George Monbiot on abortion “The religious conservatives who oppose these measures have blood on their hands.”

The Guardian ran a series of articles about abortion in N Ireland recently (details here). Now, George Monbiot has turned his analytical mind to this issue (here). His article is well worth reading in its entirety. He produced some remarkable information; whether legal or illegal, the incidence of abortion remains constant:

Here is the fact that everyone debating abortion should know: there is no association between its legality and its incidence. In other words, banning abortion does not stop the practice; it merely makes it more dangerous.

And, for him, the only question is; should abortion be legal and safe, or illegal and dangerous?

His conclusion is just as stark:

The religious conservatives who oppose these measures have blood on their hands. They are responsible for high abortion rates; they are responsible for the injury and death of women. And they have the flaming cheek to talk about the sanctity of life.

  • Ulick

    I read that article yesterday. The problem with it is that he starts with the staggering
    claim “here is the fact that everyone debating abortion should know: there is no association between its legality and its incidence” but then goes on to argue something completely different i.e. that there is a correlation between abortion rates and his perception of the culture and abortion laws in different parts of the world. Two different things entirely.

    As is usual with such anti-instinctive ‘day-is-night’ claims, it falls away into bullsh*t under the briefest examination. For example if there is no association between the legality of abortion and its incidence as he claims, then how come the ‘official statistics’ show that abortion has risen steadily in England and Wales in every decade since the implementation of the 1967 abortion act?
    1969: 49,829
    1979: 120,611
    1989: 170,463
    1999: 173,701
    (2007: 198,499)
    2011: 189,931

    Disappoint partisan nonsense from Monbiot.

  • chrisjones2

    Because before many of them were carried out illegally and because population and age profile and the ethnicity mix of the country is changing perhaps?

  • Disdain

    The report you link to does appear to exclusively refer to legal abortions.

    You’re right re his initial claim, but I’m willing to presume he should have said “there is no *POSITIVE* association between its legality and its incidence.” All the same, very lazy proof-reading.

  • Robin Keogh

    His comments do not appear to be backed up by empirical evidence. He doesnt show us how he knows that illegality has no effect on incidence he just wants us to take his word for it.

    He is also claiming that if something is illegal therefore people will endanger them themselves in the search for it. On that basis we should legalise the use of heroine. We should also legalise sex with minors considering many people are willing to travel abroad for it. Maybe female genital mutilation should be allowed in our hospitals too for fear some might take it into their own hands in the back streets of Belfast.

    Simply because a ‘service’ is available somewhere does not justify it being legalised anywhere. If someone endangers their life be it through illegal surgery, drug habit or any other ‘need’; it does not follow that the law be amended in a nanny fashion.

    Pregnancy has its risks and the law should protect the health of the mother in the first instance where its clear that physical or psychological damage is a real threat. Thats humane.

    Legislation to allow the scraping out of a life that happens to be an inconvenience is barbaric.

  • Disdain

    No-one is suggesting that anything should be legalised simply because some people will even do it if it’s illegal.

    The textbook socially liberal position – which to anyone reading with an ounce of contextual understanding, is clearly what Monbiot is advocating here – is that where a person wishes to do something which will impact only themselves*, there are no democratic or societal grounds for making this illegal. In the case of crimes against another person (FGM, sex with minors), obviously illegal.

    *I know we here get into the definition of when a foetus is defined as a person, but you see my point.

  • murdockp

    Does the above include the abortions of overseas nationals who come to the uk

    Also population growth is a factor too as well as demographic and age profiles of the population

  • It is the linked article in the Lancet which provides the evidence to Monbiot’s claim. In the abstract we read, “Restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates.”

  • murdockp

    I can tell from the above you are not a libertarian Robin, I am and have been a fan of George for years in particular his writings on the environment.

    Re a few points you have made why do you believe the continued prohibition of drugs is OK, regulated heroin / methadone availability is based on all the scientific and statistical evidence at our disposal that drugs legalisation has a place in our society.

    All prohibition has achieved is created an underground criminal industry and turned vulnerable people into criminals which has caused more death and suffering than a regulated legalised industry which supports addicts ever could.

    We all know the best way to keep people from taking drugs is education and focusing on the the root causes of drug use such as poverty / depression etc not spending billions on law enforcement.

    As for the sex with minors and the FGM comment, they are not the same as drug use. Forcing a child or young girl to go partake in sexual activity / go under the knife against their personal will is not the same as some one who by free choice wishes to consume drugs.

    I am struggling to understand how personal choice and having something forced on you against you will are one and the same, they are not.

    Note I am no advocate of drug use but as a libertarian, I have no problem with others who wish to take drugs.

    As for abortion, again I am no fan or supporter of it but don’t have a problem with it in certain circumstances.

    If my wife or sister was raped or any woman for that matter, an abortion is not a barbaric act at all, it is a perfectly reasonable choice to make.


  • Ulick

    “Also population growth is a factor too as well as demographic and age profiles of the population”

    Indeed it does. So lets see…
    There was an approximate 4 fold increase in the amount of terminations in England and Wales between 1969 and 2011. If this were to be explained by natural population growth we’d probably expect to see a parallel 4 fold increase in the population of those counties. In fact the population of England and Wales was:
    1971: 49 million
    2007: 54 million

    That is a times x1.1 increase in the population in that time.
    By this approach the increase in terminations that would be expected due to population increase between 1971 and 2007 is about 5,000 (an approximate total of 55,000 in 2007). That leaves 143,000 terminations to be accounted for by other means.

    Population data taken from here:

  • SDLP supporter

    Just a few points about drug use:
    1. “…a regulated industry which supports drug users…”It’s often been said that if alcohol was invented, it would be banned, but the alcohol industry leaves the rest of society to pick up the cost of the abuse of alcohol. Some estimates are that up to 25% of the cost of the NHS is attributable to alcohol/tobacco misuse.
    2. Deciding to take drugs just doesn’t impact on the user, it can have devastating effects on the user’s family. Why should they have to bear the cost of the individual’s decision to use drugs? What is the point of society spending money to rehab these people and weaning them away from the consequences of their initial dumb decision.
    3. I know of a fair few highly educated people who take drugs on a recreational basis, such as cocaine. They’re not poor, depressed, disadvantaged, etc These people, as the ultimate end users, are driving the vast drugs industry in places like Central & South America, Afghanistan, etc. These are the people who should be hammered by the law.

  • Zig70

    I always think these discussions miss the fact that it is fairly easy not to get pregnant especially when it is unwanted enough to warrant killing the life inside. Even after the fact it is possible to prevent pregnancy.

  • Greenflag 2

    Well said Zig , Although abortion is legal in the Netherlands which is 50/50 Catholic/Protestant by denomination it’s use is very much lower than the UK’s or USA’s . An Interesting cultural difference perhaps . Maybe the Dutch think on certain occassions with their brains instead of with the lower down parts favoured by Brits , Americans and sadly we Irish 🙁

    Abortion should be used for those cases where there is a major fetal abnormality which would prevent a normal life and those very few cases where pregnancy results from rape . And as you say above its not rocket science to prevent pregnancy in this day and age . The abstinence ‘solution ‘ is and was always daft imo.

  • chrisjones2

    Wrong data I suggest – you need to look at the population growth in the key childbearing / likely to need an abortion age group. Also choosing an arbitrary start point just after the law changed is bad practice as it may have taken time for the change to sink in

    Then look at the reason for abortuion. And how many were female children from certain ethnic minority groups

  • Turgon

    George Monbiot’s analytical mind is an interesting turn of phrase.

    This is the environmental campaigner who denounced the idea of dredging the Somerset Levels in the wake of the flooding of 2014 explaining that that would make the situation worse.

    In the recent heavy rainfall (the longest period since 2011) the Somerset Levels (now with dredged rivers) have not flooded as badly as before. Indeed the dredging has been heralded as a major contribution to sorting the problem.

    Following Monbiot’s logic on making things illegal not making them less common then logically having laws against drinking and driving or indeed speeding is fundamentally pointless.

    An individual who can be completely wrong on one of his favourite pet topics (the environment) can hardly be considered some sort of analytical expert on other issues about which he is less expert.

    This is not analysis this is Monbiot following a contrived line of argument from an initial flawed assertion.

  • jm

    So the Netherlands is a good example of the abortion rate being lower in a country with more liberal abortion laws.

    Teens there also tend not be sexually active at such a young age, unlike our teens because it isn’t the taboo subject that it still is here. They are so much better educated and because of that are equipped to make better decisions.

    A massive shift in sex education, parents growing up themselves and talking to their kids about sex and all the topics around sex, ease of access to contraception and the morning after pill would all be very good things. l wonder when Arlene is going to get going with it?

  • Acrobat_747

    Having spent some time in the Netherlands I can tell you its much more conservative than you might ever believe.

  • Brendan Heading

    Monbiot is of course partisan, and I’m not a fan, but there are a few problems with your response.

    The obvious problem is that we don’t know, exactly, what the rate of abortion was before it became legal; and we definitely do not know that the incidence of abortion would have remained where it was while it remained criminal. A lot has changed since 1969, not least a dramatic increase in the number of women of working age holding down their own careers.

    In the context of Northern Ireland in 2016, it’s unlikely that a single abortion is avoided due to the state of the law here. The vast majority of abortions – 80% – occur within less than 10 weeks of conception. 51% of all abortions are performed medically, eg via administration of mifepristone. Women in Northern Ireland can easily obtain this drug illegally over the internet. For women who do not wish to run the risks, or who have a longer pregnancy, it is technically straightforward to have the abortion done in England or Wales.

  • Brendan Heading

    Ulick, as I said, the only statistics you have are for the uptake of legal abortions. There are no statistics showing the incidence of illegal abortion prior to 1967.

  • jm

    I think they are getting it right with their approach to sex ed which seems to be working better than ours.

  • Graham Parsons

    Have you even read the article? The Lancet states “Restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates”.

    Equating the need for abortion services with paedophillia is offensive.

    Forcing a woman who has been raped to go through with a pregnancy is barbaric.

  • Graham Parsons

    Maths doesn’t seem to be a strong point of yours. Was abortion rising steadily before the implementation of the abortion act? Until you can provide figures on illegal abortions both before and after the act I’m afraid your own post is bullshit.

  • Graham Parsons

    Mmm it wasn’t Monbiot’s logic, the evidence was presented by the Lancet. I think it is you that is following a contrived argument.

  • terence patrick hewett

    There was a Moon
    Who was a bat
    A wondrous thing
    As sad as that

  • terence patrick hewett

    Abortion numbers 1967-2007

    There have been 6.7 million abortions in Great Britain since 1967-2007. According to Government figures given in 2006, of the 5.3 million abortions to residents of England and Wales:

    0.4% were because of risk to the mother’s life.

    1.3% were because of foetal handicap.

    Over 98% were for social reasons.

    One in five recorded pregnancies in England and Wales ends in abortion.

  • murdockp

    if all the money spent fighting the drugs industry and tax was added to the sale price of drugs, support centers, rehab centers and professional medial staff could be afforded in every town and city in the UK and Ireland

    The liberal argument still stands, prohibition simply does not work.

    I agree with you point on Alcohol Misuse, but that is the whole point about a liberal democracy, is none of us want to live in a nanny state, which unfortunately in NI is the kind of state we are becoming,

    On the positive side, heavy smokes and drinkers wont be placing too much of a strain on the states pension fund which is a far higher cost than NHS treatment.

  • SDLP supporter

    murdockp, you repeatedly post here about the misuse of public resources (taxation) on bureaucracy and non-productive purposes, and I largely agree with you. While I am in favour of drug rehabilitation clinics for the people who are foolish/dumb enough to get ‘hooked’, for whatever reason, let’s me clear about it: it’s a very non-productive use of taxpayer resources which could be better spent in the NHS, employing STEM teachers, etc. There was a case recently of a heroin addict who took an action against his local health trust in Antrim (almost certainly he was on legal aid) and his case was that his support structure was (allegedly) being dismantled, due to cuts. The judge dismissed his case.

  • Robin Keogh

    I never suggested that a woman who has been raped should have to follow through. If you read my post again you will see that i made it clear that is some circumstanced; termination is the more humane option.

  • Cosmo

    Your figures speak to me of the avoidance of human tragedies – millions of unwanted, potentially unloved, abandoned and neglected children.
    The debate is between Principle and Pragmatism. Unplanned pregnancies will happen. Abortion, unsafe or not will continue to be sought, perhaps endangering the health of mothers who have other children to care for already. Particularly, as history and experience so far shows unwanted children had a wretched future, even victims of infanticide – and the equivalent, or the most horrible physical and emotional neglect in the (religious) and state institutions set up to ‘care’ for them. As things stand today, are you confident we will properly or truly care for the orphaned refugee children arriving on our shores?

  • Jollyraj

    Personally I’ve never really understood the left winger mentality that opposes the death penalty, but is pro-abortion. Not really a comment on the rightness or wrongness of either, just that it seems hypocritical.

    I supppse it’s the same confusion that leads them to champion the rights of immigrating peoples to express their cultural values right here in the UK – even where such values include the institutionalized oppression of women.

  • Ulick

    Lads, lads, lads, that was just a quick back-of-a-fag-box job to illustrate how far of the mark it is to explain away the increase in abortions via population increase. If any of the mathematical geniuses (looking at you Parsons) seriously wish to continue down this line, then feel free to present some evidence or analysis. If you are trying to tell us that the four fold increase in abortions since the introduction of the 1967 Act is merely the continuation of an existing trend, well show us the evidence.

  • Korhomme

    In the US, there is considerable overlap between ‘pro-lifers’ and those who support the death penalty. Indeed, in the US, some ‘pro-lifers’ have murdered abortionists.

  • Jollyraj

    “Indeed, in the US, some ‘pro-lifers’ have murdered abortionists.”

    Where to even start with that one…….?

  • Gaygael

    ‘Lads, lads, lads’ is never a heartening start to a discussion on women’s reproductive rights and healthcare.
    ‘Back of a fag box’ statistics are not helpful in such an emotive topic.
    Brendan’ point is Particualrly relevant. You have only presented statistics of how many women have accessed safe and legal abortions. There is no data of ‘illegal abortions’ before or after its legislation so you can’t make a fully informed statement of the back of partial information.

    This evening in Belfast, there was a rally in solidarity with a young woman arrested under the 1861 legislation. The second woman recently. Over 1,000 woman a year have registered addresses in Northern Ireland when accessing abortion in England and Wales. There were solidarity rallys in London, the South and Berlin.

    We have no statistics for the number of women using women on web to procure medication and attempting their own, or flying further afield.

    We also have very few women commenting on this thread.