Abortion decision threatens value of consulting public

Over the past 20 years the Scottish government has conducted hundreds of consultations, generating many thousands of responses.

Consultations were seen as a mechanism to garner evidence and opinion from organisations and individuals which fed in to the public policy and legislative process.

They set out to “seek views” and “gather evidence” and seemed like an entirely innocuous way of taking the pulse of the nation.

Or at least they were until last week when the Scottish government broke with every previous convention and deliberately set out to diminish and demean the views of thousands of individuals who took part in the Consultation on Future Arrangements for Early Medical Abortion at Home.

The consultation ran for three months at the end of last year.

Owing to the pandemic, the government had changed the rules for early abortions, no longer requiring women to attend a hospital clinic to take mifepristone, the two sets of pills, under medical supervision.

Instead, powerful abortifacients could be taken at home.

Although more than 600 medical professionals signed an open letter to the Scottish, Welsh and English governments calling for an end to “at-home” abortion because of concerns about abortions occurring beyond the ten-week limit and about women and girls being coerced into an abortion against their will, the Scottish government consulted on whether the arrangements should become permanent or revert to the previous arrangements.

DIY home abortions are associated with incidents including significant pain and bleeding, ruptured ectopics and haemorrhage.

Only 17 per cent of submissions to the consultation supported home abortions being made permanent. A total of 61 per cent wanted home abortion services ended and 74 per cent believed they had a negative impact on the safety of women.

In a shocking analysis of the consultation results, however, a sinister anti-faith bias is evident.

A significant number of responses from the public were labelled as “organised by pro-life or faith groups” as if to suggest that they should be dismissed or downgraded in importance. Worryingly, responses from pro-abortion groups were not singled out.

Clearly wrong-footed by the overwhelming opposition to home abortion, the Scottish government has sought to diminish the results and to commission an “independent evaluation” of the procedure. There are no prizes for guessing what the outcome of that exercise will be.

Peter Kearney is director of the Catholic Media Office in Scotland. This article first appeared in The Times.