There is an argument for abortion, increasingly used by some, that it is better for a child to be aborted than to face a life of rejection, poverty, and potential neglect or abuse. As a Social Worker who worked for over thirty years in Family and Child Care, and who has met many seriously abused children and those who abused them, I find this idea very chilling.
During my time in Family and Child Care I chaired nearly 6000 Child Protection Case Conferences or ‘Looked After Children’ Reviews. In all that time of dealing with children who had actually been neglected or abused I do not remember one single child who expressed the view that they wished that they had been aborted and ‘saved’ from their, admittedly difficult, life circumstances. Most of those old enough to express a view, wanted a better life than they had, often with the very parents who had hurt them, if only the parents would change, but sometimes away from a situation to which they did not wish to return. Even when they were difficult to manage, or we could not find a particularly suitable alternative home, none of them were volunteering to be eliminated.
This highlights one of the great anomalies of the abortion debate as regards the law. Article 3 (3)(a) of the Children (NI) Order 1995 makes it clear that in respect of any order to be made by a court, whether in private family proceedings (initiated by a parent or involved adult) or in public law applications (i.e. by Social Services), the first thing to which a court should have regard is to “the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned” (considered in the light of his age and understanding). The child’s views are important. However, when it comes to proposed abortion legislation, the interests of the child are not given any consideration. Whilst in the womb the child cannot give any opinion, but we can surely infer something from what we know about the wishes and feelings of existing children, demonstrated by those who after birth are in fact neglected or abused. It is therefore somewhat strange that the narrative of most abortion conversations emphasises solely the mother’s choice (usually framed as ‘the woman’s choice’ so that even in this phrase the mother’s relationship to her unborn baby is denied), and what the baby might want is not even considered.
Social Work ethics are strong on the value and worth of every individual, and rightly so, with the consequence that each Social Worker should treat each client with respect, regardless of how they present, what they have done, or differentiating characteristics such as race, age, gender, sexual orientation, religious or political beliefs, or disability etc. Why is the same respect not extended to the most vulnerable members of our families and society – the unborn? How can we claim a right to respect for ourselves if we are not willing to show true respect for others, including the unborn? We, as adults, are usually partially responsible for our difficulties, sometimes majorly, but the unborn child is not at all responsible for being conceived, and is therefore more of a victim, if aborted.
The idea that we will save children from poverty through abortion is very dubious. I have not found the impulse to abort to be as strong in the poorer sections of our community, where there is usually much less stigma towards illegitimacy on the one hand, and fewer funds available to procure an abortion, on the other. The pressures to deal with an unwanted pregnancy by abortion may be much stronger for those who do not want education, work or work advancement, reputation or social standing to be disrupted, and that does not necessarily mean the poor.
The argument that we ‘save’ children from potential neglect or abuse by abortion, presumes that because a baby is not wanted he or she will be abused, and that because a mother does not initially welcome a pregnancy that she cannot change her mind, and both accept and love her child when born. I volunteer with Causeway Pregnancy Crisis Initiative, through which we deal with women who do change their minds and are later glad that they did, and also with women who changed their minds about abortion after the act and are then very troubled by what they have done. In any case the reality is much more complicated than ‘wanted’ children are always safe, and ‘unwanted’ children are inevitably abused.
I have to say that some of my most committed colleagues themselves experienced neglect/abuse in childhood, and a few were themselves in Care at some point. This is exactly why they are motivated to do what they do, to prevent the same experiences in the lives of others, or to help others recover and lead valuable lives in spite of what happened to them. I have immense respect for those who have made such choices. It is not uncommon for people to work against the evils they have experienced because they know the pain involved. They also know that their difficulties are not necessarily the last word about their lives but can be the springboard to their purpose. I can even think of two people I knew through my work who were conceived through the rape of their mothers. One became an international sportsperson, and the other a caring professional. Their choices, not the circumstances of their conception, are what defined them.
It is not politically correct to address the major reason behind the volume of abortions in our society, or the real rationale behind the vast majority of situations. Whilst the current debate focusses on the less frequent hard cases of pregnancy by rape or abuse, and what is called ‘fatal foetal abnormality’, the reality is that today’s debate determinedly avoids the predominant issue. Most pregnancies are a result of consensual sexual intercourse, whether that be within or outside a committed relationship. As a social worker, I see one of our greatest dilemmas, as a society, is that we want to water down commitment in relationships, or at the very least the care and support we offer to those with whom we may be sexually involved and so we end up blaming and victimising the babies conceived in the process. Ultimately as a social worker I want to see stable family environments where every child is valued. But sadly, there is an increasing tendency to allow the sexual domain to be ruled by self-interest, ultimately allowing the imposition of those interests onto those we bring into being. We rationalise this as being more ‘for their good’ when it is more for our own (perceived) good. This is why we see such a stark contradiction between the treatment of ‘wanted’ children conceived through for example fertility treatments like IVF who are rarely aborted, compared to an ‘unwanted’ child who despite being conceived normally and at the exact same stage of development in the womb, can be rationalised away and considered better off dead. This way of thinking imposes the adult’s interests on those we bring into being, and then rationalises abortion as being more for their good than allowing them to live.
This is the lie the ‘fix’ of abortion carries; better off dead than unwanted, better off dead than poor, better off dead than abused, better off dead than disabled. If we apply that logic to the world in general where would we be?