Criminalising women over abortion is wrong
I would like to thank Professor Stephen Williams for his reply to my letter of March 29 because it gives me the opportunity to further explain my views on the issues involved.
He writes that it is a sad confession by me that I do not value the foetus. However, it is not for me to put a value on any particular foetus; that can only be done by the pregnant female. If she wishes to have a child, the developing foetus is priceless. If not, it is worthless. It is for her to choose its value and its fate.
As to the nature of the developing embryo, I would reiterate that a fertilised egg, and the embryo into which it develops, is not a human being because it lacks any distinguishing human features, except its molecules of DNA. It has no mental processes and is not sentient. These properties, I suggest, are essential to any human being. A fully developed foetus and a new born baby has the beginnings of such properties, which continue to develop throughout life.
If people wish to believe that the fertilised egg is human and sacrosanct, that is up to them. I would not wish to influence their sincerely held beliefs but, conversely, neither should they try to hinder others from taking control of their bodies and lives.
Exactly when an embryo should be considered human remains a philosophical and scientific problem. I would agree that the 22-week limit on abortion is out of date and suggest that 12 weeks would be more suitable.
However, if this were to be the case, women would have to have access to rapid advice, counselling and termination on discovery of an unwanted pregnancy.
The current state of Northern Ireland law, which all but prevents termination at any stage of development and which criminalises women in difficulty who choose to do so, is truly wrong. It requires immediate attention and change.