in Britain, and directs your attention to the long waiting lists of would be adopters. The one insists that without untramelled access to abortion, a woman can be crushed by anxiety, and the quality of her personal life or personal relationships severely diminished: the other insists that ease of abortion coarsens our society, undermines respect for the sanctity of life and is the penultimate step to euthanasia, and a Hitlerian disregard for the disabled, weak, and aged. The abortionists are, naturally, all supporters of the population lobby and wring their hands at the consequences of the mounting world population: their opponents extrapolate projections to show zero growth in Britain and scorn as jejune and unrealistic the suggtstion that Britain should set an example by reducing its own birthrate. The partisans on both sides are highly confident of the justice and morality of their cause: they yield not one inch to each other. Most of these contending and unyielding arguments were introjected into the proceedings of the committee stage of the 1967 Act; the forum was enveloped in an ugly clamour of dogmatism and theology which was unfortunately excited, not contained, by the wilfulness and political conceit of the bill's sponsor, David Steel. Inevitably the overpassionate arguments left their distorted impress upon many of the clauses within the bill. Needed safeguards and checks were swept aside, and although it was not the intention of the overwhelming majority of those MPs who voted for the Act, one of the consequences of the ill-drafted bill was that abortion on request and on payment came to

A little more than a year ago, Michael Litchfield and Susan Kentish, trained in the rough, tough, investigative journalism of the scandalous weeklies, set out to probe the operation of this commercial sector which the Act had incited into existence. They came to the problem. as virginal and pristine as only young journalists can be: for them, as we politicians discover when we are questioned by such interrogators, no matter exists until they are called upon to write about it. This couple clearly had no preconceived prejudices on the abortion issue or, indeed, any awareness of the historical background. And they plunged into their task, as is the wont of those serving on the popular Sundays, without any of the squea, mishness which would inhibit most of us, using the familiar techniques that have trapped so many small time operators into betraying the 'revelations' which are the staple products of our repetitive scandal sheets.

They posed as a couple, sometimes married, sometimes single, Shopping around the abortion markets: and fortunately for them, as for us, everywhere they went they took a concealed tape-recorder. Perhaps they had set out to titillate their readers:but on this investigation it was they who were utterly scandalised and shocked, discovering they were not dealing with some fringe small-time activity but, rather, a brutal, widespread, sophisticated commercial exploitation of women in trouble. This bookreflects their sense of outrage at what they discovered: and they react with all tir old-fashioned puritanical fervour that perhaps today can only be found on the staff of the News of the World.

It would have been wiser and more effective if the authors had simply left the tapes to speak for themselves: the grim recounting requires no embellishment. But, as happens to almost all who enter the abortion controversy, they have become crusaders. That does credit to their hearts but, since they crusade only in the manner to which they are trained, in the style of the Sun, the book may estrange many who 'Babies for Burning Michael Litchfield and Susan Kentish (Serpentine Press '75p) otherwise would have shared their massive indignation. Yet one cannot forbear to pay them tribute: for their rough approach has uncovered so much that the genteel government appointed Lane committee, purporting to enquire into the workings of the Act, failed, out of prejudice or naivety, to discover or probe. The story that emerges is squalid and chastening. Britain has become the abortion Mecca of Europe: advertising agents, spurious charities, fake pregnancy testing services, touting taxi drivers, colluding with property speculators finding a new field in the development of abortion clinics, have provided an irresponsible psychopathic minority of doctors with massive sums, paid in cash, upon which no tax is paid. By the tens of thousands, women from home and abroad are steered by these commission agents into the abortion factories: and the women in travail upon whom these criminals batten are provided with no counselling, no genuine discussion of the alternatives that may be offered to them and no supportive help either before or after the operation. The only post operative activity undertaken by some of these doctors, as Litchfield and Kentish document, is the illegal sale of the remnants of the unborn children to soap factories.

The police are well informed on all this underworld. But they are compelled to stand by as helplessly as the General Medical Council. We parliamentarians have provided a law which, as the criminal statistics confirm, makes it almost impossible in any circumstances to bring a successful prosecution against an aborting doctor scoffing at the ground rules MPs imprudently believed they had laid down.

The claim may be made by supporters of the present Act that it has relieved a vast amount of individual suffering: but only the purblind would dispute the evils that the Act has inadvertently underwritten in the -private sector. In a few weeks the Commons will have the opportunity to outmanoeuvre the traffickers who have manipulated a law, intended to be compassionate, into a protective mechanism granting immunity to all those engaged in a callous exploitation of harassed pregnant women. The need to amend the law, as Litchfield's book corroborates, is urgent: it is to be hoped that the still small voice of reason will not again be drowned by the clamour of the clashing abortion lobbies.

Leo Abse is Labour MP for Pontypool