Sometimes I wonder…12 weeks and Jeremy Hunt

I don’t have time for a long post. Heaven knows we’ve only just made it out of the festivals of Tishri and a backlog of work sits on my desk waiting to be dealt with. But I’m a bit annoyed and feel the need to write.

When Jeremy Hunt, in his interview with The Times, brings up support for a reduction of the abortion time limit to 12 weeks I think two things. Firstly, why is he raising this as Secretary of State for Health when there are so many other issues to be bothered by – he denies belief, but then why now? Secondly, and I recognise that nuance is necessary since religious leaders and politicians do have a role in public discourse, but when will they (politicians and national religious leaders) stop what seems like an obsession over reproductive rights and denial of equal rights of the LGBT community?

On the first issue, I suppose it should come as no surprise that this has come up from Jeremy Hunt, who it was reported supported an Early Day motion in the House of Commons in 2007 affirming the role of Homeopathy in the NHS. Facts seem less important than ideology (or is it theology) – according to Newsnight’s report yesterday (and other report in the Guardian) around 91% of abortions take place within 12 weeks and another 7.4% up to 19 weeks. That means that less than 1.5% of abortions occur in the period over 20 weeks. If the issue is the number of abortions then lowering the time limit does not seem to be the way to go about it. But I’m actually not clear what issue he is trying to tackle. Then again, someone who allegedly holds the view that homeopathy works is not interested in statistics, but that seems pretty worrying if the same person is the Secretary of State for Health. I was reminded of a piece by the scholar Professor Stefan Reif in recording the history of the Cairo Genizah (documents from the medieval period) in which he describes alternative medicine – such as amulets and incantations – as being prevalent he notes, “The trained professionals resented such people as ‘quacks’ but did acknowledge there was a limit to what they themselves could do. Some admitted to their patients that true healing was in the hands of heaven.” (A Jewish Archive from Old Cairo p. 201). Perhaps Jeremy Hunt’s apparent disregard for statistics is what happens when resources are limited in impoverished times (what’s the story really hiding?). It doesn’t bode well really does it? I might read the psalms for spiritual and emotional support but when I’m ill, I like to go to the Doctor – you know, someone who deals in evidence. It would be a disaster if politicians and religious leaders undermined that.

Then there’s  the issue of politicians and religious leaders obsessing over reproductive health and rights and the rights of the LGBT community. I’ve nailed my colours to the mast on this one I’m afraid with regards to Equal Marriage, but I do worry when I feel like a woman’s uterus is a handy political tool. My sense is that we’ve probably got the abortion times about right, especially as the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists turned on Hunt in response to his statement. So why does Hunt feel the need to open up the debate, when so many other concerns are pressing with regards to health care? At the same time, Lord Carey allegedly likened Cameron’s moves to legislate for Equal Marriage to Nazi Germany. It just begins to beggar belief. We, the appointed spiritual leaders of our community and the elected parliamentarians have so many opportunities to create a different public discourse and this is what keeps coming up. More on this in my next post…

ps a brief piece about Abortion in Reform Judaism is here. I’d say Liberal Judaism is broadly similar in stance – certainly the sovereignty of a woman to decide is of paramount importance.

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