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4 January 1996

Treating Women as Walking Wombs

The government's proposals to reform adoption law smack more of social engineering than helping childless couples, argues David Nolan.

On 28 March the government published a draft bill, Adoption-A Service for Children, aimed at reversing the trend which has seen the number of adoptions in Britain fall from 18 000 in 1976 to 6 900 in 1993. Junior Health minister, John Bowis, has said that he wants to help people like those currently prevented from adopting for reasons of age or race. But the proposed legal changes look more like an exercise in coercion and social engineering.

It seems that the government wants to encourage women who become pregnant and intend having an abortion to continue their pregnancy and have the child adopted. Bowis himself said that the Government should promote adoption as 'an acceptable and valid alternative to abortion'. Underlying the proposals is an attempt to encourage those who would be single mothers to give up their children and so not be a drain on state coffers. This is an unworkable and outrageous proposal which ignores what service adoption is supposed to provide and why women have abortions.

In the first instance, Bowis appears to have forgotten that adoption is not about finding children for childless parents but about finding parents for unwanted children. To argue that women should go through an unwanted pregnancy to fulfil the desires of an unknown future parent is absurd.

More importantly, women who decide to seek an abortion generally do so because they do not want a child and they do not want to be pregnant. They see abortion as a positive decision which allows them to get on with their lives. To suggest that adoption is an alternative to abortion ignores what having an unwanted pregnancy means to women. Why should women ignore their needs and endure all the risks associated with pregnancy and childbirth. It is akin to suggesting that some women should be treated as no more than walking wombs.

It is barbaric to suggest that women who have unwanted pregnancies should be encouraged or forced to continue that pregnancy to term. Denying women access to abortion services is as bad as forcing them to have abortions - something Bowis' government is very keen to condemn in other countries. Women in Britain are often denied access to free abortion services. What they need is access to abortion when they want it and not when any government decides that it suits them to permit it.
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