John Wyatt is Emeritus Professor of Ethics and Perinatology at University College London. He was speaking in a personal capacity and not as a representative of any organization.
Those who of us who are concerned with the abortion debate – whether we are “pro-choice” or “pro-life” — know that rather a lot of it has to do with trying to convince others that our (and only our) position on the subject is “right.” However, if both sides to the argument have the woman’s best interest at heart, we may have more in common than we might think.
Professor John Wyatt, a respected British neonatologist and medical ethics specialist experienced in the abortion debate, believes that dialogue and a search for common ground may bring opposing forces closer together for the ultimate benefit of women and the unborn.
In an interview with the writer earlier this month, Wyatt stated:“ There are two things upon which both sides to the debate can agree. The first is that women do have a choice and our goal is not to restrict that choice. The second is that women should make that choice with the maximum amount of information and support available to them.”
In a 2008 public debate on abortion with Anne Furedi, CEO of Britain’s largest independent abortion provider, Wyatt affirmed: “Before the baby is born there is nothing that can be done to the baby which doesn’t in some way invade the mother’s body. Hence, I think quite rightly society says we must give the mother the right to the integrity of her own body – and I support that.”
However, Wyatt asserted during that debate: “I want to point out that this doesn’t mean society is neutral about what is in the mother’s body, that society has a sort of equipoise – ‘well, you win some, you lose some.’ It isn’t like that.”
Affirming society’s natural instinct to preserve life, Wyatt told the writer: “Neonatology, the field of medicine in which I work, reflects the best instincts of human hearts, of society. So many millions of dollars are poured into this medical sector, to protect the weakest among us.”
Wyatt adds: “I have observed repeatedly in my clinical practice that pregnant women who have a medical condition, like heart disease or cancer, are very frequently prepared to take enormous risks with their own lives to give their babies the best chance of life. This is irrespective of the size of the baby – whether it is full term or a tiny premature baby weighing 500 grams.”
Concerning the importance of providing women who are considering abortion with all the information they need to make an informed choice, Wyatt relates: “In Western culture, having sex and having babies have come to be regarded as two unrelated activities. Sex is about fun and about being with whomever you like: it is a recreational activity and all we have to do is make it safe.”
“Because of this we very often find young, single people are completely dumbfounded and shocked when they find themselves pregnant and facing an enormous decision about what to do.
“One of the terrible ironies about the human condition is that a young person can become pregnant, but may not have the emotional maturity to fully understand what pregnancy means – or what abortion is.”
Therefore, Wyatt says: “Women should be afforded a balanced, empathetic consultation to discuss not only the medical elements and risks, but also the emotional significance of abortion.”
“It is a bizarre thing,” Wyatt reflects, “that a patient facing a hernia operation is informed about a long list of rare complications including that she might bleed to death – but women facing abortion may be told hardly anything about the risks or consequences of their decision. This is often because those in charge of approving the termination fear being ‘abusive’ or ‘paternalistic’ toward the woman. However, if important medical and emotional information is concealed or minimized, the women are not being treated with respect.
“Ultimately,” Wyatt concludes, “all women who are considering abortion have the right to accurate, sensitive and balanced information and emotional support to consider all their options”
Under such circumstances the two sides to the debate may be able to agree that they are all trying to help women do what is best for them.