A Case for Repeal of the Abortion Act?

Posted on March 7, 2012


A nation is governed –and partly defined — by the rules and regulations on its statute book. Laws are supposed to regulate so as to ensure fairness and justice, as well as to prohibit behaviours deemed contrary to the good of society. They have a purpose: development and protection of the common good within the nation state. It is, therefore, essential that citizens have respect for the laws by which they are governed, which does not always mean they must accord with popular opinion. A law which has a purpose should also be enforceable, for otherwise it is likely to be irrelevant. Such a law is therefore a practical law.

The 1697 Blasphemy Act was not practical.

As a law is used to direct individual behaviour it should not be necessarily draconian, nor concern itself with matters best left to self-regulation. Unfortunately, legislators have a tendency to set about regulating for sentiments and bright ideas concerning which laws are either not really required or unenforceable. It is no bad thing that politicians should have ideas and sentiments, but these must not to lead to laws that are not practical.

One example of a law that resulted from deeply felt sentiments and deep-rooted ideas was the Blasphemy Act of 1697. The government of the day considered blasphemy against the Christian religion not only a religious offence, as indicated by one of the Ten Commandments, but also against the common good. The Act was enforced for many years. John William Gott was convicted of blasphemy four times and on the last occasion he was sent to prison, the last individual to suffer such punishment. The last successful prosecution for blasphemy occurred in 1977 when Mary Whitehouse privately prosecuted the Gay Times and its proprietor. Subsequent private prosecutions followed, most notably when the group Christian Voice attempted to prosecute the BBC following the showing of Jerry Springer: The Opera. All such prosecutions were unsuccessful. Blasphemy against the Christian religion occurred with increasing regularity both on the street and in the media. The Act had become unenforceable and impractical As such it was repealed in July 2008.

Following the recent under-cover investigation by the Daily Telegraph it might be concluded that the Abortion Act is now unenforceable. The investigation showed up instances of doctors assenting to abortions on the basis of the ‘wrong’ gender. The Act of 1967 provided for a limited number of circumstances under which an abortion might legally be performed. Aborting on the basis of ‘gender’ was not considered a valid reason. One of the allowed circumstances is that of likely severe physical or mental handicap. This has been readily and widely abused, and children have been aborted for having cleft-lips and other such malformations.  It is manifest that the Abortion Act cannot be properly enforced. Abortion does not contribute towards the common good, but rather works against it. Limited legal abortion is not only unenforceable, but impractical, so why not repeal the Act?