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Mr. MacKay : I am glad to see that my hon. Friend is confirming my last sentence. My hon. Friend will be wishing not to have that particular Bill passed, but will be wishing to make abortion illegal. That is why there is no compromise with people who have no desire-- Mr. Watts rose --
Miss Widdecombe rose --
There is no possible compromise with people who want to make abortion illegal rather than bring the time limit down a little to take into account the advances in medical science since the original legislation was passed in 1967.
Mr. Watts : My hon. Friend asserts that a majority of the House would have been in favour of a 24-week limit. I believe that there would have been a majority for 18 weeks or something much closer to it than 24 weeks. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be far better if it were unnecessary for either of us to make assertions on these matters, but that the House, instead, should have a chance to bring this debate to a conclusion? If my hon. Friend is right, he will be happy. If I am right, I shall be happy. Either way, the House will have reached a conclusion and the issue will be put to bed.
Mr. MacKay : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention, because there is a part of my hon. Friend's motion which specifically refers to how he would like the House to move to forward on legislation on abortion reform. As I shall cover this in some detail a little later, if my hon. Friend will bear with me, I shall answer him fully.
Does my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone wish to intervene?
Mr. MacKay : If my hon. Friend is not entirely happy with anything that I have said, I shall be willing, as always, to give way. The question was raised about extra time being given to the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill in the last Session. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was right not to have given extra time to that Bill or to any other private Member's Bill. In recent times, no Conservative Government have given extra time to any private Member's Bill. What happened in 1967 is entirely a matter for the Labour party and the then Labour Government. I believe that giving extra time to private Member's Bills puts any Government in a difficult position and, especially, this Government. If the Government give extra time to one private Member's Bill, why should they not give it to another?
I am hoping to introduce a Sunday sports Bill next Wednesday, and if extra time had been given to the Abortion (Amendment) Bill, I would be very peeved if extra time was not given to my Bill. I believe that the Government are right and that they must stick to their guns. They must be completely consistent and say that it is not practical, possible or right to give extra time to private Member's Bills.
Column 1239possible, to timetable motions? At present, it is not possible for a private Member to seek leave of the House for a timetable motion. We are not asking for more time in future, but if we had a timetable motion perhaps we could actually get to the vote.
Mr. MacKay : That is a matter for the Procedures Committee. I believe that if I proceed down that road, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will be calling me back to order. It would also be grossly unfair to other hon. Members who are waiting to speak.
It is important that we look at this motion carefully. Mention has been made of growing public concern. The oldest political trick in the world is to throw up some straw and then blow that straw away. My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Amos)--who was in his place and will try to catch your eye in due course, Mr. Deputy Speaker--did this very successfully, but, in my view very irresponsibly, at the Committee stage of the Abortion (Amendment) Bill. He made some wild allegations about people who run private clinics. I then asked him on the Floor of the House to substantiate those allegations. I said that if those allegations were true, those people were breaking the law. I asked him to give me their names and addresses, and I said that I would write to the Director of Public Prosecutions. I believe that, if someone is breaking the law, they should be prosecuted or at least evidence should be put before the DPP. My hon. Friend refused to do as I asked.
Some public concern is caused by those in the anti-abortion campaign who make allegations that they cannot in any way substantiate. Another interesting example of that occurred on the Floor of the House during Home Office questions yesterday. It also occurred today during the speeches by the Father of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) and by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill.
You will no doubt have noted, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that Home Office questions yesterday were hijacked by a number of anti-abortionist Members-- [Interruption.]
Mr. MacKay : I was far from embarrassed by those questions. Let us consider the case of the abortion carried out at Carlisle City general hospital. It is another example of straws being thrown in the air. Consider the response of the Parliamentary
Under-Secretary of State for the Home Deaprtment, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), who spoke on behalf of the Home Secretary when he said :
"In reaching that conclusion"--
whether to have an inquest into the Carlisle case, the Home Secretary--
Column 1240"had a number of considerations in mind-- that this was a bona fide and lawful abortion ; the reasons for carrying it out were compelling ; the foetus was incapable of surviving ; and it was desirable to spare the mother further distress."
Mr. MacKay : It is all very well for my hon. Friends the Members for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) and for Maidstone to mock, but I believe that we have one of the finest Home Secretaries that this House has ever seen. With no disrespect to my two hon. Friends, if I had to choose which person was right, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary--who has had all the facts made available to him, who is an outstanding Home Secretary and a man of great integrity--would be my choice. I believe it ill behoves my colleagues to question his judgment. It is, of course, their right to do so.
I have a high regard for my right hon. Friend and for the Parliamentary Under-Secretary who is an eminent lawyer from a family of eminent lawyers. I suspect that they are slightly better qualified than my hon. Friends in such legal matters and better able to decide whether the matter is right or wrong.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett rose --
Let us consider what happened yesterday. When we finished discussing the first question about the Carlisle case, we then had a question about cruelty to children. That is an important issue and it is one that should concern the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) asked the Home Secretary :
"if he proposes to take any action to increase the penalties available to the courts for the offences of cruelty to children.--[ Official Report, 15 December 1988 ; Vol. 143, c. 1074-75.] I assumed that all my hon. Friends who had been jumping up trying to catch Mr. Speaker's eye would stand up again because cruelty to children is an equally important issue. The only one of my colleagues who stood up, however, was my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire). He is not an anti-abortionist, but all the anti-abortionists took no interest in the debate on the second question. That is extremely revealing. It should reveal to people outside this House the priorities of those who are desperately keen to intervene about the spurious Carlisle case, but who have no possible interest in the protection of children and child abuse.
Miss Widdecombe rose --
Mr. Cash rose --
Mr. Cash : My hon. Friend has made a comparison with the protection of children. Does my hon. Friend accept that the Protection of Children Act 1978, which received unanimous support in the House when introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend), was given time by the then Government? Does he accept that he is putting forward an extraordinary argument? On
Column 1241the one hand he does not want a Bill to amend the abortion legislation to be given any extra time, but he was prepared to give extra time to a Bill for the protection of children. Is it not an extraordinary paradox that we are attempting to protect unborn children--who are children--yet my hon. Friend is not prepared to give protection to children who need it at the time when they are most vulnerable?
Mr. MacKay : My hon. Friend was not listening to my speech ; he will have to read Hansard. At no time have I said that Government time should be given to any private Member's Bill--I made that abundantly clear. I do not believe in giving time to private Members' Bills. I merely made the correct observation that during Home Office questions yesterday a large number of my anti-abortionist hon. Friends sought to catch Mr. Speaker's eye--some of them
unsuccessfully--on question. No. 1. But they did not try to catch his eye on question No. 2, which most of us would have thought concerned a more serious issue--child abuse.
Miss Widdecombe : As I was not in Question Time yesterday, my hon. Friend cannot be accusing me. But I should have behaved in exactly the same way. Surely, my hon. Friend knows that there was another question about the Carlisle baby case further down the Order Paper and my hon. Friends had come in specifically for that, in the way that hon. Members with specific interests do. Does he not accept that that was reasonable?
Mr. MacKay : Of course. I did not intend to imply that my hon. Friend was not carrying out her duties. We are all aware that she has the finest voting record in the House, one of which we are all immensely proud. I only wish that I could compete with her in some small way. Sadly, I cannot : I am a relatively dilatory Member compared with her. I was not suggesting that my hon. Friend had been dilatory yesterday ; if she thought that I meant that, I apologise unreservedly for the offence that I may have caused her.
I must move on and not be diverted by these interesting interventions. I want to question another part of the motion which mentions growing public concern and says that opinion is changing. The social attitudes survey, an independent and highly distinguished study which all hon. Members believe to be important, made it quite clear that more and more people in this country think that women should have the right to choose an abortion, and that if an abortion takes place it should be done earlier rather than later, and that the law should be changed.
I offer one or two positive proposals in this context. First, it is a disgrace to this country that so many late abortions take place. The anti- abortionists will agree with that. At this point, however, I would diverge from them in giving my reason : it is that in many cases it is very difficult for the most innocent of girls to obtain abortions earlier. I think that there should be abortion on request for the first 12 weeks, as happens in many countries in Europe. That would be a great help and it would reduce late abortions. Secondly, only one general practitioner, not two,
Column 1242should refer the case of a woman who requests an abortion. That would be immensely helpful. Thirdly, we need better sex education in our schools. Some do an excellent job ; others are dilatory in the extreme. Fourthly, we need a far more comprehensive family planning service. Every health authority should give that high priority. The number of abortions, which we all want to reduce, would be greatly reduced if there were better family planning facilities and a better understanding of contraception. I hope that that is not a contentious view and that it will be shared by my hon. Friends in the pro-abortion camp--
Mr. MacKay : I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention because I should have said the anti-abortion camp. I am happy to correct that. We must look in the way that my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point looked at the new French drug RU486. I shall not go into the details of the arguments about that drug except to say that it raises many interesting questions and presents difficulties to both sides in the argument. I see much merit in a drug that can be taken by a woman and which means that she does not necessarily have to go to a clinic or hospital to have an abortion. I readily agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point that we must make sure that any side effects of the drug have been properly researched. We must take the subject further on another day.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett : I wrote to the laboratories about my worries on the drug RU486. My concern is that all drugs, once they are produced, are liable to end up on the black market. There is no way to prevent the theft of drugs or their replication for the black market. That means that abortion drugs will become available and that people will be able to procure abortions without any of the controls that exist even in the 1967 Act.
Mr. MacKay : My hon. Friend raises an interesting point on which I do not have a view. He illustrates my point that with this drug we are coming to a new era in the abortion debate and extra factors will have to be examined. I willingly concede that and look forward to further debate.
I shall now turn to the last part of the motion--the part that concerns me. It asks the House to persuade the Government to consider introducing a Bill,
"with alternative sets of clauses to reform the Abortion Act 1967 in order to allow the House, on a free vote, to reach a decision on this important matter."
About the only thing that I agree with in that section of the motion is that we must always have a free vote on these issues. It has been suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr. Watts) that he is merely following a precedent set by the Department of Health in saying that when embryo legislation comes before the House it will be the formula that will be used then. Perhaps the Minister who is winding up will say something about that because it seems that we are getting into all sorts of difficulties and uncharted waters.
Let us say that we can vote on 26, 24, 22 and 18 weeks and, I suspect, on a shorter time than some of my hon. Friends in the anti-abortion camp would like. If there is a majority on one of those periods, the matter is simple and that one will be agreed. However, if there is a majority for all of them, which is quite possible, do we choose the one
Column 1243that has the biggest majority? We have never had anything other than straight yes or no votes on Bills and amendments. I shall be corrected by the Minister if I am wrong about that. We have never had a slate on which we can vote for many things that contradict one another, We seem to be in a minefield and perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Slough will address these matters when he is winding up. I think that that part of his motion is ill-founded.
Some hon. Members have accused hon. Members who were against the Bill presented by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill of being pro-abortion. Speaking for myself--I do not wish to speak for any of my hon. Friends--I most certainly am not pro-abortion and resent being told that I am. I shall tell the House my precise position. I am in favour of women having the freedom to choose. I am also in favour of the potential father having some say in the matter, although the final say must always be with the woman, the potential mother. The House is not helped by busybody politicians, Governments and civil servants telling individuals what they should or should not do--whether it be to trade on Sunday, to go racing and gamble on Sunday or to have an abortion. I believe in freedom of choice. This is a frightfully difficult decision for any woman to make. It is a horrendous and emotional decision and it is not made one whit easier by interference from politicians, the great majority of whom are genetically incapable of having a child anyway.
If legislation were passed which at best further restricted abortion, or at worst, as my hon. Friend the Member for Slough would like, made abortion in almost all circumstances illegal, that would have a great effect. It would not hurt my affluent, articulate middle-class constituents one iota. They are people who know their way around the world. They can go to private clinics abroad rather than break the law here. By and large, if such people have an abortion, they have it early, unless a handicap is found later in pregnancy. There would be no trouble for them.
However, such legislation would be the worst class legislation imaginable-- [Interruption.] I am glad to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke finds this funny. The people who would be hurt the most would be the innocent, the inarticulate and relatively uneducated, and often those who are potential single parents, who have nobody to turn to and nobody to look after them. They are the ones who very often are late in realising that they are pregnant.
Let us return for the moment--this is a vitally important point--to those who would be most affected by
Column 1244such legislation. They are those who are relatively uneducated, innocent and naive and who have nobody to help them. They are more than likely not to be aware that they are pregnant until quite late in the day. They are the most fearful of being pregnant, and will be scared to tell anybody--their parents, or the father, even. They will not know where to go and will tend to have a late abortion or, if abortion were made illegal, be driven to the back street abortionist.
In Question Time yesterday, the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) made a valid point which summed it all up. He said, and this was readily conceded by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, that a large number of women died at the hands of backstreet abortionists before 1967. Do we really wish to go back to a dark age when working-class girls died with knitting needles in their hands? Do we want to go back to an age of backstreet abortionists making substantial profits and providing little health care? I most certainly do not, and I know that the great majority of people do not want to go back to that, but that is what will happen if legislation such as is mentioned in the motion reaches the statute book.
Another group of people who would suffer are those who might have severely handicapped children. During debates on the abortion (Amendment) Bill, many charities and individuals came to tell me of their personal experience of severely disabled children. They were extremely worried about what they would do if the time limit were reduced to 24 weeks without medical exceptions, and certainly if it were reduced to 18 weeks. One could not help but be moved by their arguments. If abortion were made difficult or illegal, such people would suffer the most.
People who are least able to look after themselves and people who are most vulnerable and at risk, would be most hurt by this ill-considered motion and by ill-considered legislation which I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone will attempt to introduce in the House next week.
Mrs Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay) on his constructive speech. I agree with much of what he said about choice. If we had a decent rate of child benefit, the restoration of statutory maternity benefit rates, adequate housing and an end to poverty wages, many more women could make the choice to have the baby rather than an abortion. The right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) spoke of the many letters that he has received from women who regret having had an abortion. I am sure that he is telling the truth, but has he ever had a letter from a relative of a woman who has died as a result of having had a back-street abortion? Has he ever spoken to somebody who lost a wife, sister or friend before the 1967 Act? He certainly has never nursed a dying woman who may be young and has lost the life that awaited her or who may already have a family which she has left motherless. That is what happened before the Abortion Act 1967. I offer those who support the motion some real life cases. They are not particularly dramatic, but they are of people who would be affected by the legislation which some hon. Members favour. Mrs A., aged 40 and with two children, suspected in November 1987 that she could be
Column 1245pregnant. She went to her doctor who told her not to worry as she was starting the change of life. She returned to the surgery in December. Her GP was on holiday, so she saw another doctor who told her that there was no need to worry. In January, she returned yet again when her own doctor prescribed hormone tablets. On 8 February, she went back again with her husband. They insisted on a pregnancy test and, 10 days later, she was told that the test was positive. The doctor was apologetic and signed the form authorising an abortion. She was finally seen at the local hospital on 3 March. The consultant refused abortion on the ground that she was too late, but he added his signature to the green form and referred her to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.
Miss B., aged 28 ended a long-term relationship during which she had successfully used oral contraception for a number of years. She stopped taking the pill in November 1987. In late November, she felt unwell and went to her doctor. She had a negative pregnancy test and was told that it was quite usual to feel sick after stopping the pill. It certainly is. At the end of December, she returned to the doctor saying that she was sure that she was pregnant. A second pregnancy test was negative, and this time she was told not to fuss and that it was quite normal to have no periods after stopping the pill. She returned yet again in February, still having had no period and with a funny feeling in her stomach. The doctor said that it was indigestion caused by the stress of separation from her long-term partner, and prescribed antacids. In March, back at the surgery, she saw a different doctor. Examination revealed that she was 22 to 23 weeks pregnant.
Mrs. C., a 28-year old mother of two who started feeling unwell in January and went to her GP, had a positive pregnancy test result at the beginning of February. She thought carefully about her position, because her husband had recently left her for another women and divorce proceedings had been started. She returned to her GP on 19 February, only to be told that no more funds were available for abortions locally until April. The doctor gave her the telephone number of BPAS and told her that she would have to pay for the operation. She eventually approached them at the end of March, having spent the intervening period trying to save or borrow money. At that time she was 15 weeks pregnant.
Mrs. D. had one child and had miscarried several months previously. After the miscarriage she was fitted with a contraceptive coil. At the end of October she felt that she could be pregnant again and went to her doctor, who sent a test to the local hospital. Two weeks later the GP's receptionist telephoned with a positive result. She tried for an immediate appointment but was told that her doctor was on holiday and that it would be best to await his return. She finally saw him and asked to have the coil removed as she feared that it would do harm. He said that he could not do that but would make a hospital appointment for its removal.
The earliest appointment was in January, when a scan was done and the consultant told Mrs. D that it would be seven weeks before he could offer an appointment to remove the coil. Two weeks later she returned to the hospital because she had a discharge and intermittent bleeding, and was in great discomfort as well as feeling ill.
Column 1246She was told that nothing could be done before the appointment. In great distress she telephoned the Samaritans, who sent her to BPAS, where she was found to be 17 weeks pregnant.
Miss E is a 20-year-old single parent bringing up two children under five. Her boyfriend had attacked her repeatedly, leaving her with serious head injuries on one occasion, and she had recently found the strength to end the relationship. She was taking the contraceptive pill but had irregular periods, and after one negative pregnancy test her GP assured her that she was not pregnant and that her symptoms were psychosomatic. Eventually a scan revealed a pregnancy of 18 to 20 weeks. After careful consideration she requested an abortion, feeling sure that she could not cope with either adoption or bringing up a third child alone.
Mrs. F has three young children. She and her husband used sheaths ad spermicide for contraception, having used the pill and the IUD in the past. These failed and she discovered that she was pregnant. She became very depressed, because her husband is out of work and the family lives in a two -bedroom flat on supplementary benefit. She went to hospital after eight weeks hoping for help. She had had all her babies at the hospital, and her contraceptive history and social circumstances were known there. But the hospital refused termination and suggested no alternative. Eventually BPAS gave her an abortion at 20 weeks because she felt completely unable to cope with a fourth child.
Miss G has two children under five. She, her partner and the children live on the 15th floor of a tower block on a total of £84 a fortnight. When she found that she was pregnant and requested a termination her doctor delayed her, hoping that she would change her mind. She remained adamant, and he eventually referred her to St. Bartholomew's hospital, but she was by then over the hospital's time limit for abortion and came to BPAS in desperation at almost 18 weeks.
That woman feels that late abortion is wicked, but she was certain that she could not support another child. She has a complicated gynaecological and obstetric history which includes two miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy.
There are hundreds of such cases. I am picking out real-life examples that are not too dramatic. The last that I shall give involves a woman whom we shall call Mrs. H. She is 37 and married with eight children whose ages range from seven to 19. Her husband is an alcoholic, and she is sure that she could not cope with a ninth child. When she found that she was pregnant her doctor referred her for an NHS termination at Guy's hospital, but she was kept waiting for six weeks for an appointment before finally being refused an abortion. At that stage she felt distressed to the point of contemplating suicide.
Will hon. Members who are in favour of the motion, since they wish to criminalise abortions tell me what punishment or sentence is appropriate for each of those women? What sentence would they pass on those women or on the doctor who performs the abortion? They failed to answer such questions during our debate several months ago when we discussed the Abortion (Amendment) Bill and they are failing to answer them today. If abortion is a crime, what punishment would they inflict in those cases?
Hon. Members will not abolish abortion by such measures ; they will drive women to the back streets, as the hon. Member for Berkshire, East has said so eloquently. They will be driving women back to the knitting needle,
Column 1247the syringe, the slippery elm bark, the knife and to appalling methods that cause pain and create the risk of death. In many cases, they did cause death. Two years before the Abortion Act 1967, 98 women died in back-street abortions, but from 1982 to 1988 none died. Now if women such as I have described had made up their minds to have abortions because of their distressing circumstances, at least they could have the abortion in a clean and sterile hospital and have it performed by people who know what they are doing. Legislation will not end abortion. It will throw women into even more distressing circumstances when they are already upset and send them back to back-street abortionists. I wish that some hon. Members would face up to that fact.
Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West) : I have not spoken on this subject before, but I feel that I need to do so because of the constituency concern that arose from the Abortion (Amendment) Bill that was introduced by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton). I had a huge postbag, as we all did, as a result of it. A great batch of people who wrote the standard postcards were totally against abortion. Many people stated that they were for abortion, with reservations. They may have been concerned about the deficiencies in the National Health Service, for example. A mother who wrote to me had had to have an abortion at 16 weeks because of the deficiencies of the National Health Service in her area. She lives in a rural area, as do many of my constituents. There is but one general practitioner and she could not therefore obtain the second signature so that she could have, in her terms, a necessary abortion before 12 weeks, which she would have preferred. She had to travel to another town where there was a full waiting list. The general practitioners were not able to see her for some time as she was not their patient. Hence, she was drawn towards what she considered a late abortion at 16 weeks.
Disabled people contacted me. I can recall one case in particular of a disabled man whose mother had had German measles while he was in the womb. He is significantly disabled and has a difficult life, with a weak heart, rheumatic fever and deafness and blindness. He wrote to me saying that if his mother had had German measles earlier in the pregnancy--she was about six months pregnant at the time she contracted the disease he would have been grotesquely deformed. He believed that the Abortion Act 1967 should remain in being. People wrote to me who were unreservedly for abortion. Interestingly, they were mainly young mothers, mostly at the bottom of the income scale, who were having great difficulty with their small families without the greater resources that some people have for their families. Those women might not have had abortions, but they felt strongly that they had the right to determine how many children they had and that if somehow their control over their fertility failed, they should be allowed that final choice. Like all hon. Members, I received many thousands of letters because, of course, this is a huge subject. The motion relates to human fertility. The beginning and ending of life is the most important thing of all, which is why I take so seriously those who are against abortion. The hon. Member for Mossley Hill is totally against
Column 1248abortion. Although his Bill referred to 18 weeks, he said to me in the Lobby that his aim was to outlaw abortion entirely. He believed most sincerely that abortion would disappear by such means. Strong feelings emerged among the groups whom he mobilised to support his Bill. Feelings ran so high in one of the church groups which I met to discuss this matter that all Members of Parliament who had not supported the hon. Gentleman were deemed non-Christian. When we live in a Christian society and culture, it is sad that this Bill should have so split Christian people that one side could hurl what to them is the deepest abuse of all against the other.
Nevertheless, that is a strongly held view which derives from the belief that the life of the child comes before that of the mother. The coming life is more important than the life that already exists. For many years that view led to the Roman Catholic Church believing strongly that contraception was improper because it denied the right to conceive.
In my work with Save The Children Fund I remember visiting Colombia and being approached by a woman who seemed in her 70s. She was toothless, had grey hair, was wrinkled, small and unhappy. It turned out that she was 36 and had had 16 children. Perhaps it was because of such women that the Catholic bishops there have defied the Pope and now promote birth control. The question we must ask is : is any life worth living at any cost? I cannot accept that it is, but it is a proper and honourable position to take if one is wholly against abortion.
I cannot let this argument pass without again questioning the tactics of the hon. Member for Mossley Hill in conducting his campaign. This morning he did not apologise to me for misusing my name as he did, and I am sorry about that. He merely accepted that I had not done what he accused me of doing. I suggest to those who support the motion and who are against abortion that the ends do not justify the means and that to slur other people's genuine, honest beliefs and parliamentary work is an unjustifiable means to any end. There are those who believe unreservedly that abortion should be allowed. A great deal of noise is made about abortion on demand. I intend to make my comments on that as unemotional as possible because otherwise even more confusion is caused. No abortion takes place without a woman choosing to have it. It is her choice. The question is whether society allows her to exercise that choice. Any and every abortion is on demand, because it is on the demand of the woman who believes, for many different reasons that she cannot cope with the pregnancy. I wish that hon. Members would stop saying that the 1967 Act led to abortion on demand. All abortion has always been on demand.
Under the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929 the rich bought abortions, but the poor could not. The wealthy were within the law because the 1929 Act only required a couple of psychiatrists or doctors to sign a piece of paper. The rich could find those signatures by signing a cheque in Harley street, but the poor could not.
The Abortion Act 1967 brought the poor within the law and offered non-life threatening abortions to women who could not afford any other kind. Perhaps we should be a little more careful with the use of the words "on demand". The 1967 Act made it possible for poorer women to exercise choice. The question is whether that choice is right and whether it should be exercised.
Column 1249The people who support the Abortion Act 1967 unreservedly include the Child Poverty Action Group and the National Council for One Parent Families. Those organisations above all others deal with families in trouble. I remind the House again that we should not misuse words. Similarly, we must not overlook changes in the law which have benefited society. We must not talk about illegitimate children. There is no such thing as illegitimate children these days, nor should there ever have been. Why should a child suffer because its parents were not married?
We should not ignore family lifestyles that do not adhere to our ideas of what families should be. I was enormously lucky. I was brought up in a family of the classic kind identified by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill as the only proper way to bring up children. I had three sisters, a father and a mother. When we had a family party the other day, I had to stop my invitations after I had asked 93 close cousins, although I could have invited another 120. It is improper to ignore family lifestyles that do not fit the classic pattern. That classic pattern has all but disappeared. There are very few households these days where the single head of household works, the mother does not and the children are at home. Only 5 per cent. of families fit that pattern. It is morally wrong of us to deny the word "family" to mothers bringing up children whose pattern of life falls outside our concept of perfection.
The hon. Member for Mossley Hill asked me to agree that children were better brought up if they are born to parents within wedlock. Sometimes that is the best way to bring up children, sometimes it is not. Sadly we often read in the newspapers of child abuse cases. We may read of cases where a father has committed incest with a child under the age of 10. I read that 3,700 children under the age of 10 had abortions last year. I doubt very much whether those children became pregnant other than through rape within the family. Although I have not committed the figures to memory, I believe that it was announced this morning that nearly 3,700 children had abortions in the past year in this country.
Fathers and stepfathers are often involved in child abuse. While we must bear in mind that the stepfather may be married legally to the mother, sometimes children have been abused, beaten up and even killed. All sorts of unspeakable things are done to children. In some circumstances children are better brought up in a different lifestyle from that which we consider to be--