Editor's Viewpoint: An alarming lack of tact from Wells
DUP politician Jim Wells was guilty of an extremely crass statement when he said that victims of rape who became pregnant should not be permitted to have an abortion.
To his mind, changing Northern Ireland’s abortion laws to make such terminations legal would be merely opening the floodgates to abortion on demand.
He, of course, is perfectly entitled to hold strong views on abortion. Indeed it is an issue which causes furious exchanges between pro-life and |pro-choice groups, but even those who oppose abortion must have been taken aback by his comments. Being raped is a gross violation of a woman and for her to become pregnant as a result would surely cause extreme mental anguish. That would be grounds for a termination even under our confused and strict laws.
But Mr Wells is not just a backbench MLA. He is set to be the next Health Minister in Northern |Ireland. His comments are another example of a politician bringing their own morality — no matter how strongly held — to bear on an issue which demands impartiality and a reliance on science rather than morals.
Doctors who have to administer the current abortion law in Northern Ireland face a very |difficult task in deciding if a woman‘s physical or mental health faces long-term damage as a result of her pregnancy and therefore justifying an abortion. Even though the number of terminations here is very small — 123 over a three-year period — doctors in future will be asked to give a detailed explanation for every procedure sanctioned. That will make their job intolerable.
Mr Wells should reflect more deeply on the issue. He should think of the trouble Missouri Republican Todd Akin found himself in with his statement that women could not get pregnant from legitimate rape. No one doubts the sincerity of Mr Wells, but do his views impair his judgment and standing, both as chair of the Assembly’s health committee and as future Health Minister? Perhaps he should consider if he is the right person for those posts.