A European edition of the Daily Mail for sale in Amsterdam, 2013. Photo: Lya Cattel
A Daily Mail hat trick: an attack on women, an attack on unions, and an attack on the EU
So who do you trust to come up with an informed and considered position on how the legislative framework that covers abortion could be improved: the Daily Mail or the Royal College of Midwives, a union representing some 46,000 midwives who have dedicated their working lives to supporting women’s choices in pregnancy? I don’t need to tell you who I trust.
According to the Daily Mail, midwives are “mutinying” after their “feminist union chief”, Cathy Warwick “backs bid to axe ANY (sic – Daily Mail’s shouty capital letters, not mine) time limits on abortions”.
It’s hard to see how the journalist came to this conclusion. The RCM’s position is stated quite clearly on its website. Nowhere does it call for the removal of the existing time limit.
The RCM takes a clear line that abortion should be taken out of criminal law should be regulated in the same way as any other medical procedure. The RCM notes that our Victorian legislation is extremely punitive by European standards and that a woman ending her own pregnancy without legal authorisation can be sentenced to life in prison.
“The 1861 Offences Against the Person Act and equivalent Common Law offences in Scotland – passed before women could vote – threatens the harshest punishments for self-induced abortion imposed by any country in Europe today, with the exception of the Republic of Ireland.”
The recent outcry – from both Republicans and Democrats, and even many of those who oppose abortion – in response to Donald Trump’s assertion that there should be “some form of punishment” for women seeking abortion in the US, suggests that even amongst those who don’t support abortion, the notion of imprisoning women who seek abortions is a step too far.
Even though the time limit is not mentioned in the RCM’s statement, it does indeed follow that taking abortion out of criminal law would mean that the time limit would no longer be a matter for criminal law but that is not to say it would be unregulated.
As the We Trust Women website explains, taking abortion out of criminal law would be unlikely to have any effect whatsoever on the number of late term abortions.
“There is no doubt that abortions post viability raise particular moral concerns for many people but there is no evidence that removing criminal sanctions leads to an increase in later terminations. Prior to 1990 in Scotland there was no abortion time limit. Despite the legality, there was not a greater proportion of late term abortions performed.
Currently, less than 0.1% of all abortions take place after 24 weeks gestation, mainly for reasons of serious foetal anomaly which could not be confirmed earlier in pregnancy. Women have terminations later in their pregnancy for very specific and very compelling reasons. Women do not wish to undergo later procedures, and doctors are unwilling to provide them outside of exceptional circumstances. This has been the experience in jurisdictions where abortion has been removed from the criminal law.”
The RCM’s statement in response to the Daily Mail attack makes it clear that the article is a gross misrepresentation of the union and its policy. So what could this unprovoked attack be about? It appears to be dog whistle journalism at its worst but what axe could the Daily Mail have to grind against midwives? Surely everyone loves midwives, right?
Perhaps the answer can be found in the first line of the paper’s hatchet job on the union’s well respected leader, Cathy Warwick:
“One morning last month, Britain’s 30,000-odd midwives woke up to a piece of shocking news: their entire professional future depends on Britain voting to remain in the EU. That, at least, was the verdict of Cathy Warwick, the chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM)”
Could it be that this outburst of vitriol is payback for midwives daring to speak out against Brexit? Given that the TUC and health unions have raised concerns about the impact of Brexit on NHS staffing and funding, it strikes me that a union representing tens of thousands of midwives might have something useful to say about the risks of leaving the EU for ordinary workers.
Instead of shouting midwives down, the Daily Mail would do well to pay a bit more attention to what they have to say – both on the EU and on a woman’s right to choose.