Guardian ends the debate on abortion

There are no valid pro-life arguments. All right thinking people have seen the light, the Guardian reports, with support for legal limitations on abortion  limited to the slack jawed troglodytes of the political right, Conservative Party MPs (possibly the same thing) and religious loonies.

I may have overstated things somewhat, but that is what I have taken away from this story entitled “Jeremy Hunt backs 12-week legal limit on abortion.” Not the most striking of headlines, I admit, but here is the lede — trust me, it is worth diving in to this story as it is an object lesson in the difference between news reporting and advocacy journalism.

The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has said that he backs halving the legal time limit for women to have abortions, from 24 weeks to 12.

The intervention by Hunt reignited hostilities over one of the most polarising issues in politics on the eve of the Conservative party conference.

Coming just days after Maria Miller, the women’s minister, backed calls for a reduction in the legal limit for abortions, Hunt’s comments deepened fears among pro-choice campaigners that abortion laws are set to come under renewed assault.

Where do you thing this story is headed? A sober analysis of the state of the abortion debate in Britain, or rubbishing Jeremy Hunt for his views on abortion and for causing political mischief for the Conservative Party — why that would worry the Guardian is beyond me, but there it is. After this rather loaded introduction, the article offers some rather thin comments from the minister in support of his decision.

“I’m not someone who thinks that abortion should be made illegal. Everyone looks at the evidence and comes to a view about when that moment is and my own view is that 12 weeks is the right point for it.”

And this is followed by comments from the Labour Party’s shadow health minister. She calls the comments “shocking and alarming” and “another assault on women’s reproductive rights.” The opposition hammers Hunt for plucking 12 weeks “out of thin air” and not basing his decision on “medical evidence” — and true to form, we get an anti-American crack.

Let me say I do not find the shadow minister’s comments problematic. They are strong comments that candidly express the shadow minister for health’s views. What concerns me is that the Guardian gives her four paragraphs to critique the minister’s two paragraph opening quote.

The article then moves on to an independent medical voice, who perversely claims the minister’s remarks will lead to more abortion. The story line then returns to the minister, who is asked whether he was now, or had ever been a member of the Communist Party Christian.

“I don’t think the reason I have that view is for religious reasons. There are some issues that cut across health and morality, a bit like capital punishment does for crime. There are all sorts of arguments in favour and against in terms of deterrence and justice, but also there is a fundamental moral issue that sits behind it. I think abortion is one of those issues.”

The Guardian tosses in a a few unsourced opinions.

Political commentators have questioned the wisdom of sparking a political row over such an emotive issue as the party heads into its conference.

And the article closes with a knife in Hunt’s back from Prime Minister David Cameron’s office.

A spokesman for No 10 said that the prime minister did not share Hunt’s view about a cut to 12 weeks. Cameron said during the last general election campaign that he would support a reduction to 20 or 22 weeks.

David Cameron does seem set on giving Edward Heath a run for the money as winner of the worst Conservative PM contest. But GetReligion reader, do you notice anything missing?

Might there be someone to speak to this issue other than a marginal Conservative MP whose endorsement does not help but hurts Hunt.  Where is the smartest man in England, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams? Dr. Williams’ views on the economy, foreign policy and other non-church topics are often solicited by the Guardian but we hear nothing from Labour’s favorite archbishop on an issue dear to his wooly heart. Where is the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols or any other Catholic, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Jewish, Humanist or, heaven help us, conservative Christian voice speaking on this issue?

Is the science truly silent on this point? Was no one available from any of the government’s scientific quangos that have been studying embryology, medical ethics, or reproductive health care issues? Maybe a word from someone from the Christian Medical Fellowship — a coalition of Christian physicians in the U.K.? Might they have a view on the 12 vs 24 week mark?

It may be a sign of my age, but a line from a Monty Python record “Matching Tie and Handkerchief” ran through my mind as I read this story.

Man: I think all right thinking people in this country are sick and tired of being told that ordinary, decent people are fed up in this country with being sick and tired.

All: Yes, yes…

Man: I’m certainly not! And I’m sick and tired of being told that I am.

Interviewer: Mrs. Havoc-Jones?

Mrs. Havoc-Jones: Well, I meet a lot of people and I’m convinced that the vast majority of wrong thinking people are right.

Interviewer: There seems like a consensus there. Could we have the next question, please?

There is an absurdist quality to this article. The Guardian does not believe it is important to give both sides of an argument, or it believes there is no credible opposition to the view that abortion is a non-negotiable right. This is advocacy journalism or it is arrogance. It may be seeking to endorse a particular political outcome and has marshaled some facts and omitted others in support of its argument. Or, it truly believes that there are no credible arguments against abortion and only draws upon the fringe for comments.

My sense is that this story is a mixture of arrogance, disdain and advocacy. The Guardian has chosen a side in the culture wars, but in doing so, it has dropped any pretext that it is engaging in journalism in its reporting on this issue.

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